5 ways to help improve your health in 2017 by Dietitian, Diabetes Educator Tania Logan

Christina ReynoldsDietetics, Dietetics & Diabetes Education

Are you one of the 50% of Australians that made a new year’s resolution this year? Was it related to losing weight or improving your health? Did you know that only around 10% of new year’s resolutions actually succeed? So why do we persevere every year?

For many people, the new year brings with it the opportunity to start again, re evaluate our lives, and re prioritise what is important to us. Setting goals for the year ahead need not be redundant. Often however, people set goals that may be overly ambitious (for example, I will lose 20 kg this year) or overly restrictive (for example, I will not eat carbohydrate), which makes it almost impossible to achieve. Resolutions are also likely to be unsuccessful because it is easy for our intentions to get derailed by small hurdles along the way, so we give up. Many of us have this “all or nothing” approach to health and healthy eating in particular. Either we have to be perfect, or it isn’t worth doing at all.

So, as you move forward with your goals to improve your health this year, think about the following:

Set achievable goals
Rather than focusing on weight loss for example, consider focusing on everyday changes in your life that will improve your health. Smaller, practical lifestyle changes may be less appealing than a grand gesture, but they have a much greater chance of creating real change. If you are looking for inspiration, some of the examples below may be relevant to you.

Expect setbacks and don’t use them as an excuse to give up
You cannot expect to change habits or behaviours without any challenges along the way. Rather than giving up, it is important to use these hurdles as learning opportunities. As children, we don’t walk on our first attempt. There are often stumbles and trips as we learn this new skill. There are usually a few spills along the way when learning to ride a bike as well. Any new skill requires practise. That includes changing our habits.

If you do experience a setback, don’t use it as an excuse to give up or put it off. Don’t wait until next Monday to try again (Why do diets always start on a Monday?), or next month, or even roll out the same resolution next year. You don’t have to be perfect. Improving your health is about making the best choices you can at every opportunity. When you reach a hurdle, consider it as a learning opportunity and focus on making the best choice you can at each opportunity.

These are 5 of the best things you can do to improve your health this year and some practical ways that you could incorporate them into your daily life.

1. Eat more fruit

Food intakes that are based on plant based foods, including fruit, are health protective. If you aren’t getting 2 pieces of fruit every day, perhaps this is something you might like to work towards this year. You might need to start by aiming for 1 piece of fruit every day, or you might be having fruit regularly, and just need to consistently have 2 servings a day.

Practical suggestions to help you can make the best choice you can at every opportunity include:
• Add fruit to your morning cereal or porridge. Try a sliced banana or a handful of berries. We enjoy stewed apple – warm or cold.
• This recipe for bircher muesli from Super Food Ideas is another great way to include fruit for breakfast.
• Add some fruit to your salads. Sliced apple or pear, segments of orange or mandarin, or blueberries, go really well in salads.
• Fruit and yoghurt sprinkled with muesli or nuts is a versatile breakfast, snack, or dessert option.

2. Increase your intake of vegetables

Whether they’re fresh, frozen or canned, eating more vegetables is one of the easiest things we can do to improve our health and wellbeing. Vegetables are full of important vitamins and minerals, they contain fibre that helps keep our gut healthy, and antioxidants that help fight disease. Eating vegetables doesn’t have to be difficult, and it certainly doesn’t need to feel like you are existing on lettuce leaves. See my previous blog for my top 10 tips and recipe ideas to include more vegetables every day.

3. Eat less processed foods

If you are already eating 2 pieces of fruit and 5 serves of vegetables each day, then you are well on your way to eating less processed food. Takeaway foods, snack foods, sweetened drinks, and other processed foods generally provide us with few vitamins and minerals, but often extra fat and sugar. Think about what processed foods and drinks you might be able to reduce and what is realistic for you. I think this is an excellent example for the importance of setting achievable goals. I don’t think I could give up chocolate entirely (even with Christina’s excellent tips in her recent blog) therefore setting that goal is likely to set me up for failure. For me it may be more realistic to limit chocolate to once a week, and being sure to enjoy it mindfully when I choose to indulge.

4. Drink less alcohol

Like processed foods and sweetened drinks, alcohol provides us with very little nutritional value but increased intake is linked to poor health and can certainly contribute to our weight. So, if you choose to drink alcohol, perhaps you could aim for no more than the Australian Guidelines. This means drinking no more than 2 standard drinks each day for healthy men and women. A good visual representation of what equals a standard drink can be found at https://www.nhmrc.gov.au/_files_nhmrc/file/your_health/healthy/alcohol/std-drinks.pdf.

5. Move more

We are an increasingly busy society, but many of us spend a large proportion of our days sitting. This lack of activity is associated with poor health outcomes. Regular physical activity however is associated with many health benefits including a reduced risk of many chronic diseases. It is important to remember that doing any physical activity is better than doing none. If you don’t do any regular physical activity currently then perhaps you could start by planning something during the week. This is another great example of setting achievable goals. I believe that for physical activity to be sustainable in the long term it needs to be convenient, cost effective, and enjoyable. You don’t need to join a gym to be healthy. If you don’t like going to the gym then don’t waste your money on buying a membership.

Other ways to start moving more might include:
• Getting up from your desk and walk around the office every hour or ½ hour to minimise the amount of time spent sitting
• Go for a walk in your lunch break
• Take the dog for a walk after work
• Go outside and jump on the trampoline or kick a ball with your children or grandchildren
• Take some dance classes

The options are endless, so think about what might be convenient, cost effective, and enjoyable for you.

If you would like help with developing healthy eating or lifestyle behaviours, or if you would like practical assistance for making any of these suggested changes to improve your health, please contact me. You can find my contact details and how to book an appointment on our website at www.zestinfusion.com.au.

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