Are you making the same resolution year after year? How do you break that cycle and make it actually happen this time?
Everyone’s heard the stats and probably experienced it themselves—New Year’s Resolutions are made with such conviction but so often abandoned within a few months. January is the big month for gym membership booms and by March there is no line for the treadmill anymore.
According to the New York Times, Americans spend billions every year on health club memberships, weight-loss programs, exercise tapes, diet sodas, and the like. At the same time, the obesity rate is higher than ever.
So what’s the disconnect? For a lot of people it’s simply a matter of not breaking down the problem. We want a quick-fix and then get discouraged and give up when that’s not possible. So for this New Year, resolve to go in it for the long haul. Once you accept that fitness is a life-long goal, not something you can “achieve” in a few months or even a year, suddenly your goals become more realistic.
Here are a few tips to help turn that corner in your mindset toward health and fitness and actually meet your goals rather than feeling discouraged and giving up.
Be Realistic: Start out with realistic goals. Do you want to lose 50 pounds? That can happen, but don’t expect it to happen by summer. Find out what is a healthy, realistic weight for your body type and work toward it slow and steady. Maybe you should only expect to lose 15 pounds by the summer. Don’t let too big of goals keep you from moving forward at all. And weight loss isn’t the only measure of health and fitness, there’s also strength, endurance, flexibility, lowering stress, getting more sleep, etc.
Start Small: Give yourself small goals to start. Have an overall goal for the year but make small goals along the way so you don’t lose sight. You can’t go from never working out to working out five times a week and expect to maintain that, you’ll burn out. Maybe start with exercising twice a week and then up it to three times in February. Rather than swearing off sugar for some undetermined time period, try limiting yourself to one dessert a week and increasing your veggies for a month and then reevaluate. Simple things like switching from white bread to whole wheat make a difference and are sustainable long-term changes for the better.
Ask for Help: You don’t have to know everything and there’s no reason to go it alone. You can often get free first-time consultations with trainers, nutritionists, or specialists to help you figure out how to get started. You don’t need to make a long-term financial commitment if you don’t want to. It might even be as simple as talking to a friend or family member who has made headway in the areas you struggle with or who you know lives a healthy lifestyle. If you find you are not making progress and you can’t figure out why, ask for help. Everyone’s body reacts a little differently to diet and exercise, but progress is never out of reach. If you aren’t making the progress you want, don’t give up—find out why.
Go Beyond Diets: Diets are short term fixes. They may help you lose some weight initially but they also can mess up your metabolism and cause plateauing and frustration. Plus, if you don’t make long-term changes to your lifestyle and eating habits, once you get off the diet you won’t know how to maintain your weight. Long-term weight loss and health is not just how much you eat but what you eat. Accept the fact that processed foods will never be good for you and there are no eat-this-one-thing-to-fix-your-life solutions. Get over it and learn to like the foods that are good for you: lean protein, whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables. You can still have tasty food and be giving your body the nutrients it needs to change your body and health.
Change Everyday Habits: It’s the small things that will make or break your fitness goals. Do you get a mocha every day on your way to work? Cut it down to just a few times a week and use half the sugar. Keep healthy snacks available at home or in the office so vending machines or quick stops by McDonalds aren’t as tempting. Focus on the new things you are learning to like and soon you won’t even think of the old traps.
Plan, Plan, and Re-plan: You have to stay organized and re-organized every week, maybe even every day, to achieve fitness goals. Make it a point regularly to plan when you will exercise. Plan out your meals for the week so you don’t find yourself stuck with unhealthy choices. Cheat meals are fine, but plan them, don’t just let them happen sporadically or they will soon become the norm.
Make Check-points: A year-long goal is doomed if it doesn’t have small check-points along the way. Reevaluate your progress along the way, maybe once a month or every other month. Be sure to keep track of your progress along the way. You’ll fend off discouragement better when you have documentation of how far you’ve come, rather than always looking at how far you have to go. Weight loss is not the only measure. Are your clothes fitting better, are you getting more sleep at night, are you exercising more regularly and deliberately, are you drinking more water every day? Keep track of the little victories so that you can remind yourself that you are, in fact, making progress. And if you aren’t making progress, a monthly check-point will allow you to fix it early on rather than waiting until next December to feel guilty about failing again.
Stay Accountable: Figure out something that will motivate you to stay accountable: a friend, a trainer, a family member, or get creative. Put money in a jar every week you lose weight and use that money to buy a new outfit once you’ve reached a certain goal. If you are competitive, find a buddy and make it a contest. Again, if you find you aren’t making progress, don’t get discouraged, find out why and push past it, but stay with it and don’t let yourself quit.