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Waiting for motivation to strike? Try rethinking that

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All of us know that motivation is a key ingredient to accomplishing goals in our personal and professional lives. But if you wait for motivation to strike like a sudden lightning storm, you’re a lot less likely to take a single step toward any goal. Even if you have a much-desired goal in mind, it’s all too easy to deplete motivation through feeling overwhelmed, procrastination, or impatience. The steps below can help you increase your motivation to accomplish the goals that matter to you.

The meaning of your goal

Before setting a goal, it is critical to clearly identify meaning — that is, why is successfully reaching this goal important to you? What will this achievement mean to you? For example, telling yourself “I want to lose 10 pounds so I have more energy to play with my grandchildren” conveys far more meaning than “I want to lose weight.” Or maybe your goal is to paint a room a different color because you feel that color will bring more joy into your life. That’s very different than setting a goal of “paint room.”

If you set a goal and find yourself procrastinating or not achieving it, revisit the meaning of the goal you have set. Is this a goal that continues to matter to you? If so, consider the meaning behind the procrastination or the difficulties that you are experiencing.

Operationalize your goal

Write out a detailed plan to achieve the goal. Use the SMART acronym to guide this plan:

  • Specific (What exactly do you want to accomplish?)
  • Measurable (How will you know when you have succeeded?)
  • Achievable (Is the goal you have set possible?)
  • Realistic (Does setting this goal make sense for you right now?)
  • Time-bound (What is the specific time frame to accomplish this goal?)

For example, a goal of “exercise more” is too vague, and will not set you up for success. Instead, set a goal of walking 50 steps in the next hour, or taking a 15-minute walk Wednesday morning. This goal is specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound.

Set up a to-do list — and tick it off

Once you identify a specific goal, make a to-do list to accomplish it.

  • What resources do you need?
  • What are the steps you’ll take toward your goal? Break down tasks into manageable mini-tasks and write each one down.
  • Set deadlines for each task. Make a schedule to accomplish these tasks, being sure to include regular breaks and realistic time frames.
  • Cross off each mini-task as you complete it. Step by step, you’ll see you’re making progress toward your goals.

If you are having difficulty breaking down your goal into smaller tasks, just begin working toward it. For example, if you set a goal of increasing the number of steps you walk each day, but have difficulty identifying the ideal number of steps as a goal, just start walking. You can figure out that ideal number later.

Include others

Invite a team to help you with your goal. You could join a running club, or ask family and friends to check on your progress in achieving tasks related to your overall goal. Perhaps friends can send email or text message reminders to keep you accountable. Finally, surround yourself by other people who are actively working on their own goals. Their efforts may inspire you, too.

Visualize success

Create an image of yourself achieving this goal. This image could be in your mind, or perhaps you could draw a picture of yourself achieving your goal. Imagine what achieving this goal will mean for you. How will you experience the success? How will it feel for you? Remember these positive emotions as you are completing the tasks on your to-do list to help fuel motivation.

Avoid distractions

Try to choose a space that is organized, free of clutter, and with minimal distractions. Focus on one task at a time, not multitasking. Close email and place your phone on silent. Avoid social media sites that make goals seem very easy to attain.

Track progress and time spent

Decide how often you’ll track progress toward your overall goal through your to-do list. Are you meeting the timeline you initially established? If not, identify stumbling blocks. Revisit the importance and meaning of this goal and how you initially set up your SMART model. If necessary, reconsider challenging aspects of your goal and make changes in your plan.

Think creatively about how to expand available time to work on your goal. Can you make certain tasks more routine in your life? Can you link unenjoyable tasks with more pleasurable activities? For example, if you dread your goal of taking 100 additional steps each day, could you listen to music or a podcast that you enjoy while you are taking these steps?

Embrace empathy

Be kind to yourself when tracking progress toward achieving your goal. Practice self-compassion on occasions when you fall short. Build small rewards into the process, and consider how to celebrate all your accomplishments.

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Are certain fruits healthier than others?

close up image of a colorful variety of assorted fruits

In the US, we are fortunate to have a dizzying array of fruits that fill our grocery stores year-round. They come in all sizes, shapes, and colors, and we have all heard about the recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables a day. So, what are we eating them for? And how does the nutritional value vary between fruits? Is there any difference between whole fruits versus juice, fresh versus dried? Let’s take a look.

Differences between fruits

Just like other foods, different fruits have different nutrient values. Generally, whole fruits are good sources of fiber while fruit juices are not. And one cup of fruit juice, even 100% fruit juice, has a lot more sugar than one piece or one serving of whole fruit. In addition, whole fruits are more satiating than juices. When meeting the recommended fruit and vegetable intake, it is better to eat them (whole) than drink them (juice). However, one should not completely avoid drinking juice — if it is 100% juice — but you should limit consumption to no more than 4 to 8 ounces a day.

The freezer section of the grocery store is often stocked with quite a variety of frozen fruits. These are often peeled and cut already (like mango), which is convenient and often less expensive than fresh fruits. Frozen fruits are usually picked and quick-frozen near the point of harvest, therefore the nutrients are well preserved. Moreover, some seasonal fruits such as blueberries are readily available in frozen form. The key to selection is to choose plain frozen fruits without added sugar.

