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New Year, Healthier You – January is Healthy Weight Awareness Month

Most people do almost half of their daily activities, unaware of the habits that are either helping keep them healthy or getting in the way of that goal.

By Liane Vadheim, Registered Dietitian, Holy Rosary Healthcare 

What do willpower, habit formation, weight loss, and New Year’s resolutions have in common? The first three are the focus of recent medical research, and the latter can be the subject of optimism, frustration, or even despair. It might not be a coincidence that January has been named Healthy Weight Awareness Month. 

Most people do almost half of their daily activities, unaware of the habits that are either helping keep them healthy or getting in the way of that goal. Thirty years of research at the University of Southern California on habit formation has shed new light on the process. The “societal approach” has been to “just do it.” The problem is that habit change is not easy. We can start the New Year with lots of willpower “to just do it.” When the inevitable slip happens, the result can be a sense of failure and hopelessness. The “education approach” says that if we all knew what was healthy for us, we would do it. I, for one, can testify that just knowing something does not mean that I will do it. The research gives us guidelines for changing habits; one lesson is that it takes time and attention. 

Our Healthy Lifestyles Program at Holy Rosary Healthcare has relied on the research from the Diabetes Prevention study as well as newer research about habit formation to provide ongoing support to people who have a goal to decrease their risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Program goals include gradual weight loss and increasing physical activity, but most importantly, participants can identify habit changes specific to their goals. It is one of the reasons our program lasts a year. 

The success of this approach is reinforced by what our participants share. “It’s a lifestyle change; learning a new lifestyle, not a diet,” shares a recent class member, Pam. “It’s a wonderful program.” Dennis improved all his lab values and blood pressure with the lifestyle changes he made. “I knew what I should be doing, but the group's support was important. Following a proven program has enabled me to keep going with the healthy habits—now my daily walks with the dogs and thoughtful food choices are just a part of who I am.” 

The benefits of achieving a healthy weight are well known: increased life span, improved mood, and mental health, better strength, and ability to carry out everyday activities are all positive outcomes. Losing excess pounds can decrease the risk of several medical diagnoses, such as Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, and some types of cancer. 

Healthy Lifestyles starts a new session on January 10 for adults in southeastern Montana who have risk factors for diabetes and cardiovascular disease and who are ready to embark on a program of healthier habits. Both in-person and all virtual options are available, and class size is limited. For more information, call 406-233-4067.