Ahh … 2014. Nothing like the fresh hope of a New Year.
With the New Year comes an abundance of New Year’s resolutions. As a New Year’s resolution junkie myself (I’m obsessed with the concept of starting anew), I wanted to share a few things that I have committed to over the course of the past few years to work on my health & wellness goals.
As someone who works in the fitness industry, hopefully you will be able to attach some credibility to these tried and proven “tricks”:
1. Invest in a standing desk.
I used to get funny stares from my co-workers during my associate days at my old law firm for having one of those big exercise balls to sit on instead of the standard office chair. I was convinced (and still am convinced!) that those balls are great for strengthening your core, by forcing you to keep your abdominal muscles contracted for extended periods of time and requiring you to sit up nice and tall with straighter posture. These balls make your sitting “more active” by design.
I also just bought myself a standing desk for my home office, so that I can work while standing, to help reduce the sedentary nature of my work. I would urge you to get one too, so that we can stand together in solidarity and naturally engage more muscles of our bodies by standing, and thereby burning more energy. While I wouldn’t go so far as to get one of those funky treadmill desks, where you can walk while you work, a standing desk seems like a fair compromise.
[Side note: now that it’s cool to be healthy by the likes of those ubiquitous lululemon bags, don’t worry about any glares you might get from officemates. If anything, it’s their own insecurity that they aren’t multitasking and working on their health while sitting on the painfully long conference call on the latest turn of comments to the asset purchase agreement. Also, if you have your own office and feel comfortable doing so, I would keep a set of weights or mat, in addition to gym shoes, under your desk if you want to sneak in some reps of deltoid presses or do a set of push-ups or rejuvenating yoga poses as part of your lunch break.]
2. Have something green at each meal.
A few years ago, I made the mind shift away from cutting things out of my eating and toward incorporating more healthful things in. This is great, as it focuses on inclusion rather than deprivation. I try (operative word is “try”) to have something green that’s a vegetable at every meal except for breakfast.
Some insanely healthful friends of mine get greens even in the morning, through their kale-infused breakfast shake. I’m not that extreme. All I know is that if I’m eating a burger for dinner, I will sub out the fries for some broccoli or steamed asparagus. I’m okay with splurging, as long as I try to fill up on the most nutrient-dense foods during the meal.
3. Guzzle H20 and tea – non-stop.
I am pretty obsessed with my electric kettle. You know, the ones that you fill with tap water, press a button, and voila – you have boiling water to use for tea.
I religiously fill mine up several times during the day, and drink my roasted barley tea to my heart’s content. I also pretty much drink water non-stop, as I know that when I’m dehydrated, I get cranky. Real fast.
I think lots of people also tend to mistake thirst for hunger, so it’s important to drink lots of water to assess whether what you are feeling is true hunger. Not to mention, water helps flush out any toxins in your body.
4. Eat soup! Think volumetrics.
My friends know that I am really into with soups. I have a whole album devoted to soups on Facebook – called “Souper Sleuth.” In it, I have photos of all of my favorite soups around town.
While some nutritionists may balk at the sodium content of these soups, I am a big proponent of volumetric eating, where you eat foods/meals that are very water-dense to help you feel full. Examples of this would be watermelon, cucumbers, and soups.
Soups were a way that poor Koreans back in the day could stretch their food among family members during the Korean War and times of poverty, so it must be naturally ingrained in me as part of my heritage to prefer soups and stews.
Even if you think that having soup will just fill you up temporarily with water and then you will be hungry soon after you go to the bathroom, having a soup with a half sandwich might be a better idea than having just the full sandwich alone. Also, there is nothing more comforting than a bowl of soup during the cold dead of winter. Am I right?
[Note: Not all soups are created equal. I would stick to the ones with clearer broth, and less of the heavier cream based soups.]
5. Eat half, save half.
This is a trick that I started doing when portion sizes would overwhelm me in American restaurants after my study abroad semester in Korea.
