Life Extension Magazine®

Issue: Dec 1999

Start 21st Century on Healthy Track

A realistic approach to typical New Year's resolutions that often go undone.

Scientifically reviewed by: Dr. Gary Gonzalez, MD, on January 2021.

A Healthy Track
A realistic approach to typical New Year's resolutions that often go undone
by JoAnn Knorr

What are your New Year's resolutions? To lose weight? To quit smoking? To eat better, drink eight glasses of water a day and take more vitamins? Or to just exercise regularly? We start out each year with a forceful proclamation, "This year, I'm gonna....." We stick to our newly founded plan for a week, two weeks, maybe even a month. Then, somehow our unrealistic expectations become lost in the chaos of everyday living. But there is better way: the key to maintaining successful health resolutions is to come up with a realistic plan that will work into your schedule and lifestyle.

Don't diet-change your eating habits

Probably the most frequent resolution made and broken each year is to lose weight. Society has brainwashed us all into believing that we are suppose to look like supermodels. However, many of us will never look like a supermodel no matter how much weight we lose. We are born with a genetic makeup that renders a specific body type: tall, short, large thighs, fat ankles, double chin, fat around the knees-and this genetic engineering gives rise to the thin and trim people of the world, too. Sad but true, many have known and unknown disease states that cause the pounds to linger. For many, it is the supermodel image or they will not try to change their eating habits. This can be dangerous thinking.

Lose Weight
The most important concept in maintaining a realistic diet is to accept your body type, or spend thousands of dollars on cosmetic surgery that still may not make you look like a supermodel. Once you have accepted the body that you were given, realistic goals can be set. An image of how you can actually look is formed.

Most people know what to do when they begin to adapt a healthier diet, but cannot work it into their schedules. Others simply have schedules that, in part, cause them to "Give up the ship" or lose track of the goal. Pinpointing that part of your schedule that causes you to falter and developing ways to work through the stumbling blocks will aid you in successful weight loss. For example, many do great the whole work day sticking to a controlled meal plan. When they get home, they are either ravenous or need to prepare a family meal. One solution to this problem would be to eat a healthy snack prior to getting home or while preparing the evening meal. Apples or raw veggies are great at giving the stomach the fullness that takes the edge off that empty feeling. There are many schedule-faltering scenarios that can be presented. Again, the key is to pinpoint and alter the problem.

Another unrealistic plan that falters happens when people want to lose too much too fast. The safe recommended number of pounds per month to lose has been about three or four. Many fall into the "lose a lot fast, and gain it back even faster" category. Maintaining a healthy diet as a way of life instead of a temporary plan has proven to be more beneficial to many.

Other stumbling blocks

Eating healthy "clean" foods without additives or preservatives that are low in sodium should be the content of a good diet. But foregoing the temptation to grab something quick to satisfy your hunger can pose a challenge. A trip to a fast food restaurant on the way home instead of cooking, or grabbing a handful of chips from the bag while your teenager sits on the couch eating them in front of you seem to be never ending temptations. Get your kids off the couch and make it their job to chop your snack veggies when you do not have time.

To start, lean meats baked, boiled or broiled provide a good source of protein and are surprisingly low in calories. What you add to them adds the calories. Fish is a great meat choice and provides a great source of vitamin A. Fresh fruits and vegetables are loaded with antioxidant vitamins, aid in the elimination processes, and fill the stomach. The foods to watch are the carbohydrates and fats.

Carbohydrates found in whole grains are a good source of fiber and energy. However, carbohydrates in excess-especially "empty" ones that have virtually no fiber content, such as those found in white bread and pasta-will easily convert to fat. That is why many people are doing low carb, low fat, high protein diets. These diets, though, do not represent a realistic long-term lifestyle change, and can damage the liver and leave you low on energy. What we're trying to get at here are lifestyle changes that you can stick to beyond the year 2000.

The ancient nutrition pyramid reflects a normal diet consisting of 30 percent fats. This percentage is further divided to 10, 10, 10, for saturated, mono-unsaturated, and polyunsaturated. Now, perhaps under weight loss conditions, this percent maybe lowered. However, the body's natural defense mechanism for when dietary fat is too low is for the body to store fat.

One of the first lessons a general chemistry student learns is that "like dissolves like," meaning water soluble dissolves in water and fat soluble dissolves in fat. If you are working under the hood of your car and your hands get greasy, what happens if you wash with just soap and water? Not much. But if you go into the kitchen and pour a little cooking oil on your hands, you will see how fast the grease will come off. This same principle can be applied to the dissolution of fat within the body. This is why it is important not to eliminate all fat from the diet and why it is even more important to include supplements of the fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E and K in order to keep the fat moving along.

Although vitamins and minerals can be derived from the foods we eat, the calories add up while maintaining the needed nutrients in combination with foods. Many green leafy vegetables contain much needed vitamins, but you have to eat tons of veggies to get enough. That is why a well-balanced, custom supplement regimen is essential.

So, you have worked through your problem areas, you are keeping some fat in your diet, and you have kept steady with your resolution until February. Then what happens? You get the flu or a cold. You are losing your winter coat and your immune defenses are down. You are now in bed with the sniffles and you really need to get back to work. The diet goes out the window and you eat anything and everything to regain your strength. Everyone is telling you to drink plenty of orange juice. Perhaps you should have been drinking plenty of orange juice before you became sick, along with the immune boosting effects of other antioxidants.

