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Adrienne Dellwo

New Year's Resolutions With Fibromyalgia & Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

By December 24, 2010

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Setting and reaching goals is especially tough when you have fibromyalgia (FMS) or chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS), but that doesn't mean we shouldn't set them. It just means we have to customize our approach. I try to set some resolutions every year to keep me focused on my goals, but I try to be realistic about what I can accomplish.

Why Set Goals?

Having something to work toward is good for us. It can give your life some structure, improve your self esteem, and, as you reach a goal, it's actually therapeutic -- you know that feeling of accomplishment? That comes from a release of norepinephrine in our brains, and most of us with FMS and ME/CFS don't have enough of that particular neurotransmitter.

However, goal setting can backfire if you're too ambitious. You don't want to set yourself up for failure, and for the negative feelings that go with it.

Setting Realistic Goals

Being realistic means taking into account your limitations and not expecting too much of yourself. For example, if you decide you're going to lose 5 pounds a week, you're likely to fail frequently and feel bad about it if you lose 2 or 3. A more realistic goal might be 1 pound a week. You're more likely to achieve that regularly, and suddenly a 2-3 pound loss is a major victory.

Be sure to consider all of your resources -- do you have the time, energy, money, etc. to reach your goal? If not, downsize your expectations.

Here are some goal-setting guidelines:

  • Think in baby steps. Break your goal into small components so you can see each step as an accomplishment. That can keep you from being overwhelmed, and also give you more opportunities to feel a sense of accomplishment.
  • Build in more time than you think you need. You don't want to beat yourself up for getting behind, and yet your energy levels are unpredictable. Expect delays and plan for them.
  • Write your goals down. Research shows that people who write down their goals are more likely to reach them. Try putting them someplace where you'll see them regularly.
  • Re-evaluate periodically. Every so often, look back at how much you've accomplished and see whether your expectations were unrealistic.
  • Identify potential barriers and ways to overcome them. Make a list of the things that may keep you from reaching your goal, or things that have kept you from reaching it in the past. Then, find solutions.

Here's an example: Last year, I had resolved to lose weight. I used Calorie Count, a free service from About.com, to set my goal weight and see how much I needed to lose each week of the year to get there. Because of my illnesses, I decided I'd need to stretch that out over 2 years, so I cut the total loss I wanted for the year in half. My goals were entered into the online system, and I looked at them daily when I went on to log my food and enter my weight. I know that I have a sweet tooth and that I'm bad about exercising regularly, and I implemented strategies toward eliminating those problems.

Still, I encountered setbacks and new obstacles cropped up. While that's always frustrating, I try to keep from getting emotional about it and just re-evaluate my goals in light of the new information. I know I'll get there someday.

Do you have any resolutions for 2011? What is your plan for reaching them? What helps you reach your goals, and how have you overcome your barriers? How has setting and reaching your goals changed your life? Leave your comments below!

This post is a part of the About.com Health Channel's New Year's Resolutions blog carnival, hosted by Stress Guide Elizabeth Scott.

Learn more or join the conversation!


Photo Tom Grill/Getty Images

December 29, 2009 at 2:00 pm
(1) Johan says:

Actually I am working on my resolutions for 2010. I haven’t decided whether I will publish them on my blog or not. Publishing them might even be a greater motivation than just writing them down.
I find it very difficult to set goals with ME/CFS, it is so unpredictable. I set some new goals in November, but didn’t achieve half of them because my condition worsened a bit.
In my resolutions, or goals for 2010 I will go for a mix of:
* things I feel need to be done and things I want to do
* serious and fun
* goals that just require some commitment, others that require some effort, and goals that require a bit more
I agree when you write “It can give your life some structure, improve your self esteem, and, as you reach a goal, it’s actually therapeutic”. It feels great when you achieve a goal, but do you also reward yourself for reaching some goals? Like buying yourself a present?
What about your resolutions for 2010, Adrienne?

January 1, 2010 at 6:57 pm
(2) Adrienne Dellwo says:


Since weight loss and improved fitness is my goal, I figure the new clothes I’ll hopefully need will be my extra reward. That’s really my only resolution for this year. Although I do have a lot of lesser goals, I don’t want anything to distract me from my weight loss/fitness goal.

December 30, 2009 at 9:20 am
(3) Amy says:

I also eat Gluten Free and it makes eating low cal much more difficult. I have found a few good GF cookbooks that can help. Of course on top of Fibro you have to cook your own food from scratch. For me it made me slow down. I would like to hear your experiences with the GF eating.
Best of luck.

January 1, 2010 at 7:05 pm
(4) Donna says:

I dont make New Years Resolutions. I figure if anybody has to wait for a new year to improve things then they probably wont succeed. I try to improve myself each and every day. My husband said starting today he was going to try and lose weight. He has eaten french fries, pizza, drank coke and ate almost an entire big bag of pretzels but he did eat shredded wheat for breakfast so he thinks he is doing OK. LOL

January 2, 2010 at 1:04 am
(5) Jennifer says:

hi-Adrienne, I like what you have written about goals. Also, have you ever written about gluten free in this newsletter? I’ve noticed for a while how much bread and carbs bother me, but don’t know what to do to change my eating style. I bought some gluten free products at the store & they were terrible. To the person who commented about good gluten free cookbooks, could you recommend some titles for me? Thanks so, so much. I hate how I immediately bloat out like I’m pregnant after eating bread products.

