'Tis the season for good intentions! More than half of the country's population has their New Year's resolutions locked and loaded, ready to catapult them into a healthier, happier year. Not to be a Debbie Downer, but we all know the grim statistics of how many go belly up (more than 90 percent, some sources say).|
What's behind the widespread failure? What specific mistakes are dissolving people's resolve before the snow has melted? This year, make sure these resolution blunders don't freeze up your New Year's health and fitness plan.
Mistake #1: Not eating enough
While cutting calories may seem like the first logical step toward weight loss, getting too overzealous can shrink your progress. Personal trainer Julia Buckley sees a lot of people launch their New Year's diets with the aim of eating as little as possible, which almost always backfires.
"Very low-calorie diets leave you with no energy and a grouchy demeanor, and after a while they can put your body into a state of stress, triggering it to cling onto fat stores for dear life," says Buckley. "While it's important to focus on healthy eating, starving yourself doesn't tend to produce good results—and it makes you feel awful in the process."
Takeaway Tip: Nutritionist and trainer Kristy Stabler recommends reducing your normal daily intake by 200 calories and then gauging how you feel. "If your energy is good and your measurements are going down over a two-week period, then you're at a good caloric level."
Mistake #2: Making resolutions that are too big or too vague
When someone declares a general, undefined goal, such as "I want to lose 20 pounds this year," but doesn't create a specific strategy for achieving it, success rates plummet. Patrick Henigan, a trainer with Jacksonville Fitness Academy, recommends breaking down the initial goal into smaller components, such as "I want to lose two pounds in January" or "I want to walk for 30 minutes every day."
"Smaller goals allow people to have many more wins and feel like they are constantly taking steps toward their ultimate goal, which builds confidence along the way," says Henigan.
Liza Baker, nutritionist with Simply: Health Coaching, advises her clients to avoid making sweeping resolutions in favor of SMART goals:
Mistake #3: Having an all-or-nothing mindset
If you slip up and eat too much pizza for lunch, do you think, "The damage is already done, might as well have a few cookies"? Or if you oversleep and miss your Thursday morning workout, do you figure you'll just forgo Friday's and start fresh next week? Perhaps the biggest nemesis to any weight loss program, this self-defeating outlook can send even the best of intentions into a tailspin.
Alexandra Miller, RD, corporate dietitian with Medifast, cautions against this mentality. "With all-or-nothing thinking, one mistake cascades into a series of mistakes, which are often followed by feelings of guilt and hopelessness," she says. "This approach demands perfection, which is both unrealistic and unsustainable. People who are successful with losing weight and getting healthy learn from their mistakes and get right back on track. They seek balance and are committed to a lifetime of healthy practices."
Takeaway Tip: Stabler stresses the importance of focusing on forward progress rather than the backslides. "Sometimes we just need to give ourselves a pat on the back for doing the best we can, given life's circumstances, and make plans to do incrementally better each day," she says. "Good done consistently is always better than perfect done sporadically."
Mistake #4: Overdoing it
Every year, trainer Sarah Ann Kelly gets an influx of new students in her January spin classes, most lasting just one or two weeks before calling it quits. No matter how much extra attention she gives them to properly set up their bike, ensure that they're hydrated and caution them to start out slow, many don't listen and end up miserable during their first class.
"If you're new to a workout, take it easy and use the first couple of sessions to observe rather than fully participate," Kelly recommends. "Make sure your teacher or trainer knows that you're new and will be taking it slow. Don't compare yourself to the other participants—they were new once, and they likely have been coming for a long time."
Takeaway Tip: Overdoing any activity for an extended period, no matter your physical ability, can lead to extreme muscle soreness, sickness, diminished confidence and even serious injury. If you experience dizziness, extreme fatigue, nausea, discomfort or overheating during a workout, take a break for a few minutes or leave the class.
Mistake #5: Failing to surround yourself with positive influences
As the old saying goes, we are the company we keep. If you spend time with people who eat poorly, eschew exercise and lack motivation, even your noblest resolutions could be in peril.
"People who make and break their resolutions tend to surround themselves with similar underachievers," says Tyler Spraul, head trainer at Exercise.com. "Take a hard look at the five people you spend the most time with—chances are, you're going to be a lot like them. It's important to be picky about who you allow to influence you."
Takeaway Tip: Spraul recommends finding a friend (or a whole group) who's already doing what you want to do, or at least more than you're currently doing, and asking them to keep you accountable. "Surrounding yourself with people who are working hard to improve can make a huge difference in your own success," he says.
Mistake #6: Eating food you hate
Practicing dietary moderation doesn't have to mean filling your plate with foods you hate. Nutrition coach Kim Schaper had a client who was eating only chicken and broccoli, because that's what her trainer advised for weight loss. Although this may work in the short term, severely limiting your diet for an extended period will likely cause you to fall off the healthy eating bandwagon.
Takeaway Tip: "For your lifestyle to change, you have to enjoy what you eat," says Schaper. "If you sort of like broccoli but hate it plain, add a little butter to it. It's not going to make or break your diet. If you love candy bars and feel deprived if you don't eat them, allow yourself to have half or ration it out over the course of a few days."
Mistake #7: Doing just one type of exercise
While it's great to choose workouts you enjoy, tunnel vision is a ticket to Plateau City. Once you've made exercise a daily habit, look for ways to mix it up. "If you do any one type of exercise for long enough, your body will eventually adapt to it and progress will stop," says Buckley. "Also, repeatedly performing the same movements can put you at risk of injury. Plus, it gets boring! This is one of the main reasons that so many resolutions get ditched by February."
Takeaway Tip: For optimal results in shedding fat, sculpting the body and building all-around fitness, follow a varied exercise schedule that works all the muscles of the body, gets you moving in lots of different ways and pushes you outside of your comfort zone, recommends Buckley. Try these tips to design your ideal workout plan.
Mistake #8: Focusing on subtracting rather than adding
When you're laser-focused on losing weight, you might be inclined to think in terms of what should be eliminated from your diet. Sugar, soda, fried foods—all of them become silent enemies of your new, healthy lifestyle.
Takeaway Tip: Rather than concentrating solely on erasing negative habits, Baker recommends thinking about adding positive ones. "Instead of decreeing that you will give up all junk food, add a glass of water before each meal for a week," she advises. "Add a salad to your dinner every day, or eat one more piece of fruit or an added portion of vegetables. You may find that you're 'crowding out' the junk simply by eating more clean foods." Feeling deprived is the quickest way to leave you feeling desperate for the foods you eliminated from your diet. A healthy balance of smart choices and treats in moderation is ideal.