New Year's Resolutions, 1 Month Later

10 ways to make your diet and fitness resolutions last

By Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD/LD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature

Reviewed By Louise Chang, MD

Lose weight. Eat healthy foods. Exercise daily. If you're like many people, you made these or similar pledges during the annual New Year's Day ritual of resolving to improve our health. Of course, resolutions are easy to start; the challenge is sustaining them. One month later, have you held true to your good intentions?

Some pundits would have you believe that New Year's resolutions are a waste of time. But in fact, experts say, the very act of making resolutions improves your odds of success.

"Studies show that people who resolve to change behaviors do much better than non-resolvers who have the same habits that need to be changed," says University of Scranton psychologist John Norcross.

Statistics show that, at the end of January, some 64% of resolvers are still hanging in there; six months later, that number drops to 44%, according to Norcross, author of Changing for Good.

It's All in the Planning

Making resolutions is the first step, but, experts say, you need a plan and a healthy dose of perseverance if you want to succeed.

Americans most often resolve to lose weight; quit smoking; get more exercise; and reduce their alcohol consumption, in that order, Norcross says.

"These habits and behaviors are very difficult to change, and when you don't have a well-thought-out plan on how you are going to make sustainable changes that fit into your lifestyle, it leads to failure," he says.

In other words, it's not enough to simply say, "I want to lose weight and exercise more." You need a detailed blueprint that addresses how you'll reach these goals.

"Everyone has strengths and weaknesses," says Katherine Tallmadge, MA, RD, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. "If you want to succeed, you need to have a concrete plan that plays into your strengths and avoids distractions [from] your goals by your weaknesses."

Realistic Expectations

Part of that planning is anticipating situations in which you're likely to slip up -- such as when you're stressed out, eating at a restaurant, or traveling.

For example, "if you plan ahead and pack a meal for the plane or carry some nuts, you won't just grab anything because you are famished, and are more likely to minimize the slipups and stick with your resolution for healthier eating," says Arthur Agatston, MD, author of the best-selling The South Beach Diet.

Experts say it's also important to remember that this is a marathon, not a sprint. A realistic resolution is one you can sustain for at least a year -- not just for a few weeks.

Of course you'd like to see those extra pounds gone in a hurry, but quick weight loss is usually not permanent weight loss, experts say. Diets that have strict rules, eliminate or severely restrict certain foods, or otherwise take a lot of effort are usually only successful in the short term. After all, anyone can lose weight eating mostly cabbage soup -- but how long could you keep that up?

"Very low-calorie diets lead to quick weight loss of not only fat but muscle and bone, too," says Agatson. "These diets also lower metabolism and when an individual goes back to eating the way they used to (because no one can live on cabbage soup), their slower metabolism will require fewer calories and, ultimately, they gain all the weight back and then some."

Top 10 Habits of Successful Resolvers

Now that you know some of the reasons so many people fall off the resolution wagon, here are 10 expert tips to help you stick with your own New Year's vows:

1. Have a Realistic Eating Plan

Agatston suggests an eating plan that has plenty of variety, yet is simple, interesting, and tastes good -- such as the Mediterranean-style diet with its "good carbs" from fruits, vegetables, and whole grains; healthy fats from nuts, fish, and olive and canola oils; and lean protein. "There should not be so much confusion over what is the best kind of diet; these are the basics as recommended by the new [U.S.] dietary guidelines and pyramid," he says. "You can find an eating style that works in your life without weighing, measuring, or restrictive eating."

2. Believe in Yourself

Seeing is believing; once you see you are capable of making changes in your behavior, it inspires confidence. So says Canyon Ranch of Tucson's Director of Nutrition, Lisa Powell, MS, RD. "I ask my clients to imagine themselves practicing a particular behavior change two weeks out, two months out, two years out, and if the answer is 'no,' then we re-evaluate to make sure the goal is doable," Powell says. "Breaking down a lofty goal into smaller steps is often what is needed to gain the belief that you can do it."

3. Get Support