Don't declare a permanent embargo on carbs when you wake up on January 1st. The quickest way to dropping your diet is to give yourself crazy limitations, e.g., "I will start the day with two hours of Pilates and a spin class, and subsist on nothing but grapes and rice cakes from now on." Pick one habit to break at a time — like mindless grazing or throwing back sodas instead of water.
Fix Your Mistakes
Before you fix your diet or fitness routine, you first have to figure out where you went wrong in the past. Track your daily calorie intake and exercise through a site like fitday.com for a clear picture of how many calories you're taking in and how many you're burning on a daily basis. You may find that your morning jogs are too short to make up for the croissant you have for breakfast, or that you can drop pounds if you cut back on your weekend alcohol intake.
Plan on It
"I'm going to lose weight/diet/exercise more" isn't a fitness plan. Before you jump on the treadmill or throw your rent money into a gym membership, sit down with a piece of paper and a pen, and outline what exactly you'll be doing. Will you be running three mornings a week and doing crunches during Monday night's Gossip Girl? Or will you sign up for belly dancing classes twice a week after work, and ask a friend to go for a bike ride with you on Saturday mornings? Have a loose plan for your meals as well — you don't have to plan what you'll be having for lunch in three months, but you should have a solid idea of how you'll be distributing your calories. Would you prefer to eat a big lunch to keep you energized at work, and grab a light dinner? Do you need to schedule an extra workout on the weekend to make up for the glass or four of wine that you have on Saturday nights? Plan ahead and you won't be in danger of having a meltdown in front of the vending machine at work.
Do What You Love
Find a workout you love. If you've been trying to embrace running for years but loathe every pavement-pounding minute of it, stop forcing it. You'll be more likely to stick with a workout routine that you enjoy. If you have pangs of jealousy every time Dancing with the Stars is on, take a dance class. If you love riding your bike, sign up for a spin class. Experiment until you find something that you can stand, or even like, and your ideal body will be within your reach.
Write Your Own Diet Plan
It might be tempting to start shedding the pounds by hooking onto something like the South Beach diet and declaring all carbs to be evil, but those strict rules get harder to follow as soon as real life starts interfering with your New Year's resolution glow. Devise your own healthy eating plan instead, based on your own schedule and food preferences.
Take Baby Steps
Slow and steady wins the race when it comes to shaping up. Don't be tempted to do everything all at once. You don't have to run eight miles and do hundreds of crunches a day to see results — in fact, the more you push yourself past your limits, especially if it's been a while since you've been active, the more likely you are to burn out by the second week of January. The same goes for any new diet you embark on. Try incorporating one good diet habit or losing one unhealthy one each week. If you ease into healthy eating, you'll be more likely to find healthy foods you like, and better able to cope with separation anxiety when you put a limit on your fried food intake.
Drop the Deadline
Put away that calendar and stop forcing deadlines on your weight-loss efforts. The scale can fluctuate for a lot of reasons, and isn't always a great measure of your success, especially if you're building muscle as you're losing weight. Telling yourself that you have to drop 20 pounds before your sister's wedding can set you up for failure if you weigh yourself on a day that you're retaining a few pounds of water weight. You can't always control what the scale tells you, but you can control how hard you work. Keep at it and you'll start feeling and seeing the results.
Set Fitness Goals
Though setting weight-loss goals can do more damage than good, setting a fitness goal can be a great way to push yourself to do more than you think you can. Whether you want to run a half marathon in a year, or just want to be able to do 10 real push-ups, giving yourself a goal to work toward can get you out of bed for that early morning workout when willpower isn't doing the job.
Spread the Word
You don't have to send out a newsletter alerting your friends and family of your fat gram intake, but speaking up about your new habits is a great way to motivate yourself to keep at it, and maybe even get your friends to join in. If you turn down your friends' invitation to grab dinner at McClogged Arteries, mention that you're trying to eat a little healthier and suggest a different place instead. Or give your best friend a free weekend pass from your gym so she can join you for your spin class.
Give Yourself a Pat on the Back
It's so easy to talk smack about yourself if you skip your workouts for a few days, or give in to chocolate temptation — why not turn it around and give yourself the kudos you deserve when you're doing well? Don't wait until you lose 15 pounds or run a 5k race. Take notice of the small improvements you make, like being able to run up the stairs to your third-floor walkup without losing your breath, or taking the time to make yourself a healthy breakfast every day for a week. All of those small things are the things you weren't doing before, and they're all signs that you're on your way to a hotter, healthier you.