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How to Create Long-Lasting Resolutions, According to Dietitians

Two Jefferson registered dietitians discuss how to establish and maintain sustainable lifestyle changes for the new year and beyond.

The start of a new year is a time when many people try to change their habits for the better. But studies show that less than 8% of people actually stick to their New Year’s resolutions for good. While it may be tempting to spend another January crash dieting to reach your goal weight, here are some ways you can set long-lasting resolutions that turn into sustainable lifestyle changes.  

Resolution Pitfalls  

First, to make long-lasting changes, it is important to understand why many people fail to maintain their resolutions. “A lot of people take on way too much at one time,” says Jefferson Health registered dietitian Melissa Wadolowski, CDCES, RD, LDN, CHC. “Setting too many goals means you’re splitting your focus, so narrowing it down to one or two will help you succeed.”  

Another resolution pitfall that many people face is expecting instantaneous results, as Wadolowski explains: “Fast weight loss isn’t healthy or sustainable, and it can actually be detrimental to your metabolism.” She suggests healthy weight loss happens gradually, shedding about one half to two pounds per week.  

Other people approach resolutions with an “all-or-nothing” mentality. But focusing on progress, rather than perfection, can help you reach your goals in a more sustainable way. Wadolowski shares, “Not everything can be perfect all the time. If you have a day where you fall out of your routine, all is not lost.” And Jefferson Health registered dietitian Melissa Parisi, RDN adds that “change should be incremental, not insurmountable.” 

Tips for Creating Better Resolutions  

To create resolutions that last past January 31, Wadolowski and Parisi suggest the following:  

Proper Goal Setting:  

Focus on no more than three main goals. “Be specific about your goals—if you want to exercise more, what does that mean? If you say you’ll walk 30 minutes, three times per week, it becomes a goal that’s more attainable to achieve,” says Wadolowski.  

Setting direct goals can help you reach success as well. “Weight loss is an indirect goal—there are many actions, or direct goals, that could lead to weight loss,” Wadolowski continued. “For instance, you could set a direct goal of replacing sugary beverages, like soda, with water to work towards an indirect goal of weight loss.”  

Parisi also suggests that goals don’t always have to center around weight loss. “Focusing on non-scale health goals can help take the pressure off when it comes to resolutions,” she says. “You could set goals that improve your overall health, like lowering your cholesterol or increasing your energy.”  

Establish Realistic Habits:  

It’s also important to set yourself up for success when it comes to your resolutions. “Set realistic timelines for your goals to make sure they’re attainable before you start working toward them,” says Parisi. “And using accountability tactics – like scheduling healthy habits into your daily routine or identifying a friend who can act as a support system – can make your journey easier.” Integrating reminders throughout your day and keeping track of goals – whether on your own, with a friend or with a healthcare professional – can also help you reach your goals.  

Why Sustainable Habits Are Important  

When you fall into a cycle of yo-yo dieting it can be detrimental to your health, which is why setting realistic and sustainable goals is so important. “Diets typically depend on a calorie deficit to help you lose weight, but chronically depriving yourself of calories tells your body you’re starving, causing it to overcompensate,” says Wadolowski. “You may lose muscle mass as well as weight, and your metabolism will suffer. After rebounding and gaining weight, it may be harder to lose weight again, if your metabolic health has taken a hit.”  

Food is the fuel we need to function on a daily basis, so instead of focusing on cutting things out of your diet, think about nutrient-dense foods to add in. “Strive to eat five servings of fruits and vegetables on a daily basis, as well as drink 64 ounces of water. In addition, try to incorporate 30 minutes of exercise into your routine at least three days per week. Focusing on these factors will ensure that your body has what it needs to operate and will help you reach your goals in a sustainable way,” says Parisi.

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From the Experts, Healthy You