Why resolutions fail (and how yours can succeed).
If you’re planning to make 2011 the year you lose weight and get fit, join the club: Studies show these are the most common resolutions people make come January 1st. Good luck to you; the grim reality is that most of the people who start the year off wanting to slim down don’t end up succeeding. The same goes for other popular New Year’s vows—stop smoking, get out of debt, help others, etc., etc. etc. The bottom line is that we just aren’t wired to break habits overnight that we’ve developed over 10, 20 or 30 years. As individuals, human beings tend to value their individuality. As a species, we’re just plain stubborn. Some great minds have weighed in on this subject. The controversial author Anaïs Nin insisted she made no resolutions to curb her habits, because “the habit of making plans, of criticizing, sanctioning and molding my life, is too much of a daily event for me.” Sculptor Henry Moore preferred to “think in terms of the day’s resolutions, not the year’s.” Writer Oscar Wilde, whose list of questionable habits was practically endless, characterized resolutions as “checks that men draw on a bank where they have no account.” Comic Joey Adams’s favorite party toast was “May all your troubles last as long as your New Year’s resolutions.” Mark Twain evaluated New Year’s resolutions with a single word: Humbug. Given this overwhelming preponderance of intellectual evidence, what chance do we mere mortals have to drop a few pounds and elevate our fitness? According to Michelle Ali, a registered dietician at Trinitas Regional Medical Center, there are 10 things we can do to improve the odds:
1 Don’t Go Overboard There’s a real temptation to sprint out of the gate and make drastic changes to your diet and workout routines. But being gung-ho from the get-go can lead to burnout and failure down the line. “Unrealistic goals hurt us more than we realize,” says Ali. “Weight loss should be slow, about a pound a week.” She advises skipping a full-scale renovation in favor of making slow and subtle changes that can become a permanent part of your life. “Make one food change each month and stick to it. That’ll make weight loss happen—and make it permanent.”
2 Monitor Portion Size Those supersized portions of food you often see at restaurants are rarely the right amount of food to keep you at a healthy size. “Far too often we are unaware of what a serving of a particular food is,” Ali says. “For example, for protein foods such as chicken or beef, a serving is considered to be 3 ounces, or the size of a deck of cards. Most Americans consumes more than twice the amount of protein that is needed by their bodies.”
3 Don’t Skip Meals It may seem like a smart idea to avoid eating those extra calories, but studies show that this method can backfire, especially if it’s breakfast that you skip. “Breakfast really sets the mood for the rest of the day,” Ali says. “Skipping breakfast slows down your metabolism and causes you to overeat at other times.”
4 Create a Food Diary Keep track of what you’re eating and when. Studies have shown that writing down your daily diet can help you consume fewer calories and be more thoughtful about the choices you make. If you don’t want to use a pad of paper, consider signing up for an online weight-loss tool like SparkPeople.com, where you can record your daily diet and track calories, protein, fat and more.
5 Be Salad Savvy You may feel very virtuous with that plate of greens in front of you, but the dreamy dressing you choose could turn that salad into a caloric nightmare. “One frequent mistake that people make is that they load up on salads and use far too much salad dressing,” Ali says. “Regular salad dressings are loaded with calories, which comes mainly from fat and, when use in abundance, defeat the purpose.” Stick with vinaigrettes in lieu of the creamier mayonnaise-based dressings, or make a simple (and delicious) one at home with olive oil, lemon juice and vinegar.
6 Read the Label You might be surprised to find that that can of soup or container of ice cream that claims to be healthier for you actually comes with a pretty hefty calorie count. “You will be surprised at what you’ll find when you compare one product to another—especially when we compare things like fat, sugar and sodium,” Ali says. “Be sure to look at some dietetic foods that may claim to be low in sugar and or fat—you may find that the regular product is lower in total calories.”
7 Avoid Fad Diets There’s always a new trendy diet to try—high-protein, low-carb, no-fat, the infamous cabbage soup diet—but even if you start off your fad diet peeling off the pounds, odds are the effects won’t last. “Crash diets never lead to permanent weight loss,” Ali says. “To succeed, you must commit to a healthy lifestyle for a lifetime.”
8 Exercise Cutting back on your food intake is only one piece of the puzzle. For consistent weight loss success, you’re going to have to work up a sweat. “When we lose weight we lose both fat and muscle, but exercise can preserve lean body mass,” Ali says. “Exercise speeds up our metabolism and helps us to burn more calories—and toned muscles also make us look better in our clothes.”
9 Make It Fun “If jogging’s not your thing, find an activity you enjoy doing,” Ali says. That way, exercise doesn’t become a chore—it’s an enjoyable part of your day.
10 Don’t Give Up Even if you had a bad day (and a Snickers bar or two), it isn’t the end of the world—or even the end of your diet. Remember that tomorrow is another day. Vow to do better. EDGE