New Year’s resolutions are a tradition for many people as they reflect on the past year and look for ways to improve the next. The most common resolution by far is to “lose weight” and “get healthier,” but how many people actually stick to their resolution?

Losing weight is an admirable, and often necessary, resolution. By losing weight, you may reduce the health problems associated with obesity including high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, certain types of cancer, and osteoarthritis. While it is easy to get lost in the chase for the desirable end result, it is important to start your resolution in a reasonable manner to increase long term progress and overall health.

The most important step to achieving your New Year’s resolution is to set realistic goals. Making goals for a healthy lifestyle, not a specific number of lost pounds, results in changes you’ll stick with. For example, a goal of “taking daily walks” is more positive and long-term than “lose ten pounds.”

People often plunge into weight loss head first and take drastic steps to drop the pounds. This unsafe approach may lead to health problems, negative self image, and burn out. If a diet or work out plan sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Skip programs that promote unsafe detoxification pills, laxatives, and fasting. Always avoid any program that promises weight loss of more than two to three pounds per week.

Cutting calories is an obvious step in weight loss; however, cutting too many calories is counterproductive. When you cut calories, you lose fat, but also muscle, which can slow your metabolism and make it more difficult to increase exercise intensity or duration. Instead of cutting calories, be picky about what calories you consume. The idea is to eat more of the most efficient and useful calories. Fill up on lean protein and fiber that fuel the body while minimizing starches, added sugars and animal fat from meat and dairy. One easy way to lower sugar intake quickly is to cut back on beverages other than water and unsweetened ice tea. Avoid switching to diet soda, which studies show triggers sugar cravings and contributes to weight gain.

Just as dieting too much, too fast is harmful, jumping into an exercise regimen can be just as risky. It is best to talk to a physician before starting any program, especially if you are diagnosed with any chronic conditions. Be realistic in your work out plans -- a couch potato will not turn into a marathon runner overnight. If you hurt yourself early on, you will not be able to continue your work out plans. Three ten minute spurts of exercise per day are just as good as one 30-minute workout. An easy way to get your ten minutes in is taking the stairs instead of the elevator and parking in the back of the parking lot. Every bit helps, and these minor lifestyle changes will have long lasting health effects.

An important step in safely achieving your long term New Year’s resolution is to monitor your progress. Look at your goals often and determine if they need tweaking. It’s okay to change your goal. No one is perfect, and the idea is for the goal to be achievable. Don’t rely just on the number on the scale to benchmark your progress. Use photographs and measurements to see the actual progress your body is making. Muscle weighs more than fat, and fat often redistributes throughout the body with activity. How you look and feel is a much better indicator of your progress than the number on a scale.

Losing even 5 to10% of your total body weight is likely to produce health benefits such as improved blood pressure, blood cholesterol, and blood sugars. Overall health is a lifestyle and not a quick stop fix. Taking a long-term, realistic approach to your weight loss will give you a greater chance of achieving your goal and living a healthier life.

To learn more about achieving and maintaining a healthy weight, visit the CDC's  website.

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