Browse any self-improvement section of the library, and you’ll see dozens and dozens of titles on setting goals. Having a goal and pursuing it helps you be the best version of yourself. Unfortunately, if you’re not setting goals correctly, your latest resolution might do more harm than good.
“Developing healthy habits is all about sustaining momentum,” says Nathalie Beauchamp, DC, Ottawa-based chiropractor, author, and functional medicine practitioner. “The more realistic one’s resolution, the more likely it is to be achieved and the more likely the resolution is to turn into a long-lasting habit.”
In some cases, unrealistic goals can actually be *harmful* to your health. We asked professionals in various health fields what resolutions they’ve heard that do more harm than good, and here are three of the worst.
1. Resolving to quit ALL the sugar.
About 70 percent of the population consumes more than the daily recommendation of added sugar every day, according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020. Although quitting sugar altogether is a nice ideal, you’re kind of setting yourself up to fail.
Sugar is added to many foods in various amounts, including sandwich bread, marinara sauce, and snack bars. You might struggle to find food with 0 grams of sugar at the store or out and about—even in your savory meals.
Jennifer Silver, DDS, dentist at Macleod Trail Dental, tells the tale of one patient who struggled with cavities and vowed to quit sugar. When Dr. Silver checked in with him later in the year, he admitted that he quickly started backsliding because he wasn’t seeing results and it was too restrictive. After having some of his daughter’s birthday cake, it “went downhill” and he “admitted falling into a sugar binge” for several days, says Dr. Silver.
“Not only is it nearly impossible to maintain [all-or-nothing resolutions], but they may not even help you achieve your goals,” says Dr. Silver. “If you don’t see results despite making big sacrifices, it’s human nature to give up.”
More realistic goals would be cutting down from five sodas a week to one, choosing fruit for dessert, or committing to brushing your teeth twice a day and flossing daily.
2. Resolving to exercise every day (or even twice a day).
When you first set a goal, you’re likely to be at peak motivation. You might be able to exercise daily for a week or two, or maybe even a full month. But it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to stick to that schedule.
“Besides being completely unhealthy for your physical well-being, spending your life in the gym (unless you work there) is horrible for your mental and emotional well-being,” says Lisa N. Folden, DPT, licensed physical therapist, naturopathic lifestyle coach, and owner of Healthy Phit Physical Therapy & Wellness Consultants in North Carolina.
Even trainers take a break once or twice a week. Aim to squeeze in 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity spread throughout the week, according to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, and it’s recommended to spread that out over at least three days. Rest days help prevent injury, give your body time to recover, and help you stay motivated. Learn more about the importance of rest days here.
3. Resolving to “get healthier.”
It sounds great, but without a plan in place, this goal is virtually meaningless. “It makes me cringe,” says Dr. Beauchamp. “Ultimately, the resolution is far too vague and one of two things happen. Either someone takes on too much and fails after a couple months, or they don’t take any action at all.”
It’s better to pick something specific and attainable to work on. “I advise my patients to start small and opt for more realistic goals,” says Dr. Beauchamp, “like committing to a 10-minute HIIT workout three times a week, or taking an hour each Sunday to meal plan.”
Even if your goal feels “too small” and isn’t where you want to ideally be, remember that goals can happen in steps. Once you master one goal, raise the bar and build on it.
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