The 5 reasons new year health resolutions fail.

It’s no secret. I think the biggest intellectual challenge for naturopaths (and health practitioners in general) nowadays is not in helping people get healthy  – but in helping them maintain the health that they gain after seeing us, through all the challenges and changes in their lives from that point onward.

Why? Because things change and new habits are hard enough to form under easy circumstances, let alone under challenging ones. Take New Year resolutions for example. Each year on the 1st of January, or some time soon after many people mentally prepare their “goal list” for the year. Generally it looks something like this:

  • lose weight in general (or the 25 kg of baby weight you gained from pregnancy)
  • get fit
  • be happier
  • reduce stress
  • get my energy back
  • sleep better
  • start a new business
  • cook only with whole foods (because all the preconception care you read about freaked you out about additives, also your friend who is a distributor for a multi-level-marketing health product company has freaked you out with all the nasty chemicals in cleaning products).
  • you want to create a journal about your journey as a mother,
  • make green smoothies each morning
  • start a daily gratitude diary or maybe a happiness jar.
  • start that regular meditation practice in the morning. Or yoga. Or maybe both.
  • try the new mediation colouring-in.
  • catch up  reading all the books you’ve accumulated over the last year and not read yet.
  • more “together” time with your partner
  • start a herb and veggie garden.
  • shop at the farmers market each week.
  • clear the clutter in the spare room or shed. Or both.
  • Save 10k for house renovations or a holiday. Or both.
  • Go on a date night with hubby once a month. Or week.

Not all these resolvers or resolutions are destined for success.  Some, sadly are destined for failure. If you’re wondering how you can tell, I’ve put together 5 reasons why some resolutions are more likely to fail than thrive.

1: You’re not ready to make that resolution yet.

Most of the resolutions on the list above require time and commitment to get underway. Generally one of the things which helps to make a new habit and lifestyle change is consistency. But there are certain times in your life where you just don’t have the extra time and energy or consistency in your schedule to commit to creating a new habit. For example, if you’ve just had a baby. Newborns have “routines” (and I use the word very loosely) that can change daily. My daughter didn’t have a regular day time schedule until she was 2.5. Despite our best efforts, we aimed for a consistent bed time and a consistent time to put her down for a nap during the day but beyond that, how long she slept varied. At one stage while I was studying to make the best of her day time nap which was 1 hour at best we decided to get a dishwasher so I could spend that after noon nap time studying instead of doing the lunch dishes. Two days later, my daughter started sleeping for 20 minutes and not re-settling. So bye bye study time. Things got even trickier when we had our son (the kids are 14 months apart) and while my daughter didn’t sleep through the day, my son didn’t sleep longer than 3 hours at all. Day  or night. And 3 hours was the longest sleep. We were both so exhausted and it was hard to build new things into our “routine” because there wasn’t really one. Afternoon playdates were discouraged because we had no idea how long the nap was going to go for (if it happened).

What about if you don’t have kids? What else could mean its not the right time? Well if you already have a massive commitment in your life eg. planning a long over seas holiday, a health crisis you’re in the middle of testing for, planning renovations on your house, changing jobs, or you’ve just started full time study while working full time, the chances are that these things will eventually cut in to the time you’d chiseled out for the new habit (eg. exercise or meditation) that you didn’t really want to do, you just felt like you should be doing it because hey – everyone knows that exercise and meditation are good for you. Right?

Reason 2: You’ve got too many resolutions

How does your new year resolution list look? Like this? FullSizeRender(4) or like this?



Having too many resolutions is a sure fire way to stress yourself out and sabotage your efforts. Changing habits and your lifestyle takes time, energy, focus and commitment. That’s why I try to limit the amount of “homework” I give my clients after a consult. Because based on my experience, when people are given more than 3 things to change at a time, the changes don’t tend to stick. It’s fine if they’ve got a sprint mindset – they can change everything for 2 weeks, but maintaining it over the course of a year or ten – much less common and much less successful. This is because change is paradoxically really hard and really easy (I’ll talk about this more in Reason 3: You’re focusing on the wrong thing). So while you can have more than one resolution (or goal) to achieve in a year, the secret to success is to try to focus on incorporating one at a time (and don’t bring in the next goal until you’ve got the first one down). Also trying to focus on too many goals (resolutions) at once is a lot like multi-tasking. After my personal experience with the crazy busy last few years I think Marie Forleo said it best in one of her videos: “Multi-tasking makes you fat and bald. Don’t do it.”

Reason 3: You’re focusing on the wrong thing

It’s funny, one of the reasons I left medical research to study naturopathy was because I wanted to help the whole person (and not just work with their fat cells), and to work in a more holistic way. But over the last 10 years since I started studying and since graduating, I’ve noticed a trend toward a strong focus on the biochemistry, molecular biology and pharmacology side of food and herbal medicine. Now I have 2 problems with this and I think it actually reflects the global problem we are having with obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and other serious health concerns. I think people are focusing on the wrong thing. It’s a bit like missing the wood for the trees.

