Experts Agree: Ditch the “Lose Weight” and “Exercise More” Resolutions This Year

Young woman making a healthy meal at a table

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It’s that time of year again—a seasonally relevant chance to start over. But just because your friends, family, neighbors, and coworkers are putting on a "new year, new you" hat doesn't mean you should feel pressured to do the same. Sometimes, when you have your sights on big health goals you’ve been wanting to tackle for years, you set yourself up for failure, even if "lose weight" and "exercise more" sound harmless enough.

Still, it’s too much pressure and too much change. Experts agree that you should ditch the “lose weight, exercise more” resolutions this year. Instead, they recommend setting small, attainable goals and focusing on health instead of weight.

Read on to learn more about what mental health, nutrition, and fitness experts have to say about health-related New Year’s resolutions and how you can set yourself up for success. 

Why You Should Ditch “Lose Weight” and “Exercise More” Resolutions

Writing down that you want to lose weight and exercise more this year is great. But you need to put your words into action. According to a 2019 article published in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, setting a goal isn’t likely to lead to behavior change considering the “countless number of New Year’s resolutions” that go unfulfilled every year.

This is because the desire to change doesn’t always lead to a change in behaviors or actions. According to Rachel Goldman, Ph.D., FTOS, a licensed clinical psychologist based in New York City who specializes in goal setting for health and wellness, resolutions often go unfulfilled because they’re too “lofty."

Dr. Goldman explains that New Year’s resolutions “tend to be something that people have wanted to change for years, but haven’t. So, they put a lot of emphasis on this one day and decide ‘this is the time,’ putting extra pressure on themselves.” 

Melissa Mitri, MS, RD, of Melissa Mitri Nutrition concurs, noting that New Year’s resolutions aren’t sustainable for more than a few months. “There’s too much pressure to try to change everything all at once in a drastic way.”

The experts say that when it comes to goal setting for weight and health, no matter what time of year it is, focusing on small, attainable goals is the key to success. 

What to Do Instead of Making a “Lose Weight” Resolution

Instead of making “lose weight” your New Year's resolution, the experts suggest focusing on behaviors that lead to better health—physically, emotionally, and mentally. These behavioral changes may then help you reach your weight management goals without making it feel like you had to turn your whole world upside down to get there.

Focus on Behaviors, Not Weight

Weight management is challenging and overwhelming. Focusing only on that number on the scale while you eat less and move more can leave you feeling frustrated and defeated, not to mention hungry. Calories aren’t the only factor that influences your weight. Genes, age, and your body’s unique physiology may make it harder for you to reach your weight goals.

Dr. Goldman recommends making behavioral changes the focus of your New Year’s resolutions instead of weight. She encourages the use of the SMART criteria for goal setting and behavioral change: be specific and make your goals measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely.

For example, if you don’t get enough sleep, you might start by going to bed 10 minutes earlier. Adults need seven to nine hours of sleep a night, but most only get about 6.5 hours. Getting more sleep is a good behavior that benefits your overall health, including your weight. According to a 2022 clinical trial published in JAMA, adults who extended their sleep (sleeping 30 minutes more a night) naturally ate less.

When making behavioral changes, start small, setting measurable goals you can attain and then adding on as you go. 

Start a Monthly Intention

Shannan Bergtholdt, MS Ed, RD, a lifestyle and longevity dietitian who helps her clients make lifestyle changes today that benefit them in the future, suggests making your New Year’s resolutions fun and simple. 

Bergtholdt recommends setting monthly intentions that benefit your mind and body like meditation or mindfulness. “Challenge yourself to bring mindfulness to what you’re eating and when you’re exercising. Notice how your new habits make you feel. This will open the door for additional intentions such as gratitude and patience.” 

Practicing mindfulness reduces stress and emotional eating, according to a 2019 clinical control trial published in JMIR mHealth and uHealth. Making mindfulness one of your New Year’s resolutions may help you stop using food as a tool for coping with stress, making it easier for you to manage your weight.

Team Up With a Friend

Bergtholdt also recommends asking a friend or family member to join you for added accountability. Teaming up with a buddy may help you manage the challenges you face when implementing your new habit.

Having goals and creating new habits are good and there are always obstacles. You need support so those obstacles don’t derail your progress. Consider consulting with a registered dietitian or mental health professional for additional support, goal setting, and guidance.

Try New Recipes

Instead of weight loss, Mitri suggests setting goals to try new recipes or cook more. “You can try one new recipe a week or break out some of your old favorites. Don’t focus on the number of calories in the recipe, just how the meal makes you feel after. This makes eating healthy more fun and allows you to be more in tune with your body,” she explains.

Tips on Forming New Habits

Healthy habits are the key to wellness. How do you form new habits? First, you need to know your current habits and routine. Becoming more aware of what you do now helps you figure out areas where you can change. Then, you need to make a plan, creating simple, actionable, and attainable goals that can help you form healthy habits.

Doing good things for yourself makes you feel good, but you may wonder if you can keep it up. You may have setbacks. Don’t let the occasional deviation from your new habits or goals prevent you from continuing on your wellness journey. It’s important to have strategies in place to help you stay on track, such as a friend or professional to lean on for advice and support.

