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Experts offer tips on sticking to New Year's resolutions

Diane Amerosa started to pack on pounds in her late 20s, after the birth of her two sons, on the front end of a family life that included lots of school activities, a job as a substitute teacher aide, and meals on the run that included too many carbs and processed foods.

Fad diets helped for a time but became unsustainable. She wasn’t able to come up with a long-term solution until she visited an East Amherst fitness center and the owner helped her put together a comprehensive plan to help her exercise consistently and eat better.

“One day I got disgusted and called him up. I made a decision that I was sick of how things were going,” said Amerosa, 51, of North Buffalo.

Many New Year’s resolutions start with disgust. That’s OK, experts say, as long as it serves as fuel for what needs to be a noble, concerted effort.

[RELATED: Our annual choose-a-gym checklist]

Resolutions are hard to keep. Research shows 25 percent of those who make them abandon them after a week. The numbers drop precipitously from there – and don’t include the roughly 55 percent of Americans who avoid the annual New Year’s exercise altogether.

Still, handle a resolution right and you may end up like Amerosa, who laid out her weight loss plan in early 2014, dropped 40 pounds in 18 months and has maintained a healthier weight since.

She learned that successful resolve comes when you stick to several important steps:

  • Set a goal.
  • Get help from an expert.
  • Create a plan that breaks down the goal into workable pieces.
  • Measure progress.
  • Become accountable.
  • Look to overcome and minimize setbacks.

“That’s the normal process for creating a new behavior,” said Chadd Soto, manager of wellness services with Independent Health. “You don’t have to have these lofty goals with no meaning behind them. You want to break those things down after you decide ‘I’m not going to take it anymore – I’m going to make changes in my life.’ ”

Pardon the plug, but here’s one thing that can help: Read WNY Refresh every Saturday in the new year to get information, tips and encouragement when it comes to improving your health, fitness, nutrition and family life.

Meanwhile, several experts in the region shared strategies about how to successfully tackle four of the most common New Year’s resolutions: I want to lose weight, get healthier, get out of debt and stop smoking.


“So often, people believe they can do it all on their own. Maybe some people can, to a certain extent.” Dr. Derek Alessi (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

The expert: Derek Alessi, owner of Dr. Derek Health & Fitness in East Amherst and host of “Live it Fit Now!” at 6 a.m. Sundays on WGRZ-Channel 2. He holds a bachelor’s in economics, master’s in nutrition and doctorate in exercise science. “So often, people believe they can do it all on their own,” Alessi said. “Maybe some people can, to a certain extent, but statistics show many can’t. The Centers for Disease Control says overweight and obesity rates are almost 69 percent for adults in the U.S. It’s not just another fitness tracker watch, or another gym membership. You also need a coach. You need a blueprint to follow, whether it’s fitness, whether it’s weight loss, whether it’s financial.”

The plan: Amerosa agreed to work out at the fitness center three days a week, building various muscle groups with mostly strength training, as well as some cardio exercise. She also exercised twice a week at home. She focused on eating smaller meals every two or three hours that tilted toward eggs, lean proteins, fruits, vegetables and healthy fats that include oils, nuts and legumes. She stopped eating breads.

The measurement: Alessi asked Amerosa to get blood sugar, blood pressure and other lab tests. He also used a DEXA scanner every three to four weeks to parse out her percentage of body fat. This pumped her up when the numbers went down and let her know when she veered off track.

Accountability: “When he said, ‘Exercise at 7 in the morning five days a week,’ I thought, ‘How am I going to do that?’ But I did it,” Amerosa said. “Now, I’m kind of addicted.” Said Alessi, “It’s important to always say, ‘This is my health, my body, my vibrancy, my energy. I’m going to do what I can to set myself up for success.’”

Resilience: Alessi builds a cheat day into his weekly eating recommendations, one that can include moderate portions of pizza, pasta and wine, among other favorites. He sees this as a way people can reward themselves for making healthier choices most days. This often means chocolate for Amerosa.

Results: Amerosa lost 6 pounds of fat in the first four weeks and 3 to 4 pounds every month until she hit a more ideal weight. Sweetness returned to vegetables after she stopped eating foods with added sugar. She can squat with up to 185 pounds now, and the pair of deadlifts that are part of her workouts went from 55 to 200 pounds. “It’s incredible how much better I feel,” she said. “I’m not tired. I have all sorts of energy.”

[RELATED: Goal-setting works at Falls cardiac fitness center]


“I want to be healthy so I can enjoy my retirement.” Sandy Schildwaster, of Batavia, pictured with her daughter, Katie Williams, and Hall of Famer Thurman Thomas during the Dec. 18 Bills-Browns game.

The expert: The Independent Health and Buffalo Bills Health & Wellness Challenge.

The plan: The challenge, which takes place in the spring and fall, lays out three daily steps: Do at least 20 minutes of physical activity; eat five servings of fruits and vegetables; and drink eight glasses of water. “In addition to these three things, you have to reduce your current calorie content,” said Soto, the Independent Health wellness guru. The fruits and vegetables in this plan are designed to crowd out less healthy foods – and they can help you feel fuller longer because of their fiber content. “And what is not often talked about,” Soto said, “is that fresh fruits and vegetables – and the key word is ‘fresh’ – are loaded with energy and people don’t associate living foods with energy. They really should.”

