Every year in January, millions of people pledged to lose weight, eat better, exercise more or simply improve their overall physical health. 

Less than 8% actually stick to those goals, according to estimates from the University of Alabama at Birmingham Medicine. Jaelyn M. Shipman, a registered and licensed dietitian nutritionist (RDN) from Charlotte, said people often put too much pressure on themselves when they make these pledges, which are often unrealistic. 

Rather than vowing to live a healthier lifestyle as part of some new year’s resolution, Shipman said, it is better to do so when you truly feel you are ready to make a lasting change. 

“All the pressure and diet culture that’s around this time of the year to make these huge changes like getting in the gym, cleaning out your pantry and all this stuff,” she said, “it works for four weeks, and then we’re back in the same boat.” 

The No. 1 thing Shipman advises: be realistic when setting goals. Short-term, realistic goals, she said, are the best way to approach ambitious changes, and it doesn’t require waiting until a new year to get started. 

“Whenever you want to start, and you’re ready to start, is when you should start,” she said. 

For example, Shipman said people looking to dramatically change what they eat might start by eating five servings of fruits and vegetables each day during the first month of their healthy lifestyle change. Then over the next few weeks, they might also limit their consumption of fast food to once a week

Short-term goals work, she said, because they temper expectations so that people don’t get down on themselves and quit. 

Finding structure 

With Covid-19 still affecting lives, Shipman said structure is a key to being healthier during the pandemic. She recommends that people wake up at the same time each day, set aside time to make breakfast daily and carve out some time during the day for physical activity. 

“If we wake up every day and say, ‘I’ll see where the day takes me,’ it’s going to take you to the same place every day — your couch,” she said. 

It’s daunting to all at once start eating healthier and working out 30 minutes a day. Instead, Shipman said, start by committing to daily physical activity. In many cases, she said, people eat certain foods for cultural, emotional and societal reasons, making them harder to give up. 

“The exercise ends up being more of a stress reliever, but we think about food all day long because we need it to survive,” Shipman said. “Eating is much more of a feat to conquer.”

Researching dieting information 

Shipman isn’t a proponent of getting dieting information on the internet, because, she said, there are so many corporations trying to take advantage of people who have struggled with weight loss. She also said she doesn’t like how they market diet cleanses, juices, pumps and powders to these people who want to lose weight quickly. 

Kenya Templeton, a certified natural health practitioner who has worked in the natural products industry for more than 25 years, agrees with Shipman. She said she’s okay with people researching on the internet only if they’re familiar with the subject and can discern what’s fact and what’s fiction. 

“It amazes me how many conversations I get into or how many erroneous articles that I see friends post on their social media,” she said. “It is very disheartening, but it can also be extremely unhealthy and almost harmful to the point it can be a matter of life and death for some people, because simple things that work for you may not work for someone else.”

Templeton said people should always double-check any information they are given — including information coming from her and other professionals. 

“You try it for yourself, and you also research it for yourself,” she said. 

More than physical health

When it comes to health, Templeton said she looks at the totality of life. For example, she is not a fan of ordering meals via food-delivery services, which have become popular during the pandemic. Aside from health concerns, she said, it’s not financially smart.

For those experiencing mental health issues during the pandemic, or before it, Templeton advocates therapy from a trained practitioner. According to a June 2020 survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 40% of U.S. adults reported struggling with mental health or substance abuse. 

Templeton, who manages a juice bar, said she often sees large orders of alcohol going out of a nearby business. Although people may be stuck inside because of Covid-19, she sees no indication that they are drinking less. 

“If they’re out socially drinking then they’re talking, drinking and eating,” she said. “At home, they’re sitting in front of the TV and lamenting over how they can’t go out and do things with friends, so they’re probably drinking more.”

Instead of drinking at home, Templeton said people should focus on doing simple, physical activities during the day — activities such as sit-ups, bike riding and walking. Cooking for the week is another one of her suggestions, because it can deter people from ordering out so much during the pandemic, she said.

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Jonathan is a former QCity Metro reporter who covered Charlotte neighborhoods north of uptown. He also reported on education, public safety and health.

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