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January 8, 2015 | 4 minute read

Resolve This, Not That

How many times have you earnestly jotted down your New Year’s resolution on January 1, only to completely give up by January 31? If you answer “every year,” you’re not alone. But don’t assume you lack willpower – it’s more likely that your resolutions aren’t setting you up for success.

We’ve collected a list of some of the the least effective New Year’s health resolutions and provided suggestions for better resolutions that will set you up for a healthier new year.

1. Join a gym.

What’s wrong with this? Joining a gym doesn’t mean you’ll actually go. The biggest reason people say they don’t exercise is lack of time. So unless you live or work right next to a gym, taking time to get to the gym may be a stopper all by itself.

Better Resolution: Make a fitness resolution that makes it easy to fit 30 minutes a day of physical activity into your busy life. You could resolve to go for a 30-minute walk after dinner every night, or to take two 15-minute walking breaks every day at work. If you do decide to join a gym, make a plan for when you’ll go and what you’ll do when you’re there.

2. Lose weight.

What’s wrong with this? Weight management is one of the most important ways to reduce your cancer risk, but resolving to lose weight without a specific plan for how you’re going to do it is unlikely to succeed.

Better Resolution: Think about your eating habits and how you can tweak them for weight management. Are you a nighttime snacker? Resolve to have a cup of tea or take a warm bath when you get the munchies. Do you tend to eat a lot of high-fat, high-sugar, energy-dense foods? Resolve to swap out some of these foods for foods with low energy density like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans. Not sure what’s behind your weight gain? Resolve to keep a food diary and make an appointment with a registered dietitian for advice.

Sign up for AICR’s free online weight loss program for additional ideas and support: The New American Plate Challenge: 12 Weeks to a Healthier You.

3. Go paleo or gluten-free.

What’s wrong with this? There’s not evidence that following either of these latest fad diets will, by themselves, help you lose weight or improve your health for the long term. What’s the point of giving up foods you love if there’s no evidence it will benefit you? (One caveat: Following a gluten-free diet is a must if you have celiac disease.)

Better Resolution: Resolve to make healthy changes with solid evidence behind them, such as cutting back on processed and red meat or eating more plant foods. Set specific, achievable goals like eating at least one serving of fruits or vegetables at each meal, limiting 3 ounce portions of red meat to 3 times per week, or trying a new recipe from AICR’s Healthy Recipes once a week.

4. Give up sweets.

What’s wrong with this? This resolution isn’t achievable. You can cut out added sweets for a day or even a week, but who wants to give up dessert for the rest of their life? At some point you’re going to give in to that chocolate bar or cookie, and then you’ll feel like you failed.

Better Resolution: Limit yourself to a modest serving of a dessert or other treat two to three times a week. This will allow you to enjoy the occasional treat without adding to your waistline.

5. Run a marathon.

What’s wrong with this? Nothing, if you’re already a long distance runner. But if you’re a couch potato who can’t run a mile, you need a smaller goal that you can work toward first. Otherwise, you could hurt yourself or get discouraged.

Better Resolution: Resolve to start running 5 or 10 minutes a day, increasing your running time by a few minutes each week. Or sign up for a 5k and find a running plan for beginners that will help you build up gradually. Once you complete the 5k, start setting your sights on longer distances. AICR has reviewed health apps that can help you get started.

For more information on what makes a good resolution: Cancer Prevention Starts with Goals

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