Easy, Healthy New Year's Resolutions
1. Cut yourself some slack.
That's the resolution New York City-based writer and mom to 7-year-old twin girls Stephanie Dolgoff makes every year—and sometimes manages to keep. "Most of my angst, whether it's about motherhood, the life/family balance thing, or work, has to do with holding myself to too-high expectations and then falling short," she says. Lowering her standards in a healthy way—like not stressing over a less-than-perfect afternoon at the museum—allows her to actually get things done without driving herself nutty.
It's a good goal, says New York psychologist Susan Bartell, Ph.D.: "Guilt that you're not doing something perfectly or as well as the next mom, or that you're not devoting enough time or effort to home, kids, or work will not make you feel better." Let it go, knowing you're doing the best you can for your family and yourself. If that means serving cereal for dinner, so be it (at least it's fortified)!
2. Quit the clean plate club.
When is the last time you left the dinner table with food still on your plate? In a culture where women are simultaneously advised to slash calories and clean our plates (there are starving children in Africa, after all!), many of us have lost the ability to effectively gauge our hunger.
Kathryn A. Allen, R.D., director of nutrition therapy at the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, suggests eating until you are 80 percent full—not 110 percent overstuffed—a practice called hara hachi bu ("eight-tenths belly") by Okinawans, who have one of the world's highest rates of living to 100. Once you feel comfortably satisfied, save the rest for leftovers. "Don't turn yourself into a human garbage can by eating food when you're not hungry, just to keep from throwing it away," she says. Not only will you keep your skinny jeans buttoned, you may live to see even more New Year's Eves.
3. Teach your kids to fish.
When your son is being excluded on the playground, your instinct is to get him into the game. When you're pressed for time, it seems easier to over-help on the homework. But this year, step back. "Don't jump in to immediately rescue your children," says New York City psychotherapist and mom of four Michelle P. Maidenberg, Ph.D. Unless it's a dangerous or risky situation, letting them fend for themselves fosters independence and boosts self-esteem while freeing up time and energy for you. Their bed may look like the dog made it, but recognize that they succeeded in their own way—and you got a few extra minutes of me-time out of the deal.
We all know we should floss, but most of us skip the healthful habit, stepping it up only in the days before and after a checkup. That's unfortunate, considering a whopping 75% of Americans have some form of gum disease, which causes bleeding, tender gums, and killer breath. Plus, people with gum disease are almost twice as likely to have heart disease, a major killer of women.
Academy of General Dentistry spokesperson Steven A. Ghareeb, D.D.S., suggests flossing at least once daily: Start by pulling out about an arm's length of floss and wrap the ends around your middle fingers until you have a few inches to work with. Use your index fingers to direct the floss, sliding it against the side surfaces of the teeth. Don't freak out if your gums start to bleed—that should improve within a week or two.
5. Hit the hay.
Job stress, a mile-long to-do list, and a tween with a tummy virus all conspire to keep you up until 2 a.m. But prioritizing sleep is a resolution worth dreaming about. New York City dermatologist Amy Wechsler, M.D., calls it "free cosmetic medicine" and claims that regularly logging eight hours of sleep can make you look as much as three years younger. And a 2010 Annals of Internal Medicine study found catching enough zzz's can help you stay slim by regulating hunger-hormone levels.
Dr. Wechsler recommends halting caffeine four to six hours before bed, sticking to a lighter dinner (digestion can keep you awake), and turning off all electronics—TV, laptop, and PDA—an hour before bedtime because light signals your brain to stay alert.
6. Stop putting yourself last.
If you spent the last year skipping workouts for parent-teacher conferences and eating room-temperature dinners while everyone enjoyed hot pizza, join the club. "Last is what moms do best," says Stephanie Vozza, author of The Five-Minute Mom's Club: 105 Tips to Make a Mom's Life Easier. "We live in a world where we often spend more time taxiing kids from one after-school activity to another than we do taking care of ourselves."
