According to statistics published last year by the University of Scranton, about 45 percent of Americans usually make New Year's resolutions -- and the most popular resolution is losing weight. Of those who make resolutions, a mere 8 percent (yes, 8 percent!) achieve them.
So why do so many of us fail to achieve our goals? Are we just setting ourselves up for failure? Learn how to make realistic resolutions and how to overcome the roadblocks along the way.
Setting Achievable Goals
Setting a resolution to lose 15 pounds isn't a goal that's achievable now. It may be a good long-term goal, but in order to reach it (remember, we want to succeed!) you need to take baby steps to get it done. Registered dietitian Elisa Zied, author of the upcoming book "Younger Next Week," says to "be real when you make a resolution. It's okay to shoot for the stars like making a resolution to run a marathon, but why not set a smaller goal and train smart?"
The same concept applies to weight loss. Set between one to three weekly goals that you want to accomplish. These goals should help develop healthy habits that will ultimately help achieve your long-term resolution. Some examples of weekly goals:
-- I will go to spin class twice a week.
-- I will eat three fruits every day.
-- I will make time for breakfast every day.
-- I will switch from white bread to whole-wheat bread.
-- I will cook dinner twice a week.
Notice that these goals are simple and achievable. "Instead of going from zero to 60, from never going to the gym to going four to five times a week, why not start with three days a week, get consistent and build from there," Zied says. "Set yourself up for success and map out your course by making appointments with yourself to be active. If you treat your goals like set appointments, you're more likely to achieve them."
You also need to be aware of your current exercise and eating habits to make achievable goals. Keeping a diary of your food and exercise habits can help. Record everything you eat and drink for three to five days and review it. Many folks are shocked when they do this! Once you notice your not-so-good habits, start fixing them. For example, if you notice a tendency to snack on unhealthy fare, set a goal to eat a fruit or vegetable with each snack. This can help replace the higher-calorie junk food with lower-calorie healthy fare. Building on these smaller goals over time can help you achieve your long-term goal.
Barriers to Success
We all encounter roadblocks in our lives. Instead of throwing your hands up in defeat, find ways around these barriers so you can reach the finish line. Here are three common barriers people face when trying to lose weight:
No. 1: I have no time!
I hear this resolution often, especially from parents who are juggling kids and work. Registered dietitian Bridget Swinney, author of "Eating Expectantly: Practical Advice for Healthy Eating Before During and After Pregnancy," says that "it's so easy to get caught up in life with kids and forget our healthy eating resolutions. Here's an easy trick. On next year's calendar, write down a monthly goal at the top of each month. Tie the goals into what's happening seasonally -- in February, take the family ice skating twice this month, or try a new seasonal veggie each week, such as beets, kale or Swiss chard."
You can also get your kids in on the action. If your goal is to cook more, bring them into the kitchen with you. Have them help with recipe selection and do simple prep work, and work together to set the table. This helps lower your stress, and it will also teach your kids about cooking and healthful eating habits.
[Read: 6 Ways to Make Time for Your Health.]
No. 2: I can't seem to stay motivated.
With a constant feed from my nutrition and wellness friends on social media sites, such as Twitter and Pinterest, I always feel motivated. My colleagues and friends share motivational quotes, healthy recipes and helpful tips that help keep your drive in high gear. One hashtag that gets me motivated is #MoveItOrLoseIt, which Zied uses quite often."I use the #MoveItOrLoseIt hashtag when I post my near-daily workouts (and ask others to post their workouts, too) so we can all be accountable and keep each other motivated to move," she says. "I use this hashtag on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram."
Social media also helps you stay accountable. When you announce a goal to 50 or 500 people in a public forum, you feel the need to achieve it and then tell them about it. Use your social media network as a cheerleading team to help keep you motivated.
No. 3: I just can't lose the weight.
As hard as you try, those extra pounds just won't come off. You end up feeling discouraged and going back to your old eating habits and gaining weight. It's time to call for help. A registered dietitian can look at your medical history, family history, diet and current medical status and help determine the cause. Sometimes you need these experts to point you in the right direction; other times, they may discover a red flag for certain medical conditions. To find a registered dietitian in your area, visit the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website and click on the green button that says "find a registered dietitian." Many now take insurance, so be sure to ask.
My advice: This year, achieve your New Year's resolutions! Set small, reasonable short-term goals to help develop healthy lifelong habits. And if you do fall off the wagon (don't we all?), wipe yourself off and get right back on.
Hungry for more? Write to firstname.lastname@example.org with your questions, concerns and feedback.
Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, is the owner of Toby Amidor Nutrition and author of the forthcoming cookbook "The Greek Yogurt Kitchen" (Grand Central Publishing 2014). She consults and blogs for various organizations including FoodNetwork.com's Healthy Eats Blog and Sears' FitStudio.