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Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Set realistic goals for weight-loss resolutions

Each January, millions of people make resolutions to change their eating habits. Many have good intentions; unfortunately, few succeed in making long-term changes.

One problem is that people set unrealistic goals. Trying to lose 30 pounds in the next two months is hardly feasible. The recommended rate of weight loss is about 1 pound per week.

Vowing to give up your favorite foods and eat an entirely different way also is unrealistic. Our eating habits are something we have "practiced" for many years. Drastic changes are usually short-lived.

When making nutrition-related New Year's resolutions, it's best to proceed in a "step-wise" fashion.

The first step is to identify your overall goal.

Goals should be specific; they also should be something you can measure, such as pounds on a scale, days of physical activity per week, or number of servings of fruits and vegetables you consume daily.

After deciding on a goal, write down on an index card all the reasons why you want to meet this goal. Carry it in your wallet to remind yourself of all of the positive benefits of achieving your goal.

In order to make your resolution a reality, the next step is to identify specific behaviors that will help you to reach your overall goal.

For example, if you're trying to lose weight, you might need to cut down on portion sizes, start a walking program or limit desserts. Break your overall goal into smaller attainable changes. Select one or two of these smaller goals to work on initially.

Other ideas for step-wise changes include eating more fruits and vegetables, limiting second helpings and drinking more water.

Similar to playing a musical instrument, you can't become a pro the first time you try to play -- it takes practice. To adopt healthier eating habits, it helps to "practice" small changes, master them and then move on.

Give yourself time to get used to the new behavior so it feels comfortable, then select additional changes to work toward.

Often, trying to do something different than usual requires more thought and effort. Until the new behavior becomes a habit, it helps to take steps to remind yourself to make the change.

For example, if your resolution is to start exercising more, a week could easily go by without you setting aside time to do this, especially if you had previously been inactive. To keep the new goal on your radar, it's helpful to actually make appointments on your day planner or calendar.

The first week you might schedule a trip to the gym and two walks after dinner. As you feel comfortable, increase the frequency of exercise so you're doing something as many days a week as possible.

Making an appointment for yourself puts the goal at the same level of importance as a meeting at work or a doctor's appointment. You may be less likely to miss it if it's written down on your schedule.

As you make progress, reward yourself for your efforts. Try to relate the reward to your healthier behavior and stay away from food rewards.

Trying to change too much too fast can get in the way of success. Modest healthy changes, however, can add up to positive lifelong habits.

Marianne Carter, a registered dietitian and director of the Delaware Center for Health Promotion, has a nutrition practice in Newark. Her column appears biweekly. Contact health@ delawareonline.com or Weigh In, Box 15505, Wilmington, DE 19850. Although mail cannot be answered personally, readers' questions may be dealt with in future columns.

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