Five Ways to Make A Change—And Make it Stick

By Anne Wilfong, R.D., L.D. – January 2, 2013

New Year’s diet resolutions are ubiquitous this time of year; how many have you already planned?  Instead of “diet,” I like to use the term “behavior change” since resolving to lose weight, exercise more, or eat more vegetables really involves changing your current behaviors.  Let’s use weight loss as an example.

Behavior Change 

Be as specific as possible as to what you want to change.  First, specify the initial amount of weight you might like to lose.  Committing to initially losing ten percent of your current weight sounds a lot more realistic than saying you want to lose 50 pounds.  Checking in with your hunger and fullness at each meal and snack, honoring that feeling instead of eating everything on your plate just because it’s there, is honing in on a specific behavior.  Next, specify a time frame for your behavior change, being as sensible as possible.  Losing 50 pounds in two months is NOT realistic, even though reality TV would like you to believe otherwise.  Using that hunger and fullness scale for two months at each meal and snack to reduce the amount of times you under- and overeat is likely to result in a more healthy relationship with food and, possibly, weight loss.

Resolution Example:  I will check in with my hunger and fullness at each meal and snack for two months.

Small Steps 

Behavior change is achievable when it is broken down into small steps.  Most people want to start eating a healthy diet and see the results within the next few days or they are immediately discouraged.  Try not to fall into this trap, as it will just leave you feeling down.  Instead, list the small steps you need to take in order to achieve your behavior change.

Resolution Examples:  I will make a menu and grocery list for the week.  I will eat my meals sitting down at a table (rather than in the car or at my desk or standing at the counter).  I will start eating on small plates instead of large dinner plates.  I will check in with my hunger and fullness at each meal.

Personal Benefits 

What personal benefits do you expect to see from this behavior change?  Take a step back and list these benefits.  I encourage you to write them down, as you can refer to them when you hit barriers to your goal/change.  Try to list as many benefits as you can think of and don’t discount anything you think is important.  Remember: This is your goal, and it has to be personally important in order for you to be successful.

Resolution Examples:  Losing weight may help reduce my blood sugar.  Losing weight may help me sleep better.  Losing weight may allow me to be more active with my family.


There are always barriers, and you will inevitably hit them.  Think of barriers as a learning experience and, instead of feeling like you failed when you encounter them, gather as much information as possible to determine what is and is not working.  If you have tried to change the same behavior in the past (or even a similar behavior), look at what got in the way of making a permanent change.  Make a list of things you know are going to trip you up; be as honest as possible.  It is equally important to make a list of what you can do to overcome the barriers you expect.  By doing so, you are giving yourself a better chance of getting back on your feet when you are tripped up and will possibly be more successful.

Resolution Barrier:  The minute I walk in the door, I always go to the refrigerator and start eating mindlessly.

Resolution Solutions:  When I walk in the door, I will get myself a cold/hot drink and wait five minutes before I will check in with my hunger to determine whether or not I need a snack.


Who is supporting your behavior change and who believes in you?  I think it is important to have a support partner when you are making behavior changes.  It may be a loved one, family member, friend, therapist, or dietitian.  Let this person know what you are trying to achieve and, if you are comfortable, describe your barriers and how you are planning to overcome them.

Behavior change takes time, practice, and patience, so keep at it, adjusting as necessary, and continue finding what works best for you. 


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