If the commercials, the talk show hosts and the annual crop of new diets are to be believed, making a resolution to lose weight during the new year is not only a good idea, it's mandatory.
Resolutions imply sincere intent and motivation to make it happen this time. But if there's ever a time to look to the past before planning for the future, it's before you make another resolution to lose weight.
A recent study of weight gain during the holidays found that the average weight gain from mid November to mid January was less than a pound. Fewer than 10 percent of the study participants gained 5 pounds or more. Although this doesn't sound bad, the trouble is that the pounds that are gained tend to stick around, only to be joined by more the following year.
So if you've made a resolution, ask yourself a few questions:
• Have I made this resolution before?
• How many times have I made this resolution?
• Has it ever worked?
If you think it did work — until you regained the weight — I'd ask you to think again. Success is not about how much weight is lost in a specific time frame; it's about losing the weight and not regaining it. It's about managing weight well for a lifetime.
So why don't most New Year's resolutions about weight work?
• Most resolutions about weight are about the weight itself ("I'm going to lose 20 pounds," "I'm going to fit into my wedding dress") rather than the behaviors that will produce weight loss such as exercise, eating nutritiously and reducing portions.
• Most resolutions about weight are followed by diets that don't work because they cannot be followed for the long haul. It's no wonder that 90 percent of dieting attempts fail.
• When deadlines are set for weight loss, the focus is temporary and so will be the weight loss.
Now, I do think there is a place for resolutions. It is good to take stock of our lives periodically and the new year provides a reminder to do just that. It's time to stop spinning your wheels and approach life in ways that are positive, long-lasting (even if not fast) and logical. Here are some tips:
• Set goals about behaviors, not numbers (e.g. "I want to work on increasing my exercise," "I want to take a class to learn to eat more nutritiously," "I want to focus on increasing the veggies and fruit that I eat").
• Set specific but small goals that are gradually increased. For example, "I want to add one more day of exercise each week until I reach at least six days per week." "I will make a list of different activities that I want to try for exercise and I will try a different one each week."
• Forget about perfection. Perfectionism leads to loss of control and failure. Instead, be ready to learn, accept setbacks, but continue on. It's about a lifetime of managing weight successfully, not about yo-yo dieting for the rest of your life.
So, what's the best resolution to set this new year? It's the one that says, "I resolve not to set useless resolutions that don't work." Sit down and think of smart ways of striving to change your lifestyle gradually so that the efforts stick. Need suggestions? Check out my blog at www.FatMatters.com, where you'll find more than 65 articles on the subject.
Lavinia Rodriguez, Ph.D., is a Tampa clinical psychologist who specializes in weight management. She can be reached at (813) 240-9557 or drrod@fatmatters. com.