Why New Year’s resolutions fail

Why New Year’s resolutions fail

We all know the drill — another year, another set of New Year’s resolutions that somehow end up on the scrap heap. Georgia Rickard talks to the experts to find out why so many resolutions fail.

The problem with New Year’s resolutions

Most of us would love to lose a couple of kilos (or more than a couple!), and the beginning of a new year is a common time to kick-start those weight-loss goals, says Dr Laura Corbit, a psychologist at University of Sydney. She says this is partly because people tend to stop and take stock of what changes they might want to make — “and partly because it’s summer!”

Yet as many of us know all too well, weight-related New Year’s resolutions don’t always quite succeed. Why? Well, it’s not the resolutions themselves. Research published in the International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders has shown that goal setting can make a big difference to your diet and fitness habits. The problem, says Corbit, lies with the way we set our goals.

Here are three of the most common goal-setting mistakes we make — and easy steps to fix them.

1. You’re not specific enough

Most of us know that we need to make our goals specific — but the problem with weight-loss goals, says Trudy Williams, an Australian dietitian and award-winning author of the This=That series, is that we often don’t get specific enough.

“It’s not enough to only focus on the end-point of weight-loss,” she explains. “If your goal is, ‘I want to lose 3kg by the end of the month’ then you’ve got no feedback on how things are progressing until it’s possibly too late!”


Williams recommends breaking your goal down into ‘mini-goals’.

“These mini-goals may be around how often you shop for fresh produce, how you manage your serving sizes, how you manage long days at the office, what takeaways you eat, how you de-stress, how much sleep you aim for or how much wine you consume.” Though it might seem pointless to write out and monitor these mini-goals, she says, “…combine them together and you’ve got a powerful recipe for success. It’s a bit like saving money. Alone, $2 doesn’t buy much but pop $2 into a moneybox each day along with some silver coins and by the end of a couple of months you’ve got more than $120 to play with.”

2. You set ‘should’ goals, not ‘want’ goals

“One of the common mistakes people make when setting New Year’s resolutions is listening to external pressures (‘I should lose weight’), rather than to internal motivations (‘I want to have more energy, feel better, choose healthier fuels for my body’),” explains psychologist Dr Dina McMillan. The result, she says, is that “they don’t set the weight-loss goals that really motivate them to succeed.”


“It’s always easier to reach a goal if it’s something you want, not something someone else has told you to do,” McMillan says. She recommends choosing goals that reflect desires not ‘demands’, “and focus on the positive, not the negative — this is key,” she says.

“Instead of saying to yourself, ‘I need to lose weight,’ try ‘I want to feel good in my body’ or ‘I want to fit into my old jeans.’ Putting the ‘want’ into the positive increases your chances of success.”

3. You aim too high

Most of us are way too optimistic about what we are going to achieve (eg. ‘lose 20kg by June’) and, says Corbit, “if you try to change something that’s not realistic to integrate into daily life, it is unlikely that you will be successful in establishing new ‘good’ habits.” This kind of goal-setting really just sets you up for failure, she says — and that makes it harder to stay motivated, lessening your chances of success.


Firstly, plan for setbacks, says McMillan.

“When they happen, realise it’s normal and get right back onto your plan of action.” Secondly, start small. Instead of vowing to exercise six days a week, make your goal a more manageable three times a week. Instead of vowing to eat ‘only low-kilojoule foods’, switch to lower-fat dairy products. Indeed, research published in the Annals of Behavioural Medicine found that people who made small changes to their diet and exercise routine were not only more likely to stick to their new habits but actually lost four times more weight than people who tried to make big adjustments.

“Habits are thought to develop gradually with practice,” agrees Corbit.

Smart swaps to make getting healthier easier

To keep that ‘be healthy’ New Year’s resolution going, the trick is to set everyday, achieveable goals. Sticking to that resolution well into 2012 will be a lot easier with these simple smart swaps from nutritionist Zoe Wilson.

