By Bob Barnett
Step off the scale now and no one will get hurt. Focusing just on weight loss can lead to cycles of losing and regaining weight, lower self-esteem, and a preoccupation with food and body image.
“You’ll do better if you have goals that have to do not with weight, but with health,” says Carol Landau, Ph.D., clinical professor of psychiatry and medicine at the Alpert Medical School, Brown University. While a New Year’s resolution is a great way to get in touch with what’s important and how you want to change, “Most diets don’t work,” she says.
upwave review-board member David Katz, MD, MPH, agrees. “A focus on weight loss tends to result in a quick-fix approach to a permanent challenge,” he says. “Instead, focus on finding health results in lifestyle changes that are more likely to last.”
The irony is, if you make your resolutions about wellness, rather than weight, you may get the best of both worlds: You’ll feel better, get healthier and yes, lose weight.
Good: Resolve to change daily behaviors
“If you’re totally inactive, it may be walking a mile by Feb. 1,” says Landau. “If you’re already pretty active, it might be training to run a 5k race.” Or it could be a more flexible goal, like being active every day. Let your goals be achievable and based on things you can actually do, rather than weight-loss results. It could be eating a healthy breakfast every morning, or eating fish twice a week and making sure you sit down when you eat.
You might resolve to eat a fruit or vegetable at every meal of the day. Eating more fruits and vegetables, along with drinking plenty of water and walking daily, has been shown to be a pretty powerful combo when it comes to weight-loss success. But that’s not your concern now. Before you get there, your goal is to create a healthy habit you can sustain. Same goes for exercise: Your goal is to create a habit that will improve the health of your body and mind.
You won’t have to rely on the scale to know if you’ve been successful, either. If you have an orange at breakfast, a salad at lunch and a green vegetable at dinner, you’ve won. Took a 20-minute walk during your lunch break? Pat yourself on the back.
Better: Combine specific behavioral changes with measurable goals
If you have health issues, this is a good place to start. “Even folks who have weight problems are better off targeting hypertension or high cholesterol than weight loss,” says Landau. If your cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar are OK, you can focus on other health-related goals. For example, if you like to bike, sign up for a long-distance event, like a 50-miler, in the spring or summer. That will give you several months to train -- and to adjust your diet to achieve success. Now you have an achievable, measurable goal to aim for as you turn daily behaviors into lifestyle habits.
Best: Make your resolutions about wellness
“Too many people just go straight to a weight-loss diet without looking at their habits that are causing them to overeat,” says Landau. “It might be stress, or how you handle your emotions, or lack of exercise.” Getting more exercise, for example, may cause changes in your brain that make it easier to resist high-calorie food temptations. Sleep is another aspect of a healthy lifestyle that plays a big role in achieving and maintaining a healthy weight. “For your New Year’s resolution, target sleep, stress management, meditation and exercise,” says Landau.
Like most truly revolutionary New Year's resolutions, making a true lifestyle change is going to take hard work, but by taking the proper steps and focusing on your overall health, you can do it!