Best Days to Begin a Diet

Have you ever wondered why New Year’s resolutions are successful? Okay, okay, maybe they’re not always successful, but they definitely have a better success rate than changes you make on normal days. Jason Riis says it’s because New Year’s Day is a “temporal landmark;” basically it’s a day we’ve designated in our minds as a milestone. Riis, who recently authored a report about the idea, says that these days affect how we think about our ability to change. “On certain days … you just have a different view of yourself. You become more forward thinking.”

This doesn’t mean that you should put off that new diet or decision to exercise until next January 1st. According to Hengchen Dai, co-author of the report, these temporal landmarks come as often as every Monday. The fresh start to the week can be all the push someone needs to decide that this is the time the diet is going to work, that they really are a new person this week. It really is mind over matter. “It’s changing the perception of the self,” says Dai.

However, some people burn out on a normal week, and by the weekend are back to their old habits. Other temporal landmarks that have a more significant feel (and thus provoke more profound mental change) are birthdays, anniversaries, the first day of a new semester or season, or even the first day of the month. Gyms, whether they’re public or university facilities, are always more busy at the beginning of the month or the semester because people instinctively feel it’s the right time to reinvent themselves. And while some people don’t follow through with that commitment, they are more likely to than if they were simply starting their new routine on a random day.

This means that perception of ourselves and of what it means to have a fresh start are key factors in how successful we are at things like losing weight. So the next time you think it’s silly to wait until a milestone to begin a diet, instead reframe it as waiting for a temporal landmark, when you’ll actually wake up as a new person ready to make a change!