New Year's Resolutions, 1 Month Later (cont.)

Studies show that social support is critical, especially after the first few weeks when your motivation flags. Seek out someone who will be there for you long-term. "Some people find success with online support groups while others do better with an exercise buddy," says Norcross. "You need to figure out what kind of support will help you during the tough times that are inevitable when changing behaviors."

4. Spell Out the Details

So you want to lose weight or exercise more -- just how do you plan to do it? How will you handle eating out, or a schedule that squeezes out exercise? Devise a sensible plan for how you'll shop, cook, and fit in fitness. Think through how you'll deal with cravings, but don't deprive yourself. If you give yourself permission to eat what really matters to you, it puts you in control (instead of the diet), and empowers you to make a healthy decision on portion size, says Powell. "Eliminating your favorite foods can be a recipe for disaster," she says. "Instead, allow yourself small portions, on occasion. Otherwise, the denial may create an obsession that derails your goals."

5. Set Mini-Goals

Maybe you want to lose 50 pounds, but you'll be more motivated to succeed if you celebrate every 10 pounds lost. Realistic resolutions are ones you can live with. Look at them as lots of "baby steps" strung together. Setting the bar too high can be demoralizing. People who set attainable, realistic goals are more likely to succeed, says Norcross.

6. Manage Your Cravings

Cravings for foods are caused by swings in your blood sugar. If you eat the right kinds of foods and snack strategically, you can eliminate cravings, says Agatston. "Almost everyone who is overweight has cravings, typically late-afternoon hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)," he says. "They frequently choose simple carbs (like sweets, soda, and refined bread products) that give them a quick boost." The problem is that a quick rise in blood sugar is usually followed by quick fall, and hunger strikes again. Eating every 3-4 hours, and always including lean protein (from nuts, low-fat dairy, lean meats, or beans) will satisfy your hunger for fewer calories and without the dramatic swings in blood sugar, Agatston says.

7. Control Your Environment

Stack the deck in your favor by eliminating tempting, fattening treats from your surroundings. Instead, stock the pantry and refrigerator with plenty of healthy foods, Tallmadge says. Surround yourself with people, places, and things that will help you change your behavior. Avoid those that invite problems, like going to happy hour or eating at a buffet restaurant.

8. Do the Opposite

George Costanza on Seinfeld thought it was a good idea, and Norcross says it works for resolvers: "We call it counter-conditioning: one needs to do the opposite of the problem behavior. The opposite of sedentary behavior is an active behavior. It is not good enough to diet; instead, you need to replace the unhealthy foods with more nutritious foods."

9. Reward Yourself

Reward yourself all along the way for continued motivation and success. "A reward can be a massage, flowers, or removing chores you dislike," says Tallmadge. Figure out what will work for you, and reward yourself whenever you achieve a mini-goal (such as losing 10 pounds or exercising every day for a week).

10. Anticipate Slips, and Deal with Them Constructively

Don't let a slipup derail your resolve to improve your health. Setbacks are inevitable; it's how you respond to them that matters. "One of the most important skills I teach my clients is how to recover from slips," says Tallmadge. Successful resolvers use slipups to help them get back on track, serving as a reminder that they need to be strong. People who see slips as a failure often use one as an excuse to give up, says Norcross.

Originally published 2006.
Medically updated January 2007.

SOURCES: Journal of Clinical Psychology, 2002; vol 58: pp 397-405. Changing for Good, by James O. Prochaska, John Norcross, and Carlo DiClemente. Authoritative Guide to Self-Help Resources in Mental Health (2nd ed.), by J.C. Norcross, J.W. Santrock, L. F. Campbell, T.P. Smith, R. Somer and E.L. Zuckerman. Arthur Agatston, MD, cardiologist; author, The South Beach Diet, The South Beach Diet Quick and Easy Cookbook, and The South Beach Diet Dining Guide. John Norcross, PhD, professor of psychology and Distinguished University Fellow, University of Scranton, Pa. Katherine Tallmadge, MA, RD, spokeswoman, American Dietetic Association; author, Diet Simple. Lisa Powell, MD, RD, director of nutrition, Canyon Ranch Tucson spa, Tucson, Ariz.

©2007 WebMD Inc. All rights reserved.

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors