New Year’s Resolutions: Why We Make Them (And Why We Break Them)

Have you kept your New Year’s resolutions? If you’re like most of us, the answer is no.

We all want to live better, healthier lives and setting goals is an essential part of getting there. Yet only a couple of weeks into January, the majority of people who made resolutions have broken them.

In this interview, Michael A. Smith, MD, discusses New Year’s resolutions—failed and otherwise—with nutritionist Crystal Gossard, DCN, CNS, LDN.

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Why do we make New Year’s resolutions?

Humans like rituals, Dr. Gossard explained. The new year is the mark of a new beginning and people feel as though they have a clean slate. It’s a time to reflect upon the past year and make changes for the new one. “I think it’s a good thing,” she affirmed.

What are the top New Year’s resolutions?

A recent google search showed that the number one resolution is losing weight, which should come as no surprise. Losing weight is followed in popularity by the resolution to participate in more exercise. In third place is getting organized.

Why do we fail to keep New Year’s resolutions?

One reason people fail, according to Dr. Gossard, is because of unrealistic goals. Our goals need to be something that our minds can accept as attainable. Additionally, people may attempt to implement drastic solutions that aren’t practical to sustain long term, such as adopting fad diets or jumping into exercise regimens for which they may not be prepared.

According to one study, readiness to change, self-efficacy, employment of more behavioral strategies, less self-blame, and less wishful thinking were predictors of success at sticking to resolutions.1

Dieting can be tough because eating is not something optional that we can give up, like smoking. Fad diets are particularly problematic, because they can deprive people of the sensory component of eating. The variety, textures, flavors, and aromas of food are a pleasurable part of life and contribute to a large portion of the satisfaction eating provides us, beyond the alleviation of hunger and sense of fullness.

What is intermittent calorie restriction?

Calorie restriction is a technique that involves significantly cutting back the number of daily calories consumed, not only to attain or maintain a healthy weight but to lower the risk of chronic disease and potentially increase the chances of living longer. Rather than restricting one’s calories every day—which is challenging as a long-term practice—intermittent calorie restriction entails reducing calorie intake periodically rather than daily.

An example of intermittent calorie restriction is the 5:2 diet (also known as the 2:5 diet) which involves significantly reducing calorie intake for two days of the week and eating normally (but not pigging out!) during the remaining five days. Low-calorie days do not have to be consecutive and can be scheduled as convenient. Because there are only two days per week of low calorie intake, people don’t have to give up their favorite foods or customary eating rituals during the greater portion of the week. Unlike crash or fad diets that can cause a loss of up to 30% of muscle mass, intermittent calorie restriction has been associated with significantly reduced loss of lean tissue while providing similar fat mass reduction.2 The 5:2 eating pattern has also been associated with improvement in blood lipid levels.3,4

Why do exercise goals fail?

At the beginning of a new year, people often charge into the gym without any preparation. They can wind up with severe muscle soreness or even injuries. These unhappy results sometimes prevent people from carrying out their exercise goals.

Another reason people give up on exercise is a mistaken belief that exercise is all that’s needed to lose weight. While exercise is an essential component of good health and helps maintain muscle mass during weight loss, exercise alone may not be enough to budge the numbers on the scale.5 One’s diet needs to be considered, not only to reduce body fat but to ensure muscle growth.

Those who are considering embarking on an exercise program should, with the consent of their physicians, start with milder forms of exercise such as walking, and gradually acclimate to more vigorous regimens. Warm up with brief, nonstrenuous exercises and dynamic stretches before beginning a workout. Pay attention to the body’s signals, including pain, thirst and fatigue.

Dr. Gossard noted that a tart cherry supplement (especially when consumed in advance) is an excellent choice to help minimize post-workout muscle soreness.6 Glutamine and the amino acid leucine’s breakdown product HMB can also be helpful.7,8 These nutrients can be blended into a post-workout protein shake. Toss in a handful of fresh greens for an added nutritional boost and add carbohydrate-containing food like berries to help replenish glycogen stores which, when depleted, can lead to muscle fatigue.9

How do you get organized?

The creation of task lists can help improve organization in one’s own life and that of the people with whom we share our lives. There are also smartphone apps that can be downloaded to help people become organized. Learning to manage stress can also aid in regaining control of one’s life and immediate environment.

Being disorganized can be a symptom of stress–and stress can be caused by being disorganized. It’s a vicious cycle. Once people become organized, they find that staying that way is much easier and far less stressful than dealing with chaos and clutter.

It is possible to keep our resolutions if we form reasonable goals. The results that come with sustained efforts to honor to our commitments to ourselves will ensure that we stick to our resolutions throughout the new year and beyond. What were your New Year goals for 2019? Are you sticking to them? Let us know in the comments!

About Live Foreverish: Join Dr. Mike as he sits down with some of today’s leading medical, health, and wellness experts to discuss a variety of health-related topics. From whole-body health to anti-aging and disease prevention, you’ll get the latest information and helpful advice to help you live your life to the fullest. See the full list of Live Foreverish Podcast episodes, available on demand.

  1. Norcross JC et al. Addict Behav. 1989;14(2):205-12.
  2. Varady KA. Obes Rev. 2011 Jul;12(7):e593-601.
  3. Hirsh S et al. In press. 2018.
  4. Antoni R et al. Br J Nutr. 2018 Mar;119(5):507-516.
  5. Jackson M et al. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2018 Apr;43(4):363-370.
  6. Levers K et al. Kuehl KS et al. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2010 May 7;7:17.
  7. Legault Z et al. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2015 Oct;25(5):417-26.
  8. Tsuchiya Y et al. J Am Coll Nutr. 2018 Dec 27:1-7.
  9. Ørtenblad N et al. J Physiol. 2013 Sep 15;591(18):4405-13.


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