Establishing a Healthy Lifestyle is a Choice

by Theresa Keegan

As the new year approaches, it’s that time of year when resolutions soar to new highs. But many will soon be tumbling down, ironically broken by the very thing that made them impressive: their largess.

“You can’t do a lot all at once,” Janet Draves, a naturopathic doctor, says about changing bad habits. “You think you can, and you keep it up for 10 days, and then you’ll find excuses.”

Instead, it’s time to remember that every journey begins with that single step and, Draves suggests, also some deep introspection.

“Take time, sit down and decide where you’re going,” says the Rhinebeck practioner. “And then pick one thing to change.”

Altering some element of a lifestyle often requires acknowledging the reality of the situation. She believes people trying to lose weight should not focus on calories but rather on what they are actually consuming.

“For a week, write down every little thing that goes into your mouth,” she says.

After seeing the list, then choose one thing to alter: Drink water instead of a soda; skip dessert mid-week; have a salad instead of a sandwich. The idea is to replace bad habits with good ones.

“It’s a start,” says Draves, who is also a licensed nutritionist and dietitian. “It takes 30 days for your brain to re-program itself. If you skip and drink soda instead of water, then just start over again. But complete the one change, and then move on to another.”

At Gold’s Gym in Fishkill and LaGrange, co-owner Dave Kenyon explains the company is focusing on creating programs that truly fit customers’ lifestyles.

“We’re creating habits for people,” he said. “We develop long-range expectations with a member and then break them down into tiny increments.” The first step is often most critical: it requires people make a trip to the gym part of their lifestyle.

“Most people are impatient,” he says. “If a person is coming in just because it’s January (to fulfill a resolution), we can only do so much. They want to undo a year’s worth of bad eating in a month. That’s not going to work.”

Rather than have massive goals, Kenyon sees more success when people approach getting in shape as a choice.

There is no set formula about how to incorporate or improve exercise routine into a lifestyle. Outside forces include work and family demands, as well as the time of day when people prefer to exercise.

“It’s different for every person,” says Kenyon.

He encourages new members to set a realistic goals as to how often they can come to the gym (usually two or three times a week) and how much time they can spend there. Then they develop a workout strategy.

“To create that habit, they have to be comfortable they’re here, just make them feel at ease a bit,” he says. “We start smart and then move forward.”

When considering a gym, some options to consider include the structure of the facility — some offer workout areas segregated by sex, others offer group classes or individualized attention — as well as the cost and contract commitments.

Kenyon will often encourage new members to try the month-to-month option.

“That way it’s not a commitment to the gym, but to themselves.”

Another key factor when implementing successful lifestyle improvements is accountability — to either a spouse, friend or professional.

Find a walking partner; plan a week’s worth of healthy meals with a friend and go grocery shopping together; train for a running/walking event and post training progress on your social media accounts for friends to review.

“If you set yourself up with support and you look at it as a lifestyle you keep going,” says Vicki Koenig, a registered dietitian and certified dietitian nutritionist in New Paltz. She says making changes to achieve long-term health usually requires three things: weight loss, accountability and looking at behaviors to embrace healthy habits.

She offers clients a variety of options from personalized daily check ins (either in person or electronically) to bi-monthly free, public support groups, but always the key is the personal relationship she establishes with clients.

“I’m not an 800 number. I’m someone who knows what’s going on in their life,” she says. “I ask questions and I celebrate their successes. It (checking in) is not meant to be a stress, it’s just that someone is there who knows what you’re doing and cares.” With busy schedules it’s often hard to find a friend who can make such a commitment, but any source of accountability is always a plus. Also, establishing a healthy lifestyle shouldn’t be considered a chore, but rather a choice, says Koenig.

“Everyone could eat better,” she says. But it’s not something that magically happens.

“We all know folks who are thin and keep it all together. How do they do it? Planning, looking ahead, anticipating what your needs are.”

Koenig cautions that 85 percent of diets fail over two years and people are left yo-yoing on weight, nutrition and health. Instead of going for fast solutions, take the big picture.

“If you set yourself up for support and you look at it as a lifestyle, you keep going,” says Koenig. “If you really want it to work, you’ll see more results which can be self-fulfilling and you keep going.”

Taking control of exercise, diet and lifestyle choices may be challenging for awhile, but ultimately the outcome proves rewarding says Draves of Rhinebeck.

“More and more people are realizing they need to take charge of their body and make changes,” she says about eating right and exercising. “Initially, it’s hard. It’s going to take a few weeks before your body is saying ‘Hmmm I think I like it’.”