7 Tips to Make Resolutions Stick
By Elisa Zied, MS, RD, CDN
If you’re like most Americans, you’ve once again ushered in the New Year with some sort of dietary or fitness declaration. Perhaps you’ll finally give up sweets or fried foods, nix that several-times-a-day soda habit, swear off drinking, or workout every day. Unfortunately, rigid resolutions like these are often hard to stick to, and when you fall off the wagon it can make you feel like a failure. And that alone can lead you to seek comfort in cookies or a cocktail—some of the very things you may be trying to cut back on.
The good news is that no matter where you stand when it comes to resolutions, there are ways to reframe your goals in a way that makes them easier to achieve and maintain. Here are 7 tips from top food and fitness experts to make those resolutions—or whatever you call them—really stick.
Forget the rules. According to Janet Helm, MS, RD, author of the new cookbook The Food Lover's Healthy Habits Cookbook (Oxmoor House, December 2012), "Healthy eating should be enjoyable, easy and gimmick-free, not bogged down by rules and restrictions." If you realize now that the resolutions you made called for dramatic changes in the New Year, she recommends rethinking those goals and breaking them down into bite-sized chunks. “It's far too easy to get over-motivated and try to tackle too much, which can backfire. Instead, take a series of small, attainable steps rather than attempting to change all at once,” she adds.
Be real. Amie Hoff, CPT, NASM, founder of Hoff Fitness in New York City, says it’s important to be honest with yourself about your resolutions. She recommends asking, “Are they practical, and are my expectations realistic?” If you answer no to either (or both) questions, you’ll probably get frustrated and be more likely to quit whatever you started. “While your fitness goal may be to look like a supermodel or have a six-pack, the reality of either feat can ultimately set you up for failure,” she says. Instead, focus on the fact that exercise makes you feel stronger and more energized, not to mention carry yourself more confidently.
Make plans. Hoff says, “Any successful venture requires a plan that describes its mission and specifics on how to achieve it. Without one, you have no idea where you’re starting from, where you’re going, and how you’ll get there—or worse, where you’ll end up.” She recommends breaking down fitness goals to make the end result less intimidating. “It’s best to think both short- and long-term. Setting small goals throughout the year instead of aiming for lofty, short-term goals is more likely to help you succeed,” she adds. Helm says the same can apply to diet-related goals. She says, “Creating a concrete plan—such as organizing your meals and snacks ahead of time—will help you better act on your intentions and be more likely to turn those small steps into habits.”
Accentuate the positive. David Grotto, RD, author of the new book The Best Things You Can Eat (Da Capo Lifelong Books, January, 2013) says that if you make resolutions, they should incorporate positive changes such as adding more produce or whole grains to your diet rather than negative ones like swearing things off, which can leave you feeling deprived. Helm adds, “Staying positive, and believing that you can make any change in your life—even a small one—is a powerful force. Behavioral scientists call this self-efficacy.” She adds, “If you’re confident, you’ll be much more likely to reach your goal.”
Make it count. Hoff suggests being accountable when it comes to maintaining fitness goals—or any goals, for that matter. While she recommends using a good old pen and paper to document workouts, the mere act of keeping some sort of journal or record of your actions can give you a greater sense of commitment, and help you stay focused and feel more in control. She adds, “Writing about your daily and weekly successes will definitely help motivate you, especially when times get tough.”
Partner up. Especially when your motivation wanes, enlisting help from a friend, spouse or other family member can help keep you on a healthy food or fitness course. When it comes to fitness, Hoff says having a buddy with similar interests, taking a fitness class, or working with a certified fitness trainer to help you create or spice up your fitness plan can help you achieve your goals and give you others to be accountable to. Seeing a registered dietitian can also help you create a personalized, nutritious and delicious menu based on your current habits and preferences.
Celebrate good times, c’mon! Grotto and Hoff recommend celebrating diet and lifestyle victories—no matter how small—with non-food rewards, like a massage, a new outfit, a night on the town, or something as simple as a brisk walk with your honey! Grotto adds, “When you begin to succeed, you gain self-confidence, which leads to greater success.”
Fall in Love. If all else fails, nutrition therapist Lisa Dorfman, MS, RD, CSSD, LMHC, author of the upcoming book Performance Nutrition for Tackling Stress (Momentum Media, 2013) recommends falling in love—even with yourself. “When you're fresh in love, you tend to try your hardest to look your best—and that includes eating well and moving more. So even if you don't have a special someone, imagining you do may give you positive energy to help you achieve your goals and maintain healthful habits.”
What helps you stay motivated to achieve and maintain your resolutions?
Elisa Zied, MS, RD, CDN, is a nationally recognized registered dietitian and award-winning author of "Nutrition At Your Fingertips," "Feed Your Family Right!," and "So What Can I Eat?!." She is also a past national media spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. For more information, go to www.elisazied.com. Sign up for the free weekly ZIED GUIDE™ newsletter for nutrition tips and news you can use (go to right side of home page at elisazied.com). Follow Elisa on Twitter/elisazied and on Facebook.