Resolutions That Really Work

Follow these steps to keep your resolve going strong all year

From the WebMD Archives

"Starting January 1st, I promise to get in shape and lose 30 pounds."

Sound familiar? With the coming of a new year, most of us feel obliged to plan some form of self-improvement. Roughly half of Americans take part in the annual tradition of making New Year's resolutions, according to the American Medical Association. And losing weight is the No. 1 resolution each year.

But regrettably, most people fail to fulfill the pledge. Why? They set forth unrealistic expectations, burn out, then go back to their old, unhealthful ways within a month. So the real test for effective resolutions comes on Feb. 1.

In one study, researchers found that 80% of people who had made New Year's resolutions were still going strong by mid-January. Six months later, that number was down to 44%. Now, while 44% seems low, the success rate was 10 times higher for people who had actually resolved to make changes versus those who simply desired the change. Simply declaring New Year's resolutions increases your odds of success, according to the study.

Sound familiar? With the coming of a new year, most of us feel obliged to plan some form of self-improvement. Roughly half of Americans take part in the annual tradition of making New Year's resolutions, according to the American Medical Association. And losing weight is the No. 1 resolution each year.

But regrettably, most people fail to fulfill the pledge. Why? They set forth unrealistic expectations, burn out, then go back to their old, unhealthful ways within a month. So the real test for effective resolutions comes on Feb. 1.

In one study, researchers found that 80% of people who had made New Year's resolutions were still going strong by mid-January. Six months later, that number was down to 44%. Now, while 44% seems low, the success rate was 10 times higher for people who had actually resolved to make changes versus those who simply desired the change. Simply declaring New Year's resolutions increases your odds of success, according to the study.

Write it Down

The first step to insure success is to make a concrete resolution and then write it down. Make a contract with yourself and share it with one of your ardent supporters. Be specific. For example, don't simply vow to "exercise more," specify how often and for how long you'll work out.

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But before you put pen to paper, think about yourself and your habits. Are you a member of the "Clean Plate Club"? Do you eat too fast, or while watching television? Assess your personal challenges and determine how you'll stay in control of your eating, physical activity, and sleep habits in the coming year. (It's important to address these three essential areas if you're serious about improving your health and your life.)

Also keep in mind that resolutions that really work are those that are realistic, rather than idealistic. You don't have to move mountains. Making small changes is the easiest and most effective weight-loss strategy over the long term.

Let's face it: as much as you might like to spend two hours a day at the gym, it's unlikely you can keep up that kind of commitment for more than a few weeks. Realistic resolutions are those you can live with day after day, week after week.

To start, choose one do-able change, and stick with it until it becomes a habit. Ideally, each week you'll make another small change that you can live with for the long term.

Experts suggest that if you do something for 21 days, it becomes a habit. Before long, your old habits will be replaced with healthier ones. It won't feel like a diet, just a new way of life.

Diets Don't Work

Losing one to two pounds per week is an example of a realistic weight-loss goal. If you take the weight off more quickly, it's usually because you're losing it in an unhealthy manner. And before long, you'll probably gain it all back (maybe with a few extra pounds to top it off).

Fad diets work in the short term, but dieters get so tired of the impractical program that they soon return to their old eating habits. Once that happens, the weight returns with a vengeance -- and there goes that well-intentioned oath to lose weight.

You can lose weight on virtually any diet, from cabbage soup to the popular high-protein diets, but the real question is: can you maintain the weight loss when you go off the diet? The mind-set of being "on" or "off" a diet is counterproductive.

What works is a commitment to change the lifestyle that led you to gain weight in the first place. A well-balanced eating plan with enough calories to keep you satisfied, which includes small portions of your favorite foods, is the kind of plan you can sustain. Eating healthier foods, and getting regular physical activity and enough sleep are the kind of resolutions that lead to permanent weight loss and better health.

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A Healthier New Year and New You

I hope you've been successful at maintaining your weight during the holiday season, and are ready to get back into high gear come year's end. Stay vigilant these last few days, using all the techniques we've shared in our columns this past month to help you enjoy the holiday festivities without gaining weight.

Then, let this new year be the year of the new you. Set realistic goals that will stick, and make it easier for you to lose weight and improve your health. Beyond moving the needle on the scale, focus on how much better you'll feel carrying around fewer pounds. Think of all the health benefits you get by losing just 5 to 10% of your body weight -- including lower blood pressure, blood cholesterol, and triglycerides, and more energy and self-esteem.

Here's to a happy, healthy New Year!

WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Expert Column Reviewed by Kathleen M. Zelman, MPH, RD, LD on December 06, 2005

Sources

SOURCE: Journal of Clinical Psychology, April 2002.

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