You started the New Year with ambitious plans to be healthier and lower your cancer risk: you swore you’d give up desserts, exercise daily or lose 15 pounds in a month. Now it’s three weeks into 2015 and you realize your resolutions may not have gone as planned. What do you do now?
It’s easy to set New Year’s resolutions that are overly ambitious, vague, or unrealistic, as described in AICR’s recent Resolve This; Not That. If working long hours has prevented you from going to the gym daily, that same barrier is probably still going to limit your progress in the New Year.
Instead of harping on what you haven’t achieved, focus on the positive. Remind yourself of the healthy behaviors you have engaged in over the past couple of weeks. Research shows that just thinking positively is enough to make you more successful and likely to achieve your goals. Even if you’ve hit some road bumps, challenging times can help us reassess our goals and avoid the same setbacks in the future.
The number one tip I give my patients when setting goals and resolutions is to avoid using the words “always” or “never,” and instead focus on something small and realistic. If you decided you’d never snack in the evening but already caught yourself sneaking a few bites in front of the TV over the past couple weeks, it’s easy to feel like a failure.
Instead of giving up, re-examine that goal. What made it hard? Maybe you’re used to eating something crunchy or sweet while watching TV and that food you’re craving is just a few steps away in the kitchen.
Once you have recognized what made meeting your goal hard, set a new goal that can help address those barriers. For example, decide to have one small, planned snack after dinner if you’re still hungry. Plan out some snacks that you’ll feel good about – maybe a small bowl of frozen grapes or mango, or a Greek yogurt. Make sure to also keep any “trigger” foods out of your house (like chips, sweets, or even something healthy like nuts if you find you’ve been overdoing it). Make it easier to make the healthy choice.
When you achieve your goal of snacking less or choosing something healthier, you’ll feel motivated and empowered to continue to adjust the challenge. Remember, you don’t have to do it perfectly the first time. Being healthier and reducing your cancer risk isn’t about starting January 1st, or Monday. Every moment is an opportunity for change; accept your setbacks and learn from them. Most importantly, remain positive.
What new goals can you set now to reduce your cancer risk this year?
Sonja Goedkoop, MSPH, RD, is a clinical dietitian at the Massachusetts General Hospital Weight Center. She has a passion for promoting a healthy lifestyle and reducing obesity through improved nutrition and physical activity. You can follow her @SonjaGoedkoopRD on twitter.