A New Year’s Resolution Lesson From Denmark

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Happy New Year!

Okay, so it’s the middle of January. Time to face the facts. The holidays have passed, and like most people, you may have eaten a little too much or skipped a few too many trips to the gym during that time. (I certainly indulged a bit myself!) And now, with the start of 2013, you’ve decided to lose a few pounds, get in shape, and eat more healthily. If that’s your story, then take solace in the fact that you’re not alone.  In fact, according to www.usda.gov it’s one of the most common New Years’ resolutions, there’s a whole industry based off of the drive to start the new year off well and get back on the exercise wagon each January.

I’ve always thought of January the way an accountant thinks of tax season… it’s a busy, stressful time of year, but on the other hand it’s nice to see how much impact your expert advice can have on your clients. And I don’t blame anyone who comes to me wanting advice; exactly the opposite, in fact! Focusing on your health is always a good decision, and it’s never too late to make a positive change in your lifestyle and habits. But all too often we dietitians see our clients fall out of step after just a few weeks and go right back to their old habits. There are many possible reasons for this, but in my opinion, the two most important are these:

1)  We’re creatures of habit. We fight change in any means possible.

2)  We’re scared of failure, so we just don’t try at all.

There’s a lot of social pressure to get fit fast and lose a bunch of weight right away in the New Year, and this leads people to try extreme diets or exercise plans that ultimately fail. All of the health food ads, gym membership discounts, and pictures of models wearing spring fashions lead us to believe that we can become someone totally new and different each year. And, if we’re honest with ourselves, then we know that it’s not very likely to happen. I bet lots of people have already abandoned their goals after just two weeks… are you among them?

Living in Denmark and experiencing the dawn of a new year here has been an eye-opening experience. There is no sudden rush to get to the gym. No extreme sale on athletic gear and weight loss shakes. No commercials advertising the latest “magic” diet pill. In fact, there seems to be no change at all. And you know why? I think it’s because people here are, for the most part, already very health-conscious and reasonable with their diets. And there’s a lot that we Americans can learn from them! Here are some nuggets of wisdom that I’ve learned both from my professional background and my observation of the Danes:

 

                     DO                                       DON’T

Make “SMART” goals: ones that are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-oriented. Expect miracles. (Even the ones promised in TV commercials!)
Pick a few key areas of your diet to address (ex: late night snacking, alcohol intake, etc.) Overhaul your diet all at once—you’ll never stick to it if you suddenly eliminate whole food groups or stop eating all your favorite foods!
Gradually increase your exercise program and consult a trainer if you have questions. No one wants an injury from overtraining! Yo-yo diet (a.k.a. losing and then regaining weight over and over). The longer you ride the weight roller coaster, the harder it gets to lose weight the next time around.
Choose physical activities that you enjoy, and take a day off if you get sore.

 

 

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