December 11, 2010

Do New Year's Resolutions Work?

I'm thinking about making a New Year's Resolution to lose weight? Is it worth doing or just a waste of time?

The average American gains about a pound during the holiday season. That doesn't sound like much, but most people continue to hold on to the extra weight permanently. So over the course of a decade, that adds up to some fairly substantial padding. It's not surprising that after the last present is opened and the calendar flips to a new year, a good percentage of us declare it's time to get in shape and lose weight.

I don't think resolutions are bad. In fact, I think they can be very productive. The problem is that by mid-January, about 30 percent of resolutioners have already slacked off, and fewer than half still stick with their plan by the six-month mark.

Why is this? I think it's because most people blurt out their resolution declarations as they are raising a glass or as they struggle with the zipper on their holiday party dress. If you want a resolution that you'll actually follow, you have to get serious about it. And so, in the spirit of shedding that bothersome holiday pound -- and holiday pounds past -- here are some ways you can give your New Year's resolutions some traction.

Base your goals on more than a fleeting thought. We all have those moments when we resolve on the spot to do something. Those moments can be a spark for change, but having a strong initial commitment helps. You need to be prepared for some hard work, commitment, and, yes, a little sacrifice. The first month is always the toughest. After that, your routine will be established and you won't have to try so hard to make it work. Psyche yourself up to take it day by day for at least 30 days. Constantly remind yourself about priorities and what it would mean to actually make your weight loss happen.

Make your resolutions specific. This is goal setting 101. Saying you want to lose weight is a pretty worthless statement. If your goal isn't definitive, how will you know when you've reached it? Saying you want to lose 10 pounds is better because it's more concrete, but be sure that your numbers are based on reality. Picking a number out of thin air or because you think you should weigh the same as Jennifer Aniston won't get you very far. Look at established measurements like body mass index, body fat percentage, or, at the very least, a height/weight chart.

Create a plan of attack: It isn't enough to show up at the gym or buy a cute new workout outfit. You need to have an idea of how you're getting from point A (right now) to point B (your goal). Think through details like how often you're going to exercise, for how long, where, when and with whom. Write these details down. Post them where you can see them. Track them. Leaving it to chance virtually guarantees a crash and burn scenario.

Have a backup plan: What do you normally do when faced with temptation? Do you dig your spoon in and think, "Eh, I'll start again tomorrow"? Weak moments are inevitable. Prepare for them. When faced with brownies, mashed potatoes or buttered noodles, have a coping strategy in mind. You could laminate a card with your goals on them, keep inspirational pictures at hand or try 10 deep breaths. Whatever gets you through.

Track your progress: I can't stress this enough: Keep an exercise and eating diary. Research shows it can double your weight loss. Write down as much detail as you can think of. This will create a blueprint of your accomplishments -- and failures. If you succeed, you have a step-by-step guide outlining exactly how you did it. If you fail, the reasons are often contained on the pages of your log.

OK, so that's my opinion on New Year's Resolutions. What's yours? I'd like to hear what your resolutions are and how you plan to make them come true. Post your thoughts here or tweet 
me. Happy holidays!

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