It’s inevitable, with the New Year comes New Year’s resolutions—many of which have to do with losing weight. The problem: Concentrating on weight doesn’t necessarily end in dropping kilograms. In fact, it can lead to yo-yo dieting.
Glenn Gaesser, Ph.D., study author of a recent review of research that examined the mortality risk reduction associated with weight loss compared to physical activity (FYI, risk was lower with the latter), tells Runner’s World that research shows an association between gaining and losing weight repeatedly and harmful health outcomes, including negative affects on cardiovascular health.
Previous research agrees, noting yo-yo-ing can contribute to cardiovascular morbidity, because of its effects on things like hypertension, visceral fat accumulation, changes in adipose tissue fatty acid composition, and insulin resistance. That’s why Gaesser points to promoting overall fitness rather than just shedding weight as a smarter New Year’s resolution.
This idea of focusing on fitness is what will actually lead to a longer and better quality of life, and it’s also why you must be more intentional with the goals you set.
It makes sense, too. “Losing weight is a goal that takes time and we are generally not patient people,” Haley Perlus, Ph.D.,a sport and performance psychologist tells Runner’s World. “When we do not lose weight as quickly as we would like, we get discouraged and frustrated, often leading us to counteract any progress we made in a pint of ice cream, week off of fitness, or completely throwing our health regimens out the window.”
This alone can take a toll on our mental well-being. “It’s a cycle of highs and lows emotionally,” says Hillary Cauthen, PsyD, CMPC, co-owner of Texas Optimal Performance & Psychological Services, LLC in Austin, Texas and an executive board member for the Association for Applied Sport Psychology. “We are rewarded with the weight loss and gain improvement in our self-esteem; confidence increases as well as other physiological responses. However, when weight is gained, we can have a decrease in mood, lower confidence, self-critical comments and an increase in depressive symptoms.”
Plus, when folks say they want to lose weight, what they really mean is “you want to feel fit and healthy,” Daniel Fulham O’Neill, MD, EdD, a sports psychologist, orthopaedic surgeon and author of Survival of the Fit: How Physical Education Ensures Academic Achievement and a Healthy Life explains to Runner’s World. “You want to feel some muscle tone when you are in the shower. You want to stand firm, strong, and balanced on your own two feet. You want to get out of bed in the morning looking forward to the day.”
This idea of focusing on fitness is what will actually lead to a longer and better quality of life, and it’s also why you must be more intentional with the goals you set. So we tapped a few sports psychologists to help you do just that, as well as discuss why more movement- and health-based goals could be the real key to your New Year success. Consider this your wellness crib sheet for 2022.
Find Your Why
It’s not just about setting a fitness goal. To be effective, you need to explore why this goal means so much to you, Cauthen says. “When we focus on the why, we can tap into our motivation to maintain progress toward the goal, then we can break down goals to be more process-oriented that will set us up for success.”
Once you have your why or purpose, zero in in the details to get it done. That’s where S.M.A.R.T.— specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, time-based—goals come into play. Though Cauthen offers up the catch phrase: “Don’t be S.M.A.R. T. be S.M.A.R.T.E.R.”, adding evaluate and re-set into the mix. “Having a process in place with setting the goal, knowing why you are setting the goal, and then how you will work toward your goal will enhance your effectiveness on reaching these goals,” she says. “We also need to be kind to ourselves and check in, which is why it is important to be reflective and intentional and be willing to change and adapt your goals.”
For example, if your goal is increasing your fitness and moving your body more, you have to put a roadmap in place to achieve it. Does it mean being more intentional about moving your body for 30 minutes a day? And if so, what activities might you do to fulfill this? Is it through daily 30-minute (or longer) walks with your dog or running for 30 minutes each day?
“Spending time not only setting the goal but placing it into your lifestyle and seeing how you will make small changes daily will allow you to maintain motivation and success on goal execution,” adds Cauthen, who notes that building awareness in your physical capabilities, emotions, and energy level can help shift to a mindset of overall healthy living.
Start Where You Are
There are plenty of movement- and fitness-based goals—running your first 5K, hiking a trail with a new personal record time, achieving crow pose, increasing your push-ups by five more reps—that have nothing to do with weight loss, but can truly get you to that end result if you are consistent.
The catch is that you need to “coach yourself while understanding the level you are at now, not where you aspire to be,” Dr. O’Neill says. “If you are looking to have some laughs and get fit, don’t treat yourself like something more.” In other words, you don’t/shouldn’t have to train like Eliud Kipchoge to run your fastest marathon—or even that person you envy on Instagram. Just push your own pace and mileage and focus on what you can do and how you can improve.
These goals should be set just above your current level of ability where you will feel a bit of nervous energy, adds Dr. Perlus, who notes this will give you the best shot at achieving something quickly. You can then “use your successes to motivate you, increase confidence, and help you to focus on the next similar goal.”
Change the Story in Your Mind
Don’t let your “but” get in the way. If you set a goal to run after work, you’ll never achieve it if you always say “I want to run, but I’m too tired.” “The ‘but’ story will always win in the end,” Perlus says. However, “reframing your ‘but’ story to one that supports your goal is what will help us to break through and be successful.”
Perlus’ recommendation: Instead of “I want to run, but I’m too tired,” tell yourself, “The truth is, my body has been sitting all day and is well rested. It’s my mind and emotions that are tired. Running will give my body good stress and help me recover my mind and emotions.” Perlus says that when you can create a supportive story for the goals you set, that will make them easier to achieve.
Remember Fitness Should be Fun…
…not feel like another job. Basketball, tennis, cycling, hiking clubs, and of course, run clubs—that’s the cool stuff, says Dr. O’Neill, who notes that getting fit should usually be the best part of your day. “Know why you do some fun healthy activity every day? Because it makes you feel good, and every part of life gets easier, gets better,” he adds.
Ultimately, there are no “tricks” or shortcuts to fitness, Dr. O’Neill says. “We need to reel it in slowly and methodically, giving ourselves claps on the back for small successes along the way.” So start with an intention every day to be mindful of one area you can focus on that will help you feel better in the next 24 hours. Then, reset the next day, adds Cauthen.
Finally, Perlus suggests you ask yourself two questions every single day: What did I achieve today? And what do I get to do next? “These questions will help you to be grateful for your effort towards your goals, achievement, and future successes,” she says. “In time, you will look in the mirror and love who you see—and what you see will take care of itself.”