A&E

A fresh start for 2016

Setting healthy resolutions for the new year

Starting on the first day of the new year, 32 percent of us will endeavor to eat a healthier diet, according to global survey website Nielson. Another 37 percent will vow to exercise more.

Whether it takes a few weeks or a few months, however, resolve often falters. What happens to the promises we make to ourselves -- the promises to lose weight, run a marathon or to cut back on the pinot noir? They're easily lost to a busy life, lack of commitment and the lure of temptation. We've all been there. Is there any way to get resolutions to stick?

"Successful change starts with making sure you are choosing the right goals, connecting to and feeding your deepest motivations to achieve them, and not sabotaging yourself, either before you begin or along the way," said Linda Furness, a Palo Alto-based executive coach who works with corporate leaders. Furness said she instructs clients to respect the complexity of the human psyche and to remember that behavioral change is not linear. She offered tips for supporting personal transformation: tips that are applicable to any New Year's Resolution, from eating healthy to exercising more:

1. Connect to what is driving your goal. Why do you want this? Why is it important?

2. Envision success. What does it look and feel like?

3. Choose attainable goals. For example, rather than setting the goal of eating a strictly plant-based diet, choose to begin meals with a large salad. Instead of deciding to run a marathon, set the intention to walk more.

4. Change "I should" to "I want to." When the resolutions we set are thought of as something we aught to do rather than something we choose to do, we push back. We don't like being told what to do.

All of this sounds wise. But how do we get started? Anna Rakoczy, the co-founder and CEO of Homemade, believes changing our relationship with food can help us make healthier food choices.

"Dieting is not the solution and never was," said Rakoczy, whose Menlo Park-based company offers cooking classes that use nutritious, seasonal produce.

"The answer is to love and reconnect with your food."

That process, Rakoczy believes, begins with home cooking using simple, fresh and healthy local ingredients.

"Food needs to be full of nutrients," Rakoczy explained during a recent interview. "What could be simpler than telling someone, 'Just use whole ingredients, and listen to your hunger?' We are inspired by thinking about how we can help a busy person who wants to cook and eat healthy food within 15-20 minutes. If it's complicated, it's just not practical for real life."

Rakoczy backs her beliefs up with science. According to Homemade's website, "research from Harvard and Johns Hopkins Schools of Public Health confirm what we already know in our hearts: Cooking and eating fresh meals at home is the key to sustainable weight loss and a healthy lifestyle. Home cooking is the only way to really control what goes into your body, from the quality of ingredients to portion sizes."

Home-cooked meals don't have to be complicated, and they don't have to take too much time, especially with the help of a slow-cooker or Crock Pot. Look for recipes featuring beans, grains, legumes and plenty of vegetables, with a bit of lean protein for the omnivores. If a slow-cooker isn't your speed, try planning ahead and keeping meals to five fresh ingredients. One suggestion from Homemade is to sautee bell pepper, onion, rosemary, sausage and sweet potatoes.

"People think 'eating healthy' is lettuce and broccoli," Rakoczy said. "I love to show people you can have nuts, pasta and meat."

Right alongside our healthy eating goals are resolutions to be more active in the new year.

Steven Rice, an independent personal trainer who works with clients in Palo Alto's parks, offers simple advice for improving fitness.

"Move," he said. "Move in every way. Walk, dance, swim. Stand instead of sit. Take up a sport."

Developing strength is important, too, he said.

"It not only helps with weight loss -- strength training helps you keep muscle while you lose fat. The result is not only much more healthful; your appearance will be better, too."

Like Rakoczy, Rice emphasizes the importance of choosing a new routine you actually like: "Do what you enjoy so you'll stick with it."

If Dr. Rebecca Green from Peninsula Integrative Medicine in Palo Alto has anything to do with it, we'll do our exercise outside. Green's mission is to blend conventional medicine with evidence-based natural remedies and lifestyle strategies to return the body to balance.

"Getting into nature, even if it's a city park or your backyard, can have a great impact on stress reduction," she said. "Natural light is much stronger, even in the shade, than the light we're exposed to in offices."

And happiness counts. According to the U.S. News & World Report, when we're happy, we're more likely to make wise food choices. Stress increases our appetite and food cravings -- just the thing we need to avoid when keeping a New Year's resolution.

It's day one of the new year. With Furness' advice, we've created attainable goals. Rakoczy has us cooking, Rice has us moving and Green has us enjoying the California sunshine. But what happens in 30 days? Or 60? When resolve fades, when work intervenes and suddenly it seems there's no time to walk to the yoga studio in the morning or prepare a fast evening meal, what do we do?

That's when we remember one final resolution. Dr. Fred Luskin, senior consultant in Health Promotion at Stanford University and director of the Stanford Forgiveness Project, made this suggestion: "If you want to make a resolution, choose to be kinder to yourself and to the people around you. When there's a choice to be kind, choose that."

Our goals of health and wellness are wonderful and worthy aspirations. But when we don't have time to cook or motivation temporarily slips, it's time to put our lives -- and our resolutions -- in perspective.

Editorial Intern Chrissi Angeles contributed to this story.

Editor's note: This story was updated to correct inaccurate information that stated Linda Furness is an executive coach at Next Step Partners who has worked with Bain Capital. She no longer works there, and did not work with Bain Capital.

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