What an Uber Driver taught me about New Year’s resolutions
Weight loss as a New Year’s resolution is tough. Don’t make my mistake of asking your Uber driver about their New Year’s Resolutions. I made that mistake and felt like writing a Blues song afterward. Let me give you some context—I am a pathological Lyft/Uber driver small talk maker. If I had to pitch a completely original show to HBO, I’d call it, “Uber Car Confessions.”
As a doc, who specializes in nutrition, I spent a lot of time over the past month talking to patients about weight-related New Year’s resolutions. A couple of days ago, I hopped in an Uber to go to a holiday party after leaving the hospital. During the trip, as per usual, I struck up a conversation with my driver. We started talking about usual stuff—Trump, Chicago weather, and gentrification on the South Side. Maybe I was still in hospital mode, but I innocently asked if she had any New Year’s resolutions—I had no idea that question was the skeleton key to her personal Pandora’s box. She turned around made a face reminiscent of the trucker Marge from Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure— you know that scene that permanently scarred my generation and created the field of Child Psychiatry.
After she fixed her face and I resuscitated myself. She solemnly told me that she “doesn’t make New Year’s resolutions because they never come true.” If we were in a Disney Cartoon movie, I would have randomly belted out a song and handed her a glass slipper right then. But, we arrived at my destination, so all I could muster was a Tupac “Keep Your Head Up.”
Only 8% of people who make New Year’s resolutions reach their goals. Despite this, I still think they are worthwhile if done properly.
Her pessimism, although disappointing, was slightly warranted. Recent studies show that 42% of Americans make New Year’s resolutions, yet only 8% achieve their goals. Losing weight and getting back in shape are both among the most common New Year’s resolutions. In lieu of the stats above, should we give up on New Year’s weight loss resolutions all together? I don’t think we should get rid of them. Some naysayers may disagree, but plenty of medical literature highlights the importance of goal setting in losing weight, and I’ve personally seen plenty of people reach their health goals. I can’t ignore the failure rate of weight-related New Year’s resolutions, so I want to break down 5 reasons why people fail to keep their weight/health-related New Year’s resolutions and share some evidence-based strategies for successfully reaching those New Year goals.
5 reasons why people fail to keep their weight/health-related New Year’s resolutions.
1. Not allowing room for setbacks
According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, the definition of resolution is “a firm decision to do or not to do something.” This definition is part of the problem. It is a set up for failure. For many people, there’s nothing firm about the process of losing weight. Research shows that weight loss is a journey filled with obstacles and wrought with setbacks. The issue with looking at weight loss as a firm decision is that once someone encounters the inevitable setback, it’s easy to label it as a failure and lose some confidence. A loss of confidence is almost a death-blow to any resolution. I always tell my patients, “There’s no such thing as failure, just learning opportunities.”
2. The resolutions are too unrealistic
Starting the New Year off with a plan to lose 100 lbs., bench press 300lbs, run a marathon, and become a vegan yogi is admirable, but for many people, those goals aren’t realistic. I’m not trying to discourage people from aiming for the stars, but studies show that setting unrealistic goals may actually hinder efforts to lose weight. Setting attainable goals may be more effective. In fact, most medical weight loss experts recommend losing 5 to 10% of your body weight as an initial goal instead of immediately trying to reach your ideal body weight.
3. The resolutions are not specific enough
Losing weight and being healthy are great goals, but they’re not very specific. People are less likely to achieve goals that aren’t clearly tangible. When goals aren’t specific, it’s hard to find markers that define success. Vague resolutions are simply more likely to fail because success isn’t even clearly defined.
4. The resolutions are externally driven
Studies show that resolutions that don’t stem from internal motivation have a higher likelihood of failure. In other words, achieving a goal that someone else told you to strive for is harder than reaching a goal that you determined for yourself. If you resolve to lose weight, you’ll be more successful if it’s truly a personal goal.
5. Relying on quick solutions
There are too many weight loss fads, quick fixes, scams, and detox gimmicks out there. Most of these don’t have any evidence to support their use, nor are they helpful. Your goal of being healthier will be tough to achieve if it doesn’t include increased physical activity, eating less calorie dense foods, and drinking less sugar-sweetened beverages. No magic pill or detox diet will allow you to skip the basics. Even people who’ve had bariatric surgery can gain weight without paying attention to their physical activity and what they eat.
Ways to increase the success of weight-related New Year’s resolutions
Whenever I talk about goals with patients, I try to give them a framework that will help them be as successful as possible. Most experts in weight loss and goal setting use the S.M.A.R.T. and S.T.A.R.T approaches. I highly recommend that you use these strategies when thinking about your weight loss resolutions.
S.M.A.R.T (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Timely)
- What are some eating habits you can adopt or change immediately?
- If you are thinking of exercise, come up with a plan for how many minutes per week you plan on working out and how you are going to divvy up those minutes.
- Figure out if you are doing a combination of cardio, resistance training, walking, et cetera.
- Monitoring your progress is a crucial component of achieving goals and New Year’s resolutions.
- Try using smart scales that can track your weight and body composition.
- Consider using apps like myfitnesspal or lose it to track what you are eating. Check out our list of helpful apps.
- Whatever you are doing, write it down and keep track of it.
- Think about the best ways to track your progress.
- Make goals you are confident you can achieve.
- If you failed to keep prior resolutions, think about the reasons why those resolutions were difficult to maintain.
- If your goal is to lose weight. Make sure the things you are doing are relevant towards reaching that goal. This is where doing some research or seeking assistance helps. Case in point, I’ve seen people switch over from soda to juice in efforts to lose weight. That type of change isn’t really relevant towards weight loss.
- Have a clear time frame for when you are going to start your plan
- Have weekly, monthly, and yearly goals.
- Having a combination of short term and long term goals makes them easier to achieve.
The S.T.A.R.T framework (Specificity, Timing, Acquisition, Rewards, Tools)
The S.T.A.R.T. framework is mostly the same as S.M.A.R.T except for including a focus on acquisition, rewards, and tools.
Acquisition entails how someone acquires their goals. Make sure your resolutions are goals that you came up with or that you acquired in collaboration with someone else.
Rewards and Feedback
- Don’t be afraid to reward yourself for sticking with your resolution. One of my patients uses his favorite shows on Netflix as a reward. He only watches Netflix on days he goes to the gym.
- Feedback his helpful. Sharing your resolutions with a friend or making them public on social media are both great ways to solicit feedback.
- Having all the tools for success definitely makes it easier to fulfill New Year’s resolutions.
- These tools not only include access to exercise equipment, but also educational tools.
- If being healthy is a resolution, it might be a great time to meet with a dietician or a personal trainer.
Cision. (n.d.). United States: “What are your 2018 resolutions?”. In Statista – The Statistics Portal. Retrieved December 28, 2017, from https://www.statista.com/statistics/378105/new-years-resolution/.
Erin S. Pearson, Goal setting as a health behavior change strategy in overweight and obese adults: A systematic literature review examining intervention components, In Patient Education and Counseling, Volume 87, Issue 1, 2012, Pages 32-42, ISSN 0738-3991, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pec.2011.07.018.
I am a physician and trained chef. I specialize in gastroenterology and nutrition. Currently I work as the Associate Director of Adult Nutrition at the University of Chicago.