As the new year approaches, making health resolutions may seem like your golden ticket to a better 2023. Yet experts warn that year after year, most people find that their resolutions either fall short of a true transformation, or worse—set their motivation back further than ever. That’s why, before you make any grand plans to overhaul your health this January, it’s important to consider which popular promises have the worst track records on file and strike them from your list.
Many experts agree you’ll see the most sustainable results by making smaller, more measurable commitments. Ryan Haddon, a life coach and head of programming at Sage + Sound’s The Study says the first step is to acknowledge what’s already working for you and build from there. “The new year is a great time to simply tweak what’s off-center and realign what’s already well underway,” she tells Best Life. “Take an honest look at what’s working and what’s out of balance by doing a personal inventory, and then outline decisive action around small ways to create big wins for yourself.”
Wondering if your own health resolutions will kick your new year off on the wrong foot? Read on to learn six popular health resolutions that are not worth making—and what to do instead.
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Becoming more mindful of your calorie consumption can be a helpful tool toward a healthier relationship with food. However, if you’ve decided to slash your calories dramatically as part of a New Year’s transformation, your plan could prove detrimental to your health.
“While it’s true that a low-calorie diet aids in weight loss, eating too few calories can be counterproductive,” says Sony Sherpa, MD, a holistic physician and writer at Nature’s Rise, an organic wellness company. “Severely restricting your calorie intake starves your body, forcing it to hold on to fat stores and making it difficult to lose weight. It can also lead to other problems, including fatigue, irritability, and nutrient deficiencies,” she warns. Instead, she recommends following a balanced diet that includes a variety of nutrient-dense foods. “You can also talk to your doctor or a registered dietitian about the number of calories you should be eating each day,” she suggests.
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Eating more whole foods is a worthwhile endeavor, but no one can “eat clean” 100 percent of the time. In fact, most experts warn against making any diet resolution that requires you to be 100 percent consistent, rather than making concessions for comfort foods you can enjoy in moderation.
“Skip the strict, unnecessary, and often unattainable goals,” says Meghan Stoops, RD, a registered dietician for Naked Nutrition. “For example, instead of setting a goal to cut out cookies forever so that you can lose weight, adjust that goal to make better choices when you have a sweet tooth. It’s much more realistic to choose smaller goals that will eventually bring you to the place you want to be. Make them S.M.A.R..T., which is specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely,” says Stoops.
Though losing weight or maintaining a healthy weight can be a boon to your health, experts warn that focusing on the scale can quickly backfire.
“Don’t get me wrong, weight loss is a good goal. It’s just one that needs to be broken down into several different behavior changes if you really want to be successful,” says Caroline Grainger, ISSA Certified Personal Trainer at FitnessTrainer Personal Trainer Certification. “Sustained and sustainable weight loss is best accomplished through manageable changes to your diet and increasing your physical activity. If you try to do all of that at once, you have too much room to wiggle out of your goal. Make your resolution about one aspect of your diet or exercise routine if you really want it to stick. The weight loss will follow,” she says.
Gabriela Rodríguez Ruiz, MD, PhD, FACS, a board-certified bariatric surgeon at VIDA Wellness and Beauty adds that setting unrealistic body goals can be “damaging to your mental and physical health.” That’s why she recommends setting realistic expectations, and creating resolutions that focus on building self-worth, such as exercising regularly for your mental well-being and self care.
Quitting smoking is one of the single best things you can do for your health: it drastically increases your life expectancy by slashing your risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and more, the CDC says. However, experts warn that choosing to quit smoking as your New Year’s resolution may set you up for failure if you’re not truly prepared to make a change.
“Unless your physician says you must quit during the holidays, the holiday season is more stressful and emotional for people,” Sandy Valino Stock, DO, MBA, a family practitioner and founder of EnVogue Med & Wellness tells Best Life. “So, to add on the extra stress of quitting smoking may make it harder for some to cope. If you had the whole year to quit, why quit at this time? Chances of success are lower and if you fail, you may disappoint yourself and be less inclined to try quitting again in the future,” she explains.
If you are planning to quit as part of a resolution, make sure you lay the groundwork for success. “The best way to quit smoking is with a combination of medication and counseling,” says Maher Karam-Hage, M.D., medical director of the Tobacco Treatment Program at MD Anderson Cancer Center. “They both help. But you double your chances by using both compared with one of them,” he writes for their site.
If your goal for the new year is next-level fitness, experts agree that the key is to set specific, measurable goals surrounding physical activity. While joining a gym may be a vehicle to achieve those sorts of goals, it’s not an end in itself, they warn.
“Don’t make your resolution something generic like joining a gym. Make it around the activity itself,” says Shelby Lane, CPT, a personal trainer and co-founder of Bellabooty Fitness. “Commit to working out or doing something active a certain amount of times a week. Having a gym membership won’t do anything without a plan,” she adds.
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Oftentimes, resolutions that appear to be about other aspects of our lives can have a profound effect on our health as well. Case in point: the resolution to “be more productive.” Elissa Epel, PhD, a professor and vice chair in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the University of California, San Francisco says that this popular resolution can take a toll on our health and wellbeing by adding unnecessary stressors.
“Doing less may seem counterintuitive, but it can actually have a huge positive impact on your mental health. When you’re constantly trying to do more and be more, you may feel overwhelmed, stressed, and burnt out,” she explains. “However, when you focus on doing less, you allow yourself the time and space to rest, recharge, and reconnect with what truly matters to you.”
Epel says that by prioritizing the activities that bring you joy and fulfillment and letting go of the ones that don’t, you’ll likely see improvements in your health. “Put simply, do less,” she advises.