January 2, 2010 at 1:06 am
(6) Jennifer says:

For the resolutions, one of mine is to start less projects so I can finish the ones that I do take on and enjoy them. I’m working to slow down and focus on fewer things in the hope that I’ll feel less rushed and enjoy the things I choose to do more.

January 2, 2010 at 6:25 pm
(7) Cindy says:

I understand where you are coming from with weight loss and resolutions. I have decided that I want to lose some of those extra pounds but I am not expecting quick results. I too am trying to eat better,avoid wheat products,eggs and milk in order to reduce my fibro symptoms. We will see how that works. Hope things will improve for you too. Just remember— slow changes will become habits.

January 5, 2010 at 11:40 am
(8) Sarah says:

Some great advice! I have long suffered from goal-setting overachievia. I would set new goals constantly without taking into consideration whether or not they were really achievable.

Before my FMS diagnosis in February of last year, I would actually get a lot of those goals accomplished (though often with a mad dash at the end), but others would remain largely untouched. Those were usually the ones that were specifically about taking care of me…

So, here we are almost a year from my diagnosis and I find myself falling into some of the same old patterns. I’ve decided I need more guidance than I can give myself so I’m taking a goal setting workshop online.

And the one goal I have set for myself thus far is to fully engage in this workshop to get whatever I can out of it (rather than trying to do 80 other things at the same time and finding I’m too exhausted and overwhelmed for any of it).

We’ll see how that goes…

January 5, 2010 at 2:22 pm
(9) Carissa says:

Another condition to be aware of if you notice an intolerance to wheat is Fructose Malabsorption. I’ve recently been diagnosed with it by my CFS specialist. If FrucMal is your problem you don’t have to avoid all gluten-containing foods, just those that contain Fructose or are Fructans (which wheat is). Just something to consider.

December 24, 2010 at 6:28 am
(10) gdwllseeker says:

I thought about new years resolutions this morning. Realized that my resolutions are ongoing. I already have quite a few goals I want to achieve.

Adrienne, thank you for providing this continuing forum for the many issues we face. I appreciate the breadth of your scope and the open-ended approach to solutions. Best to you in the new year!

December 25, 2010 at 2:42 am
(11) Esther says:

Hi all,

I’ve been in relapse for 7 months, bedridden and then housebound, and now have 4 infections at once. I don’t make resolutions really but if I were to, it would be to think of others and be less self-involved. I also would like to lose weight and strengthen my muscles. I don’t think I have a gluten problem but as a compulsive over eater and recovered bulimic, I think I need to give up flour as well as sugar, and artificially sweetened desserts which pretty much does eliminate gluton. There are subgroups of Overeaters Anonymous that prescribe such a food plan and provide support. I’m going to direct my attention to that. Wishing you a Happy New Year! Esther

December 31, 2010 at 5:12 am
(12) Fleur says:

Hi all! I don’t have any New Year’s Resolution, because January 1st is like any other day. Besides: things I want to achieve is getting a tiny bit better, I don’t even dare thinking about a full recovery.

However.. there is one thing I might consider to change in this upcoming year… read about that on my blog: http://www.bluemarkforme.com/?p=457.

To all of you: the very best wishes for New Year. Let us bring joy and good health.

December 31, 2010 at 5:14 am
(13) Fleur says:

Sorry, I meant to say: Let it bring us joy and good health.

December 31, 2010 at 3:22 pm
(14) grams of 20 says:

there is only one resolution that I really need to work on and its a big one for me
getting stressed out and holding on to it. my family is the biggest cause of my stress and I let it happen. there is so much they want me to do and I can no longer do it. they say i did it for the siblings why not them. THEY MAKE ME FEEL GUILTY.

December 31, 2010 at 4:18 pm
(15) Leona says:

I have been sick since ’98, and am housebound except for Dr visits–like so many here. I haven’t done much housework, and really want to become more independent. I started a diet in Oct–very low carb. It helps me a lot. So now I am trying to do a bit of housework. I joined http://www.flylady.com and it has nice babysteps and directions to make a schedule. I’ve already cleared some of my clutter (15 minutes at a time) and hope to get a bit more done on a regular basis this year. I know I can’t do it all, but even a bit will help my self esteem.

Also, I am having a science fiction book published. :)

January 1, 2011 at 12:40 pm
(16) Mic says:

To “grams of 20″, no one can make you feel guilty. While we have no control over others, we do have control over how we think, feel and respond to others’ actions. Best wishes for a happy and healthy new year and good luck in learning to say “no” to thoughtless family members. It gets easier with practice. After all, you are the one with fibro, and you are the one who needs to take care of yourself.

January 5, 2014 at 6:41 pm
(17) Life In Recovery says:

Hi Adrienne,
I just stumbled across your article and found it really interesting and sensible. I’ve actually just written my own piece about dealing with the whole New Year’s Resolution phenomenon on my blog http://bit.ly/1i7j2MY I’d love to know what you think of it. Best wishes.

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