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How To Make New Year’s Resolutions You Won’t Abandon

November 27, 2023

Ah, resolutions. The road through late winter and early spring is littered with abandoned best intentions. But making diet and nutrition changes that will stick is possible. The trick is being ready, realistic and willing to call for backup when that road gets a little rocky.

For most of us, the biggest impediment to making lifestyle changes is the perception — or reality — of not enough time, money or skill to achieve our goals. Sometimes those are just excuses. The real issue is believing you can’t do it. But mindsets can be altered.

Be Prepared

Mental readiness is the first — and sometimes biggest — hurdle in making lasting change. Dietitians employ a model called “stages of change:” precontemplation, contemplation, preparation, action and maintenance.

  • If you’re precontemplation, you don’t know what you need to work on, or you need more information. Your homework at this stage is to ask yourself, why is this change important?
  • In contemplation, you know there’s an issue, but you’re not sure how to fix it. For dietitians, the work here is to give patients a place to start and show them how change could happen.
  • In the preparation stage, a friend, family member, co-worker or dietitian can help you plan how you will change your behavior.
  • Action is when you are actively living the change. At this point, accountability is key, with someone to check in with you and confirm you are on track. (Perhaps that same friend, family member or dietitian.)
  • In maintenance, you’ve been on the right road for a while but want support in sustaining new behaviors and avoiding what didn’t work for you. Maintaining is sometimes harder than anticipated, as old patterns can be hard to shake.

Pro tip: In precontemplation and contemplation, when you are just beginning to do your homework, be sure you are consulting accurate sources of information. Web sites that end in .gov or .edu — for government and education — are regulated sites generally populated by credentialed authors and dietitians.

Yes, But How?

Think small. That can be hard for the super-motivated who want to change everything everywhere all at once. Taking on too much or setting goals that are too big can be a recipe for defeat. Instead start with small things you can incorporate into your current lifestyle, so they are sustainable, not insurmountable. Small, consistent changes produce big results over time.

Perhaps you’re looking to add more movement, a cornerstone of a healthy constitution. Walking 10 to 20 minutes twice a day might not sound like much, but before you know it, voila, that change is a habit. (And you’ve increased your activity by 10 hours or more a month — huge!)

Realism is key. So is accountability. Those benchmarks and more are summed up by the SMART acronym, for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound. An example: You want to eat healthier. A worthy ideal but, as a goal, broad, not measurable and not time-limited. Instead consider this: I will eat a vegetable at every lunch in January. It’s specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and sets a time in which you will focus on the goal.

Incentivize It

Change is hard. You’re not alone if you need a little motivation beyond the common-sense benefits of a healthier lifestyle. Incentives can be helpful; the key is to make them personal to you and not anything that ends up undermining your goals. If you want to cook more at home, how about a new kitchen gadget that makes that easier? If more movement is part of your plan, look forward to a new pair of running or walking shoes. Whatever your incentive, choose something that supports your goals, and find a healthy way to incorporate it in your daily lifestyle.

The Elephant in the Room

Lasting weight loss is one of the hardest goals to achieve. (There, we said it.) Just remember, weight gain typically is slow and comes on over a long period of time. So taking those pounds off is healthier and more realistic if done just as slowly.

Think you just don’t like healthy foods? Taste preferences do change over time. It takes something like 20 tries to successfully introduce a new food or flavor to a child; adults are not so different. Be patient, and keep experimenting with new foods or preparation styles until you discover what suits you.

No one is perfect, and perfect isn’t the goal. Change is often nonlinear, so expect challenges and setbacks. But if you keep working toward your goals slowly and steadily, you might just find yourself in a very different place this time next year.

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