You Say You Want a Resolution
Simple steps to a healthier, happier '98 model of yourself.
By Mike Ratchett, Staff Nurse
JANUARY 20, 1998: Growing up, I was conditioned to believe that New Year's resolutions were just a joke--not lies, mind you, being raised Baptist and all--but stuff people promised to do or not do in an effort to make the impending 365 days of their lives cleaner, healthier, more honest, etc. Of course, after just a few days of resolving, sinking ever deeper into misery, despair and depression, my well-meaning relatives would cackle nervously as they poured themselves a drink to go with their cigarette and soap operas.
So I never took them seriously--resolutions, I mean, and several of my relatives notwithstanding. Why bother, I wondered, to go through a few torturous days only to revert back to the rote behaviors and habits that make life enjoyable? Well, let's just say that I have since changed my way of thinking on the subject of New Year's resolutions while I have remained quite sensitive to how nearly impossible they are to keep. It can be done, though, and sticking to the right set of resolutions this year--no matter how simple or benign they may seem on the surface--can make a huge difference in your health, mental well-being, productivity, sex life, friendships, sleep habits, athletic ability, stamina and a whole host of other facets of life that tend to get buried beneath a quandary of stress, television, bad habits, depression, anxiety and limp, lifeless flesh as we get older, new year by new year.
What follows are my own nongender-specific suggestions for improving your quality of life for at least the next 50 weeks or so. As always, your personal doctor or health professional should be consulted prior to engaging in any new exercise or diet regimen. That's why I've attempted to keep it nice and simple: a seven-day-a-week, interchangeable, completely adjustable template for improved total health without killing yourself or giving up much of anything, completely.
Call it quits before you normally would on a Saturday night. This doesn't mean you have to be in bed by 10 p.m., but if you're used to closing the place down, try checking out by 12:30 a.m. Not only will it build character (you've gone of your own free will, not because some musclehead screamed a cliché at you) and confidence (you really do have some control over your alcohol intake), but you'll be better prepared for tomorrow. And you're getting up pretty early.
Contrary to popular myth, this is the first day of the week. Because fewer people work on Sundays than any other day of the week, this is the perfect opportunity to start from a relaxed, low-stress springboard into the busy, anxiety-ridden work week ahead. Sunday is the day to begin taking care of yourself.
Wake: Early, following no more than six hours of sleep the night before.
Bed Stretch: Extend your arms slowly over your head, open and close fists several times. Sit up, place hands on hips and turn slowly side to side without turning head.
Morning Exercise: Sit-ups. Glorious sit-ups. Lay on a flat surface (not your bed), preferably upon a rigid mat, draw knees toward your body until feet are able to rest flat, cross arms over chest. Now do as many sit-ups as you can comfortably complete without moving your feet or arms. When you're finished, rest on your back for five minutes, then write down the number successfully completed.
Breakfast: Go low-fat today. Try a bowl of oatmeal, a glass of tomato juice and coffee (if you normally drink coffee) or hot tea.
Mental Moment: Spend one hour reading (newspaper, book, magazine).
Lunch: The key here is to keep the portions moderate. As a general rule, stay away from fast food (Burger King's new Big King sandwich contains 12 more grams of fat than the former champion, Big Mac. Long John Silver's Blazin' Cajun Shrimp Wrap boasts 1,419 calories and 72 grams of fat). In light of your low-fat breakfast, it's OK to have a little fat at lunch. Just don't overdo it.
Afternoon Delight: No snack today, but you do get to take a brisk 15-minute walk in lieu of your after-lunch smoke. Take the dog.
Dinner: Tonight is carbohydrate night. Have pasta for dinner with meat or meatless tomato sauce and garlic bread.
After Dinner: Relax, write a letter, watch television for a reasonable amount of time. Snack on peanuts, which contain the compound resveratrol, the stuff in red wine that has been shown to block artery damage that results from a high-fat diet. And have a beer if you didn't have wine with dinner. Go ahead.
Sleep: Early to bed, early to rise ...
Wake: Early. You should have had plenty of opportunity to get a full eight hours of sleep. Wake early enough to give yourself ample time for your morning exercise, eat breakfast and get ready for work. Two hours should be more than enough.
