Krystle Zuniga, PhD, RD, LD
Livestrong Cancer Institutes
Dr. Krystle Zuniga is a registered and licensed dietitian at the Livestrong Cancer Institutes and an assistant professor in the department of oncology at Dell Medical School of the University of Texas at Austin. She completed her dietetic internship and earned her doctoral degree in Nutritional Sciences from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Dr. Zuniga has conducted nutrition and cancer research for over 12 years, and her research has been published in scientific journals including Breast Cancer Research and Treatment, Cancer Prevention Research, Nutrition and Cancer, and Journal of Geriatric Oncology. Dr. Zuniga enjoys sharing her passion, experience and knowledge in nutrition to help cancer patients and survivors feel empowered, using nutrition to optimize outcomes and improve quality of life.
Changing eating or exercise habits to improve health are common goals in the new year. Maybe January didn’t go as planned, but don’t give up just yet. Health behavior change is difficult, and setbacks are part of the process. Reflect on what you did well and what barriers you had to making the changes stick. Was the diet too restrictive, exercise too difficult for your current fitness level, or were you just winging it with no plan? Learn from the experience and try again. This time around, consider some of these tips to help you meet your health goals.
1. Stop the negative self-talk. Before you can welcome positive change and growth, you need to fully accept and appreciate yourself now. You have made a commitment to improve your health. Let go of the “I should be” and “I should of” and focus on positive change talk such as “I will” or “I can.”
2. Focus on abundance, not restriction. A healthy lifestyle isn’t about restriction. It’s about abundance, feeling empowered eating a variety of foods, moving more, and nourishing yourself. For example, instead of thinking “I need to cut out carbs” think of “I will add a serving of vegetables to my meals at lunch and dinner.”
3. Be Prepared: Set aside some time every week to meal plan, purchase groceries, schedule your workouts, write down your goals in a journal. If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail. With how busy life gets, you can’t just wing it. It may be hard at first, but eventually you’ll figure out a routine that works for you.
4. Set realistic process goals: Process goals are actions that will lead to the outcome if they are achieved and allows you to celebrate the habits you are building along the way that are moving you closer to the bigger goal. Behavior change doesn’t happen overnight and you don’t have to change everything all at once. It takes weeks or months to get new habits to stick. Instead of outcome goals, like “I want to run a 5k” try a process goal of “I will jog for 30 minutes, 3 times a week.”
5. Set relevant goals: If you sent goals that are based on losing a certain amount of pounds or inches, it may be hard to stay motivated when the scale won’t budge. Health isn’t about a number on the scale. Focus on goals related to improvements in energy, mood, endurance, or building healthy habits.
6. Be a good listener. Don’t ignore hunger; it’s a sign that your body needs fuel. Muscle soreness from a workout is a normal but pain is not. Take a rest or active recovery day or eat a little more if you’re feeling more fatigued than usual. Pushing yourself beyond what your body can handle can lead to injury or burn out.
7. Consider stress and sleep habits: It is well known that inadequate sleep and increased stress can affect metabolic health. Fatigue or stress can increase hunger and cravings for sweet and high fat foods and make it difficult to muster up the energy for physical activity. Combat this by engaging in stress reducing activities like meditation, calling a friend, or reading. Turn off Netflix a little earlier each night to get some extra zzz’s. Your metabolic health and overall health will benefit.
8. Don’t skip meals: When life gets busy, it’s easy to miss a meal. Be intentional about eating at regular intervals throughout the day. We don’t make the most healthful choices when hungry. Not adequately fueling yourself can worsen fatigue and make it more difficult to motivate yourself to workout.
9. Avoid “quick fixes”: Lifestyle behavior changes take time. Fad diets or juice cleanses may look appealing, but before you embark on any diet, think about whether you will be able to follow this long-term.
10. Focus on the foundation. Before you run out and buy pills and powders, focus on the foundations of an overall healthy diet and regular exercise. Turmeric or probiotic is not the solution. Supplements can be added in after you’ve focused on building a healthy dietary plan.
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