How to make weight loss, exercise New Year's resolutions that last

Start small and reward yourself for successes, experts say.

January 1, 2024, 4:01 AM

-- After setting New Year's resolutions, it is those days and weeks after January that can catch up with even the best of intentions.

So how do you make your New Year's resolution stick?

Experts say it is important to remember it is a journey, not an overnight fix, especially when it comes to the most common of resolutions, weight loss and exercise.

"The reason why people make resolutions every year is because it’s really hard," said Maya Feller, a New York-based registered dietitian nutritionist. "You first started eating when you were 6 months old, so that’s many years of learned food behavior. Change is not going to happen overnight."

PHOTO: A New Year's resolutions list is written out for the new year in this stock image.
A New Year's resolutions list is written out for the new year in this stock image.
STOCK PHOTO/Getty Images

Feller and other experts shared their top tips for making sure your health and wellness resolutions become true lifestyle changes.

Solidify your intention

Even just a few days into January is the right time to remind yourself why you chose your resolution, according to Feller.

"Sometimes after just a few days of changing your diet you feel good and feel like you can let it go," she said. "In the early part of January, reevaluate your motivation and say, 'Why am I doing this again? I'm making this intentional choice again.'"

Rebecca Scritchfield, a Washington, D.C.-based dietitian and certified exercise physiologist, said it's also important to remember your "why" multiple times daily.

"What’s going to help keep you motivated is continuing to think about the benefits you’re receiving, in both the short term and the long term," she said. "The more you focus on the benefits every time you do it, you’ll see the good earlier. What you want to say is, 'There’s too much good in this for me to stop.'"

'Layer' the changes

Feller advises her clients to pick the "low-hanging fruit" when they make a plan for their resolutions.

"If you’re eating two vegetables a day, make it four," Feller said. "Once you’ve hit that, reevaluate again and ask yourself, 'Why am I doing this and what do I have to add on?'"

She also compares improving eating habits to building a house, where you start by making sure you have a solid foundation and build up from there.

[MORE: Experts share advice on making resolutions that last: Start now, start simple and be specific]

"You have to put the foundation down and solidify the behavior," she said. "It is behavior change. That’s the thing about nutrition."

Say no to the quick fix

Both Feller and Scritchfield stress that going for the quick solution, like a plan promising you'll lose 15 pounds in January, will not be sustainable and may even leave you worse off.

"You might lose 15 [pounds] but you’re not going to continue it with that approach," she said. "It's better to have the small success so you can continue to step forward."

Scritchfield said taking the more moderate, long-lasting approach to healthy eating and exercise demands that you let go of the shame or fear that comes from overindulging in the holiday season.

"You're going to be so tempted in the new year to fall for an extreme plan because you’re feeling like you want to make a change and you’re also being told there is something wrong with where you are right now," she said. "The more important value is feeling like you have a good life and feeling happy with your habits."

"Go down the road of, 'It’s OK to be where I am and what’s the next goal that I think is interesting to me and will also help me create a better life,'" she said. "Walk down that road of kindness as opposed to something that is short term."

Don't set a 'dead person's goal'

Scritchfield describes this type of goal as, "Any goal a dead person can do better than you, like, ‘I’ll never eat chocolate cake.'"

"Saying you’re going to eliminate it, unless you truly believe you’ll never have it again and you’ll live a good life without it, is a waste of time," she said. "Instead, work on a better structure so you know that it will come but a structure that is manageable to you and doesn’t feel like deprivation but feels like a positive change."

[MORE: Single mom who eliminated $77K in debt reveals 4 hot tips for New Year]

Scritchfield used an example of a person trying to quit drinking soda. Instead of saying you will never again drink soda, develop ways to cut back on soda while increasing a better habit, like drinking water.

"Say, 'I’m going to carry water with me and I’m going to fill it up twice before I drink a soda," she said. "Or, 'I want to limit my soda to one a day after lunchtime and I want to make sure I have two full waters before I do that.'"

PHOTO: A woman is drinking more water for a new year's resolution seen in this stock image.
A woman is drinking more water for a new year's resolution seen in this stock image.

For those who would like to increase their water intake, Scritchfield gave a tip she uses in her own life.

"I put rubber bands on my water bottle," she said. "I add one each time I finish a bottle."

Write down your resolution, and be flexible

Writing down your New Year's resolutions, your motivation and your plan for action help solidify your commitment, experts say.

"Make sure it’s written down, not just in your head," said Dr. Marcelo Campos, a practicing physician and lecturer at Harvard Medical School. "Post it on your fridge or your wall to remind yourself about the commitment you made."

"With anything that we do in life, it’s a good idea to have things written down that we can track over time," he said, adding that goals should be specific and measurable.

Writing down your resolutions and action plan can also help you share it with others, which experts say is another key for long-term success.

After making a plan and implementing it, also be flexible if the plan is not working for you.

"If someone is doing it on their own and struggling they may need to say, 'I need to look at a different modality," Feller said. "If it’s not working, there’s no reason to beat a dead horse."

Editor's note: This piece was originally published on Jan. 2, 2018.

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