Let's face it. You start the new year with ambitious resolutions to work out every morning, cut out junk food and quit drinking. Yet, a few weeks later, your resolve starts to falter as exercise becomes dreary and ordering junk food sounds so much more tempting than cooking a healthy dinner.
So how do you break out of this endless loop? Instead of setting up unrealistic health goals that are difficult to stick to, smaller changes have a much better chance of being followed. For instance, instead of fad diets that call for drastic lifestyle modifications, focus on gradually incorporating healthy eating practices into your daily routine. Rather than making a lot of changes all at once, take a step-by-step approach towards specific goals. Here are some small steps that can add to your overall well-being.
1. Have an early dinner.
Eat most of your food by 7:30 or 8 pm, so that there is a gap of two to three hours between dinner and bedtime. Nutritionists also recommend that you have most of your food in the earlier part of the day, with dinner being the lightest meal. "Eating late at night leads to digestive problems and weight gain in the long run," says nutritionist Dr Ishi Khosla of The Weight Monitor. "By having an early dinner, you burn your calories more effectively and sleep better. Metabolically too, you are in sync with your body clock."
It is likely that you already feel hungry late in the evening, between 5:30 and 7:30 pm. Instead of bingeing on junk food during this time, opt for a nutrition-heavy snack, or if possible, an early dinner. Follow it up with a second light meal later in the night, in the form of salads, soups, fruits, or a glass of milk and nuts if you still feel hungry.
2. Cut back on hidden refined sugar.
Be mindful of added refined sugar, which can be present in biscuits, cookies, soft drinks, some alcohols, cereals, packaged juices and desserts. This doesn't mean you can't indulge in your favourite dessert at all -- just ensure that you balance it out. "Two cookies can give you three spoons of sugar," Khosla said. "Choose your calories wisely. Make an indulgence rather than an everyday habit. If you want dessert, compensate by reducing your portion size, cut back on other carbohydrates or do some extra exercise." It is always preferable to make dessert at home to make it healthier. Gradually switch dry fruits, jaggery, prunes, dates and apricots to satisfy your sweet tooth.
3. Find an exercise routine that you love.
Hate going to the gym? Experiment with different activities before you find something that you actually enjoy doing. It could be swimming, dancing, a new sport or yoga. Better still, team up with a few friends to motivate yourself and make it more fun. Over a period of time, gradually work your way to exercising 4-5 times a week. If you're wondering where to start, here's an intense seven-minute workout you can do anywhere.
4. Find a workout buddy to help you stick to it.
Motivating yourself to stick to your fitness goals can be hard when you're on your own. Find a friend, a family member or a colleague to help you stay committed to your routine, discuss roadblocks and push you when you're feeling lazy. You can also use apps to track your daily activity.
5. Stay hydrated.
It may sound like the most obvious thing, but drinking plenty of water is important for your overall well-being. It improves metabolism, aids digestion and detoxification, and keeps your skin hydrated. Drinking a glass of water before a meal can also prevent you from consuming extra calories. So drink up, and ensure that you have 2.5 litres of water a day.
6. Snack on nuts.
If you are prone to eating junk food the moment you get hungry, keep a box of mixed nuts and seeds near you to munch on. "These nuts and seeds are a source of healthy fat, vitamins, minerals and nutrients, which can help you reduce your cravings and keep weight gain in check," says Khosla. Roasted chanas, and watermelon, pumpkin and sunflower seeds work just as well.
7. Find the right work-life balance.
Carrying your work home on a regular basis can adversely affect your relationships and hinder the relaxation that your brain requires after office hours. This will lead you closer to a burnout. Dr Samir Parikh, Director, Mental Health and Behavioural Sciences at Fortis Healthcare, says it is important to keep work and home separate, and avoid multi-tasking when you're with friends and family. Every few months, take short breaks and vacations from work to avoid feeling over-burdened.
8. Get off your phone.
It's no secret that we're all addicted to our smartphones in varying degrees, but you can try and control your usage with some steps. Start by finding out how much time you actually spend staring at your screen, through apps like QualityTime and Moment. The results might surprise you enough to take action.
You can turn off unnecessary notifications, so that you don't have to check your phone every time it beeps. Establish certain no-phone zones such as the dinner table, the bathroom and the bedroom. Using your phone or any other gadget in bed before sleeping is also a strict no-no, as it can affect the quality of sleep. Don't use it as an alarm either -- because that often means you end up checking your phone the moment you wake up.
9. Sit up straight.
If you have a desk job, you're probably among the many who suffer from physical aches and pains at the end of the day. Ensure that you maintain good posture by keeping your back upright instead of slouching. Keep the computer screen at eye-level and your elbows parallel to the keyboard.
Take a short break from your office desk at least once an hour. "Sitting for long periods of time can strain your spine," says Dr Amit Pankaj Aggarwal, Senior Consultant and Unit Head, Joint Replacement, Arthroscopy and Orthopaedics, Fortis Hospital, Shalimar Bagh. To balance the negative effects of prolonged sitting, use your office gym, go for a short stroll, take the stairs instead of the lift or just try these desk stretches.
10. Keep a journal.
Take out some time to write down your short-term and long-term health goals in a journal. When you're starting out, a journal or an app can help you assess what you are eating and at what time, how to balance your intake and become more mindful of what you consume.
11. Don't miss breakfast.
Contrary to popular belief, skipping breakfast won't help you drop a few kilos. Instead, nutritionists say that starting the day with an empty stomach can cause acidity, make you hungrier and more prone to overeat on junk food later. It needn't even be heavy. According to Dr Khosla, even having a glass of milk, a few nuts or fruits is enough to fill you up and curb cravings later in the day. Here are some healthy breakfast ideas to get you started.
12. Take a walk in the park.
Looking for an easy stress-buster? Apart from its physical benefits, taking a walk in nature has been linked to stress reduction, improving mood, and decreasing depression. Plus, spending time outdoors gives you some much-needed vitamin D for strong bones.
13. Don't compromise on your sleep
Sleep deprivation can make you less productive, more moody, affect blood sugar in the short run and more prone to weight gain, flu and other illnesses in the long term. Try and get at least seven to eight hours of shut-eye every day. Don't compensate your lack of sleep by sleeping more on weekends.