Do you struggle with sticking to your New Year's resolution to lose weight? Many of us like to think of the start of a new year as hitting a giant reset button on our unhealthy habits or setting flashy, ambitious goals that will get us dramatic results. Yet despite that initial burst of energy and having the best intentions of giving 100% effort, we often lose motivation, get burnt out or discouraged at the slowness of the process, and give up in frustration.
So what can you do differently to actually follow through on a weight loss New Year's resolution? A good place to start is to adjust your mindset about the process. A new year can be a great time to set health goals, but there is nothing magical about the clock striking midnight on New Year's Eve. Recognize that there will always be another January 1st around the corner and there's no need to rush yourself or stick to a rigid timeline. Think of it as a marathon rather than a sprint. What matters most is enjoying the experience and crossing the finish line, not getting there the fastest and potentially hurting yourself. Try incorporating these tips to help reframe your health goals as a sustainable lifelong journey rather than unappealing challenges that can only be supported short-term.
• Focus on consistency first, then intensity. People often believe they need to suddenly have perfect habits once the new year rolls around, and have an "all or nothing" mentality when it comes to diet and exercise. Instead of making big bold changes that you won't be able to stick to day-to-day, consider what small, consistent, and easy habits you can adopt. It might be hopping on the treadmill for just 1 minute or eating 1 serving of fruit or vegetables per day. Once you are consistently and confidently hitting that small initial goal, slowly increase the intensity or add additional behaviors you want to include.
• Recognize that willpower is a limited resource. Many people think they are just not motivated enough to make permanent changes to their habits. Rather than quickly draining your willpower battery with ambitious beginning-of-the-year plans, realize that you won't always be able to keep up the same level of inspiration. Motivation is actually the result of action, not the other way around. Take an action that supports your weight loss goal (however small it might seem), start to see the results, and you will feel more motivated to stay engaged in that behavior over time.
• Avoid short-term, extreme weight loss plans. A "30-day reset challenge" or "21-day detox" diet where you restrict all your favorite foods is not going to be helpful to build a positive relationship with food. The cravings will likely just feel that much stronger and hard to ignore. Can you see yourself following the same restrictive meal pattern in six months? A year? If not, consider what a more sustainable approach to eating would look like. Remember that even if you see quick weight loss results, they will likely go away as soon as you reach the end of the challenge period.
• Have a plan, set process goals. It's OK to have broad weight loss goals, but then dig deeper and ask yourself exactly how you are going to get there and stay there. This is the difference between outcome goals (ex. lose 50 pounds, run a half marathon) and process goals (ex. meal prep your breakfast instead of stopping at a gas station, go walking or jogging with your friend on Monday and Wednesday mornings for 30 minutes). This will help you focus on building specific behaviors that support a healthier body weight versus the lose-gain-lose-gain cycle of chronic dieting.
• Enjoy the process, don't give up! When making healthy lifestyle changes, it's useful to be flexible, push yourself out of your comfort zone, and try new things. But you also want to be honest with yourself about what will be realistic long-term and what is actually helping or if something is distracting you from making real progress on your goals. Focus on behaviors you enjoy. Do you really want to go to an early morning boot camp 5 days a week or would you rather go for a walk and listen to your favorite podcast or music? Find what works for you and your lifestyle, makes you happy, and discard the rest. As long as you are not giving up, you are making progress.