We all know the statistics about how many people set New Year’s resolutions, only to never achieve them. Yet, year after year something about a fresh start entices us to still set new goals and try again. Perhaps our inability to consistently follow through on New Year’s resolutions is because we let our ambitions get the better of us by setting the bar too high or being too rigid and unrealistic with our expectations. Whatever the case, choosing something that’s either hyper-limiting or totally unattainable can be a recipe for picking an unhealthy New Year’s resolution.
Unhealthy New Year’s resolutions often include making extreme diet changes, drastically cutting calories, fixating on a number on the scale, and many more. One major sign that you’ve chosen an unhealthy New Year’s resolution is that it can feel like a drastic departure from your existing lifestyle once you begin proactively incorporating steps toward making this goal a tangible reality into your daily routine. While it is exciting to think about how much could change in a year, experts agree that you should start small when changing habits for your health.
“Make sure that any changes you undertake in the pursuit of weight loss are behaviors you can realistically continue long-term. Otherwise, you can find yourself caught up in a cycle of yo-yo dieting and weight cycling, which actually leads to worse health outcomes,” Alissa Palladino MS, RDN, LD, CPT, tells Eat This, Not That!
The keto diet, Atkins, and the vegan diet are all great examples of diets that eliminate food groups. But whether you’re eliminating carbs, fat, or protein, experts agree that extreme restriction all at once tends to be unsustainable.
“Going vegan tops my list of least healthy New Year’s resolutions. This may come as a surprise, but few people anticipate the sheer dedication one must have to create a well-rounded diet when following a vegan diet,” notes Sharon Puello, MA, RD, CDN, CDCES. “Often, people lack the nutrition knowledge to prevent nutrient deficiencies. Veganism is often marketed as an easy change—’just cut out animal products.’ However, few will seek out a certified nutrition professional to help guide them in this process, and that’s what makes this resolution a particularly hazardous one.”
Similarly, Kelsey Lorencz, RDN, registered dietitian at Graciously Nourished, thinks that diets based on extreme restriction are are harder to stick to in the long run.
“One of the unhealthiest New Years resolutions to make is to give up foods or food groups to be ‘healthier.’ Restricting foods increases the likelihood that once February rolls around, you’ll be binge eating these foods and creating an unhealthy relationship with them,” explains Lorencz. “Instead of giving up and cutting out foods, focus on adding more healthful foods to your diet.”
Most people don’t know this, but one to two pounds of weight loss per a week is considered significant progress. Sometimes, when we venture out on a new diet, we lose a lot of weight quickly in the beginning stages. This helps tremendously with motivation levels, but may set you up for believing that this rate of weight loss will continue forever. Thus, when it inevitably slows down, you may start to feel like giving up.
“People feel discouraged and often give up when their New Year’s resolution is unattainable—for example, losing 20 pounds in a month,” says Brittany Scanniello, RDN, owner of Eat Simply Nutrition. “Instead, opt for more short-term, attainable goals to ultimately meet your long-term goal of weight loss. Examples would be, eliminate soda and other sugary drinks [from your diet], incorporating more exercise at least five days a week, and limit fast food to no more than once a week.”
While having a healthy goal weight may give you a sense of direction, it’s unrealistic to aim to drop a significant amount of weight in accordance with a tight timeline. Weight loss is a doable goal, but to get the results you really want and have them last, you need to be practical, patient, strategic, and committed to maintaining your overall health. This means that crash dieting just won’t cut it.
“One unhealthy New Year’s resolution I commonly see is setting an unrealistic weight loss goal for the upcoming year,” says Mandy Tyler, M.Ed., RD, CSSD, LD, a sports nutritionist. “This can lead to individuals taking extreme measures to cut calories or following fad diets that are difficult to maintain, and an excessive fixation to the number on the scale.”
Neglecting to realize this sets the groundwork for a lose-lose situation: Either you give up on keeping this New Year’s resolution, leaving you with a sense of defeat, or you go to extreme measures that will inevitably put your health at risk just to hit your target. Instead of making an unhealthy New Year’s resolution based on unrealistic weight loss targets, consider focusing on making smaller positive lifestyle changes that can result in gradual weight loss able to be maintained over time.
Exercise may be a great new habit for you to focus on in the new year if you currently do not include much physical activity in your daily routine. At the same time, many people get overzealous with their exercise goals and decide to go every day or as often as they can. This can quickly lead to burn out and giving up before you’ve built a consistent habit around exercise.