For this reason, many people find that it is much easier to lose weight during the warmer months. By boosting the immune system, the body will be protected during the cold and flu season. Some of the best immune system boosters would be the antioxidants (A, C, E), zinc, jellyfish extract (echinacea), and many more.

Another problem many face when changing their eating habits is the inability to sleep. Either they cannot get to sleep or they wake up hungry. Again, the key is to pinpoint the problem and resolve it. Without getting addicted to sleep aids, you could start with a small snack: warm milk, a cottage cheese snack or other low calorie and acid reducing foods may do the trick. If you do not want to expend those calories or a small snack does not aid in falling to sleep, then you may want to try some herbal decaffeinated teas such as chamomile or green tea. Green tea and the extract supplement will also offer the body an immune boost. After you have tried these remedies and getting to sleep is still a problem, you may want to try a natural sleep aid such as melatonin. You may need to see a physician should the latter still not aid your sleep patterns, as another problem may be the cause.

The "last but not least" obstacle to overcome for those wanting to adapt a healthier diet may be motivation. One of the best suggestions to get motivated is to find a buddy to compare your progress with. Meet once a week to compare notes. This can be great fun and a strong motivator.

Pump iron, within your limits

We have always heard that the best way to lose weight is by a combination of diet and exercise. Unfortunately, exercise for many people becomes an "all or nothing" process. That is, they exercise "everyday or not at all." A realistic goal needs to be set. For a non-exercising person, three times per week is a good realistic start. Realistic amounts need to be established also. If you never exercise, the body cannot begin a rigorous three-hour workout, three times per week without lactic acid forming in the muscles causing much soreness. Therefore, 30 minutes to an hour would be doable.

After 20 minutes of aerobic exercising, the body begins to burn fat. Prior to this period, the energy used is mostly from carbohydrates. If carbohydrates are not available, the energy will come from ketones, which are broken down from fats. Again, this is why many are doing the low carbohydrate and high protein diets. There are draw backs, though: too much protein can overwork the kidneys, and too few carbohydrates leaves little energy to exercise or think. The brain rarely uses any fuel other than carbohydrates.

Exercise can tone the muscles so that you really look "buffed". However, many get discouraged while exercising and dieting because the scales do not seem to show any benefits. There is a reason for this. Muscle weighs about twice as much as fat. That is by volume, if you took a cup filled with fat and a cup filled with muscle and weighed them, the muscle would weigh about twice as much. Therefore, pat yourself on the back if you maintain a steady routine and the scales are not moving. You are converting fat to muscle.

The athletes' rule of thumb for working out and eating has been not to eat two hours before a workout and not to eat one hour after. Whenever, the stomach is full, the majority of blood is circulating to the stomach, and it is needed in the muscles. After exercise, the metabolic rate has increased to such a rapid rate that whatever is consumed will not last long. Suggestions for light non-diary snacks, such as a banana before a workout if you are just too hungry to workout, have been made by many exercise gurus.

Try to work around your mates' schedule. If you spend more time together on the weekend, then take the weekend off or do it together.

Go smoke-free

Nicotine is one of the most addictive substances around. Our bodies have receptors for this drug, and we are ready to receive it. Whether you are a pack-a-day smoker, a pack-a-week, or a social smoker, no one believes smoking is good for them. If you do quit, you may continue to feel a craving for a cigarette. Smokers are well aware of the remedies on the market to aid them in stopping, i.e. the gum and the patch. However, this may also be remedied by the pinpoint and resolve tactic.

Stop Smoking Most work places have eliminated smoking, you can only have a smoke on a break. This has helped many cut down. But what happens when you get home and on weekends? You smoke more. One smoker's suggestion: time yourself between cigarettes when at home. Then gradually increase the time between smokes until you are smoke-free.

Check it out

Your blood, that is. While maintaining your new healthy resolutions, it is important to get regular blood tests to rate your progress and also to make sure that you are not causing more harm than good. Blood tests provide a measure of security. They keep tabs on your health when adequate, and prompt you to make changes when borderline. So it is a good idea to jot down on your "resolutions 2000" agenda-"blood testing."

Diet and vitamin changes can cause many blood chemistry changes. Therefore, get thyroid checks, and look into your cholesterol levels, triglycerides and blood sugar levels. They could aid you in your progress. Also, check for vitamin and mineral deficiencies including calcium, potassium and sodium. While your at it, determine your immune status. There may be a problem you were unaware of that could be easily remedied.

Exercising can cause many cardiovascular changes. Therefore, have your heart enzymes checked, along with homocysteine and hormone levels. Regular intake of B12, B6, folate and trimethylglycine have been shown to reduce the effects of the dangers of elevated homocysteine in the blood. A recent study from auniversity in Amsterdam by Dr. Kenemans and colleagues showed a significant reduction of homocysteine levels by using hormone replacement therapy of estrogen and progesterone.

As you proceed into the 21st century, keep your resolutions realistic, map you progress and consider failures exceptions, not drawbacks. With a little motivation and planning, you can turn your resolutions into real lifestyle changes that will keep you well and fit for years to come.