Long battle with weight loss
Photo: © 2009 Jupiterimages Corporation
Now that the holidays are over, we're all looking to what the new year has in store with a few resolutions in mind to help us make the most of it. "Be kinder to everyone." "Spend less money on useless junk." "Actually write that book/start that business I've been talking about forever."

An interesting trend emerges here: Few people (myself included) have the courage—nay, gall—to actually make specific resolutions, ones with clear guidelines and action plans. Perhaps years of underachieving on these annual commitments has conditioned us all into a pattern of writing down goals that are as vague as possible so that the definition of success is limitless. Of course, these lists are kept private, so no one on the outside gets to see whether we've fulfilled any of the items. We only answer to ourselves, and somehow that makes getting the job done less compelling.

Why is it that when we make promises to ourselves we cut corners and are comfortable falling short of even these limited expectations? We face embarrassment if we fail to follow through on commitments to others, but what happens when we simply let ourselves down? How do we learn to answer to ourselves the same way we would to an outside force?

I had the chance to take a look at my New Year's resolution list from 1995 a few weeks ago (thank goodness for the "time capsule" box I kept as a child...I think I came out of the womb nostalgic) and was shocked by how little had changed in the past 15 years. It got me thinking: Is having to answer to others for our actions the only thing that makes sticking to a resolution compulsory? Is guilt/shame a good (read: productive) motivator?

"Lose a few pounds" was one such perennial offender on my annual resolution list, and it retains a spot (albeit, lower down) even today. I grew up pretty overweight (175 pounds at my heaviest, about 40 pounds more than I should have been carrying on my 5'8" frame), so the scale's movements were always a big focus for me. I remember being upset and embarrassed every time I rewrote this same resolution. Seeing it featured so prominently on my 1995 list reminded me both of these feelings and also of the triumph I now feel after having lost the weight. This resolution now appears on my yearly list more as a reminder of my success and a reaffirmation of my commitment (to myself) than anything else.

Learn the two things that can make a difference in keeping the weight off.
After years of struggling with fad diets that consistently left me feeling defeated, I was finally able to take off the weight when I realized that I'd been the biggest obstacle to my success. I kept waiting for someone to give me the incentive to actually do it right. Once I realized that I was the only person who could make it happen, I was prepared to take the necessary steps that would lead to success. Having support along the way helped, but the motivation had to come from within.

I began my weight loss journey as a college freshman, which is how my book The Dorm Room Diet came about. By making healthy lifestyle changes—and realizing that the weight loss process was going to be gradual and permanent—I was able to readjust my relationship with food (I'd previously been using it as an emotional crutch) and regain faith in myself along the way.

Almost everyone who successfully loses weight will tell you there were two things that made a difference: (1) They made a commitment to themselves and kept it the way they would any other promise, and (2) they had a strong support network to lean on during the tough times. Weight Watchers is a prime example of a diet plan that incorporates the proven success of having others to push you along (and provide the element of outside guilt we talked about earlier). With mandatory weekly meetings, buddy systems and a regimented system of progress, Weight Watchers encourages its adherents to rely on one another for support and for "punishment" in the event of underperformance.

The most revolutionary element of such programs is perhaps the public weigh-ins where dieters must share their scale reading with a group leader. There is no room for fudging of numbers, and no faking success, when someone else (or many others) are there watching the scale with you. But such a system also develops a crutch: You rely on and require the knowledge that you must answer to someone else to motivate yourself. What happens when that person is no more? Will you ever be able to eat healthfully on your own and with only yourself to answer to?

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