If you're anything like me, once again you made a New Year's resolution. And once again, you feel yourself beginning to slip. Mine was to lose eight pounds and not eat dessert, and I'm here to tell you, it's not working so well. Whether it was to cut down on chocolate or to run five miles a day, everyone knows that the promises we make on Dec. 31 don't tend to last. Some of them never even make it out of the gate! It's not that we weren't serious about our resolutions. We were! And it's not that we lack willpower, either. But on a festive New Year's Eve, after a drink or two, inspired by the idea of making a fresh start, the goals tend to get a little lofty. I'm going to lose 20 pounds! I will get 45 minutes of exercise every day! I'm going to cut out sugar!
The surveys don't lie: According to studies, only a small fraction of us keep our resolutions; University of Scranton research suggests that just 8 percent of people achieve their New Year's goals. We're human! In real life, we need at least semi-instant gratification. And a resolution to lose 20 pounds is definitely not semi-instant. It's just too epic and abstract to succeed, because it doesn't account for how we're actually going to get there. Believe me, I know. It's happening to me right now! But I've also figured out what does work: Focusing on the small stuff -- the daily steps that are doable -- and if tackled one by one, can get us to our ultimate goal.
So rather than ditch those super-sized goals, why not simply downsize them a little for a better chance of success?
The Super-Sized Goal: "I'm going to lose all that extra weight."
Downsize it! No doubt you've got a number in your head -- the one you eventually want to see on the scale. That's fine. But fixating on it will only set you up for disappointment. And if you're down on your diet, how likely are you to keep going, really? Instead, pick one realistic, bite-sized goal you're going to shoot for this week -- something you can achieve and that will encourage you to keep going.
Maybe your goal is to shave off 200 calories a day by eating a bit less and exercising more. Or how about using smaller dinner plates (proven to help you eat less, yet still feel satisfied), cutting out caloric drinks like soda and juice, eating more veggies (or sneaking them in ), or simply vowing to get more sleep (also proven to help with weight loss)? Once one goal sticks, add another and another until the weight is finally off.
The Super-Sized Goal: "I'm going to go to the gym every day."
Downsize it! No, we won't. Know why? Because we have a life -- and nothing is ever as straightforward as we'd like it to be. Kids get sick. Work gets nutty. Sneakers get forgotten. The key is to not let these temporary distractions derail us completely.
How about we resolve to simply move more? Get up out of your chair and walk for a few minutes out of every hour (there are even apps that will remind you). Take the stairs, walk instead of drive when you can, stand when you chat on the phone. I know these things have become fitness clichés, but they are research-backed clichés. They do work! From there, we can up the ante to 10 or 15 minutes of walking during lunch hour. Or aim to take one class at the gym per week.
I've also found that women with truly crazy, unpredictable schedules do well when they shoot for a certain number of workout minutes each week, rather than days. Days are easily missed when things pop up. But you can always make up minutes by piggybacking them onto another workout.
The Super-Sized Goal: "I'm going to cut out all treats/sugar/fast food."
Downsize it! Trying to be a diet saint is insane. Insane, I tell you! I have yet to meet one -- and I know I'm not even close to being one myself. Cutting out entire food groups and all treats will only make us obsess about them even more and eventually... hello binge!
Just cut back. For example, I'm a dessert person. When I resolved to curb my sweet tooth, my strategy was to allow myself a small treat every day -- a piece of dark chocolate, my Sneaky Chef "Breakfast Ice Cream" -- but choose treats that have at least some redeeming value. And once a week I can eat whatever full-sized dessert I want. Am I eating fewer sweets (and calories)? Yes. Do I feel even remotely deprived? No. If you're resolved to eating lower fat, nix little things here and there (the slice of cheese on your sandwich or burger, the oil in your homemade vinaigrette, that extra bit of butter in the sauce) rather than trying to eat as close to nonfat as possible. (No fun.)
The Super-Sized Goal: "I'm only going to eat healthy!"
Downsize it! Eating right isn't black and white. Let's find those lovely shades of grey. How about vowing to have one more serving of vegetables a day? Pick up some high-fiber cereal and mix it with whatever you currently eat -- you know, let your tastebuds get used to the idea. Or make a few wiser swaps: Rather than using all mayo in your tuna salad, for example, use the light kind and cut it with a little fat-free Greek yogurt or my White Bean Puree. Less fat and calories, tons more protein and calcium -- and really delish. And you know me. I'm all about boosting the nutrition in meals by slipping in veggie or fruit purees.
There you have it: Resolution made kept, and conquered.