Pantry swaps

Swap: White bread
For: A lower-GI option such as multigrain, rye, soy & linseed or sour dough

Swap: White rice
For: Quinoa, for complete protein and low-GI or brown rice for higher fibre and more vitamins

Swap: Regular flour
For: Wholemeal flour. Two-and-a-half times the fibre — go from nearly 5g fibre to 12g fibre per cup

Swap: Regular beef, chicken or vegetable stock
For: Salt-reduced variety and save 350mg or more sodium per cup

Swap: Regular soy sauce
For: Salt-reduced soy sauce and save up to 400mg or more sodium per tablespoon

Swap: Premade simmer or stir-fry sauces
For: Add lots of herbs and spices and save on extra energy, fat and sodium

Swap: Bulking meals out with extra meat, pasta or rice
For: Legumes (chickpeas, lentils, kidney beans) — with every cup of dried lentils you will add 45g protein and 17g fibre

Breakfast swaps

Swap: Grabbing a muffin and coffee on the way to work
For: Try grabbing a pre-made bircher muesli and yoghurt from the fridge as you run out the door — you can make it up the night before or buy them in the supermarket

Swap: Feeling hungry after only having fruit for breakfast because you’re trying to be ‘good’
For: Add some extra fibre and protein by adding a handful of LSA and a good dollop of yoghurt to some cut-up fruit

Swap: Toast with Marmite
For: Add an egg to increase the protein and fill you for longer

Swap: Toast with butter and jam
For: Toast with 1 tablespoon ricotta cheese and tomato for 1 serve of vegetables and add 2g protein

Swap: Toasted muesli
For: Natural-style muesli to reduce the amount of fat and sugar (and energy) in your bowl

Swap: Spaghetti on toast
For: Baked beans on toast — nearly 5g extra fibre per 150g serve

Swap: Weekend ‘big breakfast’ with fried eggs, sausages and bacon
For: Stuff a wholemeal pita bread with 1 mashed boiled egg, tomato, lean ham and low-fat cheese for a lower-fat option

Lunch swaps

Swap: Buying takeaway lunch because you don’t have anything in the fridge to take to work
For: Keep some cans of tuna and a sachet of pre-cooked rice in your desk and grab some baby spinach on the way to work

Swap: Feeling weighed down after eating a huge sandwich
For: Try using a wholegrain crispbread instead of bread for a lighter option that will still keep you full

Swap: Eating biscuits from the jar in the office because you’ve got no time to get lunch
For: Throw a few frozen meals in the office freezer so you are always prepared

Swap: Skipping lunch completely because you haven’t got time to eat
For: Sip on a meal replacement shake or long-life flavoured milk to keep you going until afternoon

Swap: Eating takeaways so you don’t have to clean up
For: Fill up your lunchbox with finger food — vegetable sticks, trail mixes, fruit, muesli bar, and rice cakes with peanut butter

Dinner swaps

Swap: Traditional salad dressing
For: Drizzle a mix of mustard, lemon juice and chopped herbs or opt for a bottled fat-free dressing

Swap: Overloading on carbohydrate and protein
For: Fill half your plate with vegetables first — you get lots of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fibre and minimal energy

Swap: Serving large pieces of steak or fish for the family
For: 100-150g meat or fish. You will save money, too

Swap: ‘Drizzling’ sauce or oil like Jamie Oliver
For: Measure your sauce/dressing/oil with teaspoons or tablespoons so you can see how much you’re using

Swap: Eating more from the saucepan as you tidy the kitchen
For: Pack extra food away before you eat so you can’t go back for seconds

Swap: Having large plates of food on the table
For: Serve in the kitchen on individual plates to resist the temptation to add an extra spoonful to your plate

Swap: Filling up on the bread before your meal
For: Serve 1 bread portion for each person with their meal, not beforehand. Offer vegetable sticks and hummus instead for an appetiser

Swap: Estimating serves of rice and pasta
For: Use measuring cups to portion out your carbohydrates — aim for 3/4 to 1 cup (cooked)

Swap: Meals with only one colour
For: Brighten your plate up and widen your intake of nutrients with coloured vegetables and fruit

Drink swaps

Swap: Avoiding drinking water because you don’t like it
For: Add some fresh lemon or lime juice or a few sprigs of mint to flavour it

Swap: Always choosing juice, cordial or soft drink
For: Choose water first

Swap: A can of soft drink
For: Choose diet soft-drink instead

Swap: Drinking a glass of wine every night with dinner
For: Have two alcohol-free days a week

Swap: Choosing a full-fat coffee
For: Make it a regular-sized trim flat white to save 270kJ and 7g fat

Swap: Ordering a chocolate thickshake
For: Opt for a low-fat chocolate milk and save a tonne of kilojoules, fat and sugar

Swap: Drinking ready-mixed RTDs
For: Swap for a nip of vodka in a diet lemon lime and bitters and save around 9g sugar and 180kJ

Eating swaps

Swap: Bolting down your food because you’re starving
For: Slow down and take 20-30 minutes to give your body time to register fullness

Swap: Eating in front of the TV
For: Eat at the table — you will eat more mindfully

Swap: Eating in front of your computer or as you’re driving in the car to pick up the kids
For: Make time to eat so you eat mindfully and feel more satisfied

Swap: Eating because it’s that time of the day
For: Before you eat, ask yourself, “Am I actually hungry?”

