Learn why it may be best to ditch your resolution or modify it to be your best, healthiest self.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Resolutions
Making a decision to work diligently towards a goal is often positive and healthy, and the same can be true of New Year’s Resolutions. The caveat to this, which is more true of New Year’s Resolutions than others, is that the correct motivation and plan must be in place or else the outcome may be worse than not doing it at all. In fact, some resolutions in and of themselves set you up for failure, according to eatthis.com, such as setting a goal (I want to lose 20 lbs) with no actionable steps to reach that goal, or basing it off wanting to look like a certain celebrity. If you are already feeling yourself slip from the plan you created, it may be a good time to ask yourself these questions before continuing on your journey. Otherwise, you may end up setting yourself up for failure, leaving you riddled with guilt, less likely to achieve your goals, and exacerbating the problem you wished to solve.
Reasons Why You May Want to Ditch or Modify Your Resolution
Although there are many mental and physical benefits to sticking with a goal, this needs to be the correct goal for you. If you are considering making a change to your resolution and you are not sure if it’s because you are caving on your willpower or if you are correctly modifying it to a healthier goal, you can ask yourself if any of the following resonate with you before revising and ditching your goal altogether.
1. Your Resolution is Unrealistic:
This is perhaps the most common reason that goals fail. We often make resolutions impulsively, as the imagined outcome seems so wonderful that it counteracts our ability to set realistic expectations for ourselves. Morgan Cerf, professor of neuroscience and business, suggests several ways to create realistic goals in the Business Insider article “How to set realistic New Year's resolutions and actually stick to them in 2021, according to a neuroscientist.” He lists science-based tips for creating resolutions that are realistic such as ranking your resolutions from most to least important, and asking friends about their resolutions and whether or not they worked.
We often make resolutions impulsively, as the imagined outcome seems so wonderful that it counteracts our ability to set realistic expectations for ourselves.
In my work with patients, I find unrealistic goal-setting the most common and detrimental reason people fail to achieve their goals. My patients tell me that they want to lose 20 lbs in 4 weeks, or that they want to stay on a super restrictive diet that would be almost impossible to follow in real life. It is not to say that it’s impossible to achieve these things, but there needs to be a balance between what is likely achievable and healthy and how quickly we want to do it. At that point, we reevaluate together while addressing the underlying pain that comes from the harsh realization that change needs to be gradual and that we often have to sit with the discomfort of waiting.
2. Your Resolution Makes You Feel Worse
While I’m personally not a fan of any fad diet and for many reasons, I realize that there are some people who benefit from starting with something more structured and strict before setting more moderate long-term goals. Or, for health reasons, they want to follow a specific diet for a set amount of time. They follow all of the latest research and read the raving reviews of how great they feel from those who followed that diet, which propels them to also want to feel that good. However, not all diets work the same for everyone’s particular body.
While your friend’s body might naturally work well with keto, it doesn’t mean that your body likes it.
This is a story that I hear all of the time. A patient of mine will tell me about a friend who tried a diet, lost weight, and felt great the whole time doing it. My patient, however, feels weak, irritable, gets itchy skin, or has some other adverse reaction. Sometimes these reactions can happen with a diet and it means that your body is adjusting to a healthier lifestyle, however, if that feeling persists, your body is telling you something quite different: That it doesn’t like it. While your friend’s body might naturally work well with keto, it doesn’t mean that your body likes it. If your friend does a cleanse and touts her clear skin and great digestion, it doesn’t mean that you won’t break out in a rash and have tummy troubles. Be mindful of how you personally feel and don’t assume that feeling badly means it’s working.
3. Your Resolution is Unsustainable
As mentioned previously, there are some who benefit from something more structured in the beginning, but it’s important to ask yourself if you are one of those people. What I see more often than not with food, however, is that January’s resolutions turn into February’s binges. I often explain to my patients that “going on” something implies you will also be “going off” of it, which is really no different than planning to lose weight and then gain it again. If you set this goal with the plan of doing it for a limited time, it is also important to plan the step down and sustainable plan from the beginning.
