When it comes to making New Year’s resolutions, weight loss tops many people’s list, with as much as 21 percent of the population (me included) vowing to slim down. Within six months, fewer than half of us will still be trying, according to research by John C. Norcross, Ph.D., who teaches psychology at the University of Scranton.
Kinda depressing, right? It gets worse when you realize that while two-thirds of Americans will attempt a diet this year, only about 20 percent will actually lose weight and keep it off this year, according to the Loyola University Health System. You might just want to bang your head on the refrigerator and have another piece of pie.
But that would be a big mistake. While it’s true that most of us resolving to lose weight (or make just about any major lifestyle change) fail at first, we’re still about 10 times more likely to succeed than if we never tried at all, Norcross found.
Why not find new ways to try? Consider making changes that are more like un-resolutions, focusing on specific behavior interventions that may lead to weight loss, without actually vowing to lose weight.
Resolved: I will honor my values. A new study asked women to write for 15 minutes—just once—about things they valued most: music, creativity, close relationships. Those who did lost an average of 3.41 pounds in the following one-to-four months. The women in a control group, who wrote about why a value might be important to someone else, actually gained weight, putting on just over two pounds. The theory? These re-affirmations help build defenses against the mundane stress that can drain the mental resources we need for self-control, writes lead researcher Christine Logel, of the Renison University College in the University of Waterloo, Ontario.
Resolved: I will master the math Underestimating calories consumed and overestimating calories burned are a primary reason for diet failure, report the Loyola researchers. Use measuring cups to check portions, and pay attention to serving sizes. To lose a pound a week through exercise, you'd need to burn 500 calories per day, which would take 60 very sweaty minutes of vigorous activity.
Resolved: I will eat more often. Poor timing of meals is a major cause of diet failure. When we get too hungry, we’re more prone to overeat or cave in to cravings, researchers say. Strive to eat breakfast within an hour of waking. Eat again every three to four hours.
Resolved: I will sleep more. People who routinely sleep six hours or less have more ghrelin, an appetite-stimulating hormone.
Resolved: I will be the little dieter that could. Psychologists have found that self-efficacy—believing that you can resist those office donuts or takeout pizza—is what makes a difference. Dieters who believed in their skills lost 5% more weight than those who didn’t. Go on. You got this.