12/24/2014 11:43 am ET Updated Feb 23, 2015

Ask JJ: Realistic New Year's Resolutions


Dear JJ: Around this time every year, I start reading upbeat, you-can-do-it New Year's resolution blogs. I begin the year hopeful, but inevitably crash because I set unrealistic goals. This year, I'm brainstorming healthy -- dare I say easy -- resolutions I'll actually do. Any ideas?

While I admire thinking big and cultivating lofty health goals, most people over-reach and attempt everything at once with no concrete strategies to make them reality.

"Deciding to start a new diet and exercise plan can seem overwhelming if you try to change everything at once," one study published in The Physician and Sportsmedicine said. "By starting slowly and making gradual changes, you can build on your successes to reach your goals."

Whether your 2015 goal involves fast, lasting fat loss, upgrading your exercise regimen, or feeling better so you can play with your kids or grandkids, you can make big gains implementing these five practical, powerfully effective strategies. Coming from a nutritionist, you might be surprised only one involves modifying your diet.

1. Make breakfast a protein shake. I've had clients do nothing else than make breakfast a protein shake to lose weight. We oftentimes do breakfast incorrectly, skipping it or devouring a low-fat muffin or some high-sugar impact monstrosity that passes as food along with our gargantuan coffee. Studies show a protein shake makes a fast, filling, fat-burning breakfast that keeps you full, focused, and fueled all morning.

2. Get seven to nine hours of sleep. I've discussed seven fat-burning hormones that become out of whack with inadequate sleep, and you know the groggy, caffeinated aftermath of tossing and turning. A solid seven hours or more of consistent, uninterrupted sleep optimizes hormones and leaves you feeling invigorated to start your day. Sleep doesn't just happen. You need to prepare for it. Create a sleep ritual. "Doing the same thing every night before bed can help promote falling asleep and getting better quality sleep," writes Matthew Basso in The Huffington Post. Mine includes a hot bath, chamomile tea, and a trashy novel. What's yours?

3. Control stress levels. Chronic stress creates weight-loss resistance, leaves you more vulnerable to the hot donuts your coworker brought in, and makes you a very unpleasant person to be around. One meta-analysis of 300 studies over three decades found chronic stress could also crash your immune system. Yoga, meditation, deep breathing, mindfulness, or Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) make powerful strategies to become resilient and harness stress levels.

4. Journal. What you track, you can improve. A daily food journal might include what you ate, body measurements, sleep quota, and anything else you want to track. If you need extra motivation, one study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found people who wrote down everything they ate lost twice as much weight as non-journal keepers.

5. Meet your water quota. One study published in Obesity (Silver Spring) found middle-aged and older adults who drank about 16 ounces before meals lost more weight than a reduced-calorie diet alone. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommends women drink 91 ounces and men drink 125 ounces of water every day. Keeping a canteen nearby and sipping throughout your day makes meeting that quota attainable.

What simple but powerful strategy would you add to this resolutions list? Share yours below. Keep those questions coming at I read every one, and next week yours could be my column. Happy, healthy New Year to everyone!