Lifestyle

Resolutions? Count on failure | Gustafson

It is the time of the year again when many people think of changing their “evil ways.” The holidays are long over, but regrets abound.

Too many indulgences have left their ugly marks, mostly around the waistline. For us dietitians business is good but, unfortunately, we also get plenty of “repeat customers” – patients we have seen before. I never look forward to these reunions.

There are the “yo-yo” clients whose weight goes up and down with predictable regularity and who go on annual diets in an almost ritualistic fashion. But there are also those for whom their ongoing struggle with weight gain is serious business and can be a matter of life and death. Some have worked long and hard to lose extra pounds, lower their blood pressure or diminish the effects of their diabetes. Now they come back to start all over. To those my heart goes out, and I share their pain more than they will ever know.

Naturally, I blame myself when I have been unable to make a longer lasting impact on the lives of my patients. It is a frustrating experience for everyone involved, and I don’t find much comfort in the thought that even my best efforts can only do so much and that success in never assured. But I also realize that there are some valuable lessons to be learned.

When people decide or find themselves forced to undergo significant lifestyle changes, or when they are required to give up old habits, like overeating, smoking or drinking, they often find themselves initially in a very vulnerable spot. Some suffer from feelings of personal guilt and shame for having let themselves go for too long. Others struggle with the effects of withdrawal and deprivation. More than once I’ve heard new clients use the word “reckoning” when describing their reasons for consulting me. Negative emotions that lead to self-loathing and self-flagellation of this kind can be significant obstacles in the therapeutic process and may take much time and effort to overcome.

Others go to work in a fury. As if to prove their determination and seriousness of their commitment, they make the mistake of initially setting the bar unrealistically high.

Of course, ambition is good and I readily support anyone’s willingness to work hard on behalf of their health. But if the goals are out of reach to begin with, failure is practically a foregone conclusion. So my first advice to this year’s “resolutionists” is this:

First: Whatever your goals are, count on some degree (or even a lot) of failure along the way. Look at it as an inevitable part of what you are trying to accomplish. Never define your success singularly from the perspective of the best possible outcome. Rather value and appreciate every step that leads you closer to your main goals as small but significant contributions. Eventually they will add up.

Second: Make changes gradually and add new ones at a practical pace. Don’t try to implement the entire program all at once. Make sure your “innovations” fit in your existing lifestyle and social environment, or at least are not outright in conflict with them.

Third: Stay positive, no matter what. Keep your eyes on the prize. Don’t lose sight of what you ultimately want, no matter what setbacks you may face. Maintain a clear vision of yourself and how your life will be when you finally reach the finish line. That vision will serve you as your compass and will hold you steady when it seems too hard to keep going. I know this to be true. I’ve seen it work time and again.

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Timi Gustafson, R.D., is the author of “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun®.” Find more tips for living a healthy lifestyle in her book which is available at local bookstores, at www.amazon.com and at her blog. Visit timigustafson.com to read many more articles as well as her Glad You Asked™ Q+A sessions and post your own questions, comments and suggestions. You can also follow Timi’s daily tweets on twitter.com/TimiGustafsonRD

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