“I think it does work for some people to definitively say that on this day they are going to make a change and they are going to set a schedule and make a positive change in their lives,” she said. “I think it does help them to be more successful with that change.”
It is a very common tactic. A survey of 12,000 women in Europe,
published in the journal ObesityFacts, found that 50 percent had made a New Year’s resolution to lose weight within the past two years.
To be successful, however, it is important to keep a few things in mind, Ward said.
• Don’t try to lose weight by skipping meals. “When you skip a meal, your body goes into crisis mode and it tries to conserve the energy that it has left,” she said. “So then when you eat again it does not use that energy as efficiently as it would compared to when you eat” normally.
• Watch not only what you eat but also what you drink. “People forget about how many calories they are drinking with sugar-sweetened beverages like sodas and sweet tea,” Ward said. Some people have turned to juicing as a healthier alternative but those concoctions still have calories in them, she said.
“It’s very easy to drink a lot of calories without realizing it,” Ward said.
• Don’t cut out the snacks but make sure they are healthy. “One big misconception is that snacks are to be avoided,” she said, “when in fact having a healthy snack two or three times a day in between your meals can help promote weight loss and a healthy weight loss, more importantly.”
• Get your exercise. “That is the other half of weight loss,” Ward said. “Definitely, increasing your physical activity for the day and increasing the amount of energy that you are using will help with successful weight loss.” Many people complain they don’t have time to exercise, but it doesn’t have to be done all at once, she said. Take opportunities throughout the day to get in several minutes at a time, such as taking a 10-minute walk during lunch or taking the stairs, Ward said. “Just as long as you are getting about 30 minutes of physical activity for the day total, that is a good place to start,” she said.
• Gain some muscle mass, too. Strength-training along with the other things you are doing for exercise has an added bonus, Ward said, “Definitely, increasing their muscle mass will help to improve their metabolism and their long-term weight loss goals,” she said.
• Avoid gimmicky diets that severely limit what you eat. “Fad diets do tend to work initially but they don’t show any benefit over the long term,” Ward said. “Diets like the Atkins Diet and the South Beach Diet change how your body works, how your body metabolizes your food, to something that is considered unnatural. Any dietitian worth their salt will advise you on portion control and healthy food choices and increasing physical activity.”
Healthy weight loss will be about one to two pounds per week; anything above that could be cause for concern, she said.
“If you’re losing more weight than that, you’re not losing fat,” Ward said. “You’re probably losing water weight, or worse, you might be losing muscle mass.”
As the weight loss begins, it might be helpful to remember that you are not perfect. A review in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin assessing how people did on achieving their New Year’s resolutions found that those who scored high on a measure of perfectionism reported less progress in achieving their goals.