By Julia Quam, MSPH, RDN, ORISE Prevention Science Fellow, ODPHP and Janet De Jesus, MS, RD, Nutrition Advisor, ODPHP
January is a time when people often reflect on the previous year and resolve to make changes. For many people, this means healthy eating and physical activity are top of mind. As a health professional, you want to support your patients or clients as they embark on healthy lifestyle changes. How can you encourage them to make changes that they will maintain throughout the whole year and for years to come? Resources from the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans Toolkit for Professionals and the Move Your Way campaign, which promotes the second edition of the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, can help.
- Focus on sustainable changes. Your patients may start the New Year with lots of enthusiasm about a new physical activity or healthy eating routine. However, regimens that are too extreme can be hard to sustain, leading people to give up on healthy lifestyle changes altogether. The Dietary Guidelines Toolkit for Professionals contains lots of ideas for healthy shifts that aren’t overwhelming, like shifting from soda with added sugars to water during lunch. Likewise, the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans encourages those who are just getting started to do what they can, reminding patients and clients that getting active, even for just 5 minutes, has real health benefits.
- Develop a personalized plan. In order to make lifelong changes, people need to find what works for them. Remind your patients that there are many different ways to eat healthy and get moving. Teach them the basic principles of healthy eating patterns and then help them build their own healthy eating pattern that works for their tastes and traditions. Encourage them to make a weekly activity plan, incorporating activities that they enjoy and that fit their busy schedule.
- Help them anticipate and address barriers. Your patients may start off the New Year with the best intentions, but real life challenges like time, budget, and family and personal preferences can make lifestyle change hard to stick with. Review the barriers that often stand in the way of healthy eating or physical activity, so that you can help your patients develop a plan to stay on track. Help your patients get motivated with easy-to-implement tips like planning ahead and seeking out support.
- Encourage them to build on initial successes. Once your patient has mastered an initial change, encourage them to add more healthy eating behaviors or increase their physical activity. For example, if a patient started by choosing water instead of soda at lunch, perhaps they’ll want to consider more ways to cut down on added sugars or focus on cutting down on sodium and saturated fats, too. A patient who started with just 5 minutes of activity a day (35 minutes a week) may want to build toward 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity and two sessions of muscle-strengthening activity per week in order to meet the guidelines for adults.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans provide the framework and supporting resources to help you support your patients’ or clients’ healthy eating and physical activity goals. Here’s to a healthy 2019!