Why Weight Loss Resolutions Fail, And 10 Tips for a Healthy New Year
Written by: Ryah Nabielski, MS, RDN
With the New Year comes the tradition of setting resolutions to achieve better health and lose weight. A whole industry is built upon this desire to start anew and change how your body looks and feels. You’ll see gyms offering membership specials, new launches of diets and cleanses, and a lot of “New Year, New You” messaging.
Goal setting can be a powerful force in changing behaviors, but often, despite the best of intentions, New Year’s resolutions to lose weight with restrictive programs don’t work to promote long-term health. If you think 2024 will finally be your year to lose weight, this article is a must-read!
New Year’s resolutions fail for many reasons, and it doesn’t have to do with you specifically or your lack of willpower. It’s hard to achieve long-lasting health changes with short-term extreme measures. We’ll explore some of these reasons in today’s article and offer alternate strategies with proven success.
Keep reading to learn more about:
- Data on long-term weight loss
- Why dieting and weight loss programs don’t work
- Ten tips for promoting health in the new year (a new perspective on health and weight)
Let’s dive into this exciting conversation!
Long-Term Weight Loss Data
Weight loss diets promote calorie restriction and may result in short-term weight loss, but over the long term, you will likely regain the weight and possibly more. Compiled data from long-term diet studies suggest that after the initial weight loss, people will gain more than half of the weight back after two years and over 80% by the 5-year mark.
After one year, only 25% of people maintain their weight loss, and only a small percentage, less than 5% of people, will maintain the initial weight loss long-term. This data holds no matter the approach; whether it’s calorie counting, low carbohydrate diets, or low-fat dieting, you may experience initial results, but it’s very challenging to maintain.
Why Diets Fail
There are many reasons that dieting doesn’t work over the long term. A primary reason is metabolic adaptation. Metabolic adaptation is the body’s drive to maintain a steady weight for survival.
The body interprets weight loss as stress or danger and adapts by decreasing the metabolic rate and increasing hunger. It’s your body trying to protect you from a famine. While this adaptation was advantageous to our ancestors, our genetics have not adapted to modern lifestyles and food availability.
In an extreme example, we can look at the results from The Biggest Loser television show. A study followed up with 14 participants six years after their intense weight loss experience. Participants lost weight by the end of the competition (an average of over 120 pounds), but even by the end of the competition, their metabolic rate slowed by an average of 600 calories per day.
Six years later, participants gained back an average of 90 pounds, but their metabolic rate continued to slow (down by an average of 700 calories from baseline). This metabolic adjustment explains why it’s so hard to maintain weight loss and lose it again with subsequent diets.
Other physiological mechanisms are at play, as well as environmental influences, such as access to quality food, social pressures, and cultural norms. It’s also hard to maintain motivation for a diet when it doesn’t seem to produce the desired number on the scale.
How to Promote Health in the New Year
Only a tiny percentage of people succeed at long-term weight loss, but we can learn a lot from them. Success requires a different approach and mindset, leaving the tempting diets and lofty weight loss promises behind.
Here are some alternate health approaches and strategies to implement this year:
- Focus on health instead of weight. Weight doesn’t tell the whole story of health (not even close), and using it as the sole tracker of progress will set you up for failure. In addition, hyperfocus on the scale number creates stress in the body, which will work against your goals. We need to reverse the idea that you must lose weight to be healthy. Work on creating health first, and your body will shift where it needs to go without force.
Work on tiny habits instead of big goals. Instead of resolving to lose 10 pounds (or 100), focus on the habits needed for long-term change. Your resolution could be to eat a serving of veggies with breakfast, increase daily steps by 2000 per day, or be in bed by 10:30 pm.
Small changes lead to significant lifestyle changes over time and are much easier to sustain than an extreme overhaul.
Read about strategies to jumpstart your health goals here.
- Start with the foundations. Eating well, moving, sleeping, and managing stress are foundational for your health. You can’t skip or overlook these steps when thinking about long-term success. Start there if any of these pieces aren’t in place or optimized yet. High-level protocols or biohacking won’t do much without a solid foundation of healthy habits.
- Expand your measures of success. If you are only paying attention to weight, you may miss the progress you are making. Let go of the number on the scale (or only check it occasionally) and instead focus on non-weight measures of success. Consider other ways to know you are on track; noticing them will help you maintain new habits. Here are some ideas:
- Clothes fitting more comfortably
- Better sleep quality
- Improved mood
- More stable energy
- Fewer cravings
- Clearer hunger and fullness cues
- Feeling strong and confident with exercise
- Improved lean body mass
- Reduction of symptoms
5. Shift towards nourishment. The nutrition conversation is often dominated by what not to eat and the foods to restrict from your diet. Instead, focus on the foods to eat to nourish your body. Notice what makes you feel your best. As general guidance, shift away from processed, packaged food to cooking more at home with whole food ingredients. Meeting your daily protein needs and including fiber-rich plants throughout the day are good habits to cultivate.
6. Be prepared for roadblocks. When building new habits, two steps forward and one step back are part of the process. Don’t let setbacks take you totally off course; there is likely a lesson or wisdom in the experience. Read Five Roadblocks to Changing Your Health for more.
7. Start now. You don’t need to wait until Monday or even a new year to start what you can start today. And when you face a roadblock (you will), pick up where you left off with your next meal or workout, so you get off the all-or-nothing train and find your middle ground. Eating and living consistently throughout the year, even during the holidays, is possible. It takes practice.
8. Consider your environment. Many outside factors can work for or against health goals. For example, some communities don’t have places to walk, requiring a car, whereas others have walking and biking paths built in. Some people don’t have access to fresh produce close to home, whereas others have a farmer’s market in their town. Notice how your environment influences your habits and make adjustments as possible.
Also, consider the people in your environment. Surround yourself with those who care about your health, support your changes, and lift you up.
9. Use supplements. High-quality supplements can support you on your health journey. They can help fill in nutrition gaps, meet your protein needs, reduce inflammation, improve performance, build muscle, and support various other aspects of health.
Supplements to consider for weight and metabolic support include:. You can’t hate yourself into a body you love. If restriction, shame, and stress drive your health goals, you won’t wake up one day at your ideal weight and magically love yourself. Instead, give yourself love, compassion, and care throughout the journey. You’ll enjoy the process more and feel better about yourself.
As we head into 2024, approach your goals with a vision for long-term success. Quick fixes and crash diets are out; extreme approaches don’t offer lasting results. Instead, build habits that will serve you for a lifetime, and be kind to yourself along the way.
This article is for educational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified healthcare provider before changing your diet or beginning a new supplement, especially if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, take medication, or have a medical condition.
Ryah Nabielski, MS, RDN is a Registered Dietitian, functional nutritionist, writer, and recipe creator. Ryah helps clients use a natural, food-as-medicine approach to improve fertility, pregnancy, hormone balance, autoimmunity, and discover a healthy relationship with food and body. Learn more about Ryah and her private practice at econutrition.co.