It's not just the new year that brings with it a new health regime, according to a study carried out on OnePoll.com, the average adult starts a health kick every three months. However more than half give up with a few hours of starting and over 60% say they never follow through with their goals. Here is a look at the typical triggers for failure and how to combat them to stay on track.
It's common problem - it's not starting a health kick that's the problem, it's sticking to it that's the challenge. In fact, on average, the sticking to it bit lasts less than 12 days! And according to the study, more than half give up with 24 hours, slipping back to their normal ways despite being so dead set on their intentions of eating healthier, exercising more, and cutting back on alcohol and cigarettes.
This pattern is typically repeated 4 times a year, with the average adult trying again to kick start their new healthy life every 3 months. Incredibly this amounts to a total of 8 years of life spent trying to stick to a diet.
The most common reasons given for giving up include feeling tired and being stressed at work and chocolate proves to be our biggest nemesis with most falling off the wagon for it.
Dr Meg Arroll, a psychologist specializing in health explained:
'People find it difficult to make change particularly when the health goals are vague and overarching – wanting to be a bit fitter or healthier is hard to achieve as it's these things are difficult to track and measure.
'But it is important to decide which aspect of health you want to change - focus on one health change then work on the goal.'
Before you start ask yourself these important questions:
- Are the changes you're looking to make going to fit in to your lifestyle?
Be realistic about what you can achieve - planning an hour gym session every morning when you hardly have time to get yourself to work is never going to pan out. It's also important to identify what you enjoy doing, if you hate the treadmill don't promise yourself you'll run 5k a day. The reason most people stick to exercise it because it makes them feel good - it's all about getting the buzz!
- Do you need to give something up or just cut back?
Don't get stuck in an all or nothing mindset - cutting out everything you enjoy is ultimately going to lead to failure. If happiness to you is chocolate or a slice cake then try to cut down the number of times a week you're indulging - there's nothing wrong with a treat now and again when you're leading a healthy and active lifestyle.
- What is the ultimate goal?
Being specific about what it is you want to achieve and how you're going to get there is key. Just saying you're going to eat more fruit and vegetables isn't good enough - instead set yourself a daily target of how many pieces you are going to consume. Again, remember to be realistic and start small! It could simply be a case of adding a handful of blueberries to your bowl of cereal in the morning or trying out a new veggie recipe once a week.
Pave the way for a good start
Don't get rid of everything you enjoy
As we've already mentioned above, its important to keep in mind what you enjoy and what makes you happy - there's little point to a long life if you're miserable! But feeling healthy and good about the way you look is a key part of happiness so it's got to be worth the effort!
If you love pizza, try making your own version with fresh ingredients or if you're partial to a burger then skip the bun and have it with sweet potato wedges instead. Try to work out how to make the foods you enjoy healthier rather than cutting them out entirely and replacing them with healthy foods you don't like eating.
Ditch the junk!
While it's important not to cut out the treats altogether try not to keep a large stock of naughty stuff in easy reach - you'll find it's presence will gnaw at you and when your resolve is weak (usually late at night) you'll give in to temptation. If it's not there you can't eat it.
The key is to plan
This is very important in helping you to keep on track with your goals. If you're prepared for the week then you're more likely to succeed - coming home to a bare cupboard or going shopping after work on an empty stomach is going to lead to an increased chance of poor food choices. One takeaway pizza and a tub of ice cream later and you'll be feeling rubbish and thinking 'well that's it, I've failed, there's no point in sticking to this diet anymore'.
Big one pot dishes you can cook up when you have time are really useful for reheating quickly when you're up against it - for example a hearty and filling beef chilli, a spicy chicken stew or a tasty veggie curry are all meals you can look forward to tucking into when you get home from a busy or stressful day.
Be aware of the triggers ready to throw you off course
Tiredness, both physical and mental, is one of the main culprits that leads dieters to jack in a new regime. Increasing the amount of food that balances out your blood glucose will help - think slow release energy provided by whole grains such as oats and brown rice. These will help to stabalise blood sugar levels and stop you from experiencing sudden hunger pangs that result in snacking.
B vitamins and magnesium are also very important for energy conversion processes in the body. A body lacking in this important vitamin group and vital mineral will feel tired and wiped out.
Most of us experience this in one way or another during our daily lives, albeit to varying degrees. What we tend to do during times of stress is to seek out sugary foods and quick fix comfort options as a way to make ourselves feel better. Not only does this sabotage a new healthy eating regime but these very foods make the physiological impact of stress worse. They actually heighten stress levels and associated hormones in the body.
Tryptophan is an amino acid found in foods such as bananas, turkey and soy protein and has a relaxing affect that may also help with sleep. Try combining tryptophan-rich foods with a carbohydrate to optimise the uptake of this amino acid into the brain.
Magnesium is a muscle relaxant found in nuts and seeds and has been shown to be useful when dealing with anxiety and low intakes have been associated with depression.
When we have a craving for it nothing else will do unfortunately! However you could try opting for a dark variety (above 70% cocoa solids or even better 85%) which is both healthier and also more difficult to binge on. If this just isn't an option then try buying smaller bars and don't stock pile them in the house! And remember if you're going to allow yourself to eat chocolate as a treat within the parameters of your healthy regime then enjoy it and don't feel guilty. Studies have also shown that mindfulness helps to stop binging - so slow down and savour the experience rather than just shoveling it down as quickly as possible.
The evening is often the most difficult time to uphold our good intentions - we're busy during the day and therefore distracted from thoughts of what we are and are not eating. However once we're slumped in front of the telly with the whole evening ahead of us we can easily convince ourselves we're hungry instead of just bored and start hunting for the naughty snacks stashed on top of the fridge.
A good tactic is to find things to do in the evening whether that's a new hobby, a walk or even just picking up the phone to catch up with those friends and family you don't see very often. You'll be surprised how much time you can while away chatting and your personal relationships will thank you!
This is the Achille's heel of many! It's not only calorific in itself, it also impairs judgement so you're far more likely to make bad food choices while under the influence. Certain types of alcohol fire up the appetite - cue wine munchies - and then the hangover hits the next day and all you're craving is stodge to quell the nausea. It's triple fold.
There is room for a little alcohol within a healthy diet - in fact research has shown that red wine particularly is high in antioxidants so as long as you stick to very moderate amounts it can actually be healthy. The key is try to find a strategy that results in successful moderation, whether this is watering down booze with more mixer, alternating a couple of small alcoholic drinks with a soft drink in between or treating yourself to that one glass, really savouring it and then putting the cork back in the bottle.
Eating out, socialising and trips away
If you're starting to isolate yourself from family and friends for fear you will not be able to resist the dark path of temptation then quite frankly you're doomed. It can never be a choice between one or the other and be sustainable so you have to find a way to make it work within your current lifestyle. In any case real friends will want to help and support you.
And really it doesn't have to be stressful - granted it might take a bit of will power but there is no way around that if you want results. It does help if you do some research, if you know what restaurant you're doing go have a look at the menu and plan ahead what you're going to have. Opt for lean grilled meats and veggie dishes for example. If you're planning a trip away don't make the focus about the food and keep active. And lastly give yourself a break, allowing yourself to enjoy a few treats is important. And if you do end up falling off the wagon don't equate it to failure - just get back up in the driving seat and back on track. Look at it as a small bump in the road and start eating healthy again from that point.
A healthy balanced diet is the best way to consume all the nutrients we need. Sometimes however this isn't possible and then supplements can help. This article isn't intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying any supplements or herbal medicines.