“Resolution season” is upon us, that notoriously short period at the beginning of the year when people take notice of the fallout from their holiday celebrations. For some, it’s almost an annually reoccurring event, like the holidays themselves. Gym memberships are initiated or renewed, commercial weight loss programs sell like hotcakes, nutritionists and fitness coaches work overtime. Then after a few weeks (at best), things go back to normal as interest in better eating and lifestyle choices wanes or becomes an intermittent afterthought.
I’m not a cynical person, but the numbers don’t lie. According to a report by the New York Times, Google searches for the word “diet” fall to an all-year low in December, especially in the second half of the month, and then jump up sharply on New Year’s Day and throughout the following week, only to descend to an average level shortly thereafter. By February it pretty much bottoms out again, and on Valentine’s Day nobody cares about dieting at all any more.
You might say, that’s human nature. Attention spans are short and distractions are many. It’s just too hard to stay the course when a diet and fitness regimen requires long-term commitment and serious sacrifice. And of course, you would be right. No pain, no gain.
What concerns me more, however, is the apparent idea that taking better care of one’s health and well-being is only necessary in the aftermath of some serious transgression, and that a quick repair job – like going on a crash diet or some other obscure fad promoted by a celebrity or fashionable media outlet – will do the trick.
The truth is that maintaining good health is not a trick but a lifelong task. How well we fare, of course, depends on multiple factors, including genetic makeup, upbringing, education, financial and social circumstances, as well as diseases or injuries we may suffer along the way. But more importantly, the status of our health depends on the lifestyle choices we make every single day – what we eat and how we eat; how much we exercise and what kind of exercise we do; how much sleep we get and how good the quality of our sleep is; how much stress we encounter and how well we handle it; the list is almost endless.
Health-promoting measures are only beneficial if taken on a continuing basis. It’s an ongoing, never-ending process. There is no on- or off-season. There is no time for short-lived observance followed by neglect. It doesn’t work that way.
In my book, “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still have Fun,” I have included a graphic that shows a number of different containers, all connected with one another through small pipes. Each container stands for an important aspect of a healthy lifestyle. Each is filled with content, although not necessarily to the same level. How much is put in each container depends on the person who is filling it. But if one or several of the receptacles run low, the others are beginning to get drained as well by virtue of their interconnectedness through the pipes. So let’s say, if the container named “Nutritional Health” is emptying out, it will also affect the others, including “Physical Health,” “Emotional Health,” even “Intellectual- or Mental Health” and “Social Health.” In other words, what we neglect in one area haunts us eventually in others because they all depend on each other. So, it’s not only important to adhere to a healthy diet – every day, not just once in a while – but to get it right in all departments.
That’s what being healthy really means – an all-encompassing state of wellness. But this is never completely achieved. It is always a work in progress that needs to be attended to at all times, all year round, for a lifetime.
Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.