What to Do Instead of Making an “Exercise More” Resolution

Like losing weight, "exercise more" is too broad of a goal to lead to any real change. Plus, exercising more may harm your body and lead to injuries, according to Denise Chakoian, a boutique fitness consultant and cancer exercise specialist.

Find Exercises You Enjoy

Before you make big plans to start exercising, Chakoian says you need to find an activity you enjoy. If you like going to the gym, great. But you can meet your exercise goals without a formal workout program.

Instead of going for a walk around the neighborhood, download a walking adventure app to search for interesting landmarks or escape a zombie attack. Or, work with a certified personal trainer (CPT) who can help you create your own workout.

Mitri suggests trying an activity you’ve always wanted to do for fun, but never tried like hiking, yoga, or a 5K. These activities support your health goals “but the outcome isn’t weight-focused,” she notes.

Set Attainable Goals

Exercise more is a broad goal that means different things for different people. When thinking about adding more activity to your day, Dr. Goldman recommends you start by looking at your typical week now so you can create realistic goals when you’re ready to get started. 

Maybe you start with five or 10 minutes of activity a day three days a week and slowly work your way up to 30 minutes a day five days a week. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends adults aim for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity a week for health and wellness.

Join a Group Class

Chakoian says muscle-building is as important as an aerobic activity. The CDC suggests working out all your major muscle groups twice a week. If you’re not sure exactly how to build muscle, “join a total body class or start at home with one set of hand weights. Sometimes less is more, and being efficient in your workout routine is key to your success,” explains Chakoian.

Add Workouts to Your Calendar

Bergtholdt recommends scheduling workouts into your calendar and setting up reminders. Adding exercise to your weekly routine makes it more important and may help you stick with it.

How to Set Goals

When setting goals you need to think doable. Dr. Rachel says the SMART method is a good tool to use for goal setting.

  • Specific: Make your goal very specific.”I want to exercise 30 minutes a day five days a week.”
  • Measurable: Measurability of your goal helps you keep track of your goal. “I will start by going for a 10-minute walk five times a week. I will add five minutes every week until I reach my goal of 30 minutes a day five days a week.”
  • Attainable: Your goal needs to be something you can realistically do, otherwise you’re setting yourself up to fail.
  • Relevant: Does your habit align with your ultimate goal? Exercise reduces stress, improves mood, and helps you feel better about yourself.
  • Timely: Your new habit must have a timeline for completion. This helps you stay accountable. “I will be walking 20 minutes a week within 30 days.”

A Word From Verywell

A new year is a chance to make a new start. But you don’t want to set yourself up for failure by creating broad, unattainable goals like “lose weight” and “exercise more.” Instead, focus on creating healthy habits and making small achievable goals that you gradually increase over time. 

Before making any changes to your diet or starting a new workout program, consult with your primary care provider. The start of the new year also makes a good time for your annual wellness exam.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Why do weight loss resolutions fail?

    Weight loss resolutions fail because of the drastic changes you make and the amount of pressure you place on yourself. You set yourself up to fail, giving up within a few weeks or a few months, thinking it’s impossible to lose weight.

  • What is the biggest mistake people make when trying to lose weight?

    The biggest mistake people make when trying to lose weight is that they focus only on the number on the scale. Weight loss is hard and there are many factors that influence your weight and ability to lose weight.

    Instead of focusing on weight, focus on healthy habits that make it easier for you to manage your weight, like drinking more water, trying new recipes, or being more mindful when eating.

  • Why do most people not follow through on exercise?

    Most people don’t follow through with exercise because they create goals that are impossible to achieve. When making a plan to “exercise more” you need to first think about your weekly routine and figure out how to best fit in more activity, and then start slowly. As your fitness improves, you may find yourself more motivated to work out more or try something new.

8 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Hall KD, Kahan S. Maintenance of lost weight and long-term management of obesity. Med Clin North Am. 2018 Jan;102(1):183-197. doi:10.1016/j.mcna.2017.08.012

  3. Tasali E, Wroblewski K, Kahn E, Kilkus J, Schoeller DA. Effect of sleep extension on objectively assessed energy intake among adults with overweight in real-life settings: A randomized clinical trial. JAMA Intern Med. 2022;182(4):365-374. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2021.8098

  4. Lyzwinski LN, Caffery L, Bambling M, Edirippulige S. The mindfulness App trial for weight, weight-related behaviors, and stress in university students: Randomized controlled trial. JMIR Mhealth Uhealth. 2019;7(4):e12210. Published 2019 Apr 10. doi:10.2196/12210

  5. National Institutes of Health. News in Health. Creating healthy habits: Make better choices easier. March 2018.

  6. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association. Setting goals and developing specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound objectives.

  7. Queensland Government. Queensland Health. 30 fun ways to get 30 minutes of physical activity today.

  8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. How much physical activity do adults need?. June 2022.

By Jill Corleone, RD
Jill is a registered dietitian who's been learning and writing about nutrition for more than 20 years.

Edited by
Lily Moe
Lily Moe for Verywell Fit

Lily Moe is a former fitness coach and current Editor for Verywell Fit. A wellness enthusiast, she can often be found in a hot yoga studio, trying a new recipe, or going for a long run in Central Park.

Learn about our editorial process