6 June 2024

Every New Year, most of us make resolutions that will help us change for the better. Unsurprisingly, after over-indulging during the festive season, many of these resolutions involve improving our diets, losing weight and exercising more.

However, keeping these health-related resolutions is much harder than making them. A study shows that half of us who make New Year’s weight loss resolutions drop them after the first couple of weeks.

“Making weight loss a New Year’s resolution is tough. There’s so much pressure during this time to lose weight. The weeks around New Year are both festive and feast-heavy, with parties and celebrations that include high caloric intake, unhealthy food and alcohol. And most people don’t exercise much during this period,” said Thanit Vinitchagoon, a lecturer at Mahidol University’s Institute of Nutrition who specializes in nutrition interventions, communication and behaviour changes.

He was speaking last month at a seminar organized by the Institute on why New Year’s weight loss resolutions are rarely achieved. Not only did he share the reasons why such resolutions are difficult to sustain, but also offered techniques for beating the odds and setting a goal that can be achieved and maintained.

“Actually, if you didn’t succeed in your weight loss resolutions, there’s nothing wrong with you,” he added.

Weight, he explained, involves several factors, such as social determinants, nutrition, exercise and insulin resistance, not all of which are always within our control.

Keeping motivation high

The expert noted that most people failed to meet their weight loss resolutions due to a lack of motivation and a clear plan that has a specific goal to achieve success.

Motivation is key to achieving a goal, Thanit said, adding that people need to keep it high if they want to shed some kilograms.

He suggested people who want to lose weight adopt tasks that satisfy them so that they can stick with them for some time.

“When you try your best to do the things you think are necessary to achieve the goals you’ve set for yourself and don’t see any improvement, you feel discouraged and disappointed. And you’re likely to quit and resume your old habits,’ Thanit said.

More importantly, the methods you’ve picked should be easy to adapt to your lifestyle to avoid negative feedback, he noted.

“You love carbs as they fill up your stomach. But you decide to pick a low-carb diet, which is a popular regime. That’s a ticking time bomb,” he said.

Thanit noted that resolutions that are derived from internal motivation have a higher likelihood of success, explaining that internal motivation comes from within while external motivation is driven by outside factors.

If individuals are intrinsically motivated, they are engaged in behavioral changes because they enjoy doing the tasks or they find them satisfying. But if they are extrinsically motivated, they carry them out as they hope to earn a reward or avoid punishment.

“For example, children eat more vegetables to avoid being scolded by their parents. Some women, especially young women, decide to lose weight because they feel social pressure to be thin. Those drives come from outside, not from within themselves. They are not dieting for pleasure and haven’t involved any activities that fulfill them. The success they achieve may not be lasting,” he said.

Thanit said people also need to turn the resolutions into a specific, measurable goal.

“You’ve decided to increase your intake of vegetables that contain filling fibre to help you lose weight. That sounds great. But, what does ‘increasing intake of vegetables to your meals’ actually mean? What’s a better goal? Let’s say ‘add vegetables’ to five meals a week. That’s a specific, measurable goal,” he said.

Most importantly, people with a positive mindset are more likely to achieve their goals than those with a negative one, he said, referring to a study.

People should stay focused on the positive aspects of their goals as it can help reduce stress and enable them to get things done with ease and enjoyment.

“For example, if you want to lose weight, you should aim to ‘increase’ water intake rather than ‘cut down’ or ‘cut out” sugary soda drinks. Or you can ‘add’ vegetables to your meals rather than ‘lower’ fatty food or ‘add’ brown rice rather than ‘reduce’ white rice,” he said.

It’s equally important to be aware of the triggers that can make you crave the foods you are trying to manage, Thanit noted.

“If you find yourself stopping at a shop that you go past on your way home from work to buy a sugary drink, just change the routine and go a different way to avoid your trigger,” he said.

Hanging out with like-minded people who have a positive mindset and a healthy lifestyle can also help you achieve your goals, Thanit said.

“Look for someone who shares your resolutions and work towards your goals together. They can help you stay on track,” he said.

On top of that, reward yourself when you achieve a goal to make you feel proud of your accomplishments.

“Treat yourself. You can reward yourself without food. Buy something you’ve been wanting to own,” he said.

Feeling good is good enough

To bring dieting more under your control, Thanit suggests breaking down big goals into smaller, more achievable steps and trying to focus your resolutions on actions and activities that serve your intention to feel good.

“If you stick with the goals you can control, the chance of success is high. This year, you could perhaps aim to play badminton with your child every day. The game is enjoyable and it’s good exercise too. You will hardly notice you are working out. And it will make you both feel happy, be active and stay well. That would be good enough,” Thanit said.

By Thai PBS World Feature Desk