I am sure that most of you have heard the old riddle: “How do you eat an elephant?” “One bite at a time.” It is just another way to state: “Don’t bite off more than you can chew.” This is what most of us do when we make New Year’s resolutions. We make a rash statement such as, “I am going to lose 40 pounds in the new year.” Forty pounds is an awful big bite! We make a start on an exercise and/or diet program and the first week we lose five pounds. We are ecstatic! The next week we lose 2 pounds. Not quite as pumped, but still happy. The next week we have extra hours at work and a birthday party. Between the work hours and the birthday cake, our exercise routine is disrupted and we lose nothing. Discouragement sets in. That weekend we binge on pizza and ice cream; we go to the gym, but do not work as hard. We gain a pound. The cycle deteriorates from this point with few of us picking back up that gung-ho attitude. After all, we have “failed” to keep our resolutions for the new year! We will start again – maybe – the next year.
Now, my solution to this problem has always been – just don’t make new year’s resolutions! One extreme to the other, to be certain. The better statement would be to not make New Year’s resolutions. Instead, we need to look at changes that are not tied to a particular time frame and that do not involve large commitments and goals. So how would we work on a 40 pound weight loss in a “reasonable” way?
Set your goals in small “chunks” and make them reasonably attainable. You may want to ultimately lose 40 pounds; however, having that large goal on your mind is a sure way to become discouraged. If you break the 40 pounds into smaller units, then you have both flexibility and the opportunity to set yourself up for success. If you set separate food choice and exercise goals, your opportunities double.
For example, when I spoke with my doctor about an exercise program, she suggested that I start off with one day a week. Now, I disagree with her on the one day a week – I will start off with two days a week. But I do agree with her suggestion that when taking an exercise class, you should not push yourself to do things that you cannot do. If you get overly tired, short of breath, or there is part of the routine that is out of reach, it is perfectly acceptable for you to walk in place – or even stand in place – while the rest of the class works through that portion of the routine. Once you are back in a comfortable zone, pick up the routine again. The important part is to select two days a week and stick to them. Do not allow yourself to talk your way out of the planned exercise.
Additionally, weight loss is not about starving yourself. It is about healthy vs. unhealthy eating habits. Choices are the key. Some of us simply crave carbs. A baked potato is automatically better for you than French fries. Forego the sour cream – unless you are willing to use fat-free – and cut the butter in half. Salads are wonderful – as long as you don’t load them down with lots of meats, cheeses and salad dressings. Vinaigrettes are much better for you than creamy dressings and if you ask for the salad dressing on the side, then you can control the amount used. Most choices are basic common sense – baked chicken instead of fried; green beans instead of green bean casserole. Most doctors will tell you that a two pound loss in a week is reasonable. Set your goals accordingly. “This week I want to lose 2 pounds.” Key phrase: This week . Next week, when you have to work extra hours and participate in a family birthday party where you cannot avoid the cake, set your goal for one pound. If you have a week when you do not reach your goal, start fresh the following week. Since your goal was for a short period of time (a week vs. a year), then you have already given yourself permission, in advance, to start over again.
The last thing that my doctor said to me was, “Change one thing at a time.” Very often we try to make too many changes at once. We start an exercise class three times a week, cut all sugar from our diet, and start a portion-control effort all on the same day. We are – once again – setting ourselves up for failure. Our bodies and our minds are going through culture shock! Start the exercise program (again, two days a week – you can increase the number of days as you progress) this week and begin cutting back on the sugar next week. As was so kindly put to me – you did not gain weight all in one day (or week, month or likely year), you are not going to lose it all at once, either.
While I have focused on exercise and weight for this article, these mindsets are true for any resolution you decide to tackle. To stop smoking – I will not have a cigarette before lunch. I will not have a cigarette before dinner. I will not have a cigarette today. However small you need to break up your day, do so. Be sure to count up the successes, no matter how “small.” They are all significant.
Want to clean out your closets? Tackle one per Saturday. Clean out that closet on Saturday morning; do not allow it to hang over your weekend. Once it is complete, you can enjoy the rest of your weekend without worrying over it. Have a plan of action going into the project. Where will unused items go? Into storage; given to a neighbor or family member; sent to Goodwill. The coat closet this Saturday, the linen closet next Saturday, the pantry the next Saturday. Tackle the project in bite-sized, manageable pieces.
Set yourself up for success instead of failure. The more successes you experience, the easier the changes will come because you will reduce the amount of disappointment you place upon yourself.
Happy New Year! Cheers to a “better” you – whomever you feel that will be!
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