Bed Stretch: While laying on your back, alternately and repeatedly raise each leg slowly, as high as you can, keeping legs fully extended. Stretch your arms just like yesterday.
Morning Exercise: Push-ups. Glorious push-ups. Lay prone on a flat surface (not your bed) with hands flat on the surface at chest level. Keep your body stiff and straight as you push up and return to prone position in a slow, smooth motion. Repeat as many times as you are comfortably able. When you're finished, rest on your back for five minutes, then write down the number successfully completed.
Breakfast: For today, try nonfat yogurt with low-fat granola, a glass of tomato juice and coffee (if you normally drink coffee) or hot tea.
Mental Moment: Spend 15 minutes going through a written schedule (like a Day Runner or File-o-Fax), looking over and prioritizing important items for your day and week ahead. Visualize yourself completing each item according to your priorities.
Lunch: The key here is to get out of the office and away from your desk, computer, boss, annoying co-workers, etc. Have a hearty soup and salad with a low- or nonfat dressing.
Afternoon Delight: Seasonal fruit and a brisk 15-minute walk. Out-of-doors if possible. Before going home from work, buy yourself a new, low-fat cookbook. Browse.
Dinner: Indulge in the dinner you want, but have it early. At least four hours before bedtime.
After Dinner: Reflect on what you accomplished earlier in the day. Listen to an entire album without interruption. See a good movie or relax with friends later. Have sex if possible--it releases stress, burns calories, exercises muscles you probably don't even realize you have and promotes mental health. And Reader's Digest claims that laughter is the best medicine ... they should try getting laid really well.
Sleep: Go to bed early enough to get six hours of sleep and ample time to prepare yourself for Tuesday.
Wake: By now, you should know the drill.
Bed Stretch: Make slow, determined snow angels in bed for five minutes.
Morning Exercise: None today. Glorious none.
Breakfast: Have an egg (if you eat them) prepared the way you like. But just one. A single chicken egg delivers 79 percent of your daily value for cholesterol. Have an English muffin with nonfat spread, too.
Mental Moment: Stand in front of the bathroom mirror for a moment after you've fully dressed and prepared for your day. Acknowledge that you look great and feel better.
Lunch: Again, get the hell away from work. Have a fruit plate or fresh smoothie for lunch.
Afternoon Delight: Nuts and raisins--the stuff that used to be called trail mix--or something along those lines. And don't forget that brisk 15-minute walk.
Dinner: If you're a meat eater, see our 129-calorie "'Fried' Chicken Strips" recipe with just 1.5 grams of fat per serving. If you're a vegetarian, see our "Broccoli and Potato Casserole" recipe that has 130 calories and .3 grams of fat.
After Dinner: De-fat your refrigerator; you're ready. Throw out the mayo, junk foods, fatty red meats, processed cheeses, oils, high-fat salad dressings, whole milk--all of it! Don't look at it as wasting food, look at it as adding productive years to your life. Now have a beer, and laugh hysterically at having made it this far. Stay up just a little later than you should, doing whatever makes you happy (aside from eating food that's bad for you).
Wake: Have sex if possible--nothing beats a well-rested morning session--but be sure to give yourself that two hours.
Bed Stretch: Do the Sunday stretch.
Morning Exercise: Sit-ups. Glorious sit-ups. When you're finished, rest on your back for five minutes, then write down the number successfully completed. Compare with Sunday.
Breakfast: Low-fat yogurt with low-fat granola, a glass of tomato juice and coffee (if you normally drink coffee) or hot tea. You're going to start to love oatmeal.
Mental Moment: Make a grocery list in accordance with your new eating habits.
Lunch: Have a sensible lunch with a friend or co-worker, making sure to proudly explain your new program to them. You'll feel validated, and your companion will be duly impressed and perhaps even contemplate joining you.
Afternoon Delight: Ask the same friend or co-worker to join you on your brisk 15-minute walk. Offer them a piece of fruit. Talk about anything but work. Before going home from work, go grocery shopping.
