By Dr Monique Hallee, BScHK ND.
It happens each year. The gyms/studios/stadiums/courts/fields all fill up in January, which annoys the “regulars”, but wait about a month and the numbers are back to normal. Whether it is a change in activity or a change in diet, it seems like the thought of being healthier is a constant goal that circulates through our minds like clockwork as the calendar switches over to a new year. No matter if your goal is to physically look better or actually just to feel better, here are some tools to get you off to a good start.
Your resolution is probably not something you’ve made up as the clock strikes midnight, so try to do yourself a favour and don’t overdo the Christmas indulgence too much. If, however, you’re starting fresh in the New Year, start it slowly! I have had the advantage of spending years in the businesses personal training and coaching before studying medicine, so I can speak from experience in two health professions.
If one week we are eating large portions of calorie-rich dinners covered in gravy, to the next week of eating salads, we are shocking our bodies. For the first while our bodies will lose weight, but then the body will think it is starving so it will conserve body fat and you will not lose it. Instead, slowly decrease the amount of calories you get in a day so that your body won’t be shocked and won’t really “notice” that it is losing weight. It takes longer, but it works for the long term.
The same rule goes for exercising. Don’t try to jump into the gym (or other activity) so quickly. If you didn’t have a regular exercise routine previously, you are likely to hurt yourself if you jump into a program too quickly (even if you used to do it several months ago). If you hurt yourself, you need time to heal and that time will mean you are more likely to not re-start exercising. To determine how quickly you can return to exercise, you need to consider your age (and thus recovery time from injury), and how long it has been since your activity level was as high as you would like to have it become. Generally, if you are 30 or up and haven’t done about the same level of activity, you need to start slow! I recommend starting slower than you think you should. Another reason for this is because it helps to develop a routine.
The human brain is slow to change its habits. Don’t try to overwhelm yourself with too much. You might want to consider waiting until February until actually purchasing a gym (or other) membership. That way, you can use January to get in the habit of going to the gym. Practice getting your bag packed and walking to the gym. Once you get there, turn around, walk home and do some stretching and maybe some light exercises (squats, sit-ups, lunges etc) to get your body used to moving at that time of day. This gets your brain accustomed to a routine and gives your wallet a chance to catch up to any extra spending you did over the holidays.
Diet and exercise are the major focus for most people trying to improve their health and/or lose weight, and understandably so. Motivation can be difficult to maintain if you don’t see results, despite your efforts. There are many factors that may contribute to the lack of reslts. Sometimes there are medical reasons; this often includes hormonal changes for women in menopause and/or changes in thyroid hormone, which can often occur for women at this time. In practice, I have seen many patients, both men and women, who have had the storage form of thyroid (TSH) tested previously, with no abnormalities, but when I test their active thyroid form (T3) and we find it is low and contributing to their excess weight. Beyond medical conditions, there are two aspects of health that are often left out, but which contribute greatly to our success in that New Year resolution: Sleep and Stress.
I have touched on sleep in past articles, but again I want to emphasize its importance. Let’s review how to improve your sleep quality: keep your room dark and quiet; go to bed at the same time each night (usually around 9-10pm) and wake at the same time (even on weekends); avoid “screen” time one hour before bed; generally don’t eat or drink too much in the 2 hours before going to bed; and keep work and electronics (TV, computers, phones) out of the bedroom. If you have tried these tips and still are finding things difficult, it may be time to seek an ND. Getting a good sleep will help us be less stressed, less depressed and can actually help us stay in better physical shape.
Sleep may alleviate some stress, but likely there are other stressors affecting your body that will also need to be addressed. Stress in our lives makes us pump out cortisol. Cortisol is what makes us gain weight, especially around our tummy. If you have a “spare tire” around your waist, you will need to consider stress in your life. Remember that stress is many things. Stress is “work” stress or “traffic” stress, but stress can also be happy, like when you are really excited to do something or see someone. A stress response will raise cortisol in our bodies, which can be from many things, including exercise! If you are over-exercising, you might be stressing your body out. Another hidden cause of stress is from the foods you are eating. You might not eat a lot of calories, but you could be having reactions to the calories you do consume. Your system may recognize the food “sensitivity” or “allergy” as a threat, so it spikes your cortisol each time you eat it.
Whether weight loss is your goal or a side-effect from your resolution, remember to start slow. Develop your habits first before pushing yourself too hard. Adjust your sleep, organize your day to better accommodate your new activities and diet changes. If you find you are running into barriers that you don’t understand, get some help from a professional so that you can continue to persevere and achieve this year’s resolution.
To help my readers with their resolutions, I am offering a New Year’s gift: For any new patient who wants to improve their health in 2015, I will give them a FREE first office visit in the month of January. Phone in to make your appointment, and HAPPY 2015!
If you have questions about your own health that you would like answered contact Dr Hallee. If your question is a good article topic, it could be featured in a column!
For further information, see a health care provider for more tips on how to keep you and your family healthy or, if you have a specific question, use the comments box below or email Today Media to have it answered.
Dr Monique Hallee BScHK, ND
Dr Hallee is a naturopathic doctor who has a family practice, with expertise in women’s health. She has been around the world to learn various aspects of health care and is now located in Langley BC at Meditrine Naturopathic Medical Clinic.