12/18/2012 04:52 pm ET Updated Feb 17, 2013

Resolutions: Healthy or Harmful?

Three... two... one... midnight... Happy New Year! And happy start to _________ (insert this year's resolution(s)). Perhaps it's more days at the gym -- or, conversely, resolving to ditch the gym in favor of outdoor recreation more often (what's a little rain or hail or sub-zero windchill to keep this year's you from achieving your goal?). Maybe the resolution is to give up gluten (again... for real this time) or to incorporate more veggies or glasses of water into the day. Or perhaps, especially in light of recent tragic events, this year you resolve to listen better, hug your friends and kids more often, or practice random acts of kindness just because you can (and resolved to).

No matter what you resolve to do this year, the reality check is that just like most diets, resolutions start with major commitment, effort, and enthusiasm, and then fade or even backfire. Not to be a Debbie Downer here, but rather a realist. Additionally, as a professional who annually receives triple the new patient inquiries and double the appointment bookings each January, my observations -- while not qualifying for a double-blind placebo study -- can offer some indications that could help you turn your resolution batting average more favorable this year.

Observation #1: Resolutions fail because we typically "resolve" for what we want not what we are willing to do. Now you may be saying, "giving up gluten is certainly doing something," as is practicing random acts of kindness or eating more vegetables. But the reality is that they are really just less direct statements of what you actually want. Do you feel better physically when you don't eat gluten? Are you less bloated or do you have clearer skin when you eat more veggies? Does making people feel good make you feel good, better about the world in which you live? I know these things to be true because I hear you say them in my office when I ask you the probing "but why" question.

Resolution Fix: Resolve what you really want to accomplish this year -- really, not what you think might help you get there.

Observation #2: Resolutions fail when they don't have a long-range plan. I sound like my dad here: "Ash, what's your five-year plan?" And you know I hate to say it, but he's right. I always work with my patients to identify big-picture goals, but then they don't leave until we have immediate strategies, and our follow-ups consist of creating more strategies or modifying what's not worked as well as it should. If you determine you want digestive wellness or to reduce the consumption of animal products in your diet, you need to have a plan -- several, actually -- for the day when your friends go out to get pizza, or when the second date decides to cook dinner for you and makes pasta, or when you get "surprised" with a steak dinner or the vegetarian option is the nastiest-looking piece of mud-colored, over-cooked veggies and at least the fish looks tolerable. And when these things happen again, or new ones come up, about six months from now when your "new year's resolution" mojo has waned.

Please understand that I love celebrating the new year and the concept of resolving to become "better" in whatever sense that resonates for you. That's why I share these thoughts -- because nothing frustrates me more than the January shine, the February wane, and the March drop-off. What do I do personally to address this? I calendar my "resolution notice" to check in on it every six weeks -- about the time it takes to make a new habit -- and if I can't remember or am too embarrassed to admit I've fallen off track completely, I remind myself that there are 44 or 38 or 32 more weeks left for me to modify my behavior.

For more by Ashley Koff, click here.

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