Two men sharing a conversation while out for exercise on...

Two men sharing a conversation while out for exercise on this mild day on the boardwalk at Long Beach, Friday, Nov. 17, 2023.Comsewogue High School in Port Jefferson Station Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Every year, millions of Americans make New Year’s resolutions to eat better and exercise more. Most of them eventually fail, studies and surveys say.

We talked with experts about how to make New Year’s resolutions that you can stick to.

A recent Forbes Health/OnePoll survey found that most people abandon resolutions within three months.

A study that tracked 200 people who made resolutions found that only 19% had stuck to them two years later.

Six of the top seven resolutions for 2024 are related to physical or mental health, such as exercising more and eating healthier foods, a YouGov survey found.

“The goals that folks set may be overly ambitious,” said Adam Gonzalez, a psychologist and vice chair of behavioral health at Stony Brook Medicine. “When we set unrealistic or overly ambitious goals, it can be really disappointing if we're not seeing the results that we would like, quickly. And that disappointment can come from the expectations that we have set.”

That disappointment can lead people to abandon their goals, he said.

“You want to start off in small steps so that you can see the results and build up your confidence to continue on,” Gonzalez said. ”If we are setting more short-term, attainable goals and seeing progress, that can really help motivate us to keep going.”

If you want to start exercising, “start with one trip around the block, then two blocks, then three blocks,” said Coleen DeLorenzo, health and wellness director of the Huntington YMCA. “Turn the blocks into miles.”

As people gradually increase their physical activity, they can see and feel that they can do more, said Scott Yerys, an exercise physiologist and program manager at Rusk Rehabilitation at NYU Langone in East Meadow and Garden City.

“As they get into it, they stay motivated and they realize, ‘Hey, I'm seeing something. I feel better. I feel a little more fit,’” he said. “Then they can progress from there.”

Yerys said you should think carefully about how much time you’ll realistically have long-term to devote to exercise, as you try to balance it with parenting, work and other commitments.

“If someone says, ‘I want to lose weight,' that's too broad of a goal," said Stephanie Di Figlia-Peck, lead registered dietitian at Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New Hyde Park.

Instead, set shorter-term goals, such as losing two pounds a week.

“People get discouraged when they don't see the scale going down quickly enough,” Di Figlia-Peck said. “And when we lose weight slowly, we maintain our muscle mass, which is so important, because muscle fuels metabolism.”

Gradual weight loss and a gradual increase in exercise are more likely to lead to long-term changes, she said.

“We have to be able to make it a new habit,” she said.

One reason is that many diets are too limited, Di Figlia-Peck said.

“Overly restrictive diets set people up for failure,” she said. “When you eliminate full food groups or have to eat very specific foods only, it becomes unmanageable. It’s not sustainable.”

Di Figlia-Peck said she never tells people to stop eating certain foods, even if they are not as healthy as others. Instead, eat such foods in moderation. And if you’re eating a less healthy food, eat vegetables during the same meal, she said. Use a smaller plate, because “our brain sees that and feels like it’s getting more,” she said.

Drinking more water helps you feel fuller faster, Di Figlia-Peck said. Using a bigger water bottle can help you to drink more.

“Don’t set yourself up for failure by choosing an all-or-nothing plan,” DeLorenzo said. “If you stick with your goals at least 80% of the time, you will eventually start to see progress.”

“Many people struggle with keeping [resolutions] because they can get off track as the year progresses, as different stressors emerge and different priorities emerge,” Gonzalez said.

That’s why it’s important to have a plan in place, and to continue with that plan even if there are short-term setbacks, he said.

Di Figlia-Peck promotes a family-based approach.

“So if Johnny has to eat more vegetables, and no one else does, then Johnny feels discouraged,” she said. “If everyone's eating vegetables, then we say, ‘Look, we accomplished this as a family.’”

Gonzalez said having an exercise buddy to work out with at the gym, for example, can be motivating.

Every year, millions of Americans make New Year’s resolutions to eat better and exercise more. Most of them eventually fail, studies and surveys say.

We talked with experts about how to make New Year’s resolutions that you can stick to.

How likely are people to fail at New Year’s resolutions?

A recent Forbes Health/OnePoll survey found that most people abandon resolutions within three months.

A study that tracked 200 people who made resolutions found that only 19% had stuck to them two years later.

