11 January 2016

Make realistic New Year’s resolutions for your health in 2016

DietDoc advises on how to ditch those unrealistic New Year's resolutions and replace them with a kinder and more viable alternative.

Did you make a whole list of New Year’s resolutions – just to be broken by the 3rd week of 2016? All those noble decisions, taken in a haze of post-celebration optimism, tend to evaporate in the blink of an eye.

I'm always amazed that people make so many resolutions they know they cannot stick to for very long. What is it about the first few days of a new year that makes us believe everything is new and clean, and that all goals are attainable?

Read: How to set your fitness goals

Humans are generally hopeful, and many are superstitious, so when the clock strikes twelve and the fireworks light up the sky, it is natural to feel exuberant, ready to take on the world, including our old, bad habits.

But, when the endorphins subside and we are faced with the monotony of everyday life once again – going to work, preparing meals, shopping, negotiating the traffic, soothing frayed nerves, working till we drop – we tend to forget things like reducing our energy intake, exercising more and drinking less.

So, because making and sticking to one’s New Year’s resolutions is such pointless task, we should perhaps consider another approach. How about just rearranging your life to make yourself happier, giving yourself more me-time and being kinder to yourself?

If you do that, you’ll be able to pay more attention to what you eat, have more time to exercise and turn less frequently to food and alcohol to relieve stress – and stop gaining weight or destroying your health.

Steps to make life more bearable

a) Consult a clinical psychologist

Are you emotionally not in a good place, trapped by anxiety, depression, fear, self-loathing and endless striving for perfection? Are you suffering from eating disorders or any other psychological problem that drives you to either neglect yourself or seek comfort in food? If your answer is yes to any of the above, then please consider consulting a clinical psychologist.

I know I generally first refer clients to seek help from registered dietitians, but in the abovementioned cases, they first needs to identify the underlying causes (psychological or environmental) of their stress or life-imbalance before consulting a dietitian, because no diet will cure an abusive relationship or turn your boss from hell into a friend.

Read: Investigating binge eating disorder

There are too many causes of psychological problems to list, but even simple things such as loneliness, an inability to value yourself correctly (feelings of worthlessness, inadequacy, guilt, lack of love and many more), as well as external factors such as being trapped in a bad marriage or job, or having to function without support from family and co-workers, can trigger emotional stress that dictates how you will react to any attempts to change your diet or exercise programme.

Clinical psychologists are trained to help you identify what factors in your makeup, your relationships, work or family are the causes of your problem. These experts are also able to guide you to change your perceptions of yourself and to make changes that can set you free.

b) Consult a registered dietitian

If you have identified your underlying problems and addressed them to the point where you can function normally again, take the next step and consult a registered dietitian.

Read: The balanced diet

Your dietitian will assist you with a suitable diet. Please keep in mind that dietitians not only help their patients lose weight, but also provide expert help and backup for any illness that requires dietary intervention.

Examples of conditions that benefit from dietary intervention prescribed and monitored by a registered dietitian:

  • Diabetes (types 1 and 2)
  • Kidney problems ranging from kidney stones to renal failure
  • Heart disease, raised blood fat levels and other cardiovascular problems
  • Different types of cancer and also chemotherapy and other treatments that affect the appetite and food intake
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure which is prevalent in our country)
  • Gout
  • Ulcers of the stomach and duodenum 
  • HIV and Aids, including aspects such as lipid dystrophy and the interaction of ARVs with nutrients and food intake
  • Pre- and post-operative dietary treatment particularly when patients are not able to eat solids, or have problems with swallowing
  • Dietary needs of an ageing population that is increasing rapidly as more and more people live longer
  • Dietary requirements for infants, toddlers, children and teenagers
  • Eating disorders including anorexia, orthorexia, night eating, bingeing, and bulimia
  • Allergies and intolerances, both real and imagined 

I am always shocked when members of the public inform me that they have had a serious operation or chemotherapy or are struggling to feed a debilitated older person, and that they have not been referred to a registered dietitian for advice and assistance. In some cases, eating the correct diet can make the difference between life and death or the success or failure of a procedure.

Read: Heavy patients trust diet advice from overweight docs most: study

If you have not been referred to a dietitian after a treatment that may affect your eating, please ask your doctor to refer you or visit the Website of the Association for Dietetics in SA (ADSA) at: and click on ‘Find a Dietitian’ to find a dietitian in your area.

Let’s make 2016 the year when we look after ourselves and get help from qualified experts instead of believing weird and wonderful ideas from friends and family or published in popular magazines or on dubious websites.   

Best wishes and good luck with taking sensible control of your health and weight in 2016!

Read more:

10 unusual New Year’s resolutions

How to stick to your New Year's resolutions

Nutrition basics in a nutshell


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