Dr. Val Farmer
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Making Resolutions That Count

January 2, 1995

The number one resolution people make at the beginning of the year is to lose weight. I'm going to define the problem differently for myself. It is to be physically fit. One in three Americans is obese. I am one of them.

I don't like the way I look in the mirror. I am not happy with how tight my clothes fit or that the size I need keeps inching upward. I sit a lot. I'm in the car. I am in meetings. I read. I write. The work I do around the house doesn't raise a sweat. The grass is gone and the snow hasn't arrived.

I am aware of the health implications of being overweight, though for years I deliberately avoided making the connection. Now my wife makes it for me. I am getting older. My body isn't what it used to be. I am emerging from denial. A sciatic nerve problem can do that. I don't need an unnecessary risk factor to deprive me of a full, active life.

Psychologists Joseph Rossi and J.O. Proshaska from the Cancer Prevention Research Center at the University of Rhode Island have developed a five-stage model of how people make changes in their lives. I am going to use my goal of being physically fit to illustrate their ideas.

The precontemplation stage. This is where I gave lip service to dieting and exercise but was still comfortable doing what I was doing - eating and sitting more than I needed. Exercise was painful and too hard to work into my life. I took in information about sensible diets and exercise programs but it didn't move me to action. I wasn't ready to change.

The contemplation stage. Rossi and Proshaska believe the intention to change may start up to six months before an actual change is made. Though my eating habits and lifestyle stayed the same, I grew more and more unhappy with myself. I didn't resist the health and dietary information around me. I was gathering my resolve and energy to do something.

The preparation stage. This is a small window of time, perhaps 30 days prior to the actual change. During this time, the pros begin to outweigh the cons. There is a shift from intention to action. A decision or commitment to change is made.

I am a Monday guest on a nationally syndicated radio call-in show, AgriTalk. I proposed to the host, Ken Root, that we tape a show on New Year resolutions to be aired January 2. We both agreed to make public one resolution. I knew what I was going to do. My commitment would be made public. I figured I needed all the help I can get.

During the preparation stage, people start making some changes they plan to do later. I cut back my usual out-of-control eating of Christmas goodies. I was playing at the edges of what I was about to do.

The action stage. Here people quit the problem behavior and adopt new behaviors.

Here is my plan. I will take one moderate portion of food at a meal. I will avoid high fat foods and sweets. I will eat more slowly. I will eat moderately at restaurants. I will only go through a buffet line once. I will decide ahead of time how much I will eat at social gatherings. I will take my dog on aerobic walks at least four times a week. I will have a series of exercises I will do as a part of my daily routine.

I will keep track of my fitness and give myself rewards for progress. I will enlist the support of friends and family in what I am trying to do. I am making my commitment public so that I am accountable. I don't want to give myself any wriggle room.

Maintenance. This stage means having maintained the new behavior for more than six months. I made a public commitment to lose 25 pounds several years back. It worked. The problem was that I gained the weight back.

Cigarette and alcohol lapses set off a wave of intense craving that fuels the desire to have more. People who use abstinence programs tend to give up once they have violated their program. They use their mistake as proof that change is impossible. They binge.

Kit O'Neill, a psychologist at North Dakota State University, studies addictions. She feels that lapses should be looked at as learning experiences. People should forgive themselves and look at the situation that led to the lapse. "What happened? What do I need to do differently." A lapse is a trigger to get more vigilant and fine tune the changes you are making to fit the problem situation.

Ask me about how I am doing. The hardest test will be maintenance. When I have broken poor lifelong eating and exercise habits, then I will have accomplished my goal. I want this resolution to stick.