Tag Archives: habits

reflections on the New Year

22 Jan

Lots of people make New Year’s resolutions.* Some even keep them. But I like to think of the New Year as a good time to assess things: what is going well? What changes would I like to make? What kinds of things do I hope for the next year?

In terms of your health, this is a good time to start asking those questions, because you’re past the crush of the holidays; many of us have a slower-paced lifestyle through January and February, which you might be able to use to take stock of your lifestyle and your health.

In case you are interested in evaluating your own health as the new year begins, here are a few questions you might want to ask yourself:

1. Am I happy with my progress toward controlling PCOS and any other health problems? (This really is about progress, by the way, not perfection. PCOS isn’t something that goes away, but you can think of your life choices as management choices. Are you happy with those habits and decisions?)

2. Do I have a doctor I trust? This is important, because many of us feel trapped by insurance or convenience or whatever, so we don’t feel that it’s feasible to look for a doctor who has more expertise or whose approach more closely reflects our own. But your doctor is important, and if you don’t have at least one good doctor in your corner, maybe your project for 2012 could be looking for one.

3. Do I have a specific health goal? For a lot of PCOS ladies, that goal is conceiving a baby (or at least maintaining the health habits that would be most likely to lead to conception). But if that doesn’t apply to you, you might still benefit from thinking about a concrete goal. My goal for 2012, for example, is to establish (or, more accurately, re-establish and solidify) a habit of exercising five days a week. I have done well at this in the past, but it is the first thing to go when my schedule becomes hectic, so my goal is to maintain that habit even when time is tight.

4. How do I feel? This is a hard question sometimes. How DO you feel? Are you tired or energetic? Are you feeling burned out, or have the holidays left you refreshed and ready for a new year? If you are feeling tired and depleted (or if you are suffering from a specific health problem that’s bothering you), then maybe self-care needs to be at the top of your 2012 list of priorities.

These questions are general, and that’s intentional. You will need to think about your own experiences here and figure out what’s most important to you. If you ARE trying to conceive a baby, for example, you might want to make a specific commitment to keeping a full and accurate chart (try fertilityfriend.com) to help you track your cycles and judge how well your PCOS management regimen is working.

In a lot of ways, specific resolutions can be difficult, because they seem like rules. This time of year is a natural time to evaluate, though: things move more slowly, and you’re waiting for spring to appear and give you a new sense of vitality, right? Well, be ready for it. Take some time to take stock of what you want out of 2012.

* One of my 2012 resolutions is to keep up this blog. Last year was rough, but I finished my Ph.D.–and now I have more time and more mental space, so 2012 is the year!

food diaries: the secret weapon

30 Nov

You know, I have read the following piece of advice roughly six million times: You should keep a food diary. And it never convinced me. Not for years. I read it and thought, “Eh. That sounds annoying, plus I already know what I eat.”

But I finally started doing it. And you know what? It is amazing.

It’s not just a matter of knowing what you eat (although of course most of us are not as aware of that as we think: when you look back at your day, it’s easy to forget about that half of a cookie that you shared with your toddler or the handful of crackers you munched while you cooked dinner). It’s also about seeing the patterns of when you eat, whether you miss meals or snack all the time or wait until dinnertime to try to cram in all of your vegetables. For me, the most interesting thing about it is that it shows me how my nutrients break down–lunch is my biggest problem, it turns out, both in terms of eating empty calories and of failing to eat vegetables or protein. It’s much easier to eat some crackers or pop some popcorn than to make a real lunch, especially since I’m only at home for lunch a couple of days a week (a lot of the time I’m eating that meal in between teaching classes).

Seeing that pattern encourages me to improve it. Even if I’m not likely to start making gourmet lunches 7 days a week, it does help me remember that I could be eating an omelet with some vegetables instead of cheese and crackers, for example. Seeing it in print reminds me that if I cook a bit more dinner, I could be eating leftovers instead–a leftover lunch that’s already packed and easy to eat, and one that’s balanced and healthful.

I’ve been using SparkPeople (www.sparkpeople.com), but any of the food-tracking services out there will work (Daily Plate, for example, is another). You could also just use a notebook, especially if you’re not counting calories/nutrients or if you eat the same things often enough that you’ll memorize those foods. I like knowing the basic breakdown of protein/fat/carbohydrates; it helps remind me to eat enough protein. I also really like having an idea of how much sodium I’m eating. All of those things help me remember that every bite I put into my mouth counts; every bite matters. That’s not to say that I can’t eat what I want–one of the other benefits of the food log is that I *do* feel able to have treats, as long as I can see on paper that my general habits are still pretty good.

the hardest advice to follow

12 Oct

I have been thinking a bit about why it’s hard to foster certain healthy habits. It’s different for everyone, of course. Maybe your vulnerable point is exercise–hard to remember to do it and make yourself stick with it, easy to stay home or stay on the couch. Maybe it’s diet-related (can’t resist a certain junk food, have a hard time with portion control).

For me, the #1 hardest thing is this: when you’re eating, sit down and enjoy your food and don’t do other things.

I know this seems like it’s not very important. I certainly believe that choosing healthy foods and being active are more important lifestyle changes than this.

But this is also the one thing that I find it hard to do even for a few days. In fact, it’s hard for me to do this even for one day.

In theory, I know that this would be good for me. It would force me to be mindful about eating; it would give me a more relaxed dining experience and make my day less stressful; it would remind me that food is something to be enjoyed, not something to be frustrated about.

But I still end up eating 80%–maybe 90%–of my at-home meals on the couch, with a book in hand or the laptop next to me. And breakfast, plus sometimes lunch, is eaten in the car or in between the classes I’m teaching.

So, thinking about it today, I came to a staggering (and embarrassing) realization.

I think the reason I struggle so much with this is that I am incapable of keeping our dining table cleared off. It’s always covered in junk; it never seems worth clearing it. My spouse works fairly late, so I usually eat with the kids, and it’s easier to ignore the mess on the table and eat in the living room.

It would seem, at age 31, that I should be old enough and responsible enough to keep the table cleared off, but it’s very difficult for me. Now that I’ve made this connection, though, I’m going to make more of an effort to do this, with the goal of being able to sit down and eat dinner there with my kids. I want them to develop the habit of eating mindfully, too.

The most interesting thing about this observation is that the real problem isn’t what I thought it was. I assumed that I avoided sitting down to eat in peace because I was too busy, or too stressed. I am sure, however, that I would sit down and eat at the table much more often if I didn’t have to move a bunch of books and papers to clear a space.

The moral of this post is that you, too, should think about why you struggle with some habits more than others. If you find it almost impossible to drink enough water, for example, is that because it interrupts your day? Or because you don’t like the taste of your tap water? Or because you’re not in the habit and you haven’t figured out how to remind yourself? Once you figure out why it’s hard for you, you’re in a better position to solve the problem.