PacMed doctor explains the importance of setting realistic health goals, by Allegra Antwine in The Ranger on January 20, 2017
This time of year, Google searches for superfoods and pronunciations of quinoa (keen-wa) peak, gym memberships are purchased and countless healthy recipes are saved on Pinterest to help accomplish health and nutrition goals set for the upcoming year. Although the beginning of the year brings about a sense of change and motivation for betterment among most individuals, roughly only eight percent of people who make New Year's resolutions achieve them, per usnews.com. This year, Pacific Medical Center's new Family Medicine physician, Zaal Paymaster, shares tips and insight for how to set, accomplish and maintain realistic and attainable goals for January and beyond.
Ranger: January is a month filled with people pursuing fulfillment of their New Year's resolutions. What are the most popular resolutions you see in your field?
Dr. Paymaster: The number one New Year's resolution I see this time of year among patients is losing weight, followed closely by getting healthy or being more physically active. Smoking cessation is also something many people wish to pursue as a resolution. I view this time of year as the perfect opportunity to encourage positive change among my patients and use the preventative medicine philosophy, as I believe we can make a huge difference in the way we treat people when using this way of thinking.
How do you suggest people set realistic, attainable goals for themselves? What should people keep in mind during this process?
The way I approach any kind of goal setting - especially when it comes to what I call therapeutic lifestyle changes - is to encourage patients to plan accordingly. It's important to set realistic, healthy goals, so my first step is to assess how bad the problem is. For example, if someone's goal is to stop smoking, I would assess how often the patient smokes, and why they do it (example: stress). For those looking to change their diet, I ask them to keep a journal of what they're eating and drinking, so that I can assess their diet pattern. There are a lot of great food tracking and journaling apps people can take advantage of to help them keep track of what they're putting into their bodies. After collecting this sort of data, I advise people to set up a plan for themselves, based on their current situations and where they would like to be eventually. If an overall goal feels too lofty, I suggest breaking it down into smaller, more attainable parts. Changes cannot be made for only 30 or 60 or even 90 days - when someone says to me, "I want to lose twenty pounds for January," I say, "no, you want to lose twenty pounds for life!" These aren't just New Year's resolutions, they're "Rest of Your Life" resolutions.
In terms of resolutions related to diet, exercise, and general health, how would you encourage people to make positive, lasting changes?
I want people to remember that when it comes to any therapeutic lifestyle goal, you've got to imagine that this is a marathon and not a 400-meter dash. Meaning, you must be prepared to be in it for the long (term) and look past the initial 30 to 90 days. When plateaus occur, do not get discouraged. Remind yourself that this is a lifestyle change and that real change takes time. For weight loss, try setting smaller goals at 60- or 90-day intervals. It's generally unsafe to lose a large amount of weight in a short time, so breaking the larger goal into smaller ones encourages safer weight loss. Avoid starvation and fad diets that promise quick results because these are also unsafe. Making small changes is also a good way to incorporate or increase levels of physical activity, to allow time for adjustment and improvement. Lastly, I want people to know that it's okay to fail. If goals are not met, it's important to not let this discourage or deter you from continuing your journey.
Although some goals may be long term, what changes can people begin incorporating immediately to jump-start their progress?
Like I said previously, breaking big goals into smaller ones is a good technique to avoid getting overwhelmed and potentially discouraged, but it's also a good way to jump-start initial change. For example, if someone's goal is to become more active and get away from (a) sedentary lifestyle, I recommend taking walks during lunch breaks, using stairs as opposed to elevators, parking further away from doors and utilizing a stability ball for sitting in place of the standard office chair. Even something as simple as standing more can facilitate feelings of readiness and promote activity. The thought process here is that once people begin standing more or going out of their way to include physical activity during the day, they will feel ready to tackle small amounts of exercise and so on. Other immediate health changes people can make are swapping out unhealthy snacks for healthier alternatives; instead of chips, opt for carrot sticks.
Some people falter on their resolutions because of negative responses from others. How do you suggest people avoid negativity and surround themselves with positive influences instead?
One of the first things I try to do is probe my patients as to whether there is someone around them who also may not have the greatest habits, such as a spouse, family member or close friend. I then try to see if it would be possible to forge a pact between the individuals to cease the bad habit, or pick up a new healthy one. The ability to make an outreach connection with someone and to look to one another for encouragement is a positive, healthy thing. In regards to negative feedback from others, I remind patients to ask themselves why they are doing this - why are they losing weight? Why do they want to quit smoking, or be healthier? Is it for a loved one or for a better quality of life? When we remind ourselves of the reasons behind achieving our goals, it helps to re-center and motivate us.
What else do you want individuals to keep in mind about New Year's resolutions and attaining their goals?
The big thing I want people to remember is that they don't have to wait until January to begin setting and achieving their goals, health or otherwise. People will put off their goals until New Year's, but the thing is: you can start now.
Dr. Paymaster practices Family Medicine at PacMed's Lacey clinic.