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Casualties of the American Resolution

TIMES STAFF WRITER

OK, so you didn’t shed those pounds or kick that cigarette habit. And you haven’t finished that house project, erased your debts, gotten that promotion or taken those lessons you promised yourself.

Cheer up. A New Year is aborning and the fitness gurus, money managers, career counselors and weight loss clinics are gearing up for that perennial January blitz of self-improvers out to fulfill New Year’s resolutions.

Many people fall off the program before the month is even out. So what? Nothing ventured, nothing gained. But experts say it’s all in the way you set your goals and try to achieve them that make the difference.

“People tend to be very unrealistic about their objectives and what they want to accomplish,” said Dr. Tom E. Noyes, medical director at Capistrano by the Sea Hospital in Dana Point and a UCI professor of psychiatry.

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They want quick fixes to problems that took years to develop, often without acknowledging that they can’t do it alone, he said.

Popular Newport Beach psychologist Pat Allen advises: “Set small goals, things you can achieve in a day or a week, like giving up desserts until you’ve gotten to your desired weight. . . . Look at your resolution to see if it’s small enough for a human being to do this week.”

“There’s something about positive reinforcement in small increments that allows you to handle the big commitments,” said Allen, who has had some personal experience at these things. She is both a recovering alcoholic and a compulsive eater.

Longtime budget adviser Carl Lindquist anticipates that January’s credit card statements--fat with Christmas season charges--will spur an avalanche of clients to his nonprofit Consumer Credit Counselors of Orange County Inc. in Santa Ana.

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“We have had quite a splurge here recently, and we expect a big one in early January, when people get their bills and realize they can’t make the payments,” said Lindquist, president of the 25-year-old company, which manages an average of 1,500 accounts of people troubled by consumer debts.

If getting out of the financial hole is your New Year’s goal, Lindquist advises cutting up the plastic.

“You’ve got to quit charging stuff, that’s all,” he said. “Try to get on a cash basis. That’s hard to do when you’ve got a pocketful of credit cards.”

When it comes to self-improvement, looking good--that is, losing weight and getting fit--tops most lists.

Consequently, every January, there is a corresponding surge in business at diet and nutrition centers, at Overeaters Anonymous, and at health clubs and fitness centers throughout the county.

Membership at Weight Watchers of Orange County increases 100% after each New Year’s Day, said Orla Lohmeier, advertising manager at the organization’s Santa Ana headquarters.

“Everybody’s resolution is: This time I’m going to do it; this time I’m serious, 1991 will be the year,” Lohmeier said. “Then membership starts to fall off towards March and April and picks back up in September.”

Many are, ahem, repeat customers.

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Ruth Mosher of Anaheim has “high hopes” for a run on the Cambridge Diet plan, which she distributes in Orange County. Already, one former graduate has contacted her about resuming the program.

“He said he tried Cambridge back East and was real successful with it. He wants to take it up again.”

Why do it again? “He evidently has gained like we all do,” Mosher said.

Some say they’ve given up New Year’s resolutions because they’ve made the same one so often.

“I should make a resolution to gain weight because I always end up doing the opposite of what I say I’m going to do,” joked Artie Young of Huntington Beach.

Only a notch below diets in popularity are physical fitness resolutions, experts say.

It gets so busy at some gyms and health clubs that fitness fanatics say they routinely skip the month of January. By Ground Hog Day, though, the crush of gung-ho newcomers has subsided.

“We do almost twice the business in January than we do any other month of the year,” said Bart Webster, manager of the Family Fitness health club in Costa Mesa, where about 1,200 members circulate each day.

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It’s the holiday bulge that triggers the sudden interest, said Lou Gaudio, a personal trainer who has a gym in Dana Point.

“If they are out of shape or overweight, it becomes much more apparent to them: They’re sitting there with this full stomach or gasping for breath when they’re running around at Christmas,” he said.

Overkill is a key reason many people give up the workouts, says Gaudio. Many get bored with the beginner’s program and want to graduate immediately to the championship routine, and they can hurt themselves.

