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SALT LAKE CITY — According to You Gov market research studies, the most popular New Year's resolutions are (and have been):
- Eat better
- Exercise more
- Spend less money
These resolutions have been at the top of the list for years, which tells me that people aren't actually meeting their goals or they are working on them incrementally. I'll bring my professional experience to the game here and say that they probably aren't meeting their goals.
I've said it before and will say it again, and again, and again, but diets don't work. It's true that we tend to feel safe within the bounds of rules, expectations and even shame. Sadly, it's all part of our human experience.
But there's a growing body of research that indicates that such expectations plus shame do the opposite of what we want when trying to improve our health and wellbeing. Dieting and shame can easily lead to worse eating behaviors and even weight gain. Do you really want to experience that, especially after working so hard?
I would guess not.
Instead of focusing on dieting or shaming yourself/others, focus on these tips that will help you not only be more successful with resolutions (if you make them) but also be kinder to yourself.
1. Focus on self-care, take care of your body
Take a deep breath in and release that breath. Think for a minute about what you do to take care of yourself, especially the things/activities that you enjoy that leave you feeling content. Keep these feelings in mind as you're setting goals.
A couple examples are to practice meditation or move in ways that you enjoy (yes, that means no more miserable runs if you don't enjoy running). You can also pay attention to the social media accounts that don't leave you feeling good about yourself. You can unfollow them and replace them with positive ones like the accounts listed here.
2. Add, don't subtract
This is one tactic I use when helping my clients come up with their own goals and resolutions. This is so helpful because when we set goals to eliminate or reduce certain foods, they're often foods that we really enjoy.
To oversimplify a complex topic, cutting out enjoyable foods is often miserable and can increase our cravings for them and lead to bingeing. So instead of taking away your favorite (fill in the blank) food, focus instead of including more of (fill in the blank) other food or activity. You may or may not end up replacing that undesired habit with one that will serve you better, but you will at least be more likely to adopt another habit that enhances your wellbeing. That's great!
For example, I hear lots of people setting goals to reduce or cut out sugar. First of all, that can be really difficult. Second of all, how bleak does a week, month, or year without sugar sound to you? If it sounds miserable before you even start, you're not in a great place to stick to it and maintain your well-being.
Instead of focusing on taking away, you could either focus on increasing consumption of another food or even strive to incorporate mindfulness when eating sweet treats.
3. Use your past experiences to make specific goals
Without judging them, take stock of your past goals. Think about the goals that you have been able to meet and those you weren't. What did you do to keep them? What tactics were hard to follow? Keep your past experiences in mind as you move forward to set new goals. This sets you up to be more realistic and successful with your goals.
If you've followed a specific diet to lose weight in the past, think back to those experiences. Was it difficult? Did it make your life easier? How did it affect your enjoyment of eating? If your past experiences haven't fared so well, consider trying something new, like the anti-diet.
4. Be realistic
This is one of the most important, yet most difficult concepts to keep in mind. When I meet with clients, they often tell me that they want to lose xxx pounds by a certain date. I know, that's just all too normal. But how does that goal actually translate to real life? What are you going to do to accomplish your goal each day or each week? Set up a realistic framework to change your habits.
In addition to being specific, it's important to work within the bounds of your current life situation. If you work a demanding job and barely have time to take a deep breath, is it realistic to set a goal to cook more at home? It's probably not. And that's OK.
It's most likely that setting this type of goal is not only hard to achieve, but it will actually increase your stress. This kind of stress does you no favors. Instead, you can take a look at your goals and ensure that you can do something consistently to achieve them and measure that.
5. Talk to someone about it
This is a way to ensure that you're accomplishing the previous four points. Talking to a supportive friend or professional (like a registered dietitian or therapist) can help you make goals that will enhance your life and set you up for long-term success or actually sticking to your goals for a long time.
Find someone who is not only supportive of you, but will encourage you to be compassionate toward yourself because you won't be able to accomplish your goals perfectly, and that's OK. Failure is part of the process and can be a sign to redirect your goals.
Above all, be kind to yourself. I know it sounds silly and is actually really hard to do. But shame and punishment, in most cases, do not motivate people to improve their habits in the long run. Your body doesn't define you — your body is an instrument to allow you to do cool and important things throughout your life.