The New Year’s holiday holds so much allure. The new year represents a chance to start over. An opportunity to take stock — to look at what we’ve accomplished over the year and set new objectives. To dream.
After an unfathomable year, we are desperately clinging to any shred of hope we can lay our hands-on. Enter New Year’s resolutions.
When our world feels out of control, we are more likely to try and make sense of it by exerting more control in our lives. And unfortunately, it is very easy to turn this desire for control inward to ourselves and our bodies.
But friend, please don’t fall into the trap of making weight loss resolutions. If you’re skeptical, that’s okay. Stick with me through this letter, and I’ll explain.
Your body does not signify your worth as a person
Your weight is completely independent of your worth, productivity, competence, warmth, genuineness, spirit, and soul.
You are not defined by your weight — or any other outward characteristic. But our society promotes and perpetuates this idea that we are.
Research and clinical practice show that internalization of the thin ideal (messages that equate weight with worth) lies at the core of eating disorders. Setting weight loss goals and resolutions only serves to reinforce this messaging to yourