Are you one for New Year’s resolutions? As we get older, many of us give up on those, because – let’s face it – most of us fall down by the time the second week of January arrives.
One reason why New Year’s resolutions so frequently fail is that we’re biting off more than we can chew: “Lose 20 lbs” or “Run Half-Marathon” or “Quit sugar” may just be goals that are too big and far off to keep us going.
So, why not try starting small? I’ve made a list of a few simple changes that can go a long way in bringing you closer to a bigger goal, such as “lose weight” or “get healthy”. Have a read and then pick just one to give up and leave the rest of your life alone – for now.
Soft drinks and juices are just liquid sugar
Sugar sweetened soft drink are known to contribute to weight gain in both children and adults. They have also been associated with a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and cardio-vascular disease and are suspected to contribute to dementia. In 2015 World Health Organisation halved their recommendation for daily intake of added sugars from 10% of calorie intake to 5%. For the average adult this works out at about 25 grams per day. One can of fizzy drink contains approx. 35 grams of sugar – so with just the one drink, you have exceeded the recommended daily limit. Fizzy drinks are one thing, but did you know that fruit juices are no better? A glass of apple juice contains just as much sugar as a glass of cola. Granted, it may contain nutrients that a fizzy drink does not, especially if you have made the juice yourself, but in terms of sugar and the effect it has on your metabolism it really makes no difference. And if you were thinking of switching to diet drinks instead, which after all are sugar-free … Nope, sorry, they don’t help either. Although the association between artificially-sweetened drinks and the health issues listed above are less clear, there is an association and switching to diet drinks is not recommended. If you usually have even just one every day, not having any is a very easy way to bring you much closer to your health goals. If you are only going to do one thing, switch to water, herbal and fruit teas, coffee, and tea.
At this time of year in particular the coffee chains have specialty coffee drinks on offer, such as a Gingerbread Latte or a Toffee Nut Frappuccino. The Independent reported in November that the Grande version of the former contains an amazing 68.7 grams of sugar – that’s two days’ worth of added sugar. Popping into the coffee shop every week day morning on your way to work to get one of those to set you up for the day is not recommended. If you are just going to change one thing, swap your specialty coffee for a good old-fashioned Americano, Latte or Cappuccino, black or with full fat (yes!) milk.
… and other pseudo-crisps. Earlier this year I looked at a number of different crisp-type things that claimed to be healthier than the old favourite, potato crisps. What I found surprised even me (and I don’t really have much faith in the food industry to begin with). While all of them had fewer calories than regular crisps – and trust me, the writing on the bag made that clear – because they were lower in fat, neither of them were any healthier. First of all, all of them are high in carbohydrates, and in many cases the carbs they contained were higher up on the GI scale or more numerous than those contained in potato chips – so in terms of weight gain, I found that all of the ones I looked at were worse for you than ordinary crisps. (Here’s a blog post I wrote on the subject at the time.) Moreover, such products are still high in salt and often contain other undesirable additives that you don’t need or want. This includes even the apparently healthy commercial kale chips, which at more than £2 per bag are also ridiculously expensive for something you can make yourself for mere pennies. Here’s a link to my favourite homemade kale chips. If you are only going to do one thing, ditch crisps altogether or learn to make your own.
Whole Wheat Bread
I know, nutritional therapists say it all the time and I am one who has said it, too: whole wheat bread is better than white. And it is … but only a teensy little bit. At the end of the day, neither is great if you are looking to lose weight, have more energy and manage your stress better. In my weight loss programmes, I advise clients to restrict the glycaemic load per main meal to 10 GL. White bread weighs in at 10 GL per slice, whole wheat bread at 9 GL. So they’re as bad as each other when it comes to their impact on blood sugar levels (I’ve explained here why that matters), you can only have one slice of either and those who really love bread (there are many) rarely stop at just the one. If you are only going to do one thing, switch to thinly sliced wholegrain rye bread or sourdough rye, because then at least you can have two, i.e. put a lid on your sandwich.
Eat real food
I’ve left his one for last, because this may be a slightly bigger task, involving more effort, depending on where you are right now. The food industry, in it’s wisdom, has made our lives so much easier over the years by providing convenience foods and ready meals for us that we just have to pop into the microwave and – voilà – dinner’s served. Even if we switch to a healthier diet by, say, going vegetarian or even vegan, or by deciding to eat Paleo from now on, or maybe we’ve found out that we ought to eat gluten-free … Whatever it is, there will be ready-meals for every palate, every dietary choice and every fad. Seeing how stressful and busy our lives are, we happily embrace the offerings of the industry. But I don’t need to tell you that convenience foods are not the answer, no matter what they claim to be or do. Additives are used to make the meals look good, preserve the texture over time or through freezing, achieve the ‘mouth feel’ of home cooked food. If they claim to be low fat, you can bet that they’re high in sugar, and both sugar and salt help preserve the food while it sits on the shelf. You know they’re not healthy, even if they’re ‘organic’ or simply expensive and if you are only going to change one thing, resolve to prepare your own meals, maybe starting by doing just two or three per week, if you are not used to cooking.
When it comes to your own experience with abandoned New Year's Resolutions, maybe it wasn't the size of the goal you had set yourself that got in the way. Maybe it was completely achievable if only you had had a system of accountability. As Health and Weight Loss Coach, I provide just that for my clients. In my experience, people know full well what they should and shouldn't be eating and don't need me to tell them that. What they do need me for is to help them implement the changes they have resolved to make. I do that in different ways: either in 1:1 Programmes, my Sensible Weight Loss for Life Course (starting again in January), or Online Challenges - such as New Year, New You 2018, for which I have teamed up with Personal Trainer Tracy Swindell (starting in January). Make your resolutions work for you this year. Coaching and accountability may just be the two ingredients that have been missing in the past.