It's Jan. 17, and the numbers on the scale have hardly moved, or worse, they're creeping up. The smoker in your life is still puffing away at Pall Malls and the one with the drinking problem is three sheets to the wind—on a Tuesday.
Somewhere deep in the bowels of the earth, road construction season is well underway, but don't despair. There's still time to set things right.
1. It's not you. It's your New Year's Resolution itself.
It's true: Most people fail, even if their New Year's Resolution is based on their most earnest and ardent wish.
"Usually within the first month about 75 percent have fallen off the wagon," said C. Alan Steed, a psychologist from Allina's Medical Clinic in Eagan.
Why? Steed says that in many cases New Year's resolutions are simply not feasible.
"People are too broad and too vague in their goal. They say something like 'I want to lose weight' or 'I want to exercise more,'" Steed said. "The more specific a goal can be—I'm going to lose 10 pounds in six weeks—the more successful you'll be, especially is you're keeping records and charting your progress."
On the other hand, other resolutions are far too ambitious. Take for instance, this one: "I'll never eat dessert again."
"Yeah, right," Steed said. "That's impossible."
Instead, choose a resolution that you can incorporate into your life permanently, something manageable that is positive and not punishing, Steed said. All the dietitians contacted for this story agreed.
"Set small, achievable goals. It's not helpful to say 'I want to lose 50 pounds by May,'" said Susan Lundy, Clinical Nutrition Manager at Abbott Northwestern Hospital and Unity Hospital.
Small changes do add up, Lundy said, and they can be as painless as decreasing your portion sizes by 10 to 20 percent, eating off a smaller plate or cutting out empty calories from juice, soda and sweetened coffee drinks.
So choose one specific, manageable goal and stick to it.
2. Beware of the quick fix.
The South Beach Diet, SlimFast, juice cleanses, appetite suppressant pills and bariatric surgery all share a common pitfall: They're a temporary solution to a lifelong problem, which is why the success rate for even surgical intervention is astoundingly low (Steed estimated that bariatric surgery patients keep the weight off only 10 to 30 percent of the time). You must change your lifestyle, permanently.
"Look for something that can last a lifetime," Dyke said.
Dyke cautioned against plans like Nutrisystem or Jenny Craig, which offer pre-packaged, pre-portioned foods. The idea, she said, is to learn how to eat healthily and train yourself to abide by what you know. She added that a meal-in-a-can or TV dinner, however low calorie, is a poor substitute for whole foods like fruits, vegetables or meats in their least processed state.
"Food that hasn't been altered comes with more vitamins, minerals and fiber," Dyke said. "That's what we're encouraging—to get back to basics and eat real, good food."
Lundy agreed, mostly.
"(Shakes and protein bars) tend not to be real satisfying. The taste is OK for first few days but it's hard to eat a monotonous diet long-term, though in some situations it is helpful to take choice away," Lundy said. "We're graced with so many choices at grocery store that a plan like that can be helpful, though you really can be at risk for not getting complete nutrient pictures."
This means that the would-be weight loss champ has to be thoughtful about what they eat, which is admittedly less convenient than shoving a tray in the microwave and calling it a day.
3. Don't eliminate an entire food group, and don't be so afraid of fat.
Imagine your diet is a car you're driving. Would you cut out the steering wheel, the gas pedal or the brake? The correct answer is none, of course. You need all of them to run the car. Likewise with the major food groups, said Susan Dyke, a dietitian at Burnsville's Water's Edge Counseling and Healing Center.
"There's no magic in it. Fat, carbs, protein—you need them all at every meal, and every snack," Dyke said. "We've become so afraid of fat that we crave a lot of sugar and carbs."
Lundy concurred, and added that lack of fat often contributes to overeating.
"People think is that fat is bad and so they limit it to the point where they have none," Lundy said. "If you do that, you never get full. You graze throughout the day."
The upshot? A piece of fruit isn't going to cut it for a snack. Add peanut butter to it. It will keep you full for longer. Not all sources of fat are created equal, of course, and Dyke is hardly suggesting that dieters gorge themselves on donuts "for the fat." Some healthy choices would be olive oil, grass-fed butter, coconut oil, nuts or avocados.
5. Exercise is not optional, but rest is also essential.
If your body is in bad shape, chances are your brain is as well. The solution is to get active, but don't overdo it. For many people, the problem is not that they are couch potatoes, but that they're overextended. And while exercise does help reduce stress, hitting the gym five days a week will only leave you sore, demoralized and burned out. Keep it simple. Add a 20 minute walk into your weekly schedule or take a yoga class. Challenge yourself, but don't commit to an unsustainable schedule that will leave you short on time and willpower.
"A lot of women I see don't have things in their life that nurture them because they're taking care of other people. Many of my clients won't allow themselves to sit on the couch for even a minute," Dyke said. "If we allow ourselves to have some downtime, our draw to food will diminish."
Stress and the resulting cortisol will make it very, very difficult to lose weight, in addition to greatly diminishing your enjoyment of life.
"When our cortisol levels increase we store fat. A lot of this is about your lifestyle," Dyke said. "It's not just about food. You have to take care of yourself in all aspects."
6. Track your progress, be consistent and reward yourself when you progress.
Say you set out to lose 10 pounds, but lost five instead. Perhaps you didn't lose any weight at all. Don't waive the white flag yet, said Janelle Melgeorge Anderson, a dietitian at Fairview's Southdale Hospital in Edina. That doesn't mean that your plan isn't having an effect.
"When people don't see the scale moving immediately they stop. Look for other indicators," Melgeorge Anderson said. "Are your clothes fitting better? Is it easier to go up and down the steps without getting breathless?"
Any progress is a positive, so reward yourself for a job well done (but not with food), Melgeorge Anderson said: Go to a movie, get a manicure, or take some time away from the family if you can.