By the second week of January, many folks have already thrown in the proverbial towel on their New Year’s resolutions. What is it about New Year’s resolutions that can be so irresistible, and yet so challenging to maintain?
As a naturopathic physician, this is an important question for me not just at the beginning of the year, but year-round. It’s a challenge to help patients create and sustain positive lifestyle changes through life’s ups and downs.
The new year promises a clean slate of endless opportunity. When reflecting on the past, we often remember our lives segmented into their respective years. A new year is intoxicating in its untarnished potential. And yet, sustainable change rarely happens in rapid bursts. The patients that I see get the best results at transforming habits get those results through progressive, gradual modifications coupled with the powerful tool of listening to our bodies.
The truth is, most any healthy change eventually feels good physically. Like, really good, actually.
Initially, there may be barriers that have to be worked through. Those first few weeks of transitioning from being sedentary to moving your body can be quite uncomfortable. Reducing caffeine can trigger nasty headaches. Cutting back on alcohol can cause rebound sleep issues or unresolved anxieties to surface.
But for my patients that persevere by taking one positive step at a time, they eventually reach breakthroughs where they have access to more energy and more joy, and they tend to feel really great.
How do we get there? If I could offer only one tip to my patients, it would be this: Cultivate your ability to listen to what your body is telling you. Your body is communicating via signs and symptoms all the time. It is asking for particular things and when bodies get the biochemical and biomechanical things it needs, bodies tend to feel much better.
For a more specific example, let’s look at weight loss. Many people have seen their weight loss goals obliterated by this time each year. I never encourage my patients to pick that as a resolution. Regardless of their body size, I would just love if all my patients moved their bodies on a regular basis in ways that felt sustainable and good to them — and ideally included both cardiovascularly challenging movements and resistance training.
When my patients are willing to throw out the idea of weight loss and instead explore how they feel when they get regular movement, many unlock a new paradigm shift. Once they get past the first few weeks of potential discomfort, nearly universally, my patients report more energy, better sleep, less stress, less chronic pain and a better mood.
And once that connection has been made, it is much easier to find the motivation and desire to keep it up or get back to it when one has taken a break. Weight loss, on the other hand, may or may not happen for any particular patient. And if their only motivation for the exercise is the weight loss, they will not likely participate in the activity for long and thus may miss the many health benefits of regular movement.
This process of listening can be applied to all sorts of positive lifestyle choices. It is a skill, so it takes time to learn (or relearn in most cases) how to hear what our bodies are telling us. For some people, working with a health coach or physician that has this mindset can be helpful if your body-listening skills have atrophied somewhat — a common thing in our over-stressed, over-caffeinated, over-worked society.
And this process is ongoing. Our bodies change and need different things throughout our lifespans. And when we can meet the deeper needs our body is asking for, positive lifestyle choices feel amazing and resolutions become obsolete.
Dr. Lauren Gresham is a naturopathic physician and a community health education specialist. Learn more about her by visiting www.totallylovablenaturopathic.com.