January 15, 2017 Features & Images » Feature Story

New year, new you 

With the dawn of a new year comes the resolutions. Sure, but if you want to change or tweak your life, your habits, or pledge to eat more kale, there are ways to help you succeed.

click to flip through (4) STORY BY GAIL JOHNSON - New year, new you
  • Story by Gail Johnson
  • New year, new you

If rules are made to be broken, then so, it seems, are New Year's resolutions. Or are they? It turns out that Whistler residents' views on personal improvement that come Jan. 1 are as diverse as Whistler Blackcomb terrain. And for those who really want the year ahead to be different —who want to keep their resolutions longer than a week or two — there are strategies to help.

Fairmont Chateau Whistler executive chef Isabel Chung isn't one to write down a list of things she'd like to do differently or better, but that doesn't mean she won't use the end of a calendar year as a time to reflect and re-evaluate.

"I believe that New Year's is a time to consider the path that we have taken over the last year, to adjust and reset my mind in anticipation of the coming year," Chung says. "I don't typically make resolutions as I find my needs change and our lives are always evolving. Rather I set goals and adjust my mindset for what I think the coming year is going to look like. 

"When it comes to New Year's resolutions, the one thing I always remind myself of is to make the coming year better than the last," she adds. "Remember the lessons that you have learned and go forward because you cannot change the past, and if nothing else works, remember that life is too short for bad wine."

Some might consider those words to live by indeed. For others, whether it's Jan. 1 or any other time of year, there's no time like the present to live life according to your deepest beliefs and values.

Whistler's most famous local Mike Douglas doesn't make resolutions because he's "one of those people who is constantly adjusting — sometimes successfully and sometimes not", he says. "Life is too short to wait a whole year to make positive change."

For Douglas, 2016 was a bit of an annus horribilis—which has made him more motivated than ever to make every day count.

"Trump's election and the loss of a few friends has definitely lit a bit of a fire under me," Douglas says. "Through my entire life, the planet has been quite stable in terms of war, disease, climate, et cetera, but that stability now seems under threat. It has definitely led to me spending a little more time on the mountain and travelling with my family and a little less in the office answering emails. Sorry to anyone I haven't gotten back to, but you have to get out and live while the living is good."

Two-time Olympian John Smart, who runs Momentum ski camps with his wife, Julia, is on the same page as Douglas when it comes to resolutions: "If I have a revelation or discover that I need to change something, then I set that goal in the moment and go after it," he says. "If I set a goal, I will usually go after it hard till I get it. Some might even call me fanatical — my wife! But sometimes the goal may either change or I simply decide I don't want it anymore, which is all good as long as I am OK with the result or path I end up on."

With his background in competitive sport, Smart has some practical advice for anyone making specific aims for 2017. He says to be careful not to set unrealistic goals since you might never achieve them.

"Not achieving goals can hurt your confidence and ultimately discourage you from trying again," Smart says. "As many athletes do, set short-term goals that you can realize. Your short-term goals should be baby steps to achieving your more lofty long-term goals, dreams, resolutions or whatever it is you're seeking."

Alison Hunter agrees with Smart that people need to be realistic about their resolution. While ending world poverty is huge, she notes, there are ways to start small, like contributing to or volunteering to our local food bank on a regular basis. The harpist regularly makes resolutions — some small and some substantial. It's something that became important to her following a serious health challenge many years ago.

"Making a resolution is making choices on how you live your life and how you contribute to others' lives," Hunter says. "I began to take making resolutions seriously after I was diagnosed with cancer 22 years ago. You view your life and how you live it much more consciously when it is threatened.

"I try really, really hard to keep resolutions that I make," she adds. "It doesn't always happen as life can often go sideways. Sometimes I make the same resolution several times, and I suspect that it gets more attainable each time. I do find that I'm more successful if I write resolutions down....Get support from your friends and family and be kind to others and yourself."

Resort Municipality of Whistler Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden is determined — and makes resolutions to keep her resolutions from last year.

"I've had the same resolutions for 30 years now," she says. "I do keep my resolutions. I'm very good at it."

Her advice to others when it comes to the annual goal-setting is to have realistic expectations about what you can achieve in a year.

For those who want to make resolutions that last longer than their New Year's hangover, Whistler registered clinical counsellor Christine Dennstedt has some suggestions.

