Feeling and looking good has become one of the fitness focal points of the modern era. As a result, billions of dollars are poured into chic megagyms that offer everything from yoga classes to freshly squeezed juice after a workout.

Additionally, a barrage of infomercials that promote the next big thing in weight-loss or muscle enhancement are constantly being streamed. Combine that with people’s annual New Year’s practice of making vows to change–most often beginning an exercise or fitness routine–and you have a recipe for potential disappointment.

Health-related goals, such as losing weight or starting an exercise program are consistently ranked among the most popular resolutions Americans make each year, says John Norcross, clinical psychologist and professor at the University of Scranton.

Norcross, who published a study on resolutions in the “Journal of Clinical Psychology” in 2002, found that 40 to 50 percent of Americans make resolutions each year, and only 40 to 46 percent of those who make resolutions are still successful six months into the new year.

A quantifiable reason cannot be offered to explain why so many people throw in the towel well before realizing their goals. But in the fitness world, staying motivated is central to losing weight and keeping it off.

In many cases, people often start quite energetically on an exercise regimen only to lose their enthusiasm after time. Fitness authorities call this process “burning out” or losing steam–a beginner overexerts himself as a result of choosing to meet high physical standards in a short, and often impractical, period of time. When these goals–rapid weight loss for example–are not met within the allotted time frame, patience begins to wear thin and confidence begins to wane. Abandonment of goal(s) commonly comes next.

This may be particularly true for those who suffer from severe obesity. Chances are if you fit this category even sitting and standing can be difficult. In addition, carrying excess weight is one of the leading causes of joint and back pain among adults young and old, which in turn, makes it difficult to exercise effectively.

Lack of variety or a repetitive routine are other reasons people fall off the exercise track. Ironically, failure to craft an enjoyable workout plan from the beginning is a lot like running on a treadmill. For many who fail to incorporate variety into their exercise program, especially those who are more obese, the road to success can be long, hard, monotonous and generally boring. Creative alternatives might include going hiking, dancing, rollerblading at the beach, cycling, rowing or even shopping. You don’t have to suffer to burn calories.

Finally, lack of results or slow weight loss can also sap motivation. But remember, regular exercise is only 10 percent of the battle. What you do or don’t eat is also critical.

Contrary to what many people may realize, eating with a purpose is, bar none, the most important aspect of losing weight consistently. That doesn’t mean eliminate the foods you love. By all means, eat to enjoy. The trick is to cut down on, but not cut off, the foods that mama used to make or find ways to make these dishes healthier. So, instead of frying, try baking, boiling or grilling. Try using lemon, pineapple or lime juice for flavor instead of excess sodium. Opt for low-fat alternatives when choosing ingredients to bake in the sweet stuff.

Furthermore, prevent overeating by watching your portions, counting calories and/or drinking water before meals. Keep a journal of your progress. Lastly, avoid daily trips to fast food eateries. Make these occasions infrequent. By consciously choosing to eat with a purpose, results will follow and motivation will remain in place.

In a recent interview with TV One, celebrity dietitian and author Ian K. Smith, M.D. offered his perspective.

“You have to put one foot in front of the other–literally. Take your time,” urged Smith whose list of bestsellers includes “The Fat Smash Diet” and “Extreme Fat Smash Diet,” which address obesity in the African American community and healthy living.

“Don’t start a program that calls for changes that are too drastic. Getting overwhelmed at the beginning of an exercise [or diet] plan means you’re less likely to follow it. Start walking or playing a sport or moving in a way that’s fun.”

Unfortunately, rather than taking baby steps as Dr. Smith suggests, novices often make the mistake of overexerting themselves to get results fast.

“Sometimes the gym is not for everyone,” Dr. Smith added. “Start by exercising with a friend. Do it in small intervals at first, and then as you get better conditioned, increase the duration of your exercise. Most importantly, challenge yourself a little without overwhelming yourself.”

Opting for a slow and steady pace applies to weight loss as well as exercise. It’s important to understand that our bodies aren’t designed to undergo vast transformations in short periods of time. In fact, rapid weight loss has the potential to cause dehydration, malnutrition, degeneration of muscle tissue, hair loss as well as damage to the immune system, among other risks.

“In most cases, rapid weight loss only occurs to people who are excessively overweight,” explained Jerren O’Neal, personal trainer and fitness manager at GOLDS gym in Long Beach.

“A lot of people aren’t aware of this, but a person who is overweight has a much faster metabolism than someone who is average size or underweight. Their bodies are much larger, therefore the internal functions of the body require more energy, which in turn, burns more calories, which leads to weight loss if a proper diet and exercise plan is put into action as well.”

More bodyweight also means more resistance, added O’Neal. “Resistance is one of the key factors in weight loss, because it forces the body to work harder under those circumstances. It becomes next to possible to lose five or 10 pounds in a week once someone reaches a decent weight range unless that person goes to extreme and unhealthy lengths. Two to three pounds max is what a person should shoot to lose per week at that point. That’s far more realistic.”

What is unrealistic, believes O’Neal are the television shows like “The Biggest Loser,” which continue to fuel the notion that hyper-accelerated weight loss is both possible and ideal. Fans of the show, some of whom watch for inspiration to reach their own fitness goals, base their workouts on what they see from the contestants.

“On any given episode someone many lose 10, 15, or even 30 pounds in a week’s time. But this comes with a steep price which the average person making the average salary can’t afford. I know I can’t,” O’Neal joked.

Some resources available to cast members of “Biggest Loser” include private, on-call five star chefs who prepare well-balanced, healthy meals; as well as world renowned personal trainers who make a sizable living by getting their clients results in superhuman fashion. The cast also adheres to an exercise regimen that consists of three separate, highly intense workouts per day during a three month period.

“Who wouldn’t lose a ton of weight under that system?” O’Neal asked. “What do you expect?”

Rather than relying on the scale to track progress, beginners should consider these options to stay motivated:

* Take bi-weekly measurements of the arms, hips, waist, thighs and chest. Most franchise gyms also offer free body-fat readings, administered by a fitness trainer, to both guests and members.

* Take monthly photos of your body, and dating them, is another way to keep record of your weight loss transformation. During the process, use these photos to create a collage so that you can objectively asses how far you have come. Measurements and photos provide a far more accurate representation of results earned.

* Evaluate how you feel. Do your clothes fit looser? Are you able to move and bend with less stress on your joints and body? Do others notice any changes? These are the questions you should ask yourself during your journey.

* Finally, consider buying new jeans or perhaps that summer dress you always wanted. Buy these items a couple sizes too small. Once you fit into your new clothes, buy others until you reach your weight loss goals.

According to the Office of Minority Health, two out of every three American adults are overweight.

While recent estimates suggest the overall rates of obesity have plateaued, the fact still remains that currently African Americans, particularly Black women, are among the heaviest. Recent national data shows that 82.1 percent of Black women are overweight or obese compared to 59.5 percent of White women. Conversely, obesity affects 69.9 percent of Black men compared to 74 percent of White men.

“The rate of obesity in this country, particularly among our people, is so high because we continue to ignore the facts,” argues Dr. Michael D. Levi, orthomolecular nutritionist and a former professor at UCLA. “We need to start feeding our bodies what they are deficient in to keep from falling into the pit of what tends to be intergenerational problems related to disease or disorder. This way arthritis, diabetes, high blood pressure and other illnesses that Mom, Dad, Grandma and Grandpa had won’t continue to be an issue further along the family line.”

Cory “The Juice” Haywood is a certified personal trainer and fitness consultant.