Every year on January 1 we make commitments to do better. We declare lofty intentions (Become a gym rat! Drop 20 pounds!), promise to stick with them—and then beat ourselves up when we fail. Well, screw that!
In 2018 we are opting out of resolutions and are taking a more day-to-day approach to our goals: a slow-and-steady path with room for the inevitable missteps (and plenty of self-kindness). Because that’s how meaningful change really happens, by making small tweaks that eventually add up to an overall healthier lifestyle.
The tweaks don’t gel overnight, of course; they take time to set in. “When our brain creates a new habit, it creates a new neural pathway,” explains Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit. “The pathway gets thicker and thicker, and as a result it gets easier for neural activity to travel down it.” In other words, the behavior becomes so ingrained, you hardly need to think about it.
To help you get where you want to be, we’ve put together this guide to making changes that stick. 2018 is going to be your year. Are you ready?
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Clean up your diet
The trick to eating right and shedding pounds (that stay o) is setting yourself up to make nutritious and nourishing choices, from morning till bedtime. Here’s an example of an ideal day. (Keep in mind, slipups will happen (hello, french fries!)—and that’s OK. The key is to skip the guilt and move on.)
7 AM: Feast early. It’ll help you fight temptation all day long. One study found that women who ate a large a.m. meal (think 700 calories) had a bigger drop in ghrelin—the hunger hormone—than women who consumed only 200 calories.
9 AM: Coffee run. A cup of joe may boost your metabolism by 12% for three hours, according to one study.
12 PM: Order soup with your sammy. In a study published in Appetite, people who had soup before the rest of their midday meal consumed 20% fewer calories overall.
2 PM: Chew some gum. Strange but true: According to a University of Rhode Island study, gum chewers may burn up to 8% more calories than people who don’t chew gum—and consume 68 fewer calories over the course of the day.
3 PM: Hydrate. Fill your water bottle with icy H2O: German research suggests drinking a little more than a pint of cold water may supercharge your metabolic rate by 30% for the next hour.
4 PM: Pick-me-up time. A smart snack will help you avoid bingeing at night. You can’t go wrong with fruit plus protein. Try half an avocado with 2 ounces of cottage cheese. Bonus: Avocados are also a good source of monounsaturated fatty acids, a.k.a. MUFAs. When researchers asked women to adopt a 1,600-calorie diet high in MUFAs, they shed a third of their belly fat in four weeks.
6 PM: Cook something. Sure, it’s easier to heat up a frozen dinner. But it’s worth taking the time to make a meal from scratch. You’ll save calories and get a metabolism boost: One study found that we torch 50% more calories metabolizing whole foods compared with processed foods.
8 PM: Unplug. Stress spikes your cortisol, which can spark cravings and encourage your body to hold on to belly fat. So use this quieter time of day to really relax.
10 PM: Tuck yourself in. If you need yet another reason to prioritize z’s, consider this: A University of Chicago study found that well-rested dieters lost more fat than sleep-deprived dieters.
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Reboot your libido
Scheduling, stress, small kids—life tends to get in the way of lust. Luckily, there are a few simple ways to rev up your mojo, and rediscover the spark that drew you to your partner in the first place.
Really listen. Couples with great sex lives have this in common: They are attentive toward each other, in and out of the bedroom. A 2016 study found a direct link between partners’ level of “responsiveness” and their sexual desire. Strike up conversations and listen, “without interrupting or prejudging or showing o,” suggests researcher Gurit E. Birnbaum, PhD. Then do your best to support your partner’s needs and wishes. Truly responding to each other can have deep and long-lasting benefits.
Let your imagination run wild. “A lot of people fantasize during sex and may be conflicted about it,” says Ian Kerner, PhD, a New York City–based sex therapist. But fantasies play an important role: “They’re a powerful way to increase arousal, and distract from anxiety.” In other words, the steamy scenario unfolding in your mind (whatever it is) can help get you right where you want to be—blissed out in the moment with the person you love.
