By: Danielle Houston, RDN, LD
Ask anyone in the United States–and possibly the world–and they will tell you that the month of January is associated with new beginnings and New Year’s resolutions. But when it comes to resolutions, there are things that are helpful as well as unhelpful. Additionally, people who have had bariatric surgery need to be even more cautious with their resolutions to ensure they have their eyes set on the RIGHT prize.
These are some of the most popular New Year’s resolutions:
• losing weight
• volunteering to help others
• quitting smoking
• getting more education
• getting a better job
• saving money
• decreasing stress
• taking a trip
• drinking less alcohol
From looking at these, you can see that these are broad, non-specific goals. So, at what point have you met your resolution if you just want to “save money”. If you save a $20 bill for a whole week, does this count?
The first tip for making attainable resolutions is to be specific! For example, if you want to eat healthier, consider making your resolution to “not eat fast food more than once per month” or to “decrease fried food consumption to one serving, once per week”. These types of specific goals are measurable so that you can be sure you are meeting it. If you find that you aren’t meeting your goal, reassess and change the goal to something more specific.
My second tip for making great resolutions is to make them reasonable and achievable. I know that many people like to set big goals because they feel this is motivating. However, a negative cycle often occurs when you don’t meet your goal and then become discouraged, leading to a depressing psychological pattern. Instead of making one big goal, break it down into smaller, specific pieces. For example, you may have a long-term goal to lose 50 pounds, but to make it reasonable and achievable, make your short-term goal 2-3 pounds per month.
A word of warning: a common trend with resolutions is to use the phrase “never”, such as: “I will never again eat fried food”. These types of resolutions are not reasonable because the only way to be successful in this goal is to stop doing something altogether. Again, you will likely fail in this resolution and then give up, or change completely, which is not what I want for my patients. Even when I teach patients about certain diets, I very rarely use the word “never” because it is human nature to immediately want what is forbidden. So don’t set yourself up for failure this way.
Given that people who have bariatric surgery are focusing on weight loss, let’s focus on appropriate resolutions for these specific patients. Your resolutions and goals will vary, depending on how far out of surgery you are. If you are less than six months out, you are likely still very focused on the scale. While there is nothing wrong with weighing yourself, I highly recommend also taking body measurements once/month. The scale is a tricky thing since our body weight can fluctuate quite a bit depending on hormones, muscle mass, fat mass and water retention. The tape measure, on the other hand, doesn’t lie as much. Measure:
• upper arm
Document these measurements each month and you will be surprised to see how many inches you are losing. I have found that even if the scale doesn’t move, the tape measure often shows me the results of my hard work and keeps me motivated, while the scale alone is often discouraging.
For those patients that are more than six months out from surgery, I recommend making resolutions that bring you back to a healthy mindset. From working in this field, I have encountered many patients who have drifted away from healthy choices after losing a majority of their weight or when they are able to eat more normally. The New Year may be a good time to refocus yourself on making healthy choices to work along with your surgery. Examples may include: limiting high-fat and high-sugar foods, adding lean protein to your diet, or eliminating sugary drinks. It is important to remember that weight loss surgery is a tool and if you do not use it properly, you may not be successful. The goal of these surgeries is not just to remove excess weight, but also to help you lead a healthy lifestyle, which means making permanent changes in your diet and lifestyle.
Regardless of where you are in your post-surgical stage, there are two resolutions that should be on your daily list: exercise and vitamins. Cardiovascular exercise is important for all people, not only for weight loss, but also for heart and muscle health. If you are out of practice, set a goal to walk at 3 MPH for 30 minutes, 3-4 days per week. Once you meet this goal, increase your speed or number of days per week. Before you know it, you will be an exercise fool! If you are really motivated, add a goal to do weight training twice per week to help with muscle tone and bone health. Exercise should be part of every person’s everyday life and, if you make it part of your routine, you will find that you actually miss it if you stop going!
Now, let’s talk about vitamins. You should have been informed prior to surgery that there are certain vitamin supplements that need to be taken for the rest of your life. These should include multivitamin, calcium and B12 (depending on your needs, your doctor may have further recommendations). It is important that post-surgical patients do not stray from these supplements since many vitamin deficiencies can be life threatening. If needed, get yourself a pill box and add them to your other prescriptions to ensure you take them daily.
As a reminder, please remember that, regardless of having had weight loss surgery or just being overweight, losing weight does not HAVE to be on your resolution list. It may be more helpful to focus on a different area of your life to take the pressure off of your waist line or physical appearance. As a dietitian, I can tell you that resolutions regarding weight or body changes will not be on my list. This is not because I’m not working on this area of my life, but because I tell myself every day that I am striving to live a healthy lifestyle. This is not something that starts each January, it is something that is continually evolving and happening in my day-to-day life. So get out there and live a healthy life–you deserve it!