Monday, December 31, 2012

Well meaning yet easy to break -- the annual New Year's fitness resolution mania

New Year's resolutions can be easy to make, yet easy to break, and frustrating when we break them. According to statistics, over 60% of people make New Year's resolutions, yet less than 10% of these actually succeed in achieving them. Yikes! (yet not surprising). Web sites galore have articles aimed at helping us stick to our good intentions, so I've linked to a bunch of them below.

Losing weight is the most common New Year's resolution (staying fit is #5), and it requires change. Long-term, permanent even.

However, forcing yourself onto a restricting diet you can't possibly keep over the long term makes "failure" almost inevitable. As medical blogger Yoni Freedhoff, MD writes, "don't forget that the more weight you'd like to permanently lose, the more of your life you'll need to permanently change".

Losing weight is important to many people, but it's not falling off a log.

Making a substantial and desired sacrifice change in your lifestyle doesn't happen overnight, or even by the end of January. It's a process.

Maintaining the good and improving the less-good are daily activities, not ones that start on a given holiday date and end after a given number of days or months.

Good philosophy, right?

That said, these last two weeks, I have definitely exercised less and indulged in foods that I would not recommend for anyone working to improve their fitness if that effort included losing weight!  Sigh.

Spending the holidays in the US with family and friends after living most of the year in Thailand has led to some serious high-fat choices, including large bean-cheese burritos, pizza, Christmas cookies, and splitting a pint or two of Ben & Jerry's with my husband, especially when staying at (cheap) hotels with no freezer! Yes, it is far better to finish the pint then throw away that last part! (Not!)


Indulging has been part of the celebration fun, but in the end, what does it get me, other than larger & heavier? So now it is New Year's Eve and I'm thinking about joining the legions reaffirming resolution #5 - staying fit and healthy.

I've always been athletic and love exercising, so for me, the hard part of staying fit and healthy is the eating bit. I usually eat healthy foods until the suggestion of dessert comes up.

I can also start snacking to avoid making decisions or to calm down when I'm particularly nervous. I don't recommend either tactic - they don't help the situation and they make me feel worse. I KNOW this, yet it still happens. It's a process, right?

Food resolutions

Overeating, rather than more days on the couch, plays the bigger role in our nation's obesity epidemic. Exercise alone won't make you thin (unless you are an ultramarathoner or training for an Ironman triathlon, in which case you may be giving, rather than searching for, fitness advice...).

So here are some tips and tricks for becoming one of the few, the proud, to actually succeed with food-related New Year's resolutions:
biting off more than you can chew?
Keep your resolutions specific & simple
photo source: IAAM 
  • Set a realistic and specific goal (willpower is not an unlimited resource!)
  • Make a plan (track your patterns and prep for how to change them) with small discrete steps to achieve it
  • Write it down (apparently, this little investment leads to higher success rates)
  • Rearrange your environment (Sue, keep the ice cream out of the house!)
  • Involve a friend (it helps to be accountable to someone)
  • Urge surfing (I loved this idea -- intense urges and cravings tend to last between 2-4 minutes, so if you can just "surf it" (go with the craving wave without going into it), within 2-3 minutes, it passes.

Modern U.S. society, with its large portions, smorgesbord of cheap junk food, car-based transportation, and high stress, makes overeating easy. (Yes I am neglecting undereating here, which is a serious, but less widespread, issue. Healthy eating applies to everyone!)

For those willing to take a good hard and analytical look at their own eating habits (where, when why, what), this SparkPeople page -- Do NOT resolve to lose weight! (sounds promising!) -- may help you to identify your vulnerable (over)eating moments.

You might try focusing on positive habits -- eat more vegetables, make dessert smaller, healthier (e.g. fruit), or only a special (say, weekly) treat -- that could easily result in weight loss. Using a number in your goal (no  more than 1 gooey dessert per week, 4-5 servings of fruits/veggies per day, etc) may make it easier to measure progress and keep on track.

I enjoyed the following two videos by nutritionist Keri Glassman:

1. How to stop overeating (this would be me). Here she discusses portion control (a term I struggle with daily!).

A portion is what we eat (our choice), but serving size is the standard unit of measuring food (like a cup, a teaspoon, ounce, or gram) -- sometimes the portions we (I) choose resemble 2-3 servings, rather than 1.

USDA's portion suggestions --
half your plate is veggies & fruits.
Note a clear absence of Christmas cookies.
My own sample (lunch!) - half a plate of veggies,
lean protein, and no sweetened or processed food
(or was that part of some hidden second course?)

Does this count as my dairy serving??
Remember that companies that make snack foods are more interested in your money than your health, so they put crunchy munchy snacks in bulk containers that make it easy to eat far too much at one time. This can, in special circumstances, be stretched to include whole pints of Ben & Jerry's.

2. Indulge without the bulge - helpful for holiday partying (or late-night web surfing). I particularly like her description of how not to "eat around a craving" - you might as well just eat that brownie or chips straight away...

You might enjoy this portion control guide from Optimal Nutrition Systems, which compares serving sizes to common objects to give you a sense of proper serving size.

Portions are not the same as servings!  Now if I could just remember this for the rest of the year...

photo source: Margarita Stewart's blog 


So. My goal is to eat portions that are appropriate for my weight, height, age, and activity level (i.e. similar to those other active women!), and eat a (sweet) dessert no more than 3 days/week.  I'm starting moderately!

No excuses!

Keep these!  They are just a few of the many sites with tips on keeping resolutions with a special focus on eating patterns:

Should you make New Year's resolutions? at Eat & Run blog at U.S. News & World Report.

The secret to sticking with exercise at Eat & Run blog at U.S. News & World Report.

Written for business but applicable to fitness: 5 tricks to make your resolutions stick at Time magazine.

Don’t go back for seconds or thirds unless you’re going back for the veggies (at Margarita Stewart's blog).

Yum!  Overambitious determination
of portions starts early
SparkPeople has a fun "New Years Resolution Survival Guide" with resources to help you keep your motivation regarding fitness and health.

Several other simple ideas for making each of those top 10 New Year's resolutions work, fromCare2.

Finally, how to make resolutions stick, from an interview with an expert on change.


Remember, it's a process, but one that is worth the effort!


What goals and strategies have worked for you?

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