Ask what the new year will bring, and the answer is failure for one in four people who made a resolution, experts say.
That 25 percent of New Year's resolutions crumble within the first week shouldn't be blamed on a lack of willpower, says certified integral coach Sharon Wieczorek. The resolutions likely weren't appropriate from the beginning, she says.
Anxiety about the holiday feast — and all the season's sweets — is common for anyone battling weight gain or struggling to maintain healthy eating habits, says local health educator Linda Willis.
Some students in Willis' Balanced Weigh classes take the hard-line approach: They swear off fudge, cookies and candies and won't bake a thing for others.
But such extreme measures don't just squelch holiday cheer, Willis says. They counteract honest efforts to eat well.
"It doesn't help to get radical and eliminate all sugar and white flour," she says. "That never works.
"If we give ourselves permission to have a little bit, then we'll give ourselves permission to stop."
Instead Willis, who holds a doctorate degree in health education, recommends prioritizing calories, weighing the quantities in two similar dishes and trading off one holiday indulgence for another that's more delicious.
Pecan pie, for example, packs 500 calories per slice while a piece of pumpkin pie is about 200 calories. A cup of egg nog contains 340 calories, and an eight-ounce glass of wine has 170. Choose one or the other, but not both, Willis says.
"You get real picky about your calories."
Because it's a concentrated source of calories, alcohol should be approached with caution, Willis says.
"It's easy to take in 500 calories of wine at a party or
at a meal."
Even foods that appear wholesome can be sneaky sources of calories and fat, Willis says. At 500 calories a cup, stuffing baked inside the turkey (and soaked in all its drippings) can be made over into a healthful side dish. Simply cooking the stuffing in a separate pan saves almost 400 calories, Willis says.
Cooks can easily adjust holiday menus in many unnoticeable ways, Willis says. If you can taste a few tablespoons of butter in the mashed potatoes, an entire stick is clearly overkill. Lower-fat, lower-calorie versions of most ingredients are available, she adds.
Filling up on fruits and vegetables is the best way to avoid junk food, Willis says, adding that eating them immediately before a gathering takes the edge off hunger. Starting the day with a healthful breakfast becomes even more important during the hectic holiday season, she says.
And just because we're rushing around doesn't mean we no longer need to exercise, Willis says. The human body, after all, doesn't know the holidays have arrived and still benefits from 30 minutes of physical activity five days per week, she says.
"Obviously, the holiday is not the time to start healthy habits and behaviors, but it certainly is a great time to continue them."
"It's not about the outcome," says Wieczorek. "It's all about the things we value underneath."
Through her Ashland-based Professional Life Design, Wieczorek most often helps clients balance their work and private lives, including building quality relationships while still making ends meet. A key part of the equation is taking care of oneself, Wieczorek says.
Equilibrium looks different for everyone, but achieving it should rely on values, not actions, she adds. Resolving to exercise, for example, isn't very significant when the goal is losing 10 pounds, Wieczorek says.
"You may get there and go 'Wow, is this all?' "
By contrast, Wieczorek says, promoting longevity, building self-esteem or even making friends at the gym are outcomes that sustain a resolution to exercise over the long term. Once you realize what's truly important, you can visualize those values playing out in real life, the first step in setting a goal, she adds.
Even if a goal aligns with values, there usually are some drawbacks involved, Wieczorek says. Ask what you stand to lose by reaching the goal, she says. What will happen if you don't achieve it?
"There's a cost to getting that thing you want."
Using the senses is one way to evaluate a resolution, Wieczorek says. She encourages clients to imagine what attaining the goal will look like, sound like or feel like. Then visualize the who, what, when, where and why of making it happen, she adds.
"We tend to skip that."
Americans, in their resolve to be self-sufficient, often forget the value of a support system, Wieczorek says. Patricia Kyle, an associate professor of psychology at Southern Oregon University, agrees.
Family, friends, professionals or even organizations like Weight Watchers can provide encouragement, advice and accountability, Kyle says. Support networks outside the sphere of family and friends are vital when loved ones trigger behaviors that sabotage resolutions.
"All of us are kind of comfortable with the status quo," Kyle says, adding that family and friends may not even know they're putting up roadblocks to progress.
Surmounting obstacles, however, doesn't require a giant leap. Goals are best achieved, Kyle says, in "baby steps." And everyone needs to count on taking a few steps back, she adds.
"Back-sliding is part of the normal process of changing behavior, and you kind of have to plan for that and forgive yourself for that," Kyle says.
Negativity is a resolution's enemy, Kyle and Wieczorek say. Goal-setters need to practice positive thinking, sometimes delving into the subconscious to determine what the maligning messages are and where they come from, Kyle says.
"Are you telling yourself 'I'm a failure and I'll never succeed'?
"Even if you have a whole history of one failure after another, these are all skills that can be learned," Kyle says.
One of those skills is framing a goal in positive terms, Wieczorek says. The result should be something we desire, not the absence of some aggravation or problem, she says. Once the goal is visualized, validated and supported, a clear time line needs to be established, along with three steps for meeting it, Wieczorek says.
Research has shown that keeping a written log of actions taken toward meeting a goal actually helps the writer achieve it, says Kyle, who specializes in behavior modification. Admitting she's not partial to that practice, Kyle reminds goal-setters to keep an open mind about alternative strategies, identifying the ones that fit them best and will keep them invested.
"It's so individual," she says.
Aside from SOU psychology students, Kyle's lessons have assisted children as young as 7 and adults as old as 70. The same principles of behavior modification work regardless of a person's age, she says, adding that she doesn't believe it's harder for older people to change.
"We can always look at behavior and make changes," she says. "I don't think it's ever too late."