Six of the top seven resolutions for 2024 are related to physical or mental health, such as exercising more and eating healthier foods, a YouGov survey found.

Why do so many people give up?

“The goals that folks set may be overly ambitious,” said Adam Gonzalez, a psychologist and vice chair of behavioral health at Stony Brook Medicine. “When we set unrealistic or overly ambitious goals, it can be really disappointing if we're not seeing the results that we would like, quickly. And that disappointment can come from the expectations that we have set.”

That disappointment can lead people to abandon their goals, he said.

How do I set more realistic goals?

“You want to start off in small steps so that you can see the results and build up your confidence to continue on,” Gonzalez said. ”If we are setting more short-term, attainable goals and seeing progress, that can really help motivate us to keep going.”

Adam Gonzalez, a psychologist and vice chair of behavioral health...

Adam Gonzalez, a psychologist and vice chair of behavioral health at Stony Brook Medicine.  Credit: Danielle Silverman

If you want to start exercising, “start with one trip around the block, then two blocks, then three blocks,” said Coleen DeLorenzo, health and wellness director of the Huntington YMCA. “Turn the blocks into miles.”

As people gradually increase their physical activity, they can see and feel that they can do more, said Scott Yerys, an exercise physiologist and program manager at Rusk Rehabilitation at NYU Langone in East Meadow and Garden City.

“As they get into it, they stay motivated and they realize, ‘Hey, I'm seeing something. I feel better. I feel a little more fit,’” he said. “Then they can progress from there.”

Yerys said you should think carefully about how much time you’ll realistically have long-term to devote to exercise, as you try to balance it with parenting, work and other commitments.

I want to lose a lot of weight. How should I go about it?

“If someone says, ‘I want to lose weight,' that's too broad of a goal," said Stephanie Di Figlia-Peck, lead registered dietitian at Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New Hyde Park.

Instead, set shorter-term goals, such as losing two pounds a week.

“People get discouraged when they don't see the scale going down quickly enough,” Di Figlia-Peck said. “And when we lose weight slowly, we maintain our muscle mass, which is so important, because muscle fuels metabolism.”

As people gradually increase their physical activity, they can see...

As people gradually increase their physical activity, they can see and feel that they can do more.  Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Gradual weight loss and a gradual increase in exercise are more likely to lead to long-term changes, she said.

“We have to be able to make it a new habit,” she said.

I’ve tried diets before and they don’t work. What can I do differently this time?

One reason is that many diets are too limited, Di Figlia-Peck said.

“Overly restrictive diets set people up for failure,” she said. “When you eliminate full food groups or have to eat very specific foods only, it becomes unmanageable. It’s not sustainable.”

Di Figlia-Peck said she never tells people to stop eating certain foods, even if they are not as healthy as others. Instead, eat such foods in moderation. And if you’re eating a less healthy food, eat vegetables during the same meal, she said. Use a smaller plate, because “our brain sees that and feels like it’s getting more,” she said.

Drinking more water helps you feel fuller faster, Di Figlia-Peck said. Using a bigger water bottle can help you to drink more.

How do I avoid getting discouraged if I’m not making enough headway?

“Don’t set yourself up for failure by choosing an all-or-nothing plan,” DeLorenzo said. “If you stick with your goals at least 80% of the time, you will eventually start to see progress.”

“Many people struggle with keeping [resolutions] because they can get off track as the year progresses, as different stressors emerge and different priorities emerge,” Gonzalez said.

That’s why it’s important to have a plan in place, and to continue with that plan even if there are short-term setbacks, he said.

How do I not feel so isolated if people around me aren’t being as careful about their diet or physical activity?

Di Figlia-Peck promotes a family-based approach.

“So if Johnny has to eat more vegetables, and no one else does, then Johnny feels discouraged,” she said. “If everyone's eating vegetables, then we say, ‘Look, we accomplished this as a family.’”

Gonzalez said having an exercise buddy to work out with at the gym, for example, can be motivating.

Suffolk conflict of interest … Ash dumped at Brookhaven landfill … St. Michael's named town landmark Credit: Newsday

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Suffolk conflict of interest … Ash dumped at Brookhaven landfill … St. Michael's named town landmark Credit: Newsday

North Amityville shed fire ... Suffolk conflict of interest ... Suozzi back in Congress ... Students learn hip hop history 

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