It’s no mystery why New Year’s Resolutions are all the rage. New year, fresh start. You can metaphorically wipe the slate clean and start over. It feels good to think about making improvements in your life for a new year ahead, but are resolutions really a good idea?
If you’ve ever been a gym-goer, you’ve probably observed the life cycle of a resolution firsthand. The parking lot is bursting at the seams in January, and there’s not a treadmill to be had. But by February, you can practically feel the resolutions disintegrating around you.
So how can you avoid being one of the failed resolution-ers at the gym? Just as it goes with nutrition goals, there are many reasons a resolution fails. Typically, it’s a result of the the resolution itself. Crummy resolutions usually fall into one of these categories:
- Too vague
- Too challenging
- Too rigid
Below are some resolutions I’ve heard more than a few times, and how to rework them for success:
1. “Eat healthier.”
The problem? Too vague. What exactly are you unsatisfied with in your diet? Do you even know where to begin? This is often where I come in. I’ve had a number of clients say, “I’m not eating what I should, but I’m so overwhelmed, I don’t know how to start or what to aim for.” At that point we’ll break down their diet, identify some key areas that are important to change first, and go from there. Getting help and support to continue making improvements is where a dietitian could be utilized the most, but this first step of identifying what to change – you can do on your own.
Tip: Start a food journal. Track what you eat/drink (everything – even that little “nibble” while you’re cooking, or the couple bites of your kid’s snack). After a week or so, it’s much easier to get a larger perspective of your diet. Examples for reworking this resolution:
- “Eat an extra serving of vegetables at dinner each evening.”
- “Switch from white to whole wheat bread.”
- “Sub my daily frappuccino for iced coffee with skim milk.”
- “Carry a granola bar in the car every day for after work, to prevent the ravenous overeating that happens at dinner each night.”
- “Stop eating off my kids’ plates.”
2. “Exercise more.”
Another vague one. Specify the type and frequency of exercise, but be realistic in your goal. Telling yourself you’ll hit the gym 6 days a week, when currently you’re lucky to make it once a month… it’s not going to happen. It may even help to plan a time of day, or exact class you’ll attend. Here are a few examples of resolutions that are more
likely to lead to success:
- “Attend yoga on Tuesdays and Thursdays.”
- “Get up earlier on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays to bike to work.”
- “Walk the dog an additional lap around the block each evening.”
- “Use only the stairs (rather than elevator) during the workday.”
All of these are reasonable, aren’t a substantial time commitment, and are specific for the exercise and time of week/day.
3. “Quit sugar.”
We’ll look past the fact that this is virtually impossible for a moment – fruit, milk, grains, and beans are all sources of sugar (AKA: carbs), and I bet these aren’t the types of foods you’d consider detrimental in your diet. Instead, think about how substantial this change may be for you. If you’ve chosen a resolution like this, you probably A. Feel you eat a lot of sugary foods and/or B. Love sugary foods. Is it reasonable to assume you can quit consuming something that is so prevalent in your diet, or that you adore so much? Maybe. But likely not for the entire year. Or forever. This type of resolution falls into the “too rigid” category. A family member of mine once gave up all “sweets” for lent, and by day 14, she was sneaking spoonfuls of honey to satisfy her sugar craving. Don’t drive yourself mad. You’re human. Here are some better options:
- “Replace after-dinner dessert with fruit on weekdays.”
- “Use 1 fewer sugar in my coffee each morning.” – This one is easy to advance throughout the year, too. Over time, you adjust to adding less sugar and salt, and therefore can continue to decrease it.
- “Switch to diet soft drinks.”
- “Substitute a piece of fruit for juice with breakfast every morning.”
Sure, it would be ideal to replace all your soft drinks with water. Or always replace desserts with fruit. But the resolutions above are realistic, attainable improvements.
4. “Lose 40 lbs.”
Let’s first identify that this is a goal, not a resolution. The difference is that a goal has an endpoint, while a resolution is a continuous change (which could in fact lead to a goal). With that aside, I’d put this in the “too challenging” category. It’s a fantastic goal to shoot for, but the problem lies in that there’s one large end result with no gradual workup to it. A better resolution would be to break it down. Don’t hesitate to make week-by-week or month-by-month resolutions, rather than a single lofty, year-long one. Examples:
- “Lose 2 lbs by next Friday.” This is still a goal and not a resolution, but it’s at least more realistic. And once next Friday arrives, set your goal for the next 2 week stint.
- “Eat 300 fewer calories each day.” Of course, this would require that you track your calories on a normal day (and are honest with what your usual intakes are), then decrease from there. MyFitnessPal is a great resource for tracking intakes.
- Any of the more specific resolutions in #1 and #2 could be combined to reach a weight loss goal. A great way to start is with only two or three small changes. Then each month (or week) add another small change.
Despite the bad rap, New Year’s Resolutions can work for you. Create or modify your resolutions using the tips above to set yourself up for success. Now that the first step is down… get busy!
In the words of Oprah, “Cheers to a new year and another chance for us to get it right.”