Each year on Jan. 1, flickers of optimism shimmer among hopeful people everywhere as they resolve to save money, eat less, or get organized. Come February, however, many goal-setters find that they’ve fallen right back into their old habits.
According to the Franklin Covey New Year’s Resolutions survey released in January 2009, four out of five people were unable to stick to their resolutions. The study also found that the secondmost popular new year’s resolution in both 2008 and 2009 was to lose weight.
“We don’t seem to have success, and so we endeavor to do it again each year,” says James Rouse, holistic family doctor and co-founder of the Boulder-based Mix1 Beverage Company.
One reason behind the lack of success, Rouse says, is that often the goals people set are unrealistic. “People resolve to remove all saturated fats, or all carbohydrates,” he says. “Any time we’re told that all the things we love and crave are being taken away, the mind doesn’t believe you can do that.”
Dina Griffin, a dietician at Boulder Nutrition & Exercise Services, agrees. She says that fad diets are generally too extreme to maintain since they are so restrictive in calories and nutrients.
“How can one possibly find eternal satisfaction on a grapefruit diet, or a steak-and-bacon diet?” Griffin says. “The most successful ‘diets’ are those that translate to sustainable lifestyle changes.”
Such changes, according to both Griffin and Rouse, should be motivated by the results one would like to eventually see. “Take a step back to think about the reasons you wanted this in the first place,” Griffin says, adding that asking why weight loss is important can help motivate the steps necessary to achieve it.
“I don’t want you to focus on a goal weight,” Rouse says. “I want you to focus on why you want to experience the goal — more energy, more health and vitality — and that’s how we build a plan.”
Focusing solely on pound loss causes people to lose inspiration, Rouse says, since weight loss slows down after a few months. A better mindset is to shift one’s thinking to what’s happening each day.
“Celebrate the little whims that are consistent with living a healthy life,” Rouse says. “For example, [say] ‘I know I went to a restaurant and ordered something that is in line with my eating plan.’” Concentrating on these “microvictories” helps maintain a positive outlook.
It also helps people sustain a healthy lifestyle after they reach their goals.
“Once people get to their goal weight, the subconscious mind says, ‘Let’s get back to the person I really am — the person who loves carbohydrates, fats, etc.,’” he says. “Focus instead on what’s tangible — your energy level, how you feel when you move through the day.”
Health experts agree that the concept of adding healthy choices, rather than focusing on removing unhealthy ones, seems to be a recipe for success.
If people promise themselves a lifetime transformation, “they start to think about all the things they can never again have,” says Rick Jones, owner of Customized Nutrition & Exercise, a Boulder fitness facility. A personal trainer, Jones coaches clients to work with eight weeks at a time, since “the concept of forever tends to freak people out.”
Eileen Faughey, owner of the local company Nutrition Connections, tries to incorporate health and fitness into her clients’ existing lives. “Most people need to add more fruits and vegetables to their diet,” she says. “So, for example, if someone is eating pizza, they can add vegetables to that pizza to upgrade it.”
The method of adding vegetables rather than subtracting the pizza is more likely to work, since “people are successful when they can create small goals,” Faughey says. Vegetables are also high in nutrients, making them an ideal choice.
“What’s underlying is that people are overfed and undernourished,” Rouse says. “One of the most important principles around maintaining healthy weight loss is choosing foods that are truly nutrientdense, and pairing lean proteins with good, high-fiber carbohydrates.”
Faughey suggests to clients that at dinner, they compose their plate of half vegetables, one-quarter whole-grain carbohydrates and one-quarter lean protein.
“The amount of calories differs for each person,” she says. “But in all cases I focus on healthy, real, less processed foods.”
As with food, one reason for failing to maintain an exercise plan is that it’s often unrealistic. “If someone said they’re going to get up every morning to exercise, and then it turns out they’re not a morning person, a walk at lunchtime or a dance class with a friend might be a better option,” Faughey says.
Rouse has a similar approach. “I tell my patients to exercise only on the days they plan to eat,” he says with a laugh. “I think we need to move every single day, but we need to let go of the punitive approach to exercise.”
Most health experts say occasional strays from one’s plan are no reason for distress. “It’s not one doughnut that makes a person gain weight,” Faughey says. “It’s what a person does day-to-day.”
Similarly, Jones says people fall off the bandwagon if they miss one day of exercise. “We’re so much all-or-nothing that if people skip one day, they fall into a pattern of skipping every day,” he says.
Rouse’s philosophy is to consistently return to the motivation. “Ask yourself a simple question before you begin each day: what gives you life, and what turns you on the very most?” he says. “You start to get a picture of your kids, your husband, your wife; let that be your call to action. It’s about looking to oneself for inspiration.”