Go ahead, buck the trend (sometimes).
Story and photography by Dan Carpenter
With New Year’s right around the corner, many are resolving to make changes in their lifestyle, eating habits or spending habits to be able to feel better, eat better or make financial decisions. Traditionally, the mindset is to work out more, eat less and save more to accomplish resolution goals.
But what if you made resolutions that went against conventional wisdom? For example, instead of skipping desserts altogether, you resolve to go ahead and enjoy an occasional dessert. Instead of resolving to tighten the belt financially, maybe it’s the right time to splurge on a vacation or home renovation. Or, instead of resolving to work out more, you want to resolve to work out less.
Some local experts say these counter-intuitive resolutions may be not only feasible, but in some cases, downright smart in their approach.
Michele McAlister, a registered dietician and diabetic educator, said resolving to enjoy an occasional dessert can be a good idea, with the right approach.
“I think it is better not to set all or nothing goals since it puts someone at risk for failure right off the bat,” said McAlister. “What I would say to the occasional dessert or sweet is to quantify that. For example, limit having a dessert to once a week or month rather than setting such a vague goal. The reason is our tendency towards rationalizing our behavior.”
McAlister said the main pitfall to strictly eliminating any part of a balanced diet is feeling deprived, which can often lead to binging for some people. She added that it’s all about a reasonable portion and limited frequency.
“An occasional dessert can certainly be part of a healthy diet. Basically, all foods can fit. It is a matter of how often and how much,” she said.
A key to any resolution related to diet is eat a variety of foods, using something like the plate method as a guide, McAlister added.
“Be mindful not to choose programs that offer quick weight loss or those that eliminate entire food groups, since they affect how quickly you will regain the weight and can often be unsafe,” she said. “I recommend setting small goals to work on, such as eating more veggies and drinking more water. Keeping a food log, while a pain to do, is very useful in identifying eating triggers and how many calories you are consuming. It helps you to be more aware of what you are actually eating.”
Another common New Year’s resolution is to get back into the gym. According to Darren Beattie, a fitness coach and blogger with Quora.com, most gyms see a 33-50 percent increase in volume in January, but by the second week in February, more than 80 percent of the New Year’s resolvers have gotten bored and quit coming.
Mica Jones, a fitness trainer and co-owner of Keep Movin’ Fitness in Abilene, said keeping your enthusiasm and staying committed are the greatest challenges. People have to find workouts that are fun for them and ones they’ll stick to.
“At Keep Movin’ we like to encourage our clients to get moving most days of the week, preferably five or six,” said Jones. “Usually this isn’t a problem, especially if you’re mixing up your routine regularly and cross training whenever possible to avoid over-training and injuries.”
But resolving to work out fewer days per week, but with greater intensity, Jones said could still be successful.
“People can see great results with fewer but more intense workouts provided they are eating really healthy, nutritious meals,” said Jones. “Anytime you up the intensity of your workouts you have to be careful and make sure you’re performing the exercises correctly and with good form. If you’re short on time — like you only have 30 minutes to workout – then it’d be better to increase your intensity for that workout. However, if you have an hour to get it in sometimes the workout requires more endurance than it does intensity, meaning can you pace yourself to stay in it for the whole hour without tapping out.”
An important part of any fitness and weight loss resolution, Jones said, is nutrition.
“Nutrition is the most important component of any health and fitness plan. In fact, as much as 80 percent of a person’s success comes from making good decisions when it comes to meal planning and eating right. The saying, you are what you eat, really comes into play! So we try to encourage our clients to focus on eating as healthy as possible–plant based diets with lots of water are the best options! We focus on clean-eating, eating as healthy as possible most of the time.”
Another common resolution is to get in a better financial position. Most people resolve to save money, set aside something for a “rainy day,” and get out of debt. These are all great resolutions, said Mark Layton, a local certified public accountant in Abilene, but there are some approaches that can help people avoid having to react in January and can prepare you if the time is right for making a splurge or a major purchase.
“Avoidance of needing to tighten the financial belt would be met by disciplined planning and sticking to the plan,” said Layton. “What I see over and over is immediate gratification takes precedence over a disciplined commitment and leads to ‘disasterfication’ instead of long-term contentment. My recommendation is always to plan ahead. Financial security is best attained by what I don’t spend versus what I make.”
If one were to resolve that instead of tightening the belt financially, they would embark on a home renovation, or make a major purchase such as a vacation home, there are several factors to consider.
“After identifying your goals, assessing your savings, spending and investments, a proper financial analysis will help you determine if you are on track to reach your long term goals and actually see if you have surplus funds that are available to use for discretionary spending,” said Brenda Davis, a financial advisor with Edward Jones in Abilene. “We actually have tools that will help analyze and calculate the information needed to make that decision.”
Davis said she strongly recommends a written plan with short- and long-term goals. Answering questions like “Does your income exceed your outflow? Is there a clear definition of what is necessary spending and what is discretionary spending? Is your necessary spending (food, clothing, shelter, transportation, bills) covered? Is your discretionary spending under control?” can all go a long way to helping with a decision to make a larger purchase.
“Don’t sacrifice your long term goals for a credit card full of discretionary spending debt,” Davis said. “Debt is the immediate consumption of future earnings. In other words, spending it before you get it. It is easy to accumulate and hard to get rid of.”
Both Layton and Davis said making a major purchase decision rests in the person’s ability to plan for it; both advised making sure that the purchase does not take from reserves that are designed to provide financial security.
“Developing a financial strategy to help meet your long term goals will help you enjoy your life long into retirement,” said Davis.