Nearly 75% of Americans fail to keep their resolutions each year... but you don't have to go into "default." These 7 strategies will help you set — and keep — realistic goals.
It's time to turn over a new leaf in 2009 and embark on yet another quest to drop a few — or a few dozen — pounds. But you're least likely to achieve a New Year's goal when the resolution sounds like punishment: "I will never eat chocolate again" or "I will exercise every day for two hours" doesn't exactly encourage a positive outlook.
"People tend to set unrealistic New Year's resolutions for themselves that lead to disappointment," says personal trainer Jason Gerhart.
This year, avoid the common resolution pitfalls. Use these pointers to help set yourself up for weight-loss success.
1. Get SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound) goals
"Don't just look at the big picture," says Elizabeth Stein, C.H.H.C. You're less likely to keep up with a New Year's resolution like "I will lose 40 pounds" because it sounds bleak and out of reach. Instead, set an attainable goal that can be obtained through small action steps: "This week I'm going to strength train twice for 30 minutes." Or "This week I will go to two spin classes," or "add 50 percent more whole grains to my diet." Don't think of your resolution as a single weight-loss goal for all of 2009, but as a lifestyle change. Is this something you can do every week?
2. Measure your weight-loss success
• Find one article of clothing that's a little snug now — jeans, a bathing suit — and use it to gauge your improvement. Try it on every two weeks and snap a photo of yourself in it to see how your body has changed.
• Weigh yourself once a week at the same time on the same scale. And always wear the same thing.
• Test your strength with a weekly push-up check. Do as many as you can until your arms feel like they might give out. If it becomes easier to do more, you're probably getting stronger and/or losing weight.
• Time a mile on a treadmill, bike or elliptical machine the day you start your new program — and every month after — to see how your fitness has improved.
3. Don't be afraid of commitment
You have to ask yourself: "Why am I trying to lose weight?" Do you want to drop pounds before your wedding? Are you trying to set an example for your kids? Decide on your reason for your weight-loss resolution and write it down. Post it by a mirror, on your computer monitor or on your cell phone. "Sometimes it sounds like a good idea to cut out sweets or get to the gym more often, but you must be truly, fully committed," Stein says. "If you don't really want to do something, it's unlikely you are going to make a change. You need to really want it."
4. Make simple adjustments
It's the little things that help. Switch your dinner dates to hiking or bowling or even cooking at home (that'll save you cash too!). Always take the stairs. Buy a pedometer and increase your steps daily. Keep a large water bottle on your desk and refill when empty. Find a new pair of sneakers that you love. Walk to your co-worker's office instead of sending an e-mail. Create a pump-up playlist that you can't wait to listen to.
5. Find someone — or something — to hold you accountable
A personal trainer is one of the best people to help you stay focused and on track with your weight-loss goals. A recent study at Duke University found that 77 percent of participants who worked with a personal counselor lost weight while only 67 percent of the self-directed group shed pounds. At the very least, find a buddy to schedule workouts with or book your workouts into your calendar as you would a meeting. "A set schedule helps you hold yourself accountable, and you'll more than likely make that Wednesday 5 p.m. gym appointment," Gerhart says. Better yet, record what you eat each day — and how many calories it cost you — in a personal food journal. If you have to log every piece of food you eat, you might think twice about that third slice of pizza.
6. Refresh your weight-loss goal every month
Recommit yourself with a new twist on your New Year's resolution every month. If you vowed to start strength training three days a week in January, then up your fiber intake to 25 grams a day in February, try a new class each week in March and aim to run a 10K in April. It's easier to stay focused if you have a fresh mini-resolution to concentrate on every four weeks.
7. Expect setbacks
If you finish a pint of Ben & Jerry's one night, don't throw in the towel. You're bound to fall off the wagon once in a while, but you can always get back on track tomorrow. "Pick yourself back up and take the opportunity to learn from the setbacks," Stein says. Missing a workout won't ruin your weight-loss plan, but giving up too easily will.