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It’s that time of year again – time for New Year’s Resolutions. Woo-hoo!Fortune Cookie with Fortune

{Cue hopeful music.}

Are you a resolution-maker?

Research from the University of Scranton (via Statistic Brain) indicates that almost half of Americans usually make New Year’s resolutions. The number one resolution is to lose weight.

Resolutions are a hot topic this time of year. Just today (I’m writing this in mid-December) I read reporters’ requests for experts to comment on these topics:

  • How to Make (and Keep) A New Year’s Resolution
  • Clean Eating for the New Year
  • New Year’s Fitness Resolutions
  • Ways to Help a Cat Shed Pounds

Now the cats are being dragged into our body obsession, too.

A new year brings a time of reflection and hope. Hope for a bikini body. (Apparently, this hope goes for your pet cat, as well).

New Year clockSo how many people are successful with their resolutions?

{Hopeful music swells.}

Eight percent.

Well, that’s pretty bleak.

Maybe everyone’s New Year’s resolution should be to stop making resolutions. That would be interesting, since the $62 billion weight-loss industry depends on misplaced hope.

You might read articles on the high rate of resolution failure, including for weight loss. Typically, the blame goes to the resolution-maker for failing to follow through. It is often true that it is difficult to stick to many diet/weight-loss plans, but that’s not the whole story. Even those who stick to a weight-loss plan often fail to achieve their goals because diets work against your body’s built-in mechanisms for weight regulation.

To me, New Year’s resolutions feel like a supersize version of “I’ll start to eat clean Monday.” Or, “On Monday, I will start my new weight loss plan.”

New Year’s Day is everybody’s big Monday.

According to John Norcross and his colleagues* at the University of Scranton, most people do not succeed with their resolutions. However, those who make resolutions typically do ten times better than those who don’t. But again, the success rate was only eight percent, including the successful folks. This study only followed people for six months, so it would be interesting to see if they shifted their mindset in some way that helped over the long haul. The odds are stacked against them, as there is a body of research indicating that people who lose weight will regain it over the long term.

One interesting finding of this study is that the people who were more successful used more cognitive strategies, rather than “consciousness-raising strategies” like keeping a picture of blackened lungs to quit smoking. Take-home message: those “thinspirational” and “fitspirational” photos on your fridge don’t help.

So is all hope lost? Not if your goal is to change your relationship with food, rather than trying to lose weight. And you don’t have to wait for January to make a splashy pronouncement that you are going to make changes. You can start anytime.

The main thing is to adjust your beliefs, thoughts, and behaviors related to eating: eating more nutritious food, eating less for emotional reasons, honoring your body’s cues, and removing judgment about “good” and “bad” foods. Oh, and moving in a way you love.

It’s really about changing your relationship with food, rather than focusing on the scale or clothing size.

We often treat weight as the main goal, but it is really a side effect of more health-promoting behaviors. Many people will lose weight when they repair their relationship with food. And some people won’t – but they are still more likely to have better health and higher self-esteem.New Year noisemakers

That sounds pretty good any day of the year.


*Norcross, J.C., Mrykalo, M.S., & Blagys, M.D. (2002). Auld lang syne: Success predictors, change processes, and self-reported outcomes of New Year’s resolvers and nonresolvers. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 58(4), 397-405.