Those who succeed know “it’s now or never,” Gaudio said. “You’ve got to have reached the point to realize that if you’re going to get in shape, no one’s going to do it for you.”

He adds in a not-so-subtle plug: “Then you need guidance on what to do first and what to do second.”

A helping hand also can be crucial to quit smoking, drinking or taking drugs, experts say.

Many of those who flood American Lung Assn. clinics each January have tried to quit before, said Harvey Shields, executive director of the Orange County chapter, which doubles the usual number of clinics offered in that month.

“Most people are able to quit without assistance, but there are large numbers of smokers who do need some assistance,” he said. “More research has shown us that some people do have a very strong physical addiction.”

Bill Hodge, executive director of the Orange County League of Cities, plans to quit. Again.

“I got a pack of (nicotine) gum in my Christmas stocking that I’ve been eyeing nervously,” said Hodge, who is gradually arming himself with toothpicks, cough drops and other surrogates for an as-yet-unspecified D-day. “The last time, I quit for nine months.”

That was in 1986, with the help of a lung association clinic. There are good reasons he wants to abandon his two-pack-a-day habit: his wife is expecting their first child; he’s going to be 40, and smoking is becoming increasingly unpopular, not to mention illegal in many places.

“I’m starting to relate to what Rosa Parks must’ve felt like at the back of the bus,” he said with grim humor.

If going “cold turkey” doesn’t help, Hodge said, he may join a group of county workers who plan to seek the services of a hypnotist called “Dr. Smoak.”

Whatever the resolution, success depends on personal motivation and a solid evaluation of the problem, said psychiatrist Noyes.

“Once you’ve evaluated the problem, set realistic and achievable goals with time lines. And if you don’t achieve your goal by the time you’ve set, don’t think you’ve failed,” he said. “Instead, maybe consider modifying your approach, setting more realistic time lines. . . . The key word is realistic.

People often get into trouble when they aspire to an ideal they cannot achieve: say, to be a muscle man like Arnold Schwartzenegger, or svelte like Madonna with a face like Christie Brinkley.

“Often that’s not possible in this life,” said Dr. Lawrence D. Sporty, director of UCI Medical Center’s psychiatric consultation service.

Obviously, some resolutions are easier to keep than others.

Don Frenkel, an electrical engineer from Irvine stood patiently at the earring counter of a Costa Mesa department store on a recent evening. Asked his goal for 1991, he said drolly: “My wife heard my resolution about being more thrifty in 1991, so she’s out here shopping.”

“We said we were both going to get married this year, didn’t we?” Pat Acree, a travel manager for a Buena Park firm, reminded her friend, Valerie Butler of Long Beach, as they cruised the sale racks in search of the right evening dress. Both are still single.

Last year, Supervisor Harriett M. Wieder resolved to lose 10 pounds and get into shape. She lost the weight, but a knee injury hampered her exercising. Now recuperating from knee surgery, Wieder has dusted off her 1990 goals for 1991.

“I lost the 10 pounds, but I didn’t keep it off,” she said, laughing. “So I’m back to the starting gate again.”

Her colleague, 3rd District Supervisor Gaddi H. Vasquez, has two goals: to spend more time with his 11-year-old son and to return to his regimen of working out 1 1/2 hours daily. “Now, I don’t even want to tell you what it is, it’s so sad,” he said.

For New Jersey-born comic Ritch Shydner, New Year’s resolutions are rich fodder because they touch on everyone’s foibles.

“A guy says he’s going to quit smoking, and on New Year’s Eve, he smokes 15 packs. Gets enough nicotine for a lifetime,” said Shydner, who is appearing through New Year’s Eve at the Improv in Brea. “It takes more than an artificial date to change your life, and that’s what’s so funny about ‘em.”

Shydner offered his own vow to ring in the New Year: “I resolve to donate 10% of all my 1991 lottery winnings to the new Andrew Dice Clay wing of the Morton Downey Jr. Celebrity Treatment Center, where the shooting stars of today are detoxified after their 15 minutes of fame.”

Times staff writer Susan Christian contributed to this story.


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