Even if, like my husband, you are a staunch contrarian who scoffs at the act of setting new year’s resolutions, the symbolic act of kicking 2020 to the curb will probably tempt former skeptics this January.
Many of us may have slid into new habits shaped in response to our pandemic lifestyles. While some of these habits have been healthy, others have proven … less so. Is anyone using overly zealous bread baking as a coping mechanism?
Whether you have gained the “quarantine 15” or simply want to reprioritize your family’s health, Baltimore’s Child consulted experts to help you set healthy new habits for a new year that has never felt so welcome.
Healthy Habit 1:
Ditch the notion of resolutions.
Actually, the experts we asked universally recoiled at the word “resolution.”
Eileen McMahon, licensed nutritionist and owner of Phoenix Nutrition, says, “I like using the word ‘goals’ as opposed to ‘resolutions.’ Resolutions tend to sound temporary and restrictive. The resolutions I hear about sound like ‘I am going to give up carbs’ or ‘I will stop eating sweets.’ Instead, I like the idea of setting a goal. For example, ‘this year, my goal is to eat fish twice a week.’ This way, we are not restricting or taking something away. We are adding something in.”
Brianna Frutchey, a nutrition coach at Optimal Health Alliance, also expresses “mixed feelings” about new year’s resolutions. “The idea of bettering yourself is always beneficial, but more times than not, New Year’s resolutions seem to be forgotten after a few weeks.” Making a healthy lifestyle change does not have to be miserable or feared, according to Frutchey. “Stick to the basics when it comes to goal setting to avoid any feelings of becoming overwhelmed. Small changes can make a huge difference. Change takes time and should be done gradually to make it a habit. If you can’t maintain your healthy lifestyle changes, I would suggest dialing back a bit and focusing on one aspect rather than multiple.”
“Being a personal trainer,” says Todd Bauer, owner of Optimal Health Alliance, “it’s almost a given that I believe in New Year’s resolutions, although I do not. I am, however, a big believer in setting smart goals throughout the year and revisiting them periodically to ensure you’re constantly progressing. I believe this allows for more wins throughout the year, creating traction and sustainability.”
Healthy Habit 2:
Goals are a family affair.
“Exercise and activity habits are a family business,” says Dr. Brandon Smith, a Pediatrics Fellow at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “Children and teens need to see the adults around them doing the things they are telling their kids to do. Find something you enjoy, which can spark a joy in your kids too. Whatever you choose, stick with a schedule—whether it’s a certain time of the day or specific days of the week. This will help with expectations for both you and your kids.”
McMahon says that families can set achievable goals by taking time to make the family calendar together. “Having something on the calendar will make it part of the routine. If it is going to be inconvenient, you won’t stick with it, so be realistic with your planning.”
Children may not always listen to us, Bauer says, “but they will mimic us. From eating to moving, they are more likely to engage in a healthy lifestyle if everyone participates. Spend time playing their favorite activities—even if that means dad has to play with a Hula-Hoop. It’s about making it fun and enjoyable.”
Healthy Habit 3:
Break goals into steps.
Frutchey says that making goals for nutrition, exercise and wellness “can become overwhelming, so starting small and working your way up is ideal.” Rather than stating a goal to lose 20 pounds, Frutchey adds, “start with one area, such as exercising three times a week,” then “add on from there.
Once you feel as though you have mastered this goal and made it a part of your life, add in a new area. It may be adding in 15 minutes of meditation in the morning or meeting your daily water intake. The biggest mistake I see is individuals taking on too much of a lifestyle change, and it becomes impossible to maintain. Take change one step at a time.”
Healthy Habit 4:
Keep a record.
“Studies have shown it takes an average of 66 days to form a new habit,” says Frutchey, “so recording or journaling your progress in order to keep track of where you are in life can be very beneficial.”
Healthy Habit 5:
Cook as a family.
McMahon recommends cooking with your child or children at least once a week.
“Even if it is just a simple meal,” McMahon says, “preparing it together will give the kids the tools and confidence to prepare food on their own.”
“Involving kids in meal prep can build positive relationships and get them interested in eating healthy foods,” Smith says. “Snack time can be a great opportunity to offer fruits and vegetables that your kids may not get at meals. Throw some banana pieces in the freezer to create some frozen treats in the summer or put some peanut butter on celery with raisins to create ‘ants on a log.’”
Healthy Habit 6:
Eat family meals.
The best goals families can set, says McMahon, is to take time for as many family meals as possible. “Turn off the television. Put phones in a cabinet far away.” If your brain is engaged with electronic distractions, “it will not be able to engage with the taste and texture of the food you are eating. It will not be able to recognize when you are full, and you are then more likely to overeat.” McMahon says that family meals lead to healthier eating into adulthood and “have other benefits as well, including lowering risk of disordered eating; less use of cigarettes, drugs and alcohol; fewer behavior problems and better self-esteem.”
How can you convince reluctant kids to eat vegetables? Bauer suggests getting them involved in the decision. “Have them select their favorites fruits and veggies from each color of the rainbow that week.”
Dr. Nakiya Showell, associate medical director of Johns Hopkins Harriet Lane Clinic, suggests including “a fruit or vegetable in every snack and meal” and keeping “healthful snacks in plain sight.”
Healthy Habit 7:
“This year especially, both kids and adults are sitting a lot more with less activity due to COVID-19 restrictions,” says Bauer. “With the cold weather and shorter days ahead, it is imperative that families make movement a priority, whatever that looks like: walking, stretching, yoga. With all the virtual platforms out there, movement as a family is easier now than ever.”
“Take advantage of the outside while you can,” says Smith. Once the weather cools, “a new, trendy option is a silent dance party. Have everyone put on headphones, listen to their favorite songs and dance it out.”
Showell adds, “It is important to make exercise a fun activity involving the entire family. YouTube has several fun options to engage kids in indoor exercises. Other fun options for indoor exercise are Hula-Hoop contests, hide-and-go seek and freeze dance.” Visit gonoodle.com for more online resources.
Healthy Habit 8:
Don’t underestimate yourself.
Small changes can have big impacts. One of Bauer’s clients used exercise and nutrition to “completely change her life,” he says. “She left an abusive relationship, gained a promotion at work and was happier inside and out with the way she felt.” The overhaul even impressed Bauer, “and I promote the benefits all the time.”
Healthy Habit 9:
Be kind to yourself and each other.
“With the stress this year has put upon so many of us,” Frutchey says, “I would recommend incorporating some stress relief for families.” In tough times, “exercise, a good night’s sleep or increased family time to talk about each other’s days” can make all the difference in feeling healthier.