- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 1, 2002

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?
Not exactly.
"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.

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 overeating, the reasons why people smoke are multifaceted.
"There is the physiological aspect to it, but then there is the psychological aspect to it, too," Dr. Soberman says. Just to name a few physical and mental aspects of smoking: Nicotine is addictive, smoking is an appetite suppressant, some people have a constant need to have something in their mouths or in their hands, Dr. Soberman says.
"Don't be afraid to ask for help," he adds. "Go to your family physician and say 'I need help.'"
Most physicians will be more than happy to help devise a strategy, Dr. Soberman says.
The good news is there are many methods of fighting the smoking habit. Nicotine substitutes, anti-depressants and hypnosis can help.

Better money management is another common New Year's resolution, but as with other resolutions, success sometimes can seem unattainable.
"Most people start out the wrong way," says Steve Rhode, president and co-founder of Myvesta.org, a financial crisis and treatment center in Rockville. "The first thing they do after they get over the holiday hangover is start a budget but that budget is just a page of lies."
The reason that budget won't work is because to set up a realistic budget, you have to know what your expenses are. Give yourself 30 days of tracking your income and expenses all of them, down to the cup of coffee from the corner coffee shop and the pack of chewing gum.
Sometimes you can save 20 percent just by writing down expenses. As the expenses become apparent, it is easier to analyze whether they are necessary or not.
"Once you know what your expenses are, you can make informed, adult decisions," Mr. Rhode says. "You can make a budget. You can commit to paying down bills."
If you can't seem to make any sense of your financial situation, don't be shy about seeking help, Mr. Rhode says.
As with the other habits, the reasons for spending are many.
"Most people spend money to help change their mood state. They feel lonely or confused. They spend to make themselves feel different," Mr. Rhode says. "But before you go out and spend, you need to ask yourself, 'Why am I going to spend this money? Do I need this item?' A general awareness of why we spend helps."
Although there may be disappointments and slips along the way to achieving a goal, it is important to give oneself a pat on the back when successes, however small, are achieved.
"You need to step aside and acknowledge when you are doing something well," Mr. Platkin says. "This doesn't mean that you need to throw a celebratory party; just acknowledge the achievement. It makes it more fun."
Whatever change a person seeks, it's crucial to recognize that there are no quick fixes and that lifestyle changes take time, Mr Platkin says.
In his book, he formulates it this way: "Achievement is not something that happens to anyone by accident it is planned for, visualized and relentlessly pursued."
Dr. Peterson says the importance of taking baby steps in making progress is an ancient strategy. He recalls an old East Asian story about a rice farmer who every day harvests a small patch of rice.
"He does a little bit every day, and before you know it, the whole field is done."


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