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College of Human Ecology

Staying healthy, keeping New Years resolutions can be achieved

Thursday, February 10, 2005

MANHATTAN -- Shoulda, woulda, coulda. Does this now describe your New Year's resolution?

It doesn't have to, according to kinesiology and nutrition professors at Kansas State University.

As the new year rolls around, many people find themselves making resolutions to lose those extra pounds. Throughout the month of January, gyms are packed with people who think shedding weight can be accomplished with a few workouts. And by February, many of those who resolved to get healthier have left their resolutions far behind.

To keep the motivation up and keep those resolutions realistic, K-State professors said people need to set sensible and measurable goals.

"The biggest problem most people have with resolutions is that they get really motivated initially, then the enthusiasm tends to wane after a couple of weeks," said Craig Harms, associate professor of kinesiology. "It generally takes four to six weeks before you see any appreciable effects of exercise and training. We are a quick-fix society -- four weeks is a long time."

Stewart Trost, assistant professor of kinesiology, said people should first identify the short-term goals that are needed to achieve the long-term ones.

"People start off with way too broad of a goal. Be realistic in setting short-term goals that can be achieved and therefore increase your confidence," Trost said. "For example, someone might say 'Oh, I want to lose weight' -- which is too broad. Perhaps they should say 'My goal is to walk every day for 10 minutes for the next two weeks.'"

Harms said people who want to transform their bodies often rely on scales as the only sign of success. But scales may not be the best way to monitor progress. Instead, people should go by objective measures such as their flexibility and how they feel.

"A scale only tells us weight," Harms said. "It doesn't necessarily tell us changes in our body composition. You may be losing fat, but gaining muscle -- which may not show on the scale."

Both Harms and Trost suggest writing goals down as a way to track progress. Whether it is through a journal or posted notes, people can have a constant reminder of their goals. A food diary, Harms said, can also be a good tool.

"If your goal is weight loss, writing down what you eat can help improve your eating," he said. "When you are forced to write things down, it can change your behavior as well."

Generally, new behaviors take a few weeks to become habit. Around the beginning of February, people start to lose interest in their goals. Therefore, those attempting to keep a resolution need to periodically re-assess where they stand.

"When people start to become bored and disinterested in what they are doing, they start to lapse," said Valentina Remig, assistant professor of human nutrition. "This means that instead of working out everyday, they may just get to it every other day and so forth."

Remig said lapsing is a typical behavior, but it is important to get back on target. To re-energize, people should re-evaluate their original goals. Changing the duration or intensity of the program or even adding a strength component to your workout are ways to continue making progress.

Remig suggests using the Internet to find healthy ideas on food preparation and recipes.

"Have a bi-weekly get-together with friends where everyone brings a healthful offering," Remig said. "That way, if you are with seven friends, you have good ideas for the next week of different foods that you can prepare one-by-one."

Creating a social system can also be beneficial to achieving goals. Whether it is a family member, friend or co-worker, having someone to call upon for support can help increase motivation and confidence.

Aside from goals and written plans, Harms said the most important key to maintaining resolutions is having fun.

"It is just human nature. If it is a drudgery or something you don't enjoy doing, then you are not going to stick with it," Harms said.

This article was posted on Thursday, February 10, 2005, and is filed under College News, Food, Nutrition, Dietetics and Health.