2018 New Year's Solutions

January is the time for big dreams and fresh starts. We rounded up a few local experts who shared tips for making big changes happen in 2018.

It’s January, the time for cracking open new planners and declaring to the world—once and for all—this is the year we’ll become the healthier, more confident, inspired and inspiring people we know we can be. We tracked down a few local experts who specialize in walking alongside those doing the admirable but arduous work of self-improvement. They share their wisdom, tips and tricks for making these yearly mantras stick—the solutions, if you will, to our resolutions.

Lose That Weight

It was years ago when HealthEast physician Jennifer Landers and two of her colleagues realized the growing number of their patients’ health conditions that were directly related to their weight, nutrition or lack of activity. It wasn’t a new realization, but the physicians felt they had a unique position to improve their patients’ health.

“We got the point where we wanted to do something substantive to help patients do something about their health—not just advising them and treating symptoms,” Landers says. In April 2014, HealthEast launched its Weight Loss Program within its full-spectrum primary care clinic in Stillwater. “It makes sense for a person’s physician to get involved, because they’re already so used to coming to see their doctor,” she says.

In addition to bariatric surgery and other medical solutions to obesity, the comprehensive Weight Loss Program runs in tandem with the clinic’s Ways to Wellness program, which offers nutrition, fitness and mindfulness resources on site.

A monthly informational night—held the third Wednesday of the month at 6 p.m.—provides an overview of the options available, explains clinic manager Sarah Zoller. Then a kick-off or intake session includes a weigh-in, blood work and a meeting with a doctor before making a plan with regular check-ins. “We see good coverage from many insurance companies—especially for people with other diagnoses like diabetes,” Zoller says. “We’re essentially treating those illnesses through weight management, and it can be very effective.” ($149 entry fee not covered by insurance.)

A major component of the program is recognizing and addressing behavioral patterns. If a person struggles with overeating, he or she might be eating for reasons other than to fuel their body. So they’ll work with a network of professionals to address underlying issues—like depression or anxiety—and develop healthier habits. Members learn how to plan and prepare healthy meals, and incorporate movement into a sedentary lifestyle. There’s predictability and structure to the regular check-ins, with accountability from clinicians and peers alike.
Whether someone just wants healthier recipes to try at home, needs a support network while recovering from bariatric surgery or wants to address high blood pressure or diabetes through diet and exercise, “We can really meet any patient where they’re at,” Landers says.

And there’s a clear difference between what happens at HealthEast versus other popular weight-loss programs. It isn’t based on a goal weight, but instead focuses on processes and behavioral goals, “applying a healthy approach to living—nutrition and exercise—that fosters a healthy weight,” Landers explains.

Overall, the results have been positive. In the hundreds of people who have gone through the program, there has been an average 14 percent weight loss, with some patients losing up to 40 percent of their weight. Those patients have—perhaps more importantly—also gotten other diagnoses under control, and the HealthEast program, like others nationwide, is aimed at addressing healthcare concerns holistically instead of just through medications and procedures.

Can That Clutter

“Some people are just completely overwhelmed with life,” says professional organizer Jan Lehman. She’s president of Can the Clutter, a team of Twin Cities-based professional organizers who take a holistic approach to increasing clients’ productivity. Often, she explains, disorganization stands in the way of progress in other areas of life.

Can the Clutter professionals often ask clients a seemingly simple question: “What’s stressing you out?” Lehman says. “We’ll identify issues and set goals, but first we need to prioritize what would make them happiest to get organized the soonest.”

Lehman explains a frequent pitfall is stockpiling organization supplies before purging. Containers and labels can actually become a stressor in and of themselves, without actually addressing the underlying problem.

“First, go through an area or group of objects and figure out what you’re keeping. Then figure out the best method to organize and store those things,” Lehman says. She’ll often assign tasks between sessions, then focus her time developing specific strategies or technologies to help keep clients on track long term. Another major barrier along the way—and one Lehman can help with—is letting go of assumed norms or debilitating expectations.
“Let go of ‘what you’re supposed to do.’ People sometimes just need a sounding board to give them permission to let go of stuff,” she explains. Discarding children’s artwork, parents’ hand-me-downs or unwanted gifts can trigger strong emotions, memories or guilt. “People are overwhelmed. They want to ignore the problem, because it can be highly emotional. So they procrastinate until it’s a stressor,” she says.

Lehman helps clients in those situations analyze where stress is coming from, assure them of their decisions and suggest alternatives to keeping every leisure suit or finger-painting. Files and photos can be stored digitally, for instance, and extra clothing or memorabilia can be repurposed or donated.

Once clients have worked through their piles of papers, inboxes, crammed closets and attics, organizers help them set rules and processes that can keep them organized for good. And whether hiring a professional organizer or organizing on their own, Lehman suggests clients build in accountability from others.

“Find a friend—someone you trust—and make an appointment to check up with each other,” says Lehman. “Systems take time to set up and maintain, but they can truly change your life. Don’t delay it!”

Make That Change

“Write down all your goals. Brainstorm. Be lofty,” says Hudson-based therapist and life coach Maria Shea. “Pick the top three. Then one. And then break it down into a bite-size checklist.”

Shea runs a private practice in Hudson, working specifically with adults who want to set and achieve a goal like managing stress, figuring out their relationships, coping with a major life event or dealing with myriad other life situations. The biggest hurdle for many clients, Shea explains, is prioritizing one positive goal over the 50 others vying for their attention. “And they don’t feel worthy. They feel so selfish focusing on and investing in themselves,” she says.

Shea takes a mind-body-spirit approach to coaching her clients, helping them build healthy habits and rhythms in every area of their lives. She’ll help clients set boundaries and learn to prioritize their health and needs, learning to say “no” without guilt and “lay down some expectations,” she says. “People are exhausted. Even if they are sleeping well, they’re tired by the end of the day and then not attending to their goals.”

By learning to manage time well, plan out meals and stick to rhythms, clients slowly build margin for working on goals previously eclipsed by the whirlwind of daily commitments and often-unfair expectations. Shea will frequently encourage clients to use technology to their advantage, setting timers to remind them to move—and scheduling out regular massages or retreats to help them reset. Guided imagery helps clients connect with certain feelings and envision change. For instance, clients might place sticky dots around their home or office to remind them to think a positive phrase or remind themselves of an attribute they’re proud of.

“It’s basically rewiring the brain so it becomes natural to say something or think something,” Shea says. But by the time she’s gotten involved, a client has made one of the biggest steps toward healthy change. “If you have a sacred space—if you’ve set aside that time—you have to expect that something is going to happen because of it. By the time people have made an appointment and shown up, they’ve made a choice that they’re ready to start fresh,” she says.