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Four tips for achieving your health goals in the new year

Here we are again, at the start of a new year!
No doubt you, like so many others, want to make some healthy changes this year and nutrition is an area in which most of us can improve!
I will not venture to tell you what your specific goals should be.  Instead, I would like to offer four areas for your consideration as you craft them.
I find that these areas are overlooked and lacking in many people. Whether you’re a regular “gym rat” or new to healthy living, the following categories are ones in which we all can improve (myself included).  It’s just up to you to decide how you want to translate them into your unique, personal goals.
1. Start listening to your body. Sound a little “out there” and spacy? Hardly. This is a particularly helpful hint for those of us who live in denial or are just happily unaware.
The truth is, many of us have issues that have subtly accumulated over the years (bloating, itchy skin, constipation, fatigue after eating, etc).  They are so “normal” to us now that we don’t even consciously recognize them. They become like our neighbors — we know their daily routine and expect to see them regardless if we like them! This year, I welcome you to stop accepting nagging dysfunction as normal.
I once had a friend who often mentioned feeling nauseated, bloated and “off” in the evenings. At first it seemed to happen randomly, without a pattern. Gradually, he realized he felt ill every time he had an evening bowl of cereal or ice cream.
Recognizing this was a big step. Many people never make change towards positive goals because they fail to recognize that there is a problem.
Of course, the next step is to do something about it. Yet without identifying a problem, there’s no chance of creating change.
Fortunately for my friend, he resolved his issue by simply substituting dairy-free milk for regular milk and ice cream. It took him a long time to make that change, but once he did, the improvement was so marked that he stuck with it.  Begin paying attention and commit to doing something.
2. Don’t go solo. Remember that when making changes, the responsibility is yours, but the entire process doesn’t have to be an isolated endeavor. Just because you’re taking responsibility doesn’t mean you go forward unsupported. The truth is, no one can reach your goals for you, but you cannot accomplish them alone. This is true regardless of if you’re introverted or extroverted.
Everyone needs some help getting somewhere, especially if an old habit is ingrained. I have seen the lack of support (especially the lack of support from family and friends) slowly wear down a person’s resolve to move toward a goal. In the past, I haven’t done this well myself.
Thirteen months ago, I had my second baby. Since then I have been in hormonal mayhem and digestive issues. I realized I needed a doctor who could help me; I needed others on my team.
As strange as it sounds, I hired another dietitian (who had been a classmate of mine in college to help me fill gaps in my nutrition knowledge and benefit from her greater experience and expertise).  I needed direction and support in knowing where to go in making the first steps in that new direction.
Support doesn’t just include people. It can take many different forms, including tools and resources such as apps, schedules, healthcare professionals, videos, cookbooks, etc.
When choosing your support, think about what’s worked for you in the past. What was your “support sweet spot”? Are these worth trying again, or do you need something different? As you create your goals for 2022, make sure you know how you are going to support yourself through the challenge of change.
3. Do one thing that will help your gut health this year. We’ve talked about this previously. If you follow any of the health-related news articles, you’ve seen it there too. How well your gut (stomach and intestines) works matters — a lot! Most Americans are guilty of some form of “gut abuse” by the foods we build our diets on or the ones we leave out. That can all change, though. The gut is pretty responsive to positive changes we make.
So develop one good habit for your gut this year as a part of your healthy resolutions. You likely will be surprised at the difference it can make to your waistline, immune system (who doesn’t want to not catch every cold bug out there?), mood and energy levels.
Here are some gut-building habits to consider:
♦ Eating more plants (i.e., vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, lentils, beans and grains.) This is at the top of the list for a reason! Plants can feed your microbiome, reduce inflammation and aid in absorbing and eliminating excess cholesterol and hormones, as well as providing key vitamins and minerals. They also keep you feeling full and keep your cravings in check.
♦ “Time-restricted eating.” This basically means you’re fasting 12 hours at minimum between dinner and breakfast. Constant late-night snacking or late, large meals at night majorly disrupts your digestive function, sleep cycle, ability to naturally detox and your total body inflammation. This is not hard-core “intermittent fasting” (which quite frankly, doesn’t work for many people’s lifestyles).
♦ Smaller meals (decreasing the digestive load);
♦ Reducing your sugary drink intake;
♦ Fiber supplements for constipation;
♦ Fermented foods and beverages, etc.;
♦ Probiotics; and
♦ Digestive enzymes.
4. Stop listening to everyone, and listen to a few. Namely, listen to credible sources and those who are worth hearing. In today’s world, we are bombarded with information and choices all the time. The barrage of info (the “shoulds” and the “shouldn’ts”) can confuse, discourage and derail you from your goals.
I am 100% for learning new things.  I even think it’s OK to learn from many teachers. However, you absolutely cannot listen to everyone! For one, not everyone’s advice is good, and, secondly, you only have so much capacity.
Find the chefs, exercise physiologists, healthcare professionals and researchers who are worth listening to and plug into their stuff.  Free yourself from the noise of “everyone”  so you can work on your goals with confidence.  Don’t let the noise of “everyone else” keep you from working on your goals with confidence!
So, as you create your health goals for 2022, think about the ways you can start listening to your body, find the unique support you need, improve your gut health and avoid distractions by listening to the best sources of information.
Cathryn Arndt is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist.  She lives in Lebanon with her husband and daughters. Visit her Facebook page or YouTube channel by searching under “Dietitian Cathryn.” Find her blog at thepantrylab.com.