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Dear Robin: How Do I Stick To My New Year’s Weight Loss Resolution, Again?

Monday, January 05, 2015


Dear Robin,

Once again I find myself making a New Year’s resolution to lose weight. My question for you is pretty simple: how do I keep this resolution? Every year I lose focus about two weeks in and go back to my old habits.

This year is different because I have a 30th high school reunion coming up in July and I don’t want my old friends to see that the skinny pretty girl they knew in high school ended up gaining 50 pounds (I moved away and haven’t seen many of them in years).

Do you have any specific ideas that can help me carry this resolution all the way to July?


Pam in Portland

Dear Pam,

Studies show that sticking to New Year’s resolutions is tough.  When I started thinking about why that may be, I came to a few different conclusions:

1. Many of us are hung over or still drunk when we make our resolutions, so in the cold light of day they seem unachievable, dangerous or stupid. For example, last year I made a resolution to learn how to hang glide. Problem? I’m afraid of heights and I hate flying. And nature.

2. Resolutions tend to be based in the negative. For example, “I want to lose weight.”

That is literally a negative resolution, based in unhappiness and shame and driven by a desire to be smaller.

Instead we should all try to be bigger, and by that I mean more exercise, more thoughtful eating, more consideration of how our health is affected by our lifestyle choices. Rather than centering our goal on losing weight, if we focused on gaining health, mobility, stability, endurance, strength, and happiness we may find more success.

3. New Year’s Resolutions are also set up by their very nature to fail because they are a promise we make to ourselves that we are supposed to faithfully keep for an entire year. If I tell myself I’ll finish my book by December 31, I’ve just given myself an entire year of slacking time.

Much more impact would come from daily, weekly and monthly resolutions, except I don’t like to call them “resolutions.” I prefer to focus on small attainable “goals” that I consistently measure and adjust as needed.

For my book, that means the goal of writing at least one chapter every two weeks. I’ve discovered that dedicating myself to extremely short chapters is the key to my success.

Chapter One consists in total of the following:

“This is my book. Thank you for buying it.”

Chapter Two reads:

“I hope you like my book so far.  Thanks again for buying it.”

It’s going to be a best-seller, especially amongst those who hate reading!

OK, Pam, now let’s get to your advice using my copyrighted, trademarked, patented formula for success:

1. Redefine your stated goal.

Your goal to lose 50 pounds by July should be shifted to becoming healthier for the rest of your life in reasonable increments, achieving a combination of weight loss and medical markers as determined by your doctor.

Such markers can include things like lowered bad cholesterol, body fat percentage and better blood sugar numbers.

Include in your goal finding a buddy with the same goal who can join you in this effort.  Support, camaraderie and accountability are proven elements of achieving difficult tasks, so ask around to see who might like to get in better shape with you.

2. Redefine your motivation.

No offense, but your motivation to lose weight for a high school reunion is lousy. It is based in shame, self-loathing, and fear of being judged by others.

It also happens to be a popular reason people cite when they embark on a weight loss plan, but given the dismal numbers we see for people who lose weight and keep it off, shedding pounds to avoid embarrassment at an event is not great fodder for success.

Your motivation should be making yourself healthier so you can enjoy a longer and happier life with the people you love.

When we emailed a few days ago you told me you have two kids and a husband of 22 years. You described your family life as very happy. You also told me your doctor is concerned about your weight gain (most of which has happened in just the past 3 years) because diabetes and heart disease run in your family.

While I can’t predict the effect these 50 pounds are having and will continue to have on your health, I can make a fairly educated guess that continued weight gain of this magnitude will likely have a very negative effect on your quality of life and the number of years you have with your family.

Of course motivation can come from a desire to look better, but your stated drive is to look good for all those old high school friends you never see any more.  Not only will that not be meaningful and positive enough to keep you going through July, it doesn’t address getting in better shape and staying there.

Do you want to go to all this effort only to gain all the weight back and more after your reunion? Will you send me another letter in 4 1/2 years filled with trepidation about your 35th reunion and asking for advice on how to lose 70 pounds?

3. Redefine your timeline.

The healthiest way to lose weight is slowly, and for women that means around 1-2 pounds per week. If we assume 25 weeks until your reunion, it is certainly possible for you to achieve your goal, but even if you only lose 25 pounds isn’t that a remarkable achievement? And shouldn’t your “timeline” really be from now until the end of your life?

Rather than focusing on the reunion, break your efforts into daily and weekly goals of keeping your promise to exercise more and eat more healthily. This is a marathon, not a sprint, so just focus on each mile marker rather than the finish line.

4. Speak with your doctor and make a plan.

First, I am curious why this gain has happened in three short years.  Your doctor can discuss your history and habits with you and may be able to pinpoint what happened three years ago to trigger this weight increase.

Second, anyone beginning a fitness and/or weight loss program should meet with their physician to ensure they are healthy enough to embark on these changes and to get advice on which methods report the most long-term success rates.

For example, “juice cleansing?” Your doctor will tell you this is a ridiculous approach to weight loss or health.

Alternatively, “500 calories less of food and 500 calories more burned from exercise per day?” Doc will probably say this is a good plan, as it will result in a net calorie deficit of 7,000 calories per week. Since 3,500 calories in or out equals a pound, that simple equation can help you shed 2 pounds per week.

5. Be kind to yourself.

When things go wrong, and they will, pick yourself up and keep going with as little negative self-talk as possible and without throwing your hands in the air and giving up.  If one tire on your car goes flat you don’t slash the other three, so don’t turn your disappointment at eating that slice of cake into abandoning your plan altogether.

On the positive side, set up a schedule for rewarding yourself at certain milestones in your journey. For example, every time you achieve a 5 pound loss or a positive change in your medical markers treat yourself to something nice.

No, not an ice cream sundae and a rib eye.  Earrings, maybe?

I’m sure the readers would love to hear more from you along your journey so please keep us posted.  Best of luck!

Former Portland lawyer and current Portland big mouth Robin DesCamp is the Velvet Sledgehammer of Truth, smashing through socially acceptable niceties to tell you how to live your life, and why. She blogs at www.askdescamp.com. Write to her at [email protected]. Photo credit: Andrea Doolittle


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