Mental health & nutrition experts recommend realistic healthy habits you can maintain in 2020
By Molly Gluck
Have you already abandoned your New Year’s resolutions? You’re not alone. Despite the claims and commitments we make at the end of December, approximately 80 percent of people who make New Year’s resolutions drop them by the second week of February. If you fall in this category, fear not. We spoke with Boston University experts about how you can become (and stay) the best version of yourself throughout the entire year.
Donna Pincus, Ph.D., anxiety expert, professor, and researcher at Boston University’s Center for Anxiety & Related Disorders shares best-practices to de-stress. Clinical Associate Professor in Boston University’s nutrition department and Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Dr. Joan Salge Blake shares three key components to long-term, healthy eating. Finally, Clinical Psychologist Dr. Ellen Hendrikson shares advice for rising above social anxiety.
See below for how you can live your best life in 2020.
TIPS FOR REDUCING STRESS
What techniques do you recommend for reducing stress in order to positively impact our physical and mental health?
Donna Pincus: Although having some stress in life is unavoidable, it is important to practice techniques for reducing stress so that it does not become chronic and interfering in life. At high levels, stress can impact the brain — and increase our risk for various diseases and emotional disorders.
Among the most important recommendations, regular exercise has been shown to improve physical health, reduce risk for various diseases, decrease stress, improve cognitive functioning and promote overall well-being. It is also very important to build a community of supportive people in one’s life — there are vast literatures indicating the positive effects of social support on both physical and psychological health outcomes. In fact, just having the perception that others will be there for you when you need them can have beneficial effects on many aspects of our health. Furthermore, getting sufficient sleep and having good sleep habits are associated with improved health and improved ability to regulate one’s emotions. Other strategies that have been shown to decrease stress include practicing mindfulness or meditation, improving one’s planning and organizational skills, developing a good daily routine that allows you to feel in control, and regular practice of emotional expression — for example writing or talking with others about one’s feelings.
“UNFOLLOWING” NUTRITION FADS
Many people make New Year’s Resolutions to eat healthier. However, misinformation about nutrition stemming from Instagram feeds, celebrity endorsements and trending diets can make this resolution difficult to stick with and achieve results that are actually healthy for us. What three tips do you recommend for developing (and maintaining) healthy eating habits?
Joan Salge Blake: In the year ahead, a best approach to healthy eating is going to take the WWW approach. In a nutshell, a healthy diet zeros in on 1) What you should eat, 2) Why you should eat it, and 3) When you should eat it. Let’s start at the top.
What: Forget the narrow focus on trendy super foods, and rather, open your lens to a super eating pattern. A super eating pattern is plant-forward — i.e. chockfull of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low or non-fat dairy and/or soy beverages — and provides a variety of protein foods such as seafood, lean meats, poultry, legumes (beans and peas), and nuts. It is limited in saturated fats, trans fats, added sugars and sodium. A plant-based eating pattern doesn’t have to be a vegetarian diet to fit the bill.
Why: There are multiple nutrient-rich components in a healthy eating pattern that all have a synergistic and cumulative effect on your health. In other words, there isn’t an isolated superfood berry, exotic vegetable, rare flounder, grass-fed burger, or ancient grain that is going to be the magic ingredient to help you increase your longevity and trim your waist. Rather, it takes a village of good food — an entire healthy eating pattern — to make a difference in your long-term health.
When: The time of day that you eat can also affect your health. Emerging research suggests that eating the majority of your daily calories later in the day and evening, rather than chowing down during daylight, may not be good for you heart and your waist. Researchers speculate that the body’s circadian rhythms may be at play. Circadian rhythms are the 24-hour rhythms in your body in lockstep with your everyday light and dark cycle. They are driven by the master clock in your hypothalamus, some peripheral organs, and fat and muscle tissues. Since your circadian clocks can influence the activity of enzymes and hormones that regulate your metabolism, eating the majority of your calories later in the day fouls up these rhythms in your body. Rather, flipping the majority of your daily calorie intake to before sunset may help you live and feel healthier. In other words, don’t snack your way through Jimmy Kimmel.
TURNING DOWN THE VOLUME ON ANXIETY
Social anxiety affects over 15M adults in America. This condition can keep us from going to work or school, eating in public, meeting new people, interviewing for a new job, public speaking, dating, and more. In 2020, what is your top recommendation for combatting social anxiety?
Ellen Hendriksen: Social anxiety is self-consciousness on steroids. It’s the perception that something is wrong with us — that we have a fatal flaw — and unless we work hard to hide that perceived flaw, others will judge or reject us for it.
One helpful technique for socially anxious moments is to turn our attention inside out. When we feel self-conscious, we naturally turn our attention inward. We get stuck in our own heads and overthink everything we say and do. Therefore, instead of focusing inward, focus outward on the task at hand: listening to your conversation partner, connecting with them, or simply being present rather getting distracted by the running commentary of anxiety. Turn down the volume of social anxiety by paying attention to your task rather than yourself.
For additional commentary by Boston University experts, follow us on Twitter at @BUexperts. Follow Dr. Donna Pincus on Twitter at @DonnaPincus. Follow Joan Salge Blake on Twitter at @joansalgeblake and on Instagram at JoanSalgeBlake. Follow her health and wellness podcast Spot On! on Facebook at @SpotOnDrJSB. Follow Boston University College of Health & Rehabilitation Sciences: Sargent College on Twitter at @BUSargent. Follow Ellen Henriksen at @EllenHendriksen and Boston University College of Arts & Sciences at @BU_CAS on Twitter.