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How to shift your new year's resolutions into positive opportunities for lasting change

diet food concept
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New year's resolutions.

While the beginning of a New Year can act as a type of re-set or incentive for goal-setting, for some people it can be a difficult & triggering time.

There’s a lot of pressure to make big changes in the new year, especially around health, nutrition, weight, and exercise. So how can you best approach your goals with a healthier and more positive mindset?

"I might challenge to think of it as any kind of new really first do a bit of an assessment as opposed to just jumping into something," says Susie Kundrat, clinical professor of kinesiology and a faculty member in the nutritional sciences program at UW-Milwaukee.

She notes that something as simple as assessing your refrigerator or making a list of favorite fruits and vegetables to have on hand could make a huge impact in reaching a health goal.

"We do know that if we set smaller goals and maybe look at doing smaller things, that's helpful. We also have to remember that we have to support those opportunities," says Kundrat.

January, in particular, brings on an influx of mass marketing of diets, supplements, wellness programs, and more. But Kundrat says if you are trying to maintain something that is extreme, it won't benefit you in the long run.

"I don't think that people need to be in a situation where it's very painful for them, or where you're feeling that either other people are judging you or you're judging yourself harshly. If that's the case, then it's perhaps not really a healthy way to go about things," she says.

Kundrat recommends looking at food as more than nutrients — it's about figuring out what we like to eat, what we're comfortable with, and how we feel good eating? Because if we're satisfied with what we eat, we tend not to need to eat as much, she notes.

"Getting any kind of real restrictive eating pattern...generally doesn't work very long," says Kundrat. "I always tell my students and clients, if you're really restrictive and feeling bad about what you're eating and bad about your diet, then you can't blame yourself for not being able to continue that because it's just not reasonable. It's not realistic, and it's not healthy to feel bad about this."

Instead of trying to maintain a restrictive diet or any other practices that aren't your norm, Kundrat says simple changes like aiming to make one meal a day at home is a good place to start. As you're trying to form new habits, she adds that securing support and including someone could be beneficial.

"Taking a few of those steps to get other people involved in your wellness is really helpful. I find that people really appreciate that," says Kundrat. "They love getting recipes or seeing pictures or it's motivating to me when I get tips from a friend or family member or a colleague."

One other key tip to approaching wellness with a more positive mindset is taking a weight goal out of the picture if you can. If not, make weight a smaller part of your overall goal and focus on the daily things you can do from a nutritional wellness and support standpoint.

"The weight isn't as important as the wellness in your body. We know that someone can be very fit and healthy at many different weights," says Kundrat.

She adds that our bodies respond to what we do consistently over time. Being flexible can help keep a positive mindset. Road bumps are bound to happen, and one bad day of eating unhealthy isn't going to make or break your health, according to Kundrat.

"We know that some key really important pieces of a healthy eating pattern: flexibility is one of those. Let's be realistic about how our bodies respond. It's not going to be a problem if we have a day or a couple of days that just aren't as healthy per se. We're still going to be fine," she says.

Audrey Nowakowski hosts and produces Lake Effect. She joined WUWM in 2014.
Kobe Brown is WUWM's Eric Von fellow.
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