“Fad diets that restrict food and calories for the goal of losing weight or changing your physical appearance tend to give the dieter a negative or toxic relationship with food, such as the dieter considering certain foods "bad foods" and certain foods "good foods".
The reason that this can be detrimental, as explained by Registered Dietitian, Amy Wagner, is that “Fad diets that restrict food and calories for the goal of losing weight or changing your physical appearance tend to give the dieter a negative or toxic relationship with food, such as the dieter considering certain foods "bad foods" and certain foods "good foods". This leads to eating disorders and disordered eating which can have severe effects not only on your physical health but also on your mental health and your relationships.”
The question to ask yourself instead is whether you want this to be a diet or a long-term habit. As noted by Dana Smith of Elemental Medium “Habits allow you to function on autopilot so you can perform tasks while thinking about something more important.” In her article “Habits Are the New Resolutions,” she lists some practical tips to help you make your change more ingrained, and in turn, more long term, such as making small, specific plans and setting reminders.
In the end, the more ingrained and sustainable the goal, the more likely you will be to achieve it and make that goal last.
4. You Created this Resolution to Overindulge over the Holidays
If you created this goal in order to allow yourself to overdrink and overeat during the holiday season, it may be time to revise this way of thinking. The problem with this logic is that you may end up winning your battle in January, but you have then lost the war overall. This way of thinking sets you up to repeat the same cycle year after year, where you overindulge guilt-free, lose weight, and then gain more weight again. This is not only unsustainable, but also leaves you in a place where you never mentally feel good: You are either in anguish as you attempt to tolerate the discomfort of restriction, or left in a state where you constantly feel badly for eating or drinking too much.
This way of thinking sets you up to repeat the same cycle year after year, where you overindulge guilt-free, lose weight, and then gain more weight again.
If it’s difficult to delineate between general holiday merrymaking and going overboard, there are a couple of questions you can ask yourself to determine if you used your future resolution as a way to mitigate holiday guilt or if it was a planned celebration.
1. When did you decide on this resolution? Was it right before the holidays or as you were about to overindulge?
2. Did you notice yourself indulging more at the same time as reminding yourself of your future resolution?
3. Do you have a pattern of overindulging before making more stringent goals?
If you notice that restricting and overindulging is your pattern, instead of trying harder to stick with this strict diet, you may want to revise and reevaluate.
If you read through these and they don’t resonate with you, then that’s great - it may mean that you are on the right path to success! If these struck a chord with you, however, it may mean that it’s time to revise and change your goal. This is difficult if you equate this change in plan with failing, however, it’s important to remember that a change that is more healthy for you isn’t failure, but a positive reevaluation.
If your goal was to lose 20 lbs in 4 weeks but the reduction in calories was too great, try changing it to something that makes the progression more slow but you know you can sustain the long run.
If you are considering making a change, it is always best to make that change to something more gradual and sustainable. If, for instance, your goal was to have no sugar at all, but you are feeling too weak, you can modify it to be minimal sugar instead. If your goal was to lose 20 lbs in 4 weeks but the reduction in calories was too great, try changing it to something that makes the progression more slow but you know you can sustain the long run.
If, however, the plan you chose altogether made you feel worse than better, either emotionally or physically, it may be time to ditch that resolution altogether. Better options, as suggested by Amy Wagner, include changing your goal from a specific diet to committing yourself to “intuitive eating and listening to your body's needs” or to consider the “80:20 rule of eating healthy foods: 80% of the time and allowing yourself to enjoy tasty treats 20% of the time.” “Listen to your body and what your body needs and wants,” she explains, “and if you want to have that treat on a holiday or your birthday, go for it- it will not ruin your progress if you have it in moderation or on special occasions!”
In the end, a 2021 resolution is only positive if you get to 2022 feeling happy that you did it.