It’s that time of year again. The holidays have passed and people settle back into their routines—and come face-to-face with their New Year’s resolutions. A lot of people have made resolutions, too. In fact, a study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology says that about 50 percent of Americans make resolutions each New Year. Among the top-ranked resolutions are weight loss, exercise, stopping smoking, better money management and debt reduction. Unfortunately, most of those lofty resolutions fail—including weight loss—to the tune of about a 78 percent failure rate.
Researchers looked into the success rates of people’s resolutions and found not-so-impressive results. They observed that the first two weeks into the new patterns or habits go along smoothly. By February, the enthusiasm for change starts to wane. By December, most people are right back where they started from or are even in worse shape than when they started.
So, how do we stop the madness and finally reach our goals? Timothy Pychyl, a professor of psychology at Carleton University in Canada, says that resolutions are often an effort to “reinvent oneself.” He says that people make resolutions to motivate themselves, but if people aren’t ready to change their habits—particularly bad habits—then the resolution will most likely fail.
Making resolutions means changing behaviors and that requires changing your thinking to “rewire” your brain. Brain scientists have noted in MRIs that habitual behaviors occur through thinking patterns that create neural pathways and memories—which become the default basis for behavior when faced with a choice or decision. And get this. . . trying to change that default thinking by “not trying to do it,” just strengthens it and almost ensures that you’re going to fall back into that unwanted behavior, like overeating. The truth is that if you want change, then you have to create new neural pathways from new thinking.
That’s only part of the answer, though. The brain is also instrumental in a person’s weight by the chemicals, or neurotransmitters, it produces. Take serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine, for example. Those brain chemicals need to be balanced or weight can be a problem. Likewise, the brain houses the pituitary gland, which serves as the central commander of endocrine function by sending out signals to glands throughout the body to release different hormones that can directly affect your eating habits and weight.
So, if you want to stick to your resolution—particularly to lose weight—then here are some suggestions for attaining your goals this year:
- Set specific—and realistic—goals. For example, target reasonable and identifiable weight loss, like shedding 15 pounds in 6 months. Don’t have generalized goals like saying that “you just want to lose weight.” Be specific, and go after your goals.
- Celebrate along the way. Don’t wait until you’ve reached your ultimate goal to celebrate it or you might get discouraged.
- Have an accountability partner. It’s more fun to join forces with someone else, and you’ll be more likely to stick to your goals.
- Be sure you focus on new behaviors and thought patterns. That’s how you make new neural pathways in your brain, which will ultimately change your behavior.
- Eat a diet that healthily feeds your brain. Include plenty of healthy proteins, fresh organic veggies and fruits and lots of fresh, pure water. Avoid processed and conventional foods as well as foods high in unhealthy sugars or carbs.
By doing all these things, you could be well on your way to winning the weight wars—especially the one that begins in your brain.