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Why Most New Year's Resolutions Fail by February & How To Make Yours Sustainable, According to Dietitians

Making New Year's resolutions you can keep isn't such an impossible feat, thanks to this expert advice.
FACT CHECKED BY Jordan Powers Willard

With 2023 approaching, you might be wondering whether or not you'll pick up a new healthy habit. Despite knowing how many resolutions fail after the new year begins, we also know that having a clean slate feels so good when we are trying to make a change. You may need to take a more strategic approach when deciding on the right New Year's resolutions for you in order to make a commitment with real potential staying power.

"Work smarter not harder," advises Elyse Krawtz, MS, RDN, CSOWM, LD. "Before setting a resolution, gather a few weeks of data about your current habits without changing anything. Without this step, you have no real baseline evidence that you can use to inform your goals or measure your progress."

To better understand why so many of us have a hard time keeping our resolutions, as well as how to choose a beneficial resolution that's worth keeping, we consulted dietitians for their expert insight. Keep reading to find out their suggestions for how to not give up on your New Year's resolution, and instead, ensure that any new quality habits you attempt to develop actually stick.

'Damp' January Might Be Better Than Dry January, Says Dietitian

Be realistic

We spoke to many dietitians, and they all agreed that first and foremost, you have to be realistic with the resolution goal you intend to set.

"Don't try to be perfect on day-one by giving yourself unrealistic goals. Unrealistic goals—like losing 15 pounds in one week or getting abs overnight—will set yourself up for failure," shares Karolin Saweres MS, RDN, LD, owner of My Nutrition & Me. "Make sure to keep your goals realistic and sustainable."

While it's tempting to overhaul everything come January 1, the research shows that you will be so much more likely to keep up with new habits if you consider how realistic it is to implement them. Ask yourself, "Can I see myself doing everything I'm doing today on December 31 of this year?"

"One of the top reasons I see health resolutions fail is trying to change too much too quickly," Sarah Anzlovar, MS, RDN, LDN, intuitive eating dietitian for Moms at Sarah Gold Nutrition tells Eat This, Not That! "Rather than trying to overhaul your entire diet and exercise plan, focus on one new healthy habit you want to add to your life and practice is until it feels easy or natural."

Make a plan

2023 goal, plan, and action on notepad

Benjamin Franklin famously said, "Failing to plan is planning to fail."  This is definitely the case when it comes to leveraging the new year as an opportunity to proactively change your habits. Once you've decided on a realistic goal that you feel confident you can achieve, it's time to make a plan.

"One of the biggest reasons resolutions often fail is not having a solid plan in place to reach the goal," advises Melissa Mitri, MS, RD. "For example, if your goal is 'more exercise,' but you haven't consider what type of exercise you'll do or when you'll actually do it, it'll be less likely to happen on a regular basis."

"When you set your resolution, write down exactly how and when you will work on this goal, so you can determine if it's an achievable goal for you," adds Mitri.

Having a plan in place is the best way to set yourself up for success by ensuring you can realistically implement your goals. It's also important that your plans are not too rigid and allow for some flexibility.

"It's so important to avoid the 'all or nothing' mentality," says Haley Bishoff, RDN, owner of Rūtsu Nutrition in Las Vegas. "Don't expect perfection, because habit change takes hard work. Allow yourself the lenience to pick up where you left off with your goal in mind if you get off track. Don't give up completely if you make a mistake."

Find support

Now that you've created your realistic goal and made a plan, the next step to solidifying an effective New Year's resolution is to to find support.  Support might mean having a sense of accountability with family and friends, hiring a dietitian or a personal trainer, or creating a new environment at home that makes it easier to continue with your goals. Although a critical step for long-term success, so many of us skip it, but doing so could potentially result in a recipe for failure.

"The lack of a supportive environment can be a hindrance to achieving resolutions. It's important that these factors don't pull you backward into old habits," explains Christina Badaracco, MPH, RDN, LDN.

"Surround yourself with friends, family, and coworkers whose actions align with what you want to do in the future," advises Badaracco. "Fill your space at home, work, and school with positive reinforcements, such as written reminders of your goals and reading material that aligns with them."

Another dietitian, Dani Lebovitz, MS, RDN, CSSD, CDCES, food literacy expert and founder of Kid Food Explorers, notes a recent experiment studying the effectiveness of New Year's resolutions found that people who have an accountability partner for social support and approach-oriented goals.

"Resolutions often fail because people don't have a support system while they are trying to eliminate an undesired outcome or behavior," says Dani Lebovitz, MS, RDN, CSSD, CDCES, food literacy expert and founder of Kid Food Explorers. Additionally, she notes that a recent experiment studying the effectiveness of New Year's resolutions found that people who have an accountability partner for social support and "approach-oriented" goals were more likely to succeed in fulfilling their New Year's resolution compared to those with "avoidance-oriented" goals.

To find success with 2023 resolutions, find a support system to keep you motivated and create goals with a positive outcome," Lebovitz says.

Caroline Thomason, RDN
Caroline is a women's health Registered Dietitian and diabetes educator based in Northern Virginia. Read more about Caroline
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