Should You Make New Year's Resolutions?

One registered dietitian never makes resolutions. Here’s why.

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Early in the holiday season, often as soon as Thanksgiving has passed, many of us start making plans for New Year's Eve. And then almost automatically, it's on to New Year's resolutions for the upcoming year. Personally, I never make even one resolution. I'd go as far as saying I have a problem with them—maybe because almost everyone who makes New Year's resolutions fails to see them through.

I decided to look up the definition of resolution, thinking that perhaps it's a word that's misunderstood or misused. According to the dictionary, it can be defined as a decision, determination, or solution. So why is it that people feel they need to wait for a certain date to begin making healthy changes? Maybe they're confusing "resolution" with procrastination, which is defined as delaying, putting off, or postponing.

Let's be honest—most healthy changes could be made now, rather than next month. Today, December 20, sounds like a good day to me. Maybe the problem has to do with deciding to make too many changes at the beginning of the year, or biting off more than you can chew, and getting frustrated when it's too much to keep up. 

If you're convinced you want to make resolutions, go about it like this: 

1. Determine why you need to make a change. Do you need to lose weight to fit into your favorite jeans? To lower your cholesterol or prevent a chronic disease? Whatever the reason, it can be unique to you, with no judgments. If you don't have a strong reason for making a change, you'll most likely find many reasons not to adhere to it. 

2. Create a goal. If weight loss is your goal, decide on a realistic total amount, and then break it down into weeks. For example, if you need to lose 20 pounds, commit to losing one pound per week for 20 weeks. That way, when you don't drop 20 pounds in January—which isn't realistic—you won't feel like a failure. 

3. Make a plan that includes many steps. It's one thing to say you'll lose weight in 2013. That's great, but how are you going to do it? Maybe you need to start eating breakfast (step 1); bringing a snack to work to avoid the vending machine (step 2); turning the TV off earlier and going to bed instead of raiding the refrigerator (step 3); and joining a gym or trying yoga class instead of lounging on the couch (step 4). 

4. Record your efforts. Whether it's a food journal, fitness journal, or even a sleep journal, write down what you're doing every day, be it positive or negative. If you monitor your actions, you can easily identify your successes and/or failures, which will help you stay motivated. Keeping yourself accountable for your actions is key to success. 

If you fall off track at any time, get yourself back up immediately. You don't need to wait until January 2014 to try again. Remember that a resolution—also known as a decision—can be incorporated into your life just as easily in March, June,or August. And when the holidays roll around again next year, you can focus your thoughts on New Year's eve plans, and not the resolutions that need to follow. 

Hungry for more? Write to eatandrun@usnews.com with your questions, concerns, and feedback. 

Keri Gans, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian, media personality, spokesperson, and author of The Small Change Diet. Gans's expert nutrition advice has been featured in Glamour, Fitness, Health, Self and Shape, and on national television and radio, including The Dr. Oz Show, Good Morning America, ABC News, Primetime, and Sirius/XM Dr. Radio.