In the new year, take some of the focus off of everyone else and put it back on yourself. "You may be a mother, but you're also a woman, wife and friend," Vozza says. "If you feel good about yourself, you will do a better job as a parent." Start reclaiming yourself by scheduling me-time in your planner, like a weekly Spin class or monthly Girls' Night. Belinda Di Giambattista, a mom to two small children in Brooklyn, does this by incorporating a daily 3- to 6-minute meditation into her day. "It replenishes my soul, reminding me why I do all I do in this crazy, busy life of running my own business and raising two kids, and helps me be a part of my life instead of letting it pass me by."
7. Get organized.
The simple act of picking up clothes from your closet floor or clearing your desk can pave the way toward an efficient and productive year. "Disorganization and procrastination are kissing cousins," says Geralin Thomas (metropolitanorganizing.com), a certified professional organizer specializing in chronic disorganization. Physical clutter (scattered toys, a messy kitchen island) can sap your mojo, while emotional clutter ("Doing my taxes is sooo boring—I'll just wait until April 14") can prove self-sabotaging.
Thomas suggests organizing your new year with a calendar system that works for you (one woman's old-school day planner is another's PDA calendar) and attacking monstrous to-do lists with the knowledge that "Once you're in motion, you tend to stay in motion." Picking up toys will lead to unloading the dishwasher and browning the beef and vegetables for dinner.
8. Swallow a supplement.
The average woman takes in less than 700mg of calcium per day—far below the 1000mg she should be getting (after age 50, it jumps to 1200mg). Besides strengthening bones and fighting osteoporosis, three daily servings of calcium-rich yogurt can greatly increase fat loss. Our collective vitamin D levels are suffering, too, and have been tied to a heightened risk of cancer, high blood pressure and depression.
This year, resolve to include a serving of low-fat dairy at every meal (skim milk in your cereal, a part-skim mozzarella cheese stick at lunch, a cup of yogurt for a nighttime dessert) and swallow a daily combination calcium-vitamin D supplement. One surprising nondairy way to also nab twice your daily vitamin D needs: three ounces of sockeye salmon!
9 Stall the Snack Attacks
A recent survey found that seven out of 10 women reach for a snack even if they don't want it, simply because it's there. Nicole Atkinson of Baltimore was one of them, mindlessly snacking while on her computer at work. But this publicist and mom of two young boys is vowing to snack smart: "I've already started, bringing in raw almonds and celery stalks to work." She also likes freeze-dried fruit for a low-fat candylike treat.
Molly Morgan, R.D., author of The Skinny Rules, says snacking—done correctly—is a smart way to keep hunger in check. "You're less likely to be tempted at the mall or when ordering from a restaurant menu" if you've had a small snack with a combination of protein, carbs, and healthy fats an hour beforehand. Try a nonfat Greek yogurt or a handful of nuts and a small piece of fruit.
10. Wear sunblock.
We're not gonna lie—it feels good to be tan. But the pleasure is fleeting and the damage incurred can add years to your face while taking them off your life. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, there are more new cases of skin cancer each year than breast, prostate, lung, and colon cancer combined, with one in five Americans eventually being diagnosed.
The good news: Research shows that only 23% of your lifetime sun exposure occurs by age 18, so it's not too late to slow down crow's feet, stave off age spots, and protect yourself from cancer in the following decades. Look for a noncomedogenic, broad-spectrum, four-star formula (companies must rate their products' UVA protection with a four-star system) with a minimum SPF of 30. Celebrity makeup artist Jemma Kidd (Teri Hatcher, Debra Messing) reminds you to cover your decolletage, neck, ears and hands. Look for a lip balm with SPF too.
11. Break your e-mail addiction.
The average person working with a computer loses a little over two hours of productivity a day due to interruptions and distractions. That's a ton of time—time you could be spending in yoga class, at a movie with your husband, or catching precious zzz's.
Ring in January 1 by turning your ringer off (for incoming e-mails, that is) as well as the new-message chime on your work computer. "Think of your inbox as you do your mailbox at home," declutter guru Thomas says. "We don't run out there 10 times a day." Check it once or twice daily, at the same time every day. Congratulations—you now have 10 more hours per week to floss, apply sunblock, eat a calcium-rich food, then nap!