Six Keys to a Healthier 2011 Print
Written by Dee McCaffrey, CDC   
Monday, January 03, 2011

Year's end is neither an end nor a beginning, but a going on with all the wisdom that experience can instill in us. -Hal Borland

At the beginning of each New Year, it's tempting to make resolutions, to swear off ingrained habits and to promise ourselves that we will reform once and for all.  But if you are resolving to change your lifestyle and lose weight, you should know what that really entails. Learning to live a healthier life requires commitment, time, and patience. It took me 13 months to release 100 excess pounds.  Along the way I worked hard to free myself from a lifetime of emotional food attachments, to identify and work through my weaknesses and reverse the effects of poor health.

My experience revealed a more rewarding and satisfying way of approaching change is to think of it as a process, not a resolution.  I have found that the process of changing a lifestyle is vastly more interesting and important than reaching the main goal - in other words, it's the journey that changes us, not the destination. 

There are six factors that will help you in your process so that you can achieve your health goals in 2011:

1.  Willingness:  It all starts with a willingness to change and an ability to keep your mind open to trying new things. My definition of willingness is "having the capacity to say 'yes' to doing something different". The development of more and more willingness to stay changed is a lifetime process.  It's what keeps us from falling back into our old unhealthy patterns and allows us to remain teachable. 

A great example of continued willingness is my Brussels sprouts story.  From an early age, I never liked Brussels sprouts.  When I started eating more vegetables and trying new ones, every time I tried to eat Brussels sprouts I just didn't like them.  Years went by and I just couldn't bring myself to eat what I learned were one of the healthiest vegetables in the world.  One day I was in the grocery store and the Brussels sprouts seemed to be calling my name.  They actually looked appealing!  Knowing that my husband loves the small, leafy green buds, I bought them and went home with a plan for how to prepare them.

Once they were cooked, I decided to try them again myself.  To my surprise, they were the most delicious vegetables I had ever eaten! After 40 years of Brussels sprouts aversion, they are now one of my favorite vegetable treats.  My continued willingness to try something different has paid off in many areas of my life. Is there anything you've been unwilling to try that could potentially change your life?

2.  Commitment: My favorite quote is from an unknown author who wrote "And the day came when the desire to remain the same was more painful than the risk to grow". If you want to get healthy, you must have a strong desire to change.  You have to become more committed to your change than you are to staying the same.  That means that you have to stick with your process, even if results are slow, and even if you stray from it temporarily.

Imagine leaving your house to go out for a walk.  You get three blocks away from home and you trip on a crack in the sidewalk and fall to the ground.  What will you do?  Will you stay down for years and blame to crack in the sidewalk for your slip?  Will you get up and go all the way back home and start your walk over, negating the three blocks of progress you have already made? Or, will you pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and continue on your committed path with the understanding that "slips happen" and it is your healthy response to those slips that empower you to continue on from where you are?

I recommend the latter.  It this healthy form of "never-start-over" commitment that has allowed me to keep my weight off for nearly two decades.  I have had my share of "slips", but I have never allowed them to completely derail me from my commitment, and neither should you.

3.  Priority:  Making wellness a priority means that your health is as important as brushing your teeth or taking a shower.  This means taking the time required to ensure that the changes you make become a working part of your life.  I have never heard anyone say that they had to stop brushing their teeth every day or stop taking showers because they just didn't have the time - they just couldn't fit it in to their daily schedule! 

When an alcoholic wants to stop drinking, he or she makes sobriety the number one priority in their life.  They become willing to go to any length necessary to ensure that they do not take that drink. When working toward a college degree, school and homework take priority over other activities.  The same goes for getting healthy and losing weight.  Making health a priority means that you must consciously and purposefully take action each and every day. You can't just "resolve to" or "intend to" change. You need to make it a priority every single day.

You need to set aside time each day to focus on what you need to do to be healthy.  If you do this, I guarantee that you will be successful.  Putting forth the time and the energy to make yourself a priority is an act of self-love.  By doing it you're telling yourself that you're important and that you deserve to be healthy.

4.  Activity:  The healthiest people in history moved their bodies nearly every day of their lives.  Moving your body is half the battle to changing your health, but without a change in metabolism, your body will remain in a state of imbalance. Some of the best advice I received when I was first starting out on my health journey was to "go slow". If you have been sedentary for a long period of time, you will want to start out slow and go only a short distance. 

When I was 100 pounds overweight and in the depths of poor health, walking became my mode of transportation on the road to healthy living.  I started with slow and short walks, and worked my way up to brisk aerobic 60-minute walks.  Whatever type of activity you choose, make it a priority in your life.  Use exercise time as a tool to strengthen your commitment to yourself.  Activity will not only make you feel better physically, it will nourish you and give you the energy to change and reshape your life.

5.  Personal Growth:  There will no doubt be times when life gets challenging and you slip into old behaviors.  You may come up against obstacles that have sabotaged you in the past.  Those times require more willingness and commitment.  Awareness and understanding of your motivations, developing a new relationship with food and activity, and improving your inner life is essential to staying with your process.

Journaling is an invaluable tool that has greatly enhanced my personal growth.  It is a powerful tool that can allow you to access feelings that you may not always be aware of until you start writing about them.  The practice of writing in a journal on a regular basis helps you to see patterns in your behaviors and thinking.  Writing also strengthens and trains your mind to look for your motivations for wanting to engage in unhealthy eating or life choices.

6.  Support: Making the decision to live healthier is a significant life change that is hardly ever successfully done alone, nor does it have to be.  Surround yourself with positive supportive people who are genuinely interested in seeing you succeed.

Support is crucial, because it helps you to cultivate a belief in yourself and connects you to others in ways that you may not find in your other relationships.  The ability to ask for help is a spiritual practice that strengthens you, rather than weakens you, in your moments of self-sabotage or when outside temptations seem powerful.

From the first day of my journey, I knew that I needed others to help me stay committed to my new healthy lifestyle.  I can honestly say, that since that day I have never been without a supporting friend or mentor to help me stay committed. Being supported is a way to remind yourself of your goals, even when you lose sight of them.

For this reason, I established the Processed-Free Support Groups.  These groups have sprouted up in cities all over the country during 2010, and are now in place and ready to support you in 2011.  To find a group in your area, click here.

I want to be frank with you: the challenge of lifestyle changes and permanent weight loss IS difficult.  It may be one of the most difficult things you ever do in your life.  But it will also be the most beautiful experience you will have.  For you will learn to live according to an understanding that the results and the rewards far outweigh any difficulties you may have to endure.  The difficult times are only temporary, while the final result will last a lifetime.