I believe some of the nutritional research being done today is redundant. It’s like it’s being done to find out what is the least we can do rather than finding a way to help people do what we already know works. We already know we should be eating more vegetables, whole foods including whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, drinking less or no alcohol or coffee, get enough sleep and do regular physical activity. If we cut out a lot of the crap and just began doing these things more, we’d reduce a lot of the need for some of the current research. People don’t need 10 million grams of nutraceutical “x” to reduce their risk of heart disease if they stop eating the crisps, soft drinks and takeaway pizza and burgers each day. It seems completely ridiculous to spend time on research to find out how much of neutraceutical x you need on top of a crap diet to reduce your risk of heart disease. Just cut out the crap. It’s not rocket science! (it’s nutrition!)  The other kind of research that confuses people are the kinds which have people focusing on the ideal proportion of macronutrients (fats vs carbs vs protein) instead of just getting people to eat food. What we already know from research: eat more veggies, fruit and wholegrains, seeds, nuts and legumes. Drink enough water, get enough sleep, exercise. So if you’re busy counting carbs – just bear in mind that while a low carb diet may help you lose weight – weight loss doesn’t necessarily always reflect good health.

Another reason practitioners in general might discuss the biochemistry side of things more nowadays is because of the belief that information helps to motivate people. But considering people still smoke, even though they know it’s bad for them, don’t exercise – even though they know it’s good for them, and still eat junk food – even though they know it’s bad for them we should probably re-visit this logic. While it might help a few people change their habits, there are many people it’s not enough to motivate actual change for. Also it’s not enough to just ‘know” the biochemistry about nutrition and health, you actually have to implement it. But it’s a lot harder because people don’t want to change their diet and lifestyle habits so instead they keep focussing on learning more rather than doing what they already know.

Reason 4: You’re basing your resolution on the wrong information in the first place.

You might have noticed there are a lot of experts online. It’s been my experience though that a lot of people don’t know how to weigh the information from the various “experts” (or how to tell if someone is actually an expert in more than their marketing). It’s not so much about being an academic snob, but more about actually understanding where your information is coming from and who your information is coming from. So when it comes to advice the information from a real expert (with academic education and years of clinical experience outweighs the enthusiast with personal experience only every single time.

Why  is that? Because when you’re an enthusiast, you only have an “n” of 1 to base your experience on. Also because you’ve never undergone any formal study your understanding of certain principles has never been objectively tested (think of it like teaching yourself a foreign language from a book. You might have the pronunciation wrong and in some languages that can make a big difference between what you think you’re reading hearing and saying and what you are relaying).  Academic education alone isn’t enough either to be a “real expert” because as you find when you move into clinic – there is the text book situation (eg. all women menstruate on day 14 of their 28 day cycle) and then there is real life. Where you see women who haven’t had a cycle in over a year, women who have 22 day cycles, and so many variations in between, women with delayed ovulation, women with luteal phase defects. So many different variations).

So following the wrong kind of advice might be hinging all your efforts on making green smoothies or cutting out gluten for weight loss, without realising that cutting out gluten doesn’t necessarily promote weight loss. Neither does adding coconut oil to everything.

Reason 5 Your goal is too vague

How on earth do you measure “happiness”. Some people will tell you money can’t buy it, others will tell you they get it from eating their favourite chocolate, or spending time with their loved ones. So if “being happier” is one of your goals this year or “being a better person” or “being a better parent, child, sibling, partner or friend” then take another look at that goal and ask yourself how you could actually achieve it and know that you’ve achieved it.

For example to be happier might be achieved by doing more things that make you feel happier through the year, like going to the movies with your partner, cooking a veggie roast with Glenys’ red wine reduction each Sunday or simply catching the sunset at the beach in summer. Reducing stress means looking at what is causing stress – eg. perhaps it’s being surrounded by clutter, perhaps it’s not knowing when your bills are due, perhaps it’s someone in your life creating drama, and so reducing stress might look a bit like tidying your desk, and writing on your calendar when your bills are due, or spending more time with people who don’t stress you out. If being a better parent was on the list, what would make you feel like you are being a better parent? Is it spending more quality 1:1 time with your kids? Having a cleaner house? Cooking more home cooked meals? What is it for you? If it’s spending more 1:1 time, then how are you going to achieve this practically? Are you going to get some scooters and go scooting with the kids after school? Or read them a longer story at bed time? Perhaps spend some time in the morning playing “mothers” with your daughter with her baby doll? Try to find some actions you can attach to the vague goal that you can record.

Final thoughts… for now

Out of all the reasons that resolutions and health goals fail number 5 and 2 are probably my “favourite” mostly because it demonstrates something which “should” be easy –  but people find it really really really tricky to integrate it in their life at all, let alone maintain it over the long term.  So I’ll share more of my thoughts on how to make this easier next week.

Did you resonate with this list? I’d love to hear what your biggest 3 goals you really want to achieve this year are and if you resonated with any of the 5 points when you’ve made resolutions previously.

Are you on the mailing list?  Getting healthy – and maintaining it over the long term is something which fascinates me and I’m on a mission to try to find ways to make this easier and more doable for people, so if you’re on that journey too and you’d like some company and fresh insights then enter your name and email address below and I’ll keep you in the loop:-)