by Jen Rawson, RD
It’s that time of year again: time to think about what type of New Year’s resolution you wish to set. On average, at least 40% of resolutions revolve around health. Unfortunately, according to a Stanford University study, 92% of these resolutions do not succeed. Why can’t we stickwith these goals? It’s not a lack of willpower as many believe, but rather that we’re setting the wrong types of goals. Here are some helpful tips to ensure you set realistic and achievable resolutions this New Year.
Avoid weight-loss resolutions.
It’s tempting to set a weight-loss goal at the beginning of the year as you’re brimming with motivation and excitement about a new diet or exercise routine. But this is a trap that will only leave you frustrated.
To begin with, diets don’t work in the long term. Clinical practice guidelines indicate that regardless of the degree of initial weight loss, most weight is regained within a two-year period, and five years later, the majority of people are at their pre-intervention body weight. In some cases, the amount of weight re-gained is more than the amount that was lost. This can start a pattern of yo-yo dieting which is known to slow down metabolism and make subsequent weight loss attempts even more challenging.
Beyond the fact that diets don’t work, consideration should always be given to why a person is choosing a goal. Is the weight loss goal to improve health? Because positive changes can be made that will improve overall health without focusing on weight as a target. Is the goal for aesthetics? In a world that glorifies thinness and a perfect body type, it’s hard not to be consumed with trying to attain a certain image. We need to remember that every person is born with a different genetic makeup, meaning we are predisposed to
live in different sized bodies. Therefore, striving for a body type that is unattainable sets us up feelings of failure, guilt, shame,
Instead of focusing on diets or weight loss as a resolution, considering making small positive habit goals such as taking a lunch to work twice a week or adding one extra vegetable per day. Small changes can greatly improve overall health and are more likely to become ongoing habits.
It’s easy to get excited by the promise of a new year and a new you—but it’s important to remember our situational realities. Things like time, ability, budget, schedule, and commitments all affect our ability to achieve a goal. A goal that does not consider these factors is unrealistic and likely to fail. Failure leads to a negative cycle: feelings of guilt, giving up on the habit and subsequent feelings of further guilt. Instead, choose a realistic goal that considers your limitations and has a good chance of success. Success leads to a positive cycle: feelings of confidence, setting new goals and ongoing confidence in goal setting.
For example, if you don’t currently run, setting a goal to run five days a week may be unattainable. Instead, start with trying to run one day a week. Once that’s achievable and you feel good doing it, add an additional day. If you are already in a running routine and want to improve your race time, consider your current personal best and evaluate how much extra time you could commit to training, what changes you could make and how this will impact your performance. Based on these factors, set a time goal that seems do-able for you.
Add rather than remove.
Often when we’re setting goals, we look at what we’re doing wrong in our lives and try to remove it. We may think, “I ate way too many sweets over the holiday season so I’m going to cut out sugar.” Or, “I gained weight so I’m going to restrict my calorie intake.”
These types of goals focus on a negative action and restriction. Regardless of age, we all behave like children when we’re told we can’t have something. Restriction makes things even more desirable. If you cut out sugar completely, you’ll crave it like never before. Instead, try to focus on a positive action like “I am going to increase my vegetable intake to five servings per day.” By increasing your vegetable intake you will find you’re less hungry and may not crave sugar as much.
Although goal setting can occur at any point of the year, New Year’s is a nice time to reflect on where you want to improve and focus on setting up positive habits. By simply rethinking the way you set your New Year’s resolutions, you will find yourself achieving positive change in your lifestyle.
Jen Rawson is a Registered Dietitian from Calgary who works in a private practice specializing in intuitive eating, sports nutrition and gut health. She is passionate about running and travelling, often combining the two at destination races.