Dinner: Red beans and rice topped with a serving of white fish (flounder, cod, sole, pike, etc.) and a side of the green vegetable of your choice.
After Dinner: Get out. Play. Drink moderately if you must (be sure to consume at least as much water as you do alcohol), but the idea is to socialize. It's hump day, afterall.
Sleep: Go to bed early enough to get six hours of sleep and ample time to prepare yourself for Thursday.
Wake: Early. Drink plenty of water if you drank alcohol the night before.
Bed Stretch: Do the Monday stretch.
Morning Exercise: Push-ups. Glorious push-ups. When you're finished, rest on your back for five minutes, then write down the number successfully completed. Compare with Monday.
Breakfast: Whole wheat toast with nonfat spread and pure fruit preserves, a glass of tomato juice and coffee (if you normally drink coffee) or hot tea.
Mental Moment: Spend 15 minutes going through your Day Runner, looking over and re-prioritizing important items you have yet to complete for your day and the remainder of the week ahead. Visualize yourself completing each item according to your priorities.
Lunch: Get out and have a fairly big, protein-rich hot lunch.
Afternoon Delight: No snack today, but don't forget that brisk 15-minute walk.
Dinner: A late, light dinner. Lean away from meat and other protein-rich food, lean toward veggies and foods high in carbohydrates. Try vegetarian stir-fry or vegetarian lasagna.
After Dinner: Take a bath. Have a cup of tea. Read for an hour or longer and retire early.
Sleep: Long and deep.
Wake: Early. You should have had plenty of opportunity to get at least eight hours (no more than nine) of sleep. Have sex if possible.
Bed Stretch: Do both Sunday and Monday stretches.
Morning Exercise: Push-ups and sit-ups. Glorious push-ups and sit-ups. When you're finished, rest on your back for five minutes, then write down the number of each successfully completed. Compare with previous days.
Breakfast: You're up earlier than usual if everything's gone according to plan, so cook yourself an Egg Beaters omelet (you can add any combination of lean meats and veggies and, because it's Egg Beaters, you can indulge in real cheese) to go with your glass of tomato juice and coffee (if you normally drink coffee) or hot tea.
Mental Moment: Prepare a thoughtful sack lunch and snack to take to work.
Lunch: The water-packed tuna or turkey breast or peanut butter and jelly sandwich you made this morning along with the nonfat granola bar or fruit.
Afternoon Delight: The celery and carrot sticks and low-fat ranch dressing you packed this morning. And of course, a brisk 15-minute walk.
Dinner: Prepare a heart-smart dinner from a recipe in that new cookbook that you haven't tried yet.
After Dinner: Reflect on this: It's been six days since you decided to improve your total well-being. Are you proud of yourself? Are you, punk? Tonight is the night to party until the musclehead screams. But remember the water-to-alcohol rule.
Wake: Late (not more than two hours later than normal). Drink plenty of water if you drank alcohol the night before.
Bed Stretch: Do Sunday and Monday stretches.
Morning Exercise: Go for a brisk half-hour walk. Take the dog. Go far enough to buy a newspaper. Wave to people you don't know. It's fun, especially when it freaks them out.
Breakfast: An English muffin with nonfat spread and jelly, a glass of tomato juice and coffee (if you normally drink coffee) or hot tea.
Mental Moment: Spend a half-hour reading the newspaper you bought on your walk.
Lunch: Anything you want with the exception of evil fast food.
Afternoon Delight: Seasonal fruit and a brisk 15-minute walk.
Dinner: Soup is good food. Especially when you've spent the afternoon making it yourself from your new cookbook. Invite a friend for dinner.
After Dinner: Have sex if possible. Take a shower and decide whether to watch a movie at home or go out for a mellow, early evening.
Realizing that not everyone (including myself) works a 9-to-5, Monday-through-Friday schedule, this day-by-day plan can easily be adjusted to accommodate your personal schedule. It's important to understand, also, that you don't have to follow every element of the plan exactly as it's laid out before you. The idea is to get out of an old rhythm and into a new one. Once you begin to feel it for yourself and make the appropriate adjustments, your new behavior will direct itself.
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