Making healthy habits stick

    If you’ve got big plans for getting healthy in 2010, listen carefully. Some New Year’s resolutions work better than others.

    If you’ve got big plans for getting healthy in 2010, listen carefully. Some New Year’s resolutions work better than others.

    Listen: [audio:091228tenewyear.mp3]

    Join our web chat on making healthy habits stick Tuesday 12/29 at noon.

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    Edward Neifeld struggles with his weight, but says he’s resolved to shed some pounds next year. Of course, there’s a problem.

    Neifeld: Hesh’s chocolate chip pound cake. It’s a bakery in the Northeast on Castor Avenue. Agh, God. That’s one of my big fall downs.

    Neifeld does have some success resisting temptation. He participated in a weight loss study at the Philadelphia veterans hospital. The 67-year-old staked a few dollars every month and the study matched his money each time he reached a new goal.

    Neifeld: I liked the idea that I had to prove to somebody that I could do it. Almost like a bet.

    Dr. Kevin Volpp led the study and directs the Center for Health Incentives at the University of Pennsylvania.

    Volpp: A lot of people know what they are supposed to do, a lot of people know what they want to do, but they have trouble following through.

    Volpp studies what motivates people to establish healthy habits. Early research suggests that something called “commitment contracts” work, at least in the short run.

    One Web site takes your money, and if you slip up, if you eat that cake or have that smoke, they keep the cash. Volpp says the Web site even ups the ante by sending your money to a so-called anti-charity.

    Volpp: If you believe in gun control you might choose to have your money sent to the NRA, and you can imagine that would be very motivating for many people.

    Dietitian Althea Zanecosky takes her cues from experts at the National Weight Control Registry. They track people who’ve lost a significant amount of weight and kept it off.

    There was no one set way to do it. So some people did it in groups, whether it be worksite wellness, or places like Weight Watchers. So everybody has to find the way to do it that works for them.

    Zanecosky does ask her clients to write down everything they eat for a week. The data help her spot patterns, which she can then use to create a personalized plan.

    Zanecosky: So a good diet is to learn how to take the foods that drive you crazy and have them in reasonable amounts. How much is too little, how much is too much, and how much is just enough, kind of the Goldilocks principle.

    The experts say: Sure, go ahead. Make a resolution. New Year’s is good time to start healthy habits.

    But they say sweeping vows such as, “I’m going to lose 25 pounds” are unlikely to work. Instead, they suggest a small, specific goal for January. Conquer that and then move on to another in February.

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