If you set health and wellness goals in January – for example, eat less sugar, hit the gym, lose 20 pounds, watch less Netflix – the “fresh start effect” may be beginning to wear off.
Research suggests that many Canadians ultimately abandon their diet and fitness resolutions, failing to achieve their goals.
Common obstacles include poor motivation, not enough time, lack of support from family and friends and losing track of progress. Setting too many goals, making ones unrealistic and lacking knowledge are other reasons people blame for losing steam.
Fortunately, studies have revealed factors that can influence the ability to make your resolutions stick, whether they’re made in January or any other time of the year.
If you need to hit the reset button to refocus your goals, the following strategies can help move you in the right direction – and a sustainable one.
Reflect on your goals. Consider the goal(s) you set out to achieve this year. Were they realistic? Chasing an unreasonable goal can be demotivating and lead to disappointment.
Did you set too many goals? Trying to change everything at once – diet, exercise, sleep habits – can be overwhelming and uncomfortable. Start by making gradual changes, letting your brain adapt to one change at a time.
Remind yourself of the “why” behind your goal. Do you want to improve your diet and/or fitness to have more energy to play with your kids? To get rid of joint pain? To feel comfortable in your clothes? Being reminded of your values can renew your motivation.
Write down your goal and how to achieve it will make you feel; read this often.
Shift your focus. According to a 2020 Swedish study published in the journal PLOS ONE, how you frame goals can go a long way to helping you achieve them.
Among 1,066 people surveyed, those who made “approach-oriented” versus “avoidance” goals were significantly more likely to stick to their New Year’s resolutions for one year.
In other words, you’re more likely to succeed if your goal is to add a healthy behavior rather than avoiding or quitting one you deem unhealthy.
Quantify your goal. Vague goals (eg, I am going to lose weight, I’m going to exercise more) are difficult to monitor. Stating a specific goal that includes a target is measurable and leads to higher performance.
Rather than vowing to “quit sugar,” for example, decide to reduce your intake of sugary desserts gradually and incrementally, say from daily to every other day, and then to once or twice weekly.
Why do you need to prioritize protein at breakfast
Break down big goals. Instead of focusing only on the endgame, set smaller goals that will help you hit the big stretch goal. Achieving bite-size goals along the way boosts self-confidence and motivation.
If your goal is to lose 20 pounds or more this year, set small monthly weight loss targets.
If it’s to run your first half-marathon, make a timetable of the smaller daily, weekly and monthly steps that will help get you there (eg running three times a week, running your first five- or 10-kilometre race, stretching daily and so on).
Track your progress. The more monitoring you do – and the feedback you get – the more you will enhance success by providing accountability, awareness, focus and motivation.
Use a food diary or app to log your food intake. Doing so will highlight what you’re doing well, as well as dietary gaps.
To stay on track consider keeping your food diary one day in advance. Recording what you intend to eat tomorrow allows you to plan ahead, increasing the likelihood you’ll follow through with your healthy eating intentions.
Or you might decide to write in your journal only Fridays through Sundays to help mitigate weekend weight gain.
Chart progress toward your fitness goals in a workout journal. Document, for example, how much weight you lifted, the intensity and duration of your cardio workout, how you felt before, during and after exercise and, if appropriate, your body measurements.
Reflect on your progress regularly to reaffirm your commitment to your goal.
Enlist support. Find an accountability partner who will encourage you to stay on track. Ask a friend, family member or colleague to support you on your journey.
Consider consulting an expert to provide the knowledge, skills and tools needed to achieve your goal, be it a dietitian, fitness trainer, sports medicine expert or a health coach.
Don’t expect perfection. Give yourself permission to lapse occasionally rather than beating yourself up. Doing so will make it much easier to pick up where you left off.
Leslie Beck, a Toronto-based private practice dietitian, is director of food and nutrition at Medcan. Follow her on Twitter @LeslieBeckRD
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