Get the skinny on diet and exercise

Q:My New Year’s resolution to lose weight seems to have gone nowhere. My wish is sincere, so what can I do?

A: I don’t know how much you’re scolding yourself about your lack of success with the resolution, but the first step is to stop carrying that mental baggage. Drop the judgments and focus on a problem, trying to identify what specifically has not gone as you’d hoped, and develop some creative alternatives. Instead of setting your goal as weight loss — something you only indirectly control — identify up to three changes in your behavior that you can directly control. Try to find the sweet spot between overly ambitious changes that aren’t realistic for you and those so minimal they won’t have much impact.

Target very specific behaviors, such as snacking on a piece of fruit instead of sweets, beginning a meal with three-quarters of your usual portion, reducing calories in mixed dishes by adding more vegetables while reducing the amount of refined starches and meats or eliminating a daily sugar-laden beverage. Behavior research shows that when we put those targets in writing and keep track of our progress every day, we do better than simply having a mental intention to change.

When you encounter obstacles, don’t give up; try out some alternative ways to surmount the barriers and don’t be afraid to ask for help from a registered dietitian. You can find a registered dietician based on your Zip code at the website of the American Dietetic Association, www.eatright.org.

Q:Do those elastic tubes and bands really work for strength training?

A: Yes. Elastic tubes and bands are now available for virtually all levels of strength training, and they’re inexpensive and easily stored. You need to use the right band or tube to match your strength level and the particular muscle group being exercised. Chest presses, for example, need more resistance than the arm curls that exercise your upper arms. When working with an elastic tube or band, you secure it under your feet or around a heavy piece of furniture or a pole. Focus on squeezing the muscle in use when you encounter resistance as you pull on the tube/band and as you return to starting position. Just as when strength-training with free weights or stationary machines, good posture and proper technique are important to appropriately work the muscle and to avoid injury. You can use many of the same exercises you may have learned with other forms of strength training, but if you haven’t received instruction, it’s best to learn good technique by meeting with a certified fitness trainer at a local facility.

Karen Collins is a registered nutritionist with The American Institute for Cancer Research, the cancer charity that fosters research on the relationship of nutrition, physical activity and weight management to cancer risk.