It happens every Jan. 1. That's the one day we make a commitment to "making a change. " We're ready to get going, yet most of us will not make it past the first week. And according to the...

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It happens every Jan. 1. That’s the one day we make a commitment to “making a change.”

We’re ready to get going, yet most of us will not make it past the first week. And according to the Journal of Clinical Psychology, even among those who make serious attempts at change, 30 percent will drop out within two weeks and less than half will make it past six months. Not very encouraging, is it?
Yet, by following some simple tips we can significantly increase our odds of losing weight and keeping it off in the new year.

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Don’t wait

Don’t wait until New Year’s to plan your resolution. If you don’t make your resolution in advance, you reduce your chances of success.

Be serious

Those who make a “serious” (and realistic) resolution to change are 10 times more likely to succeed than those who make halfhearted or overly ambitious attempts and don’t put together a plan in advance. “Take your resolutions seriously or don’t make them at all,” says John Norcross, professor of psychology at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania and New Year’s resolution researcher.

Believe it

Norcross says feeling confident that you can change a behavior is the single biggest predictor that you will be able to change. It’s called “self-efficacy,” or an individual’s belief in his or her ability to succeed at something — in this case, changing an ingrained negative pattern.

Getting ready

Are you ready to make a change? It takes more than just saying you would like to lose weight. You have to think about it before you start. “It’s all about preparation,” says Norcross. One basic resolution-setting piece of advice is to make sure you set realistic, specific goals and have a written plan of action.

Goal-setting is the cornerstone of successful weight loss. That means planning the details and mapping them out in writing. We spend days planning our vacations and from six to nine months planning a wedding, which is a four- to six-hour event. Yet when it comes to losing weight, we tend to “wing it” and not tip the odds in our favor by planning and setting goals.

Relapse prevention

Keep in mind that a slip doesn’t have to become a fall, nor does a lapse have to become a relapse. Unsuccessful weight-maintainers tend to have an “all or nothing” attitude and view a single “bad” eating situation as verification that they just can’t lose weight.

“On the other hand, a successful weight-loss maintainer (or a person who succeeds in changing his or her behavior) thinks in advance about situations and obstacles that might cause brief breakdowns, such as having a bag of chips or the weekly doughnut gathering in the office,” says G. Alan Marlatt, director of the University of Washington’s Addictive Behaviors Research Center in Seattle.

Marlatt recommends coming up with a relapse-prevention plan before Jan. 1. Think in advance about what common problems you might encounter that will cause you to slip up and have a plan. For instance, if you have difficulty staying on your diet when you go out to dinner or when you’re visiting relatives, come up with strategies to avoid the slip-up, as well as a plan of action to follow if you actually do slip up.

And it’s a marathon, not a 100-yard dash. “It takes months, not days or weeks, to establish a change.” In addition, “Resolutions are a process, not a one-time effort, and even if people are successful, they need to follow up on their behavior over the years,” says Marlatt.

Think positive

State your New Year’s resolution in positive terms. Don’t say things like “I need to stop eating junk food” or “I will never watch television again” or “I’m not going out to dinner three nights a week anymore.”

Pick things that are positive, such as “I’m going to start eating low-fat frozen yogurt instead of ice cream” or “I will start taking walks in the evening.” Why? “It’s easier to install new behaviors then to simply get rid of old ones,” explains Norcross.

Be an environmentalist

Before Jan. 1 comes around, check out your personal food environment. Those who make successful weight-loss resolutions review and change their surroundings by removing the cues that cause them to overeat and not exercise. They use stimulus control — for instance, not getting their morning coffee at the bakery or removing “diet-buster” foods and take-out menus for unhealthy restaurants from their homes.

And don’t just remove negative stimuli or cues — increase positive ones. For example, hang out with people who are supportive of your weight-loss efforts, surround yourself with healthy foods, post reminder notices that you “can lose weight,” buy a pedometer, join a gym and make your personal environment weight-loss friendly.

Charles Stuart Platkin is a nutrition and public health advocate, author and founder of Integrated Wellness Solutions. Copyright 2004 by Charles Stuart Platkin. Write to