Ask the Doctor: How can I keep my New Year's Resolutions?

January Ask the Doctor image

Welcome to 2018! It’s a new year and a fresh start. After weeks of rich holiday meals, travel and treats, many people feel the desire to change their eating habits. Whether it’s by losing weight, quitting a bad habit like smoking or just trying to live a healthier lifestyle overall, the new year is a great opportunity to make these healthy lifestyle changes.

Megan Royer spoke with Dr. Dan Phillips, owner of MedAccess, to find out the best ways for how to keep some of the most common health-related New Year's resolutions.

Megan Royer: There are so many diet plans to choose from when trying to lose weight. What sort of diet would you recommend to your patients in order to lose weight in a healthy way?

Dr. Dan Phillips: The thing is, there are a number of diet plans and fads and, at the end of the day, it’s calories in versus calories out. The average person needs 2,200 to 2,400 calories a day. If you’re eating more than that and you’re taking more in than you expend you’re going to gain weight. And on the other side of that, if you’re consuming less calories than you expend you’re going to lose weight. That’s the first principle.

You’ve got to find something that works for you. If you go on a program that leaves you hungry and you’re miserable, you’re not going to follow through on it. The first thing is a commitment by the patient. They need to say, “what’s my goal? I want to lose 5, 10, 20 pounds.” The next thing is do it over a reasonable amount of time. The fads where you see you can lose a pound of fat a day are oftentimes dangerous. There are a number of commercial diet plans– Nutrisystem, Weight Watchers, Medifast, Sugar Busters – that all work if you stick with them and you follow the plans. But when you’re done and you’ve achieved your goal, the hardest part is keeping the weight off because oftentimes we go back to our old habits.

Don’t try to do things too quickly. And you have to incorporate some amount of exercise into your daily routine. You don’t have to be a marathon runner, just get out and walk for 20 or 30 minutes four to five times a week. That’s a good place to start.

Remember you are going to slip up, and that’s okay, but you can’t do it day after day. A thing I’ve found is weighing yourself every single day is helpful. You can see if you go up or go down and I find that’s a good motivator.

MR: What are some diets you would NOT recommend?

DP: Anything they advertise as rapid weight loss. It’s too much too fast. It takes 3,500 calories to burn a pound of fat. So for every 3,500 calories you’re deficient, you’re going to lose a pound. When you think about what you ate all of 2017, go back and take out 100 calories a day, and by the end of the year you eliminated about 35,000 calories and you’ve lost about 10 pounds.

Then when you are so enthused you over-exercise, you damage muscle rather than building it. For high protein diets, discuss it with your doctor to make sure your kidneys are working, because you have to be able to excrete waste. If you’re over 35 to 40 years old, it’s quite wise to consult your doctor to make sure (your diet) is safe and effective.

MR: Losing weight is hard. Where should someone start who struggles with sticking to a diet and exercise plan? Are there some good “baby steps” to ease into it?

DP: Some simple things, like cutting out sugar drinks. If you like iced tea, switch to unsweet tea instead of sweet. If you like sodas, don’t drink the real drink, switch to diet or zero calorie versions. If you eat lunch out every day, look at eating some of the healthier lunches versus fried fast foods. Those are real simple steps most of us can accomplish.

You don’t want to be hungry. Many diets have you eating five to six small portions, so you’re eating every two and a half to three hours something high in protein so you’re not hungry. Also, avoid after-dinner snacks. It’s common for all of us to have a 5:00 or 6:30 dinner time and then by 8 or 9 o’clock you get into the potato chips or  the snacks, and you obviously want to avoid that.

Eliminating high-sugar, high-calorie food and drinks on an everyday basis as a first step. I don’t know the scientific basis for this, but I’ve heard if you do something for 21 days it becomes a habit. It certainly worked for me when I started running years ago. Get into the habit of brisk walking or slow jogging for 15 to 20 minutes, and make it part of your daily routine. You’d be surprised what that does for you.

MR: What sort of exercise plan do you recommend?

DP: The gym helps you strengthen muscles. If you’re really intent on building the strength of your heart, your respiratory capacity and burning calories, aerobic exercise such as walking, jogging, running, the treadmill or the elliptical are good. Many of us have difficulty doing them inside, but getting out on a pretty day and walking or jogging I find much easier. Bicycling is also wonderful but you need the equipment. Walking is something all of us have the equipment to do– you just need comfortable shoes. I’m a big fan of running, but the older and heavier you are, it’s harder on your joints, so you might want to consult with your doctor.

MR: Smoking is another habit people often try to kick as part of their New Year’s resolution. What are some effective ways to quit?

DP: Smoking cessation or quitting smoking, is probably the hardest thing people do, next to weight loss. And that’s due to the incredibly addictive properties in nicotine. The average person tries an average of five to six times before quitting successfully. Some do cold turkey, some use nicorette, some take medicines like Chantix. The key to success in every case is the commitment to quit. So for instance when you get the prescription, you need to choose the last day you smoke your last cigarette and start the medication.

If nothing else, cut down. If you smoke a pack a day, get down over a month to smoking a few a day, then quit. People find it difficult being around others who are smoking. The worst place for a recovering alcoholic to be is in a bar, and smoking is the same way. From what we’ve heard, people quit, they’ve been off for 2 weeks, then they go to a party and think, “I’ll just have one.” And here they are again. Keep yourself away from friends that smoke, if you’re going to a ballgame with people and they’re lighting them up, you’ve got to stay away from the temptation.

MR: What are some healthier habits someone could do instead of smoking?

DP: Being tobacco-free is good for you. Smoking has no health benefits. I’m not a fan of smokeless tobacco, as there are other problems that come with it. For people who can reduce smoking or even stop, if they’re still young, in their 20s to 30s, they can stop and reverse the health problems created by cigarettes. So it’s certainly worth a try. Many people quit smoking then put on weight, for whatever reason. So start exercise program too, like we talked about before, of walking or slow running, then gradually developing that.

MR: What is your biggest piece of advice for someone trying to lead a healthier lifestyle overall?

DP: Everything in moderation. When we talk about losing weight, no one can give up all desserts or all of their favorite foods. Portion control is huge. To live a healthier lifestyle, exercise is a part of that. Just as we go to the gym and exercise our arms and legs, when you walk you’re exercising heart and lungs and increasing circulation. Limit tobacco and tobacco products. Drink in moderation– of all alcoholic drinks, wine is the one that may have some benefits.

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