Most people see the new year as an opportunity to “start fresh” or “hit the reset button,” which is why they often choose January to aspire to lose weight, eat better, or consume less alcohol. Hence, the crowded gyms, the busy health food section, or the number of non-alcoholic cocktails ordered during Dry January.
For people with IBS, a New Year’s resolution is not just a simple matter of “I want to reduce my symptoms of IBS” or “I want to eat better.” While there are specific foods that can be avoided to reduce IBS-D from occurring, for example, it’s not as easy to tackle stress and anxieties, which can be common IBS triggers.
Harvard Health Publishing is the consumer health education division of the prestigious Harvard Medical School, which features the expertise of more than 11,000 faculty physicians. For resolutions to truly stick, the folks at Harvard say people must create new habits and behaviors and, more importantly, maintain them. The following are seven steps they recommend to fulfill their annual promises more easily and concretely. While these tactics draw on research they have conducted or studied, they are not meant to be health advice, so ask your doctor or see a specialist for guidance.
Step 1: Dream Big
The first and easiest step to take is to lay out big goals for the year. For those with IBS, this could be as simple as cutting out certain FODMAPs from their diet or meal prepping every week to avoid temptations. Your imagination is the limit! Just make sure this is a goal that you really want to do and are able to meet. For example, becoming a bodybuilder may take a little longer than a year and requires time and energy your life may not afford.
Step 2: Break big dreams into small steps
Let’s say you are making a dietary change: how can we make small changes every week? If your goal is to cut off FODMAPs from your diet, then it can start as simply as replacing cream with almond milk for your coffee the first week, then replacing red meat with low-FODMAP veggies or fish the next. If “losing weight” is the goal, then staying in to cook one night a week instead of going out may be an easy goal to reach early on.
Big changes require smaller steps first – enjoy getting the easier changes out of the way first before you add more to your plate.
Step 3: Understand your limitations
There are reasons why we hold on to bad habits. For one, IBS Life editor, for example, fast food is delicious and accessible at all hours of the day. Make a list of pluses and minuses to anticipate changes and try to understand why you have a certain behavior.
This step made this editor ask, why is fast food such a hard habit to break? After further consideration, convenience was the biggest factor. So, a strategy to counter it was to replace a burger with something just as convenient: a peanut butter and jelly sandwich — with low FODMAP jams, of course!
Step 4: Hold yourself accountable
Slogging through the rough patches is easier when you have support. So, commit yourself publicly – let friends know about your resolutions, so they keep up with your journey and hold you accountable. Record your work every week so you can see the progress you’ve made over time. Seek out other people making changes to help each other stay on track.
Step 5: Reward yourself
On that note, make sure to celebrate every positive goal you reach. When you reach the bigger goals, like the 10 pounds you recently lost, find innovative ways to celebrate. As an avid viewer of YouTube cooking channels, going to the farmer’s market for some fresh ingredients to make a recipe you’ve seen online is a great way to celebrate while staying on track.
Step 6: Learn from the past
Did you miss a step? Consider it a lesson learned. If, for example, you couldn’t meal prep for the whole week, consider cutting back to prepping for three days of the week, then start over. Scale back to an achievable goal and move forward with what you have learned. Setbacks are to be expected – there are always missteps along the 365-day marathon.
Step 7: Give thanks for what you do
Be grateful for all the progress you’ve made. You’re trying something that will help improve your health and well-being. Thank yourself for making the decision to enact changes. Resolutions are hard to stick with, and it’s easy to see why people often give up on them when they miss a few days at the gym or indulge in a little fast food. Life often gets in the way. But it’s all about making small, incremental changes that will alter your perspective on your own lifestyle along the way.