A leading voice in Canada’s health and wellness scene, Sonia Jhas offers practical, positive, and down-to-earth advice meant to help people live their best life. I asked her a few questions about how to reset health goals after an unusually stressful year. -Becky Mandelbaum
Many of us have picked up bad habits during the pandemic. What do you recommend for undoing them?
When trying to undo bad habits, we typically take the “all or nothing” approach. We decide we want to stop snacking in the evenings, or watching so much TV, or drinking wine at the end of each workday, and we decide that the change will happen overnight — that we’ll wake up tomorrow and never engage with the “bad” habit again. But what happens when we take this approach? We typically fail. Why? Because it’s hard to do things in such a black-and-white fashion. Sure, it works for a little while. But soon, our motivation dwindles, we start to care a little less, and we find ourselves justifying why it’s okay to indulge again.
Instead of taking this approach, my recommendation is to have a realistic plan. Instead of mandating that you’re never going to snack again, maybe say: “I’m going to allow myself to snack on whole foods as much as I want this week.” Once you’re in the rhythm and have a week under your belt, then you can up the ante and say: “I’m not going to snack on anything after dinner this week.” And so on, and so forth. Making small but tangible changes week over week is how you gradually shift your mindset and create sustainable change. You won’t undo the habit overnight, but over the course of a few weeks, you will find that you’ve made real changes that are leading to a greater sense of control.
Working from home means food is always available. What do you suggest for people who end up migrating to the kitchen throughout the day?
Create a structure around your food intake. Plan, in advance, what time you want to eat your meals and structure your snacks throughout the day as well. When we fail to have structure, we often wait until we’re ravenous to eat, and by that point all logic has usually gone out the window. The more you can plan in advance, the more likely you’ll be to stay away from mindless snacking. If the need to snack does arise out of nowhere, try drinking a large glass of water and waiting 15 minutes first. If you find that you’re still hungry after that, then give yourself a wholesome, nutritious snack that’s rich in protein, healthy fat, and fiber. Some ideas: 15 almonds and an apple; 3/4 cup Greek yogurt and 1/2 cup blueberries; or sliced peppers and cucumber with hummus.
What do you recommend for someone wanting to shed their pandemic pounds?
On the nutrition side of things, my advice would be to focus on nourishing your body with whole, unprocessed foods as much as possible. Focus on protein, healthy fats, and less-refined carbs so that you’ll feel satiated for longer stretches at a time. You don’t need to count calories, but the more you can avoid mindless snacking and double-down on wholesome meals, the more you’ll find the weight is likely to come off. In addition to food, make sure you’re drinking at least 2 liters of water a day. It sounds basic, but hydration is key when it comes to metabolism and weight loss. So often when we “think” we’re hungry, we’re actually just thirsty. So — start sipping on that water! On the fitness side of things, my suggestion is to focus on building as much strength as possible. When you’re working out, focus on your largest muscle groups: legs, glutes, core, chest, and back. The more muscle you build, the more calories you’ll burn at rest, which will ultimately lead to greater and faster fat loss overall (assuming you keep your nutrition in check).
What’s the number one thing people can do to feel in control of their health?
A lot of people rely on “Instagram science” to dictate what they are going to do when it comes to their health. One minute it’s all about drinking celery juice, the next it’s all about doing HITT workouts every day. The problem with relying on little tidbits of information, however, is that you haven’t really taken the time to understand the “why” around what you’re doing. You try a bunch of different things for a few days at a time, hoping that something is going to give you the results you’re looking for, and it doesn’t happen.
My recommendation is to actually take the time to learn the fundamentals of wellness. When it comes to fitness, why is strength training important and how can you incorporate it into your fitness routine? When it comes to nutrition, why do calories and nutrients matter, and how can you find opportunities to eat better? When it comes to your overall wellbeing, how does sleep and hydration play a role and what kind of targets can you set for yourself around these two elements? Investigating the answers to questions like these and actually creating a plan that is grounded in more than “Instagram science” is a great way to feel in control of your health.
What do you recommend for people wanting to make lasting lifestyle changes?
Making lasting changes involves taking a balanced approach to wellness. You can’t be on a “diet” and expect it to last forever. You can’t decide you’re going to work out two times a day, seven days a week, and expect it to last forever. The key to making lasting changes is to build balance into your new lifestyle. How many days a week feels like a “balanced approach” to fitness? For some people it’s three days a week, for some people it’s four. How can you clean up your diet and prioritize your nutrition without feeling like you have to give up on all fun and flexibility? The more prioritizing your health and wellness can feel like “flow” instead of “pushing,” the more likely you’ll be to experience lasting change.
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