Byline: Gabriella Boston
Today is the day of fresh starts. It's the new year and a great time to lose weight, quit smoking, save money or in some other way just become a better person. Right?
"Many people make lists of New Year's resolutions, and within a month, they give up on all of them," says Dr. Stephen Peterson, a psychiatrist at the Washington Hospital Center. "It would be much better to start when one is ready."
Being ready requires some introspection. For many people, it's not enough just to say, "I am going to lose weight" and then go ahead and lose the desired pounds, because eating is not just about satiating physical hunger.
"People use food to deal with their feelings too," Dr. Peterson says. "People who have grown up deprived - for them food may become a magical way of filling a void."
Food also can function as an anti-depressant through its properties as a stimulant, and some people feel protected against the outside world when they have more weight on them, Dr. Peterson says.
The reasons for an undesirable habit, whether it's eating too much, smoking or spending too much money, often have to be uncovered before the habit can be dropped, Dr. Peterson says.
After uncovering the reasons behind the habit, a next step can be to identify and specify one's goals, says Charles Platkin, a New York City author of a new self-help book, "Breaking the Pattern." Published by Red Mill Press, the book will be in bookstores in March.
Mr. Platkin, 39, shed 50 pounds a few years ago and since has started a diet-counseling service with about 60,000 clients.
If you know you want to lose a specific number of pounds, for example 20 pounds, you (or a personal trainer) can figure out how many calories you have to cut and how much you have to increase your amount of exercise to achieve that goal within a realistic time, Mr. Platkin says.
Aside from being specific, your goals also have to be motivating, achievable, rewarding and tactical in order to stand a chance against the habit you want to break, he says.
"Your goal has to be motivating. Instead of eating bland, low-calorie foods, think of low-calorie food that you like, that you can look forward to," Mr. Platkin says.
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Sometimes people need help figuring out what is achievable and how to reach a certain goal. They need tactics. That's where a person such as Don-Miguel Waldron, a personal trainer at Washington Sports Clubs, comes in. (The company has a dozen locations across the District, Northern Virginia and Maryland.)
At the beginning of the year, when women get memberships to a health club to get rid of problem areas such as bulging hips or buttocks or men say they want bigger triceps or chests, Mr. Waldron sits down and maps out the exercises and lifestyle modifications they have to make.
"You have to have a map [to reach your destination or goal]," Mr. Waldron says. "If you sail to South America and you don't have a map, you could end up in Asia."
Mr. Waldron also makes all health club members sign contracts to themselves to emphasize the seriousness of their commitment to their goals.
"It helps to write it down," Mr. Waldron says. "It makes it more real when it's on paper." It also makes it possible to go back and review your goals to make sure you are staying on track.
Some people need a support network around them to achieve their goals, says Dr. Mark Soberman, director of thoracic surgery at the Washington Hospital Center.
"Quitting smoking is very difficult," Dr. Soberman says. "It often helps if you enlist support from family and friends. And be realistic. Nicotine is very addictive, and it can take 10 attempts before a person actually quits."
About 400,000 people die from smoking-related illnesses each year. As with …