As a personal trainer and exercise instructor, I see lots of folks every day who want to lose weight. Especially at this time of year, it's the No. 1 goal for the majority of my clients. And it's a worthy goal given all of the health problems that being overweight can bring on: high blood pressure and cardiovascular problems; diabetes; joint and back pain; interrupted sleep; a shortened life span.
Here are a few typical scenarios based on actual clients. I've changed the names to protect their privacy. See if you recognize yourself in their stories.
Brenda, 31, is a single mom and a teacher. She stands on the scale. Christmas was great—too great. Grandma's cheesecake and corn bread dressing got her again.
"Three more pounds," she says with a sigh. "Ugh!"
On the phone with a friend 10 minutes later she says, "I've got to do better. I'm dropping at least 15 pounds this year."
Jada, 28, is staring at the sexy red size 8 number she bought last January. It's been hanging on the outside of her closet door for a year, a constant reminder of her resolution to eat better and work out for two hours every day to lose the four dress sizes (and 40 pounds) so the dress will hug her curvy figure just right. She fantasizes wearing it to her birthday celebration in New Orleans this year at Mardi Gras.
"This is the year," she says to the dress, repeating her 2010 resolution.
Phillip, 44, is married, a father, and a former college track and soccer star. He sees his new "keg" in the mirror for the first time in his favorite khaki slacks. The pants fit perfectly just four months ago. He had a noteworthy six-pack then, too. Now the pants hug all the wrong places.
"Fried chicken and beer," he says, shaking his head. It's the menu of choice for he and his buddies on their "All Saints Day" Sundays. It doesn't help that he has a new position at work with an insane schedule, and he devours fast food on the run.
He sits on his bed. "I've got to get my old regimen started again," he says, thinking aloud. "I can't end up like Dad." His dad died two years before of congestive heart failure.
"Back to those three-a-week workouts as of the first. It's go hard or go home season."
Because my clients resolve to do better, they will, right? They'll rise from the ashes of their unhealthy habits, magically looking like "Baywatch" meets the cast of "300," with renewed vitality and health, right?
Most fitness resolutions are doomed to fail. Marti Hope Gonzales, associate professor of psychology at the University of Minnesota, told The New York Times that about 80 percent of those who resolve to lose weight on Jan. 1 give up by Valentine's Day. Why do our resolutions fail, and how can we be successful?
Researchers interviewed for Psychology Today magazine point to self-sabotage. First, we don't believe in our own affirmations. We tell ourselves things such as, "I'm going to start jogging two miles every day," while simultaneously thinking: "Right. I barely survive walking them."
Second, we ignore cause-and-effect relationships, and we have illogical, unrealistic ideas about our goals. We may believe that once we achieve our desired weight, pounds will magically stay off, for example.
Third, repeated thought processes forge neural pathways in our brains, and memories and actions reinforce our conditioned behaviors. An example is quitting when exercise becomes uncomfortable. We have to unlearn those behaviors.
Cheryl Keaney, personal trainer, fitness-nutrition specialist and owner of Buff Bodies Boot Camp in Michigan, writes that procrastination is at the root of fitness-resolution failures. When we wait to get started, she says, we set ourselves up for almost certain failure. Instead, start now to accomplish your goals. Keany challenges what many of us use as excuses not to eat healthy or work out, such as the weather or work.
You can be successful. Read on to find out how.
Set Yourself Up For Success
• Focus on one goal at a time; be specific and be realistic. Ask yourself how you'll reach your goal, make your answers specific and make a plan.
Brenda wants to lose at least 15 pounds next year. That's realistic. Weight-loss experts say healthy weekly weight loss falls in the one-half pound to one-pound range per week. At a half-pound a week, it will take Brenda about 30 weeks to drop 15 pounds. Now what she needs is a plan that includes interim milestones.
Jada's goal, 40 pounds in roughly two months, is as unrealistic this year as it was last. Even if she could lose five pounds a week, it's dangerous and unsustainable. Without a realistic plan, if she even starts, she can't succeed.
Phillip's goal, to resume his former workout regimen, may or may not be realistic. At 44, if his goal is to look like a 22-year-old, he'll be disappointed. Plus, he hasn't yet considered how he'll keep up his ambitious regimen with his new responsibilities and schedule. Without that, he's bound to exhaust himself quickly and quit.
• Modify and channel thoughts to change your behavior. In other words: Make up your mind, believe in yourself, keep yourself grounded and execute your plan with confidence. Understand that setbacks occur. When they do, get back on track fast.
• Get help. First, talk to your doctor. Then, find and surround yourself with others who will support, encourage and hold you accountable. It can be a friend, a family member or a trainer. Just make sure he or she will help keep you motivated and not buy in to your excuses.
• Incorporate your favorite activities into your regimen. If you like dancing, dance your weight off. If you like reading, read while peddling on a stationary bike. Be creative and have fun.
• Start now. Don't use your kids, job or school as an excuse. Get out. Schedule workouts between meetings, classes, or before or after work. Just get started, at home or the gym.
Your best resource for losing weight may be your doctor. She or he can point you in the right direction and provide local resources to aid you in being successful. Also, check out these online resources:
• "Why New Year's Resolutions Fail" by Ray B. William, http://www.psychologytoday.com
• "Get a Jump on New Year's Fitness Goals," by, Cheryl Keaney, http://www.thetimesherald.com
• WebMD healthy weight loss pages (http://www.webmd.com) offer a free planning tool to track calories, workouts and more.
• Mayo Clinic's weight loss pages (http://www.mayoclinic.com) include everything from basics to in-depth information and multi-media tools.
• Dr. Andrew Weil's exercise and fitness pages (http://www.drweil.com) feature common-sense advice on how to start and maintain an exercise program, plus a ton of wellness information.
• http://www.LiveStrong.com provides information on food and fitness geared specifically toward men or women.
• http://Health.MSN.com offers information on losing weight, eating right and getting fit, plus tools and expert advice.