Diets, new year resolutions and change

I recently finished reading Martin Seligman’s book, Flourish. It’s a thoroughly insightful book on how to cultivate a positive life by making observations and doing research into just what helps us to live a fulfilled life. How we choose to define that is a big existential questions which I don’t think really matters in this context. What does matter is that he shares some great insights into how people can live happier lives and feel positive over a longer period of time.

One of the pieces he picks up on is our physical health. There are two key pieces which I think hold a lot of relevance for this time of year for no other reason than many people set themselves the task of establishing new year resolutions. I stopped doing resolutions a long time ago. Mostly because I learned that if I wanted to make something happen, starting it arbitrarily in January makes little sense. If I can do it and start the process now, then why wouldn’t I?

The first piece Seligman shared about our physical health is that most diets fail. They fail because the weight lost while on the diet is normally regained within the first year after that weight loss, so we decide that a) the diet failed and b) we need a new diet to try. The goal of weight loss, though, is a good goal. Clearly if you’re overweight your overall physical health isn’t likely to be at its best, and you’re likely to develop further health complications because of this. As we’re told, repeatedly, goals are important for success and happiness.

What we know is that it’s not just having the goal which is important, but it’s the achievement of the goal which is important too. We fulfil self-esteem / self-confidence and so many personal qualities with achievements. Which is why sometimes it’s important to break a goal down into smaller goals that help us achieve the bigger goal. We can take small steps of success, which when done together create a wealth of achievements. It’s important not to fool ourselves into thinking that achievement of a small goal is anything more than that. We set big goals for a reason.

The other piece is really fascinating. Medical science tells us that if you are overweight, you have an increased chance of health problems and are at higher risk of various health conditions because of being overweight. However, what is less well known is that if you are overweight and live a physically active lifestyle, you are just as likely to live a healthy life as someone who is ‘normal’. Or, said another way, if you’re a ‘normal’ person and are not physically active, you are just as likely to have health issues as someone who is overweight.

Go on, think about that for a bit.

This isn’t a dismissal of the need for overweight people to not lose excess weight. It’s supportive of the importance of being physically active regardless of your body size. How do you define physically active? The NHS website tells us

To stay healthy, adults should try to be active daily and aim to achieve at least 150 minutes of physical activity over a week through a variety of activities.

That’s approximately 20-21 mins of daily activity including anything from swimming, walking, cycling, mowing the lawn, doing the hoover, taking the stairs, going to the gym, playing weekly football, and so so much more.

It goes on to say that

For any type of activity to benefit your health, you need to be moving quick enough to raise your heart rate, breathe faster and feel warmer.

And finally tells us that

Crucially, you can hit your weekly activity target but still be at risk of ill health if you spend the rest of the time sitting or lying down.

At a personal level, change is hard. Change often only happens when something significant takes place. Moving home, a family member dying, a new job, emigrating to another country, getting married, getting divorces, having children – all these are big life events that mean we have to adapt and learn new ways of doing things. We make them successful (in the main) because we don’t have a choice about reversing that decision.

As you set out this year to change your personal world in whatever way you think you need, go for it. Set a clear goal and make it happen. Where it makes sense, create mini-goals that help you achieve the bigger goal. Celebrate your achievements and share your good news with others. And most importantly, if you’re setting a goal to lose weight, be mindful that it will require a complete lifestyle change. If that’s not what you want to commit to, then it’s better to start a physically active lifestyle as you’re more likely to be healthy than doing nothing else.

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Published by

Sukh Pabial

I'm an occupational psychologist by profession and am passionate about all things learning and development, creating holistic learning solutions and using positive psychology in the workforce.

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