(NEW YORK) — While most people can keep up with their New Year’s resolutions through the first days of January, it is those days and weeks throughout the rest of the year that can catch up with even the best of intentions.
So how do you make your New Year’s resolution stick?
Experts say it is important to remember it is a journey, not an overnight fix, especially when it comes to the most common of resolutions, weight loss and exercise.
“The reason why people make resolutions every year is because it’s really hard,” said Maya Feller, a New York-based registered dietitian nutritionist. “You first started eating when you were 6 months old, so that’s many years of learned food behavior.”
“Change is not going to happen overnight,” she said.
Feller and other experts shared their top tips for making sure your health and wellness resolutions become true lifestyle changes.
Solidify your intention
Even just a few days into January is the right time to remind yourself why you chose your resolution, according to Feller.
“Sometimes after just a few days of changing your diet you feel good and feel like you can let it go,” she said. “In the early part of January, reevaluate your motivation and say, ‘Why am I doing this again? I’m making this intentional choice again.'”
Rebecca Scritchfield, a Washington, D.C.-based dietitian and certified exercise physiologist, said it’s also important to remember your “why” multiple times daily.
“What’s going to help keep you motivated is continuing to think about the benefits you’re receiving, in both the short term and the long term,” she said. “The more you focus on the benefits every time you do it, you’ll see the good earlier. What you want to say is, ‘There’s too much good in this for me to stop.'”
‘Layer’ the changes
Feller advises her clients to pick the “low-hanging fruit” when they make a plan for their resolutions.
“If you’re eating two vegetables a day, make it four,” she said. “Once you’ve hit that, reevaluate again and ask yourself, ‘Why am I doing this and what do I have to add on?'”
Feller compares improving eating habits to building a house. You start by making sure you have a solid foundation and build up from there.
“You have to put the foundation down and solidify the behavior,” she said. “It is behavior change. That’s the thing about nutrition.”
Say no to the quick fix
Both Feller and Scritchfield stress that going for the quick solution, like a plan promising you’ll lose 15 pounds in January, will not be sustainable and may even leave you worse off.
“You might lose 15 [pounds] but you’re not going to continue it with that approach,” she said. “It’s better to have the small success so you can continue to step forward.”
Scritchfield said taking the more moderate, long-lasting approach to healthy eating and exercise demands that you let go of the shame or fear that comes from overindulging in the holiday season.
“You’re going to be so tempted in the new year to fall for an extreme plan because you’re feeling like you want to make a change and you’re also being told there is something wrong with where you are right now,” she said. “The more important value is feeling like you have a good life and feeling happy with your habits.”
“Go down the road of, ‘It’s OK to be where I am and what’s the next goal that I think is interesting to me and will also help me create a better life,'” she said. “Walk down that road of kindness as opposed to something that is short term.”
Live your values
Recognizing that the changes you are making are part of the person you want to be can help you sustain your resolutions over the long term, according to Scritchfield.
“A simple way of remembering your values is saying, for example, ‘I want to be the kind of person who enjoys healthy eating. I feel good when I eat at home and I’m saving money and that’s important to me so I’m going to keep doing this,'” she said.
Reflecting on your values in the moment, more specifically, will, according to Scritchfield, help you feel the benefits of your new habits faster and encourage you to stay on track.
“Growing your optimism really strengthens your mind’s commitment to continuing the steps,” Scritchfield said. “You want to look at three months down the road. If at the end of January if it feels sustainable, continue it for three more months and then, come springtime, you’ll see, ‘Oh, I don’t have to think about this so much anymore.'”
Don’t set a ‘dead person’s goal’
Scritchfield describes this type of goal as, “Any goal a dead person can do better than you, like, ‘I’ll never eat chocolate cake.'”
“Saying you’re going to eliminate it, unless you truly believe you’ll never have it again and you’ll live a good life without it, is a waste of time,” she said. “Instead, work on a better structure so you know that it will come but a structure that is manageable to you and doesn’t feel like deprivation but feels like a positive change.”
Scritchfield used an example of a person trying to quit drinking soda. Instead of saying you will never again drink soda, develop ways to cut back on soda while increasing a better habit, like drinking water.
“Say, ‘I’m going to carry water with me and I’m going to fill it up twice before I drink a soda,” she said. “Or, ‘I want to limit my soda to one a day after lunchtime and I want to make sure I have two full waters before I do that.'”
For those who would like to increase their water intake, Scritchfield gave a tip she uses in her own life.
“I put rubber bands on my water bottle,” she said. “I add one each time I finish a bottle.”
Write it down and be flexible
Writing down your New Year’s resolutions, your motivation and your plan for action help solidify your commitment, experts say.
“Make sure it’s written down, not just in your head,” said Dr. Marcelo Campos, a practicing physician and lecturer at Harvard Medical School. “Post it on your fridge or your wall to remind yourself about the commitment you made.”
“With anything that we do in life, it’s a good idea to have things written down that we can track over time,” he said, adding that goals should be specific and measurable.
Writing down your resolutions and action plan can also help you share it with others, which experts say is another key for long-term success.
“Make sure you have that support system in place so there is someone in the beginning who can help you hold you accountable while giving you sound advice, and that may be the help of dietitian or doctor,” Feller said. “Choose who you’re going to listen to.”
After making a plan and implementing it, also be flexible if the plan is not working for you.
“If someone is doing it on their own and struggling they may need to say, ‘I need to look at a different modality,” Feller said. “If it’s not working, there’s no reason to beat a dead horse.”
Bonus tip: Know that you are worth it
“People need to remember that they’re not defined by their weight or their health status. That doesn’t determine their value or worth,” Feller said. “[New Year’s resolutions] are not improve to your self worth because you are worth it to begin with.”
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