New Year’s Day is the time Arkansans, like people all over the country, decide to make resolutions to get fit and trim again — immediately.


But losing weight and maintaining a healthy lifestyle isn’t a game of instant gratification. It takes hard work but can be accomplished with savvy and smart daily routines and by setting realistic goals, experts said.


“One of the biggest mistakes people make is that every January they decide they are going to lose weight and cut their calories drastically,” said Rosemary Rodibaugh, professor of nutrition and associate department head for Family and Consumer Services with the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.


“But it took them a while to gain the weight, so it’s going to take a while to lose it. They are impatient,” she said.


Rodibaugh emphasized the importance of gradually cutting caloric intake. A drastic cut in calories may lead to quick losses of a few pounds — but losses that typically level off soon afterward.


“People get discouraged and they give up,” she said.


The human body can be tricky. A drastic cut in calories may lead to your body “thinking it’s starving.” As a reaction, your body will slow your metabolism to conserve energy, which leads to the body holding on to stored fat — the opposite of what dieters want.


“Some people want a miracle product whether it’s a supplement or pill or special food,” Rodibaugh said. “Those things may work in the short term, but they are really not miracles. The best thing to do is to decide you are really not doing this to lose weight but to get healthy.”


Tips include:


• Eat natural fresh fruits and vegetables, which are high in fiber and water and help you feel full.


• Eat lean, meat, poultry and lean fish.


• Know what you are eating. Keep track of your caloric intake. There are online tools and apps to help, including USDA’s Supertracker and MyFitnessPal.


• Check out choosemyplate.gov for proper meal balance.


• Be sure to exercise while dieting to avoid muscle breakdown.


• Portion control is paramount. Use a smaller dinner plate and choose smaller portions.


“Nobody’s perfect, so if you mess up, don’t give up,” Rodibaugh said. “Move on and keep trying.”


Katie Holland is a registered dietician with the Cooperative Extension service who helps educate Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program recipients about the importance of proper diet.


Losing weight at New Year’s is a goal shared by people in all parts of society, Holland said.


“People not setting realistic goals is a real stumbling block,” Holland said. “They might say, ‘I’m going to lose 50 pounds.’ A better way to approach it may be, ‘I’m going to lose a pound a week.’ Set small, short-term goals, such as having a cup of vegetables at dinner or water instead of sweet tea at lunch. It’s important to have goals that are measureable.”


Holland said it’s important to approach losing weight and healthy lifestyles from the standpoints of diet and exercise. Slacking off in one could negate all the benefits from solid discipline exercised on the other.


Also, don’t think just because you are eating a healthy lunch every day gives you a free pass to do something unhealthy on a regular basis, such as eating a bowl of ice cream every night or drinking high volumes of beer or wine.


“Alcohol has a lot of calories, especially mixed drinks, and it’s really easy to drink a lot of calories, so that’s definitely something to be wary of,” Holland said.


An overall goal?


“Ask yourself what you want achieve,” Holland said. “Think about your motivation. Be kind to yourself. Habits are important. Think about health more than pounds.”


For more information about healthy living, visit www.uaex.edu or contact your county extension office.


The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension and Research programs and services without discrimination.


— Seth Blomeley writes for the U of A System Division of Agriculture.