Swap: Starving yourself during the day then pigging out at night
For: Try to eat regular meals and snacks so you’re hungry by the time dinner comes around but not ready to eat your own fingers

Swap: Eating from large plates
For: Buy smaller crockery — you’ll feel more satisfied with less

Swap: Checking the fridge every time you want a break from your work
For: Go for a brief walk outside instead or stand up and stretch for a few minutes

Snack swaps

Swap: Deciding not to snack because you’re ‘being good’ then getting home and devouring the entire fridge because you’re so hungry
For: Have a small snack at about 4pm – make it substantial enough to keep you going a couple of hours. Try crackers and peanut butter or a small pottle of yoghurt

Swap: Reaching for the biscuit jar at 3pm when you need a break
For: Ask yourself if you’re actually hungry — a quick walk around the office might be a better option to get the brain functioning again

Swap: Brie and crackers before dinner
For: Light cheese on wholegrain crispbread

Swap: Munching on chips while you’re watching the rugby
For: Chop up some veges and munch on them with some hummus or low-fat cottage cheese

Swap: Ice cream or custard for dessert
For: Reduced-fat yoghurt

Swap: Eating half a block of ‘better for you’ chocolate (such as sugar-free or high % cocoa)
For: Choose your favourite and have a little bit but savour it!

Swap: 1 pottle fruit yoghurt
For:  1 pottle light fruit yoghurt can save you around 280kJ and 2 teaspoons sugar

Fridge swaps

Swap: Full-fat dairy: milk, yoghurt, cheese, sour cream, ice cream, custard
For: Reduced-fat dairy: milk, yoghurt and cheese. Save energy and saturated fat without even noticing

Swap: Butter on your toast
For: Reduced-fat spread – reduce saturated fat intake by 2g or more per teaspoon

Swap: Meat with marbling of fat
For: Choose lean meat or meat with visible fat that can be cut off to reduce saturated fat

Swap: Using margarine or spread on sandwiches
For: Use hummus for an extra hit of protein or a little avocado for some heart-healthy fats and great flavour

Swap: Making a salad at each meal
For: Have a salad bar on one shelf — have one large container of ‘base’ salad including lettuce, corn and carrot, and store containers of items such as sliced beetroot, tomato slices, low-fat cheese and onion to mix things up

Swap: Storing treats front and centre
For: Hide tempting foods behind healthier options, tuck them in the back of the fridge or hide them in containers so they’re out of sight

Swap: Throwing away unused veges at the end of the week
For: Swap some fresh veges for frozen. They’re always fresh and available and mean less wastage

Exercise swaps

Swap: Meeting a friend for coffee
For: Meet a friend for a walk around the park

Swap: Driving to work every day
For: Walk or ride to work

Swap: Taking the lift
For: Take the stairs

Swap: Doing the same exercise routine, day in, day out
For: Do interval training

Swap: Only doing cardio for ‘fat burning’
For: Include weights

Swap: Feeling like you’re alone
For: Join a club or sign up for a new sport and meet a new bunch of people

Swap: Exercising only for weight-loss
For: Pick a more positive outcome to train for such as an event like a fun run

Swap: Using the ‘too expensive’ excuse
For: Watch out for cheap outdoor bootcamp or gym trials on coupon websites

Attitude swaps

Swap: Thinking of all the things you aren’t allowed
For: Think about all the yummy things you can do that are better for your body

Swap: Picking a large weight-loss goal, like ‘lose 20 kilos’
For: Break it down into smaller chunks (5kg, for example), and reward yourself with something special when you reach each benchmark

Swap: Being unrealistic with the speed you should be losing weight
For: Give yourself enough time (aim for about 500g-1kg per week)

Swap: Thinking you’ve failed if you’ve had one slip up
For: Get back on the wagon — life is life and it happens and you havejust got to keep going!

Swap: Getting upset when you haven’t lost any weight on the scales
For: Think about other things that you’ve achieved — you may be walking up the stairs more easily or your clothes may feel likethey fit you better

Swap: Creeping back to old habits when your ‘deadline’ is up
For: Set another date for a reason to continue to eat healthily, for example, a special occasion; once this date has past, set another

Author: Georgia Rickard

Healthy Food Guide

First published: Jan 2012

2018-01-11 10:38:21

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