JUST TRY IT: Start increasing your intake of vegetables, and before you know it, it’s a habit. Picture: THINKSTOCK
JUST TRY IT: Start increasing your intake of vegetables, and before you know it, it’s a habit. Picture: THINKSTOCK

NEARLY all New Year resolutions hinge on the forming of new habits. No matter your goal, the biggest challenge lies in creating new habits that support your resolution

If you aren’t already, you may soon be reading this article on holiday, at the coast, or at least enjoying the slower end-of-year pace.

New Year is just around the corner and, as we all know, it offers the perfect opportunity for a fresh start. Why else would New Year’s resolutions be so popular?

Lose weight. Join the gym. Create more balance. New Year’s resolutions are fantastic — if you manage to stick to them. Nearly all New Year resolutions hinge on the forming of new habits. No matter your goal, the biggest challenge lies in creating new habits that support your resolution.

The main reason people fail at creating and sticking to new habits is that they don’t keep doing it. This seems obvious: if you don’t keep on doing something, it won’t really become a habit. So what’s the solution to this problem? Find a way of continuing the behaviour until it becomes a habit.

The key to forming a habit is not how much of your new behaviour you do each day, but whether or not you do it at all. The key is to just get started.

What do I mean by starting? If you want to form the habit of eating breakfast, just get yourself into the kitchen for a few minutes every morning.

If you want to form the habit of running, just lace up your shoes and get out the door. If you want to form the habit of drinking more water, just grab a jug or glass and start sipping.

Form the habit of starting, and you’ll get good at forming habits.

How do you know when you’ve created a new habit? I usually say its when the activity happens on autopilot or you become unconsciously competent at it.

If, for instance, your goal is to drink more water and you automatically drink a glass of water with every cup of coffee or tea and carry a water bottle around without thinking about it, you’ve become unconsciously competent at it. Then you can confidently move on to the next habit.

It took me many starts and frustrations before I learnt how to live a healthier lifestyle. When I finished school, I was more than 10kg overweight, and didn’t enjoy exercise. Today, I am much leaner and fitter. I eat healthily most of the time (with regular indulgences), and I’m able to stick to a regular exercise routine.

How did I change? Let me share some of the simple strategies I learnt on my journey. Pick some of these simple strategies for healthier habits next year — ones that could fit into your life. Think about which ones to start within the New Year and give them a try.

Remember, you don’t have to wait until you’re back from holiday to try these strategies. After all, there is no time like the present:

• Spring clean your kitchen

Get rid of the high-sugar, high-fat stuff lurking in your cupboards and fridges (you know what I am talking about: the crisps, chocolates, the soft drinks), and stock up on the right stuff. This way, when you wander into the kitchen looking for something to eat, it’ll be easier to make a smarter choice.

• Play by the numbers

Understanding your daily kilojoule requirements and creating enough of a deficit is crucial to losing weight safely and effectively as well as managing your energy levels. Reading food labels will help you become a kilojoule guru. Aim to eat between 1,500kj and 2,000kj a meal, and between 500kj and 750kj a snack.

• Cook in bulk

I find it easiest to stick to a healthy meal plan if I prepare things in advance. Cook big batches of vegetables and lean proteins such as chicken breasts or lean mince and put the bulk of it in containers in the fridge or freezer. I like to divide things into meal-sized containers so I just heat things up when it’s mealtime.

• Make water and tea your default drink

Many people drink fruit juice, coffee or sugary drinks all day. If you don’t like the taste of water, make it more appealing by adding sliced fruit or fresh herbs to it.

• Schedule active breaks

If you work on the computer all day, schedule short breaks every 60 to 90 minutes and have a stretch, walk around a little, have a drink of water and maybe do a few squats.

• Run routines

If you look at the creative lives of productive people, you’ll discover that they follow strict daily routines. They have set times when they get up, when they start work, when they eat and exercise and even when they relax.

Though yours needn’t be as rigid, create a daily routine to optimise your time. Peak productivity and health is not about luck, it’s about devotion.

• Go slow

The way you eat is as important as what you eat. Eating mindfully and chewing each mouthful properly may help you to eat less without feeling deprived.

Try not to multitask while eating (this includes work and watching TV), and stop eating when satisfied, not when full. Be present in the moment, enjoy the conversation and be more aware of your surroundings, notice the people, the music, the décor and savour every mouthful.

• If you overeat at one meal, go light on the next

It takes 2,000kj per day (that’s one serving of dessert or two cocktails) above your normal/maintenance consumption to gain half a kilogram a week.

• Create accountability

It is ideal to be part of a comprehensive programme that addresses nutrition, exercise and your behaviours and emotions. Consult with a registered dietician for personal support and guidance, and involve your friends, colleagues and family.

You can also keep a food journal that includes your emotions and circumstances surrounding everything you consume. This way you will be able to detect patterns and determine whether you eat in response to actual hunger or for other reasons.

• Set smart goals

Be specific about what habits you want to change, then set an easily achievable goal for yourself. Developing a habit of eating more fruit may seem daunting, whereas setting a goal of eating two pieces of fruit a day is simple!

To give yourself the best shot at success, just make one change at a time and remember to focus on just getting started.

Don’t underestimate the power of simple changes and compensations. Small changes can add up to some surprisingly big course corrections in a short time.

If you view each start as a sunrise, the arrival of something joyful, your habit woes will soon be a thing of the past.

• Celynn Erasmus is a registered dietician, wellness consultant, professional speaker and consultant to GlaxoSmithKline.