Having studied abroad in Korea where the portion sizes are about 60% of what is regularly served here in the States, I started to gut-check my portion sizes. (I think smaller portion sizes hold true for other foreign countries too, and not just Asia.)
Often, I would conclude that it was unnecessarily larger than usual and challenge myself internally to eat half, then save the rest for later. This way, by packing the rest to go, I didn’t feel this anxious urgency to eat/clear everything on my plate right away, and gently assured myself that I would be able to eat the rest in just a few hours, if I still felt hungry. Often times, I would find myself full on half, and then end up eating the rest of the portion for a separate meal.
7. When in doubt, dine Asian.
This may sound biased, coming from someone who is Korean-American, but I do believe that authentic Asian cuisine is, for the most part, healthful. I think Asians struggle with our own health issues, such as high sodium intake and excessive refined white rice consumption, but the incorporation of fresh vegetables, spices, fish, and stews make me think Asian cuisine is the healthier option between this and the choice of more traditionally “American” fare of burgers, sandwiches, pizza, and pasta.
My favorite type of food in the world is sushi, and while expensive, I love it for both its presentation and taste. With sushi, presentation is just as important as the taste, and this aspect really helps me capture the sensory cues that I might miss in any other meal, thereby increasing my meal satisfaction.
7. Focus on the accumulation of little steps.
I think the most overwhelming thing for anyone starting to focus on healthier habits is the sheer vastness of it all. It seems like a huge, lofty goal to say “I want to get fit and healthy in 2014!” Anyone can make this their resolution, but determining the smaller, incremental steps to get to this goal is what often trips people up.
As such, I might focus on making smaller, concrete goals such as: (1) find a workout class that I really enjoy and attend a minimum of two classes a week (even if that means going on the weekend, because work gets crazy), or (2) try to walk home from work every day to squeeze in 15 minutes of physical activity, then do push-ups and plank work during the commercials of my favorite TV shows (if the day gets away from you and you can’t fit in a proper workout), or (3) find good salads and soups around my workplace, and stick to a steady rotation of 2-3 of these options.
You might guess that I am an avid believer in group fitness, as I firmly believe that the social support and accountability provided by this workout format is critical to sticking to one’s goals.
I also think that shifting away from a black and white mentality of “good” and “bad” is critical in sticking to one’s health and fitness goals. I no longer consider myself “bad” if I end up having a handful of my favorite flamin’ hot Cheetos at the end of a workday, because 90% of the rest of the day, I stayed on course.
Also, eating is a pleasure of mine, so why wouldn’t I want to introduce treats in moderation? By understanding that there is gray, you will feel less compelled to have the all-in or all-out mentality of “well, I might as well go eat other not-so-great-for-me foods since I already messed up today by eating this dessert.”
The craziest thing about health and fitness is that it really just breaks down into a multitude of little decisions on a daily basis that accumulate to form more salubrious or less salubrious outcomes. In plain English – just be aware that you have the power to shift your health in a more healthful direction by avoiding that second piece of cheesecake and taking stairs, when you decide to indulge in that first piece in the first place.
Finally, remember that willpower is a mental muscle that can be built over time. You will continually strengthen and flex your willpower muscle day after day through the lifestyle choices you make. Even though right now you may not be able to stare temptation in the face without wanting to grab at it, eventually you will be able to train yourself to wean off of it and desire it less and less over time.
The concept of delayed gratification and understanding that whatever you want to indulge in will be there tomorrow, and the next day (and thereby reducing your anxiety over when you can have it next), has helped me learn how to hold off and reduce intake with the thought “I can have it later or tomorrow, if I really want it.”
Sometimes, I deliberately keep more indulgent food in mass quantities at my place to (i) make me feel secure/act as a security blanket, and (ii) make it hold less power over me, as I find anything in mass quantities less appealing. This may sound like a strange psychological trick, but it works for me, and perhaps it can work for you. This doesn’t work for all of my friends, however, especially those that consider anything within the confines of their apartment fair game for eating.
Hope this has been helpful to you in learning small steps to take to lead a healthier lifestyle in 2014!