It’s that time of year again, when people set lofty resolutions for their health, particularly around losing weight. Unfortunately, it’s all too common for these goals to result in frustration rather than results, but it’s not for lack of trying. They simply didn’t frame their resolutions right. Below, experts share the biggest resolution mistakes people make when it comes to trying to lose weight, plus tips on how to reframe your resolutions to make them stick.
Resolution Mistakes that Sabotage Your Weight Loss goals
1. You Don’t Actually Need to Lose Weight
No doubt, for some people, the goal of losing weight is a noble one. A healthy weight, defined by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention as having a body mass index (BMI) that is under 25, is associated with reduced risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes, boosted energy levels, and greater confidence. In fact, just losing five-to-10 percent of your body weight is associated with health benefits such as reduced blood pressure, lower blood cholesterol levels, and improved blood sugar levels, per the CDC.
As it goes, “choosing a healthy, realistic amount of weight to lose that supports your overall well-being can be a good goal,” says Jessica Cording, MS, RD, CDN, author of The Little Book of Game-Changers: 50 Healthy Habits For Managing Stress & Anxiety. However, if someone is already at or below a healthy weight and tries to lose weight, it’s not a good goal for them. The same applies if their primary intention is not health, she says.
The Fix: Consult The Experts
Before you try to reach a lower number on the scale, Cording recommends consulting your healthcare provider. Your provider will help determine whether you need to lose weight to achieve greater health, or if your health markers are already where they need to be.
If you recently gained weight out of nowhere—or can’t seem to lose weight no matter what you try—your provider will also be able to determine if there are any underlying conditions that are stalling weight loss or promoting weight gain.
Assuming you get the green light to drop weight, she suggests working with a registered dietitian. “A registered dietitian can help you create a plan for sustainable weight loss suited just for you,” says Cording. “They’ll also help you understand why losing weight requires dialing in your sleep routine and stress levels,” she says.
2. Your Goal Isn’t Specific Enough
Does your resolution simply read ‘lose weight’? We hate to be the bearer of bad news, but that alone is not a sustainable or realistic goal, according to life coach and personal trainer Erin Mahoney, founder of EMAC Certifications, a personal training certification company, and author of Positive Vibes For Women. “It’s not a good goal because it doesn’t specify how much weight to lose, by when, or how,” she says.
A goal without specificity, she says, is like driving in the dark with no headlights on: not just hard, but downright dangerous. “An ambiguous goal like this can have detrimental effects on someone,” she says. Feelings of failure, frustration, and/or helplessness are all common side-effects of a non-specific weight-loss goal.
The Fix: Hone In on Your Desired Outcome
“Do you want to lose half a pound? Do you want to lose 50 pounds?” offers Mahoney. Ask yourself these questions, as well as when you’re hoping to achieve results by, she suggests.
For frame of reference, Cording says that losing ½ -to-two pounds per week is what’s considered sustainable and healthy. “Though, for some people ¼ a pound per week is more realistic, and helps them inch closer to their goal over the course of a few weeks,” she says.
Remember: The goal needs to evolve (not end) once your desired weight loss has been achieved. “Timelines for weight loss imply that there’s an end date,” says Mahoney. “There needs to be a course of action lined up once the goal is achieved,” in order for pounds to stay off, she says.
To that point, once you’ve reached your desired weight, stay committed to your healthy living plan by writing down guidelines you hope to continue.
3. You’re Relying On A Trendy Diet
Cleanses, detoxes, and elimination diets get a lot of attention this time of year. But Mahoney recommends against starting the year by committing to a fad food plan.
“Trendy diets often do help someone lose weight quickly,” she says. The problem? They aren’t sustainable. “After you’ve lost the weight, these kinds of diets provide no help for maintaining the weight in a healthy way,” she says. Not ideal.
Furthermore, these kinds of diets don’t help people develop the kind of self awareness that can lead them to understand their internal hunger cues, as well as when and why they are emotionally eating, says Mahoney.
The Fix: Focus On One or Two Food Goals
“Your current diet may not support your weight-loss goals, but that doesn’t mean you need to do a trendy diet,” notes Cording. Actually, it’s wiser to take inventory of your current eating habits and commit to one or two little changes which, she says, can make a larger impact over time.
If your meals generally lack green foods, for example, she suggests resolving to eat a big serving of vegetables with two meals a day. Likewise, if you typically reach for the fruit juice first thing in the morning, she recommends replacing that sugar-bomb with water, perhaps with a squeeze of lemon, lime, or orange juice, or other natural flavorings to enhance its taste. “Choose one or two specific things that you know you will realistically be able to put into practice,” she says.
4. Your Goal Isn’t Sustainable
Let the record show goals like ‘work out seven days a week’ or ‘exercise every day for a month’ are neither healthy nor sustainable.
Esther Avant, C.P.T., ACE-certified personal trainer and certified nutrition coach at Esther Avant Wellness Coaching explains: Resolutions like this are usually made when motivation is at an all-time high. The problem is, this mega-motivation is almost always short-lived. “Most people start off trying to give 100 percent but fall short. Then, they feel like a failure and wallow in those negative feelings and end up giving 0 percent,” she says. That cycle gets repeated ad nauseam, and they never progress towards their fitness or weight-loss goals.
Beyond that, working out seven days a week isn’t healthy even if you had the motivation to maintain it, says Mahoney. Working out that frequently, especially if the workouts are higher intensity, can lead to overtraining—a condition marked by consistent inadequate recovery between workouts. Over time, overtraining can increase risk of injury, sickness, and generalized fatigue, she says.
The Fix: Pick A Realistic Goal
Taking the focus off weight loss itself and focusing instead on one specific habit is a good thing, according to Cording. So a resolution geared towards increased movement isn’t a bad idea, per se. However, that resolution needs to be far more realistic and health-minded, says Mahoney.
If you are driven by number-based exercise goals that allow you to check things off a to-do list or log with a fitness track, Avant recommends committing to walking a certain number of steps per day (she recommends 7,000 steps to start) or exercising three-to-five days a week.
“At the end of the day, your desired outcome just isn’t just going to happen without consistent effort,” she says. “And a plan you can implement consistently makes that desired outcome more plausible than one that will lead to injury or fall to the way-side after the second week,” she says. Makes sense!