I wish I could write the weight loss resolution article to end all weight-loss resolutions.
Why? Because, if I could persuade people to adopt the right behaviors for managing their health, it would make this annual ritual obsolete. By following the right behaviors, setbacks would be rare and so minor, they would have little negative impact.
But here we are — another new year and people are still looking for the answer to their weight struggles.
Here's a question to consider: Are you looking to get those extra pounds off quickly, or are you willing to change your life and lose the weight slowly but permanently?
I'm going to bet that you would like to end the cycle of up and down pounds with its potential for negatively affecting your health in the long run.
If that's the case, it's important to recognize that some kinds of resolutions can actually stand in the way of reaching that goal. Among them:
Focusing on the scale. It's surprising how often people expect their body to achieve some arbitrary weight. If you've always been told to keep your goals specific, it may make sense to declare, "My goal is 115 pounds. I'm going to keep going until I get to that weight."
But there's a genetic component to weight management. Stubbornly insisting on getting to 115, if that's not a reasonable goal for your body, will only backfire. Either you'll make yourself sick, or you'll rebel against your strict diet and gain even more weight.
The logical way to approach weight loss is to focus on lifestyle changes in diet and exercise that will help you burn fat while eating healthfully. Once you've done that, allow your body to show you what it's capable of doing. If, say, you stabilize at 130 pounds, consider if there are other reasonable changes you could make to discover if your body has a leaner yet still healthy plateau. If not, then celebrate your achievement, maintain your new habits and move on with life.
Taking away rather than adding. People tend to think that the best strategy for losing weight is to cut out carbs, calories or fats. This approach, however, is psychologically ineffective. The mind cooperates much more happily when we decide to add rather than take away. This is why it probably sounds less daunting to add a salad every day than it would to cut out fast food entirely. Adding healthy foods and habits tends to displace unhealthy ones, but in a more appealing way.
Missing the pattern. Losing weight and keeping it off is more complicated than simply going on the latest diet and hitting the gym a few times a week. Sure, you're putting in a good effort. But if your body isn't reacting as you would like, it's time to look for the reasons rather than continuing to do the same things expecting different results.
Often, there's a simple pattern that is holding you back. Perhaps you're in the habit of going out to eat too frequently. Even "healthy'' establishments usually provide meals with more calories than you'd prepare for yourself. Tweaking just this one habit can make a tremendous impact on your weight.
If you're serious about making this the year that you get off the weight gain/loss roller coaster, here are some resolutions that can make a major impact:
• Educate yourself about healthy eating. There are plenty of sound websites to peruse, such as www.choosemyplate.gov/.
• Take classes and seek books and websites that focus on eating nutritiously with little to no cooking.
• Vow to try a variety of ways to exercise and find out which you like best.
• Learn to stretch on a regular basis. The older we get, the more important it becomes.
• Learn to meditate. Decreasing stress makes it easier to control portions.
If the same old weight loss resolutions have never worked for you in the past, why would you think they'll work now? Look for vows that address your real problems and that you can stick with all year around.
Lavinia Rodriguez is a Tampa clinical psychologist who specializes in weight management. She can be reached through her website, fatmatters.com, or at (813) 240-9557.