"People tend to make resolutions to change a behaviour overnight that has often been around for a long time and become disillusioned when they have a hard time changing that behaviour," Dennstedt says. "Spend some time defining your resolution, decide exactly what it is that you wish to change or do more of, and break it down into manageable steps. People need to have a clear picture of what their end goal is as well as each step that needs to be taken in order to achieve that goal.

"Seeing a resolution as a series of steps towards a bigger goal allows you to modify the steps along the way and fine tune things if you are getting off track rather than just quitting," she adds. "There's a great quote (by Abraham Lincoln) that illustrates the idea nicely: 'Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.'"

Show up — and don't beat yourself up

Maybe you've made this resolution yourself: "This year, I'm going to get in better shape." And maybe it hasn't happened. Don't be hard on yourself. While becoming more physically fit is at the top of many people's list for New Year's resolutions, it's also one of the hardest to stick to. Most of us are busy, tired, overstretched and overcommitted and then hard on ourselves when we miss a workout. No wonder squeezing in a few more trips to the gym is easier said than done.

That's where people who dedicate their lives to health and fitness come in; they know how hard it can be for people to make exercise a regular part of their routine and they have words of advice to help.

Personal trainer Allie Higgs, who's also a strength and conditioning coach at Whistler Creek Athletic Club, says that making fitness a habit starts with doing a little soul-searching.

"Define your why," Higgs says. "The reason you want to become fitter is usually not because you want to lose 30 pounds or because you want to do 50 pushups. Those may be useful measures of progress, but the real why is about having a healthy lifestyle — maybe you want to keep up with your kids, ski more often, or have more energy. 

"Build the behaviour first, then add intensity later," she says. "Remind yourself that a missed session doesn't mean you failed. You are developing your lifestyle habits, and every step toward that routine is a positive one."

Another way to make fitness a habit, Higgs says, is to add another person to your regimen. "Most people find it easier to be accountable to a friend or a trainer than to themselves," she says. "Having someone to keep you on track for the days when motivation is low can be very helpful."

Being specific when it comes to fitness can make a significant difference in progress; for instance, instead of saying "I want to lose weight," for example, think "I want to lose five pounds by March." Fitness experts often use this acronym when it comes to setting goals: SMART, which stands for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-oriented.

If you're just starting out, for instance, Whistler Creek Athletic Club personal trainer and rehabilitation expert Mandy Dobbs says you might go from zero exercise to doing physical activity two to three times a week for half an hour to an hour each time.

"Focus on one thing at a time, whether it's weight loss, improved physical fitness, injury rehabilitation, or just an overall improvement in your health," Dobbs says. "The first step to physical fitness is showing up."

Rich Sievewright, group class instructor, yoga teacher and personal trainer at Whistler Core, encourages balance. If people are dedicating a few days a week or more to challenging workouts, he suggests incorporating yoga into their overall exercise program.

"Fitness — and winter — are hard on the body," he says. "Yoga recovers the tight joints and sore muscles so you can keep working hard towards your goals. More important than that, yoga invigorates the mind to keep you in a positive mindset when inevitably things get hard."

Read labels, drink water, embrace plants

Long before she moved to Whistler to teach skiing, Jessi McLennan grew up in a small farming community in Australia, where almost everyone grew their own food, had chickens, and cooked from scratch. To the registered nutritional therapist, it was normal to consider food an integral part of what life was all about. Then she went to Los Angeles to work and barely recognized the culture she encountered there.

"Most people I knew down there didn't cook; they didn't prepare their own food," says McLennan, the owner of Origins Nutrition who now lives in Squamish. "Food and meal times were almost seen as a chore, something that had to be battled through. That's when I knew the field of nutrition...was what I wanted to spend my time doing.

"I love being a myth-breaker," she says. "I love showing people that nutrition doesn't have to be complicated. I think there is so much conflicting nutrition advice out there. I really enjoy sitting down with clients and helping them to figure out what's going to work for them. The thing I most enjoy is seeing people's progressions and how quickly their mood, energy levels, and vitality improve once they start focusing on quality food and lifestyle changes."

January is all about healthy eating, but for some people, all the quinoa, beets, and wheat grass in the world isn't enough to motivate them to embrace a wholesome diet.

That's where experts like McLennan come in. Specializing in individual nutrition programs to support people's physical health and mental well-being, McLennan says that an easy way to improve your diet and ensure you're getting all the nutrients you need is to imagine a line down the middle of your plate. Fill half your plate with colorful vegetables.