Stop obsessing over your cellulite. Or your belly rolls, or any other part of your body. “So often we’re not in the moment— we’re above it or outside of it, looking in and thinking, ‘Oh God, I look so unattractive,’ ” says Anita Clayton, MD, University of Virginia psychiatry professor and author of Satisfaction. “It changes that emotional intimacy that’s part of experiencing pleasure.” To stay present, try narrating the action in your head: “He is caressing my thighs, and it feels so nice.”
Embrace masturbation. Solo sex expands your “orgasmic potential,” says relationship expert Emily Morse, host of the Sex with Emily podcast. It allows you to better understand what heightens your pleasure—details you can then convey to your partner. And be sure to stick with the habit, Morse adds: “It could take months to figure out how to have a G-spot orgasm, a clitoral orgasm, or even a blended orgasm.”
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Learn to love exercising
These four steps will help you get into a fitness groove—and before you know it, you’ll find yourself craving that endorphin high.
1. Choose the right benchmark. It should be quantifiable and doable (such as a 5K in two months), says Rebecca Woll, co-owner of Shift gym in Portland, Maine. “Your end goals will change as you reach them, but they always need to be set.”
2. Wake up earlier. It’s a research-backed fact: People who exercise in the a.m. are more likely to stick with their workouts than those who do it later in the day. Having a regular exercise time may help you improve your fitness faster, too.
3. Find your niche. So spin class was your worst nightmare. Keep trying new workouts. “Find something that makes you tune out and gives you a release from your daily grind,” says Woll—whether it’s hot yoga or sparring in a boxing ring.
4. Make it a treat. Combine your workouts with things you already love: Maybe it’s watching reality TV on the treadmill, or meeting friends for brunch after barre. The tactic is known as “temptation bundling,” and research suggests it works.
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Solve your sleep issues
The solution to your sleep woes may be simpler than you think. Use these tips to master a full night of Zs.
1. Adopt a wind-down routine at least 30 minutes before bed to create a buffer between your day and night, and allow your brain time to relax.
2. Waking up in the wee hours? When you’re lying in bed, anxious thoughts can get overwhelming. Experts suggest getting up to do something else until you feel sleepy again. Cognitive behavioral therapy may help, too.
3. Food signals your body it’s time to be awake, making it tougher to fall asleep. Try pushing your evening meal earlier.
4. If you’re sensitive to caffeine, this sneaky source might be keeping you up. (A 3.5-ounce bar of dark chocolate has more than twice the amount of caffeine as a whole can of Coke.)
5. The blue light from electronic the same time every day? device screens disrupts production of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin. If you don’t want to unplug at night, try blue light-blocking glasses.
6. Sticking to a regular wake-up time (even on weekends) may be the No. 1 thing you can do for better sleep: It helps keep your body clock on track, so you doze off at a consistent time, too.
If you’re still having trouble, it may be worth seeing a specialist.
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Reconnect with friends
There's no question: When life gets complicated, it's harder to keep up with your crew (beyond liking each others' pics on Instagram). With a little creativity, however, it's possible to stay close no matter how far apart you live, or how little time you have.
Do connect on your commute. Schedule a (hands-free) phone catch-up with a friend for your trip home, suggests Suzanne Degges-White, PhD, a counseling professor at Northern Illinois University—and make it a weekly date.
Do watch the same TV shows. If you and your squad love This Is Us but can’t get together for watch parties, dish about the drama via group text.
Do plan group outings. We’re all short on time, but most people can set aside one day every few months to spend with friends, says Degges-White. “Go day-tripping for kicks,” she says. “Choose the date and make a plan to drive two hours north, east, south, or west. See where you end up.”
Don’t use social media for announcements. Pregnant? Got a new job? Before you post the news on Facebook, tell your inner circle. “There is nothing more devastating to a friendship than learning about your friend’s life at the same time as everyone else,” says Karla Ivankovich, PhD, a clinical counselor at OnePatient Global Health Initiative in Chicago.
Don’t forget about snail mail. Once in a while, send a reminder you care. “It can be a postcard, or a pair of funny socks, whatever,” says Ivankovich. That simple surprise can mean a lot.
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