Breaking your New Year’s resolution has become a running joke, but this year you don’t need to be the punchline.
New Year’s resolutions are sort of like imaginary friends: they’re easy to make but kind of hard to keep around. This is especially true for resolutions involving weight loss and dieting — a resolution topic all of us have probably considered while wolfing down grandma’s Christmas pie.
At the start of 2011, a Barna Group study reported that 90 million Americans made New Year’s resolutions, 30 percent of which were related to weight and dieting. However, of their previous year’s resolutions, approximately half of them weren’t successful.
Want to free yourself from your annual resolution-breaking cycle and achieve your diet goals? It’s possible, experts say.
“The biggest advice I would give is to set realistic goals,” says nutritionist Jennifer Adler, co-founder of the International Easting Disorders Institute and owner of Passionate Nutrition. “People end up being very black-and-white and set unrealistic expectations that are unachievable.”
Identify what you want your end result to be. Maybe you want to achieve a healthier weight, which could mean gaining weight or losing weight. Perhaps you want to build muscle bulk, or reduce the amount of saturated fat you consume. Whatever your ideal end result, choose an aspect of that and create a goal that will push you slightly beyond your comfort level while still being realistic. For example, someone who wants to be vegan could start by designating just three days a week as meat-free days.
“If someone is working out one time per week,” says Adler, “[setting a goal of] seven times a week is not the best goal; three times a week might be more realistic goal.”
Journal your food
It’s easy to underestimate the amount of calories you consume or drink throughout the day. A 2011 study conducted by a Harvard Medical School researcher found that 80 percent of young adults underestimate the calories in their meals, and 30 percent underestimated by 500 or more calories. To put that into perspective, eating 500 extra calories a day can lead to a weight gain of one pound per week!
Tracking what you eat throughout the day can prevent such underestimation. “Food journaling helps you keep detailed track of what you are eating,” says lifestyle dietitian Mary Barbour, who has been featured on HGTV’s international House Hunters and FOX’s Hell’s Kitchen. “It makes you think twice before popping that handful of M&Ms into your mouth because you’ll have to write it down.”
If you prefer electronic journals to the more traditional paper form, several apps and websites, such as MyFitnessPal and Calorie Counter, track and count calories for thousands of common food items.
Meeting your New Year’s resolutions is just as much a head game as it is a health game. Many people find themselves throwing their hands up in despair because their resolution feels like punishment or restriction, and that makes it hard to persevere and stay strong.
Instead, reward yourself when you do well — as long as those rewards don’t involve something that breaks your resolution. For example, you could reward yourself with a spa massage after a month of meeting your gym workout resolution.
“I recommend keeping track of success and giving rewards for X number of times of meeting your goal,” says Addler.
Or, try pairing up with a friend who has similar health goals. “Competition sometimes brings out the best in people and is a huge motivator,” says Barbour. “Plus, even if you lose — no pun intended — you still win!”