"Imagine the other half of your plate is divided into two again, so now you have two quarters left to fill," she explains. "One quarter should be filled with high-quality protein such as fish, grass-fed meat or chicken, organic tofu or tempeh, or eggs. Then the remaining quarter should be filled with some starchy vegetables or whole grains such as sweet potato, brown rice, quinoa, sweet corn, or beans. And don't forget some healthy fat. Each meal should contain a source of healthy fat from sources such as nuts, seeds, avocado, olive oil, fatty fish, coconut oil, or ghee."

"The more whole foods we can get into our day the better," she adds. "Think fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains, beans, and, depending on the individual, high-quality meat, eggs and dairy."

If there's one area that tends to trip people up when it comes to sticking to a healthy diet, it's processed and packaged foods, according to McLennan. She says that learning how to read food labels is vital — and so is not being swayed by buzzwords like gluten-free, low fat, or paleo.

"Sorry, but cavemen didn't eat pepperoni sticks," McLennan says. "Although some of these foods may be fantastic, there are so many that aren't and that are simply using marketing to convince us that the product is healthy.

"For example, there is a certain type of energy bar that boasts being all-natural and gluten-free. But it contains more sugar than a can of soda and more calories than a king-sized chocolate bar," she notes. "For some athletes and highly active individuals this might be OK, but for your average adult heading to work at a desk for the day, even though it's an 'all-natural' snack, it really shouldn't be your first choice."

Holistic nutritionist Sarah Uy, a supplement advisor for Nesters pharmacy and wellness centre, also urges people to be wary of packaged foods, even if they're organic, non-GMO (genetically modified organisms), or vegan.

"These can lead the consumer to think that what they are buying is healthy, but sometimes these products can be high in sugar, trans fats, hydrogenated fats, salt, or sulfites," Uy says. "Read labels. Foods that don't come in a package and are whole in nature are always the clearer, safer, and better choice."

It's an expression attributed to American writer Augusten Burroughs that helps Uy sustain her focus on eating well: "When you have your health, you have everything. When you do not have your health, nothing else matters at all."

"I'm drawn to nutrition because I believe that," Uy says of the saying. "I feel that, as a holistic nutritionist, I can be a catalyst for positive transformation and an agent for positive change."

Uy advocates drinking a minimum of 12 cups of water daily and eating a "plant-strong" diet. She's especially fond of nutrient-dense vegetables from the brassica family: kale, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, and collards. These foods contain phytochemicals like polyphenols as well as vitamins C and E, folic acid, magnesium, and calcium, among other substances.

"Eating them daily," she says, "can prevent oxidative stress, induce detoxification, and support the immune system.

Calgary native and registered dietitian Suzie Cromwell, who has lived in Whistler for more than 20 years, says that it can be hard for people to have a clear sense of foods that are "good" or "bad" for you. She encourages people to think critically and do their homework. (To reach Cromwell head to Elaho Medical Clinic — info@elahoclinic.com.)

"There is so much information on the Internet; much of it is unreliable, merely individual opinions that are not science-based," Chromwell says. "It's easy to get confused especially when it comes to the food industry. They take advantage of people's desire to optimize their health. These so-called experts sell us on everything from detoxing to supplements to super foods to meal plans with quick weight loss, promising us large gains for minimal effort. Don't be fooled.... Do your own research, be curious, establish what evidence is used to back up their information, who funded the research and understand that science is always evolving."

Replace some of your animal protein with plant-based protein such as nuts and seeds, legumes, lentils, and tofu, Chromwell suggests. The latter offers multiple health benefits with less impact on the environment while being animal-friendly.

She also advises limiting added sugars. While many foods, like fruit, have naturally occurring sugars, others contain certain types of cereal, peanut butter, and condiments, have increased levels.

"Read labels but be aware that the nutrition facts tables do not distinguish between added sugars and natural occurring sugars," Chromwell says. "Added sugars include corn syrup, glucose-fructose, dextrose, agave, fruit juice concentrate, glucose, high fructose corn syrup, molasses and evaporated cane juice.

"Make an effort to include seasonal fruit and vegetables at each meal or snack to reap the benefits of phytochemicals, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and fibre," she adds. "These foods also offer protective qualities against disease. Put less focus on individual nutrients and more focus on whole foods; nutrients work in concert, so if you eat whole, minimally processed foods you will meet your daily nutrient recommendations."

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