There are a number of fruits that are available in dried form, such as raisins, apricots, and pineapple — just to name a few. They also have good nutrient values, keep for a long time, are convenient to carry around, and are high in calories, making them a favorite for hikers and campers. However, some often have sugar added in the drying process, particularly mango and pineapple. Dried cranberries almost always have sugar added, as they are naturally very tart. Even for those without added sugar, the compact volume and sweetness make it quite easy to eat a lot in one sitting, and the calories can add up quickly.

Some dried fruits like raisins and apricots are also treated with sulfur dioxide to preserve freshness and color. For most people that is not a concern; however, some individuals are sensitive, especially those with asthma. Sulfur dioxide treatment is labeled on the package, so it is not difficult to avoid if necessary.

What about buying organic?

We have much choice when it comes to organic and conventionally grown fruits, be they fresh, frozen, or dried. Nutritionally, there is not enough difference to choose one over the other, though consumers might choose one over another based on farming practices and environmental impact. The US has regulations on pesticide use, but some fruits tend to have more residual pesticides than others, and it is always recommended that you wash fruits thoroughly before eating.

Differences in nutritional value

Different fruits are good sources of different nutrients. Citrus fruits are high in vitamin C, and other fruits are good sources of nutrients too. A few examples below:

Nutrient

Major functions

Good fruit sources

potassium

fluid and electrolyte balance, maintaining healthy blood pressure

oranges, raspberries, bananas, cherries, pomegranates, honeydew melons, avocados

iron

formation of red blood cells, brain growth in children

dried apricots, raisins

vitamin C

maintaining healthy immune system, wound healing, antioxidant

citrus fruits, strawberries, kiwi

folate

DNA synthesis, formation of red blood cells, early neural tube development in the fetus

oranges, mangos, avocados

vitamin A

night vision, cell growth, immune function

cantaloupe

Besides the above nutrients, certain fruits are also high in flavonoids. This is a diverse group of compounds, some of which are potent antioxidants that protect against oxidative damage, and may reduce the risk of certain diseases such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes. In particular, citrus fruits are high in the flavanones class of flavonoids, and blackberries, blueberries, cranberries, and cherries are high in the anthocyanidins class of flavonoids.

So, what fruits should we eat?

As you can see, there isn’t one fruit that has all the nutrients, so eating a variety is the key to good health. Try something new! Most adults should eat a variety of colors for about 2 cups a day. Prioritize whole fruits over juice. Eat what is in season, as it will be cheaper. And enjoy your fruits: eat mindfully to fully appreciate the smell, texture, and flavor. Bon appetit!

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Exercise, metabolism, and weight: New research from The Biggest Loser

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The Biggest Loser was a popular reality television show that ran on NBC for over a decade starting in 2004. In it, participants with obesity competed with each other through intense physical challenges and ate a reduced-calorie diet to see who could lose the highest percentage of body weight.

Prior findings from studies of The Biggest Loser contestants showed not only that metabolism slows drastically following significant weight loss, but also that regaining the lost weight does not restore metabolism back to its pre-weight loss levels. This means people who have lost large amounts of weight must adhere to an extremely low-calorie intake in order to maintain that weight loss. One show contestant lost 239 pounds and achieved a weight of 191 pounds, yet six years later, after regaining 100 pounds of that lost weight, had to consume an 800-calorie-per-day diet to maintain his weight.

New research about physical activity and metabolic rate

A more recent study by the same researcher aims to explain and interpret the findings from The Biggest Loser in light of an energy conservation model. In what he calls the "constrained model of human energy expenditure," Dr. Kevin Hall theorizes that because the contestants engaged in large, sustained periods of intense physical activity, their metabolisms slowed substantially in order to reduce their metabolic rates and thereby minimize changes in total energy expenditure. In other words, their bodies made automatic compensatory changes to maintain energy balance.

Of particular interest is the fact that at the end of The Biggest Loser competition, the degree of metabolism reduction was not related to contestants’ subsequent weight regain, and in fact, the contestants that maintained the greatest weight loss six years after the competition actually had the greatest amount of metabolism adaptation. This suggests that metabolic adaptation is a response to the change in lifestyle, namely the dramatic increase in physical activity observed in those who maintained the most weight loss. Fortunately for those trying to maintain significant weight loss, the compensatory mechanisms do not completely counteract lifestyle changes, so it is possible to keep off substantial amounts of weight.

What have we learned about weight loss from studying The Biggest Loser contestants?

Taken together, what we’ve learned from these studies on The Biggest Loser contestants is that while short-term reductions in resting metabolic rate are related to the extreme calorie restriction at the time of active weight loss, the larger, persistent metabolic adaptation that takes place later is related to substantial sustained increases in physical activity.

Results from the National Weight Control Registry (established in 1993 to determine characteristics of individuals successful at keeping weight off) have long demonstrated that physical activity is a key component of successful weight maintenance. What we don’t yet know is how sustained increases in physical activity lead to improved maintenance of lost weight, despite the compensatory long-term reduction in resting metabolic rate. Dr. Hall theorizes this could potentially be because of the effect of physical activity on lowering appetite.

But as is always the case, additional studies are needed to fully clarify the relationship between body composition, physical activity, energy regulation, and weight maintenance. In the meantime, we should continue to follow the well-founded advice to eat healthy whole foods in moderation, avoid processed foods, and engage in regular physical activity to maintain a healthy body weight.