The measurement: Participants use the honor system to chart their progress online at Thirty participants win prizes. Sandy Schildwaster, 56, a retired speech therapist who lives in Batavia, was the fall challenge grand prize winner. She won a “Bills Game Day Experience” for the Dec. 18 contest against the Cleveland Browns, enjoying box seats for 12 at New Era Field, a second-quarter visit from Hall of Famer Thurman Thomas and the post-game press conference. “I felt like royalty,” she said.

Accountability and resilience: Schildwaster already walked daily with her husband, Mark, and found it refreshing to add more fruits and veggies to her diet. Drinking eight glasses of water was hardest for her. “If I didn’t, I couldn’t check the box,” she said, “but it didn’t mean I was a failure. I could start again the next day. I liked that part of it.”

Soto recommended applying the 80/20 rule to fitness, wellness and pretty much all goals. “Ultimate success comes with consistency,” he said. “Even if there are ebbs and flows, consistency is the number one ingredient for success. It’s OK not to be perfect. If you’re doing the right thing 80 percent of the time, and you fall off the wagon 20 percent of the time, you’re ahead of the game. Most people do the wrong thing 80 percent of the time and very, very wrong things 20 percent.”
Results: “I didn’t lose weight during the challenge but I didn’t do it for that,” Schildwaster said. “I want to be healthy so I can enjoy my retirement. I went to the doctor for a checkup two weeks after the challenge and my lab results were quite favorable. She said my blood pressure was down, my cholesterol numbers were outstanding.  I used to take blood pressure medication and I don’t now. I’m really feeling way better physically.”

“Set up systems that kind of take things out of your control...” Sarah Blankenship, financial planner with Wilcox Financial

The expert: Sarah Blankenship, 32, a financial planner with Wilcox Financial in Williamsville. “I equate having a financial planner to having a personal trainer,” she said. “Some people will say, ‘I’d love to work with you, so when I get a big chunk of money, I’ll give you a call.’ Granted, if somebody has a chunk of money, I’m happy to help them, but we help you make small goals to meet your big goals. You need somebody to keep you on track.”

The plan: “Whether you’re making minimum wage or $1 million a year, a budget is an exercise that helps people be aware of where their money is actually going,” Blankenship said. Limit the number of credit cards you have, and don’t use them if you can’t pay off the monthly balance in full, she advised. Pay off smaller balances and those with the highest interest rates first. Make sure you have life, health and disability insurance that can help you handle unexpected emergencies.

The measurement: Keep an eye on your balance sheets, but also on the future. “Set up systems that kind of take things out of your control,” Blankenship said. Direct-deposit part of your paycheck into a savings account at regular intervals. Contribute to your retirement with a Roth or traditional IRA, or to a college saving account for your children. “Typically, when you have a couple hundred dollars going into your retirement account, you adjust your spending habits naturally, whether you know you’re doing it or not,” Blankenship said.

Accountability and resilience: In the financial world, that starts with education and good advice – and Western New York has a novel place for that: The Establishment, in Suite 100 of the Walker Center, 5110 Main St., Williamsville. MassMutual fostered the site in hopes it will become a model for other parts of the U.S.

The Establishment opened about a year ago to help millennials and young professionals but has become more encompassing, said Blankenship, one of several experts who teaches free classes there. Wine and Investing 101 – hosted by a financial planner and a sommelier – “is by far our most popular class,” Blankenship said. Classes on Jan. 10-12 include one each on preparing financially for college, buying your first home and making sense of student loans. Sign up online at

Results: Think compounding interest or returns. “A really big part, whether it’s finances or fitness, is do something,” Blankenship said. “Start saving something. Up your 401K by 1 percent. Do something small and start there. Otherwise, it’s like drinking from a firehose.”


When you quit smoking – at any age – you reduce your risk for lung disease, heart disease, many cancers and early death.

The expert: Stephanie Segal, who leads free tobacco cessation classes at Roswell Park Cancer Institute. The next one starts at noon Jan. 9; to register, call 845-8667. In Niagara Falls, American Lung Association Freedom from Smoking classes take place from 2 to 3:30 p.m. Thursdays at the Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center’s Wellness Connection Center; call 285-2382 to register.

The plan: “Cold turkey has about a 10 percent success rate but it’s higher if you combine quitting with changing your lifestyle and changing your habits,” Segal said. “When you combine quitting with nicotine replacement medicine and attending all five tobacco cessation classes, it tends to keep people more motivated and gives you more knowledge about the steps to take to quit.”

The measurement: The American Lung Association recommends those who want to stop smoking write down reasons to quit, choose a quit date and keep track of what triggers their urge to light up a cigarette.

Accountability: Classes, and loved ones, can help keep quitters accountable and help identify smoking triggers “and alternative things to do when you have a craving,” Segal said. Cognitive therapy can raise awareness about what it will take to quit, she said.

Resilience: Try not to get discouraged if you slip up. “That works against you,” Segal said. “Chalk it up as part of the addiction and continue with the quitting process using all the strategies you’re learning along the way. ... It takes time to quit – often several attempts – and replace smoking with new habits.”

Results: Think you can’t quit smoking? There have been more former adult smokers in the U.S. since 2002 than those who smoke, according to the CDC, and when you quit smoking – at any age – you reduce your risk for lung disease, heart disease, many cancers and early death.


Twitter: @Bnrefresh, @ScottBScanlon

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