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“Reverse Resolutions” You Should Make This Year

Weight loss and fitness resolutions are popular because they don’t work—so people have to resolve to do them again every year. It’s time to stop the no-success cycle and try something new in 2013: If you really want to succeed, take what you think you should do, and do the exact opposite. These “reverse resolutions” do just that—turning traditional New Year’s pledges topsy-turvy, with expert- and science-backed reasons for choosing the road less traveled. Read on for five surprising promises that sound non-committal but will actually help you slim down and shape up for the long haul. (Related: If you're planning on making a major change in 2013, follow this advice from Jillian Michaels to stay on track and reach your goals in the New Year.

“I will not start going to the gym regularly starting in January.”

Everyone (well, almost everyone) who resolves to start hitting the gym falls off the wagon in a matter of months—according to one survey, up to 60 percent of new memberships go unused, and attendance is back to the regular fitness fanatics by February.

One potential explanation for the drop-off: injury. Many bodies that walk into the gym aren’t ready for the movements they’ll do there, says Aaron Brooks, a biomechanics expert and owner of Perfect Postures in Auburndale, MA. Before you begin a fitness program, it’s important to identify muscles weaknesses and imbalances and correct them before challenging your body with intense training.

Many common body imbalances can be difficult to spot—one hip higher than the other, a knee turned in, or a pelvis that’s tilted wrong—and they can result in injury or slow your progress at the gym. A guide like The Athletic Body in Balance can help you find weaknesses yourself, and perform corrective exercises at home, while an Functional Movement Screening-certified personal trainer can perform tests and prescribe similar moves (and monitor your progress) to help you get on track—ask at your gym if any trainers have the certification, or use this search tool to find one near you.

Within a matter of a few weeks, you’ll be ready to tackle the moves that will make you stronger and leaner this year, with less risk of injury and better patterns for increased results. Oh, and the gym will be less crowded by then, too.

“I’m not going to skip dessert, and I’m not going to deprive myself.”

It’s common sense that skipping dessert just makes you want it more, but science proves it: In a 2010 study published in the journal Obesity, dieters who were restricted from eating a small dessert were more likely to be left “wanting” than those who had a bite of sweets. “Dieters had stronger cravings without dessert,” says Dawn Jackson Blatner, RD, a nutrition consultant in Chicago. Skipping “will backfire.”

So don’t drop the sweets if you want success: divide them into two buckets and conquer your cravings. “Bucket one is decadent—molten chocolate cake, red velvet cupcakes. Those are social sweets only,” she says. “When you’re out with a friend or on a date, eat those. Enjoy them, socialize, and have fun.” But on regular nights, stick with everyday desserts—what Blatner calls “fancy fruits,” such as pureed frozen banana “soft serve” or warm chopped apple with applie pie spice. Each of these satisfies a sweet tooth, Blatner says, and includes a nutritional bonus—vitamins, minerals, and fiber that can keep you full.

If dessert isn’t your weakness, apply this advice to the food you love. The key is to find things you can reasonably do within your own limits, and you’ll find success. “If you can’t live without Chinese food, but you can cut your portion in half and add in more nutrients, do that,” says Valerie Berkowitz, RD, director of nutrition at the Center for Balanced Health.

“In fact, I won’t even go on a diet. And I’m sure not going to count calories.”

The question isn’t if you’ve tried a diet, but how many—it’s not that you haven’t found the right one for you, says Blatner. It’s that there is no right one. “If they worked, people wouldn’t be looking for the next one,” she says. “Most people already know the stuff in diet books. A diet is information. But you want transformation.”

Instead of focusing on depriving yourself, or counting points, or calories, learn to count on yourself, she says. “For continued success, you want to build confidence in yourself, not in a book or a [calorie-counting] app,” Blatner says. “You don’t need to know calories. You need to know that what you're currently eating isn't working for you. If you eat a little less than what you're eating, and improve the quality of the food a little bit … by doing that, you'll decrease the calories. It's more sustainable.”

“Wipe your plate clean for the New Year—start with a fresh picture of yourself, and try to eat naturally,” Berkowitz adds. “Eat what you know you’re supposed to be eating, not foods filled with sugars or additives or preservatives.” Instead of counting calories, focus on doing healthier things like eating more vegetables and keeping portions in check. “Six months from now, [you may feel like] a different person,” Blatner says.

“I’m not going to try to ‘get toned.’”

In reality, muscle “tone” just means the development of your muscle, not how lean or lithe it appears. But the problem isn’t with the terminology—it’s with the not-so-wise conventional wisdom of how many people approach getting the lean body they crave.

“Everything you hear in the gym about how it’s high reps for looking lean, low reps for bulk,” says Nick Tumminello, a strength and conditioning coach in Florida and director of Performance University. But that’s not the complete picture.

According to research, the path to hypertrophy—bigger muscles—is with 12 to 20 sets of 8 to 15 (or more) reps per week. This strategy increases the total time your muscles are under tension, and the muscular “pump” that comes when your muscles are engorged with blood after a long set—both of which need to be involved for sustained hypertrophic gains, says Tumminello. When you perform shorter, heavier sets (of 6 reps, for example), the effect is primarily neuromuscular—your muscle will still get slightly bigger, but not as much, but it will get a lot stronger.

But that doesn’t mean you should avoid long sets if you want to avoid bulk. For ‘toned’ results you can see, such as a lifted butt and lean arms, you need to develop those muscles with higher reps. For muscles you want to strengthen for the sake of fitness, calorie burn, lean tissue, and fat loss, but you don’t want to necessarily feature, such as your back and quads, shorter reps are the way to go.

“I will not be a slave to the scale.”

We’re not saying to skip the scale all together—in fact, studies show you should weigh yourself every day for best results. Scientists in Minnesota found that dieters who stepped on the scale daily lost twice as much weight as those who weighed themselves less frequently, or eschewed the scale completely.

But numbers can be misleading: On the first day of your menstrual cycle, for instance, you’ll be retaining the most water, which can lead to a heavier weigh-in, according to a year-long Canadian study. In general, as one study puts it, your weight is subject to “normal cyclic fluctuations”—meaning that numbers sometimes DO lie.

The lesson: Find additional means of measuring. Buy a tailor’s measuring tape and use it to keep track of your waist, chest, thigh, calf, arm, and even wrist measurements. When one goes down, celebrate, and when others go up, find one that’s headed in the right direction. Or choose a piece of clothing that’s currently snug. When it starts to feel loose, you’re progressing. When a tighter piece starts to fit better, you’re headed in the right direction, too—no matter what the scale says.