Psychology and food expert on how to keep resolutions and stay focused on health

Assistant Professor of Psychology Kaylie Carbine researches how our brain and cognition play a role in our eating habits and decisions. She shares her expertise on how to stay true to new year resolutions without self-punishment or negativity.

She is available for interview.

Common pitfalls for resolutions involving diet/exercise

Two common pitfalls with diet and exercise resolutions are trying to change too much at once and expecting to see results too quickly.

Many people start their resolutions very motivated and, consequently, will significantly restrict their food intake or exercise at significantly higher level. With such a drastic change, your body can’t maintain that routine and will start to compensate—you will crave the sweet, fatty foods you are avoiding and your body will be exceptionally tired. Instead, still make improvements in your diet and exercise, but give yourself “breaks”—have a small piece of chocolate at night or a piece of cake on the weekend and give yourself a rest day. This will help you maintain your diet or exercise resolutions, and maintenance is one of the biggest predictors of success.

People also want to lose weight and build muscle fast, and when these happen slower than expected, we can lose motivation. Remember, healthy weight loss is about 1-2 pounds a week, and you have a better chance at maintaining that weight loss at this rate. Be patient with yourself, and some days you may slip up. That’s okay, just keep going the next day.  

How to make a resolution positive, rather than a self-punishment

If you’re struggling to keep going with your resolution because it feels like a punishment, pair it with something you love. Watch your favorite tv show or listen to your favorite podcast while walking. Have a salad with your favorite burger. Don’t completely cut out your favorite things, because your body and mind will “crave” those things they are missing. Give yourself moments to do and eat the things you love while trying to make improvements each day. Focusing on the real “why” for your resolution (“I want to have more energy to run around with my kid” or “I want my body to feel better”) can also give you something positive to look forward to and reduce the feelings of punishment.

How to stay focused on health rather than weight

Try to measure your goal in other ways besides the number on the scale. Maybe your goal is to do a few more push-ups at the end of the month, or be less out of breath walking up the hill. Maybe it’s your stomach feels better at night, or some clothes fit a little looser. Also, focus on the positive feelings you have or the memories you make when making a healthier choice. Maybe you had more energy after a run than you did a few weeks ago. Maybe you made a fun but healthy meal together with a family member or went on a walk with a dear friend you wanted to catch up with. These feelings and memories can also help make your goal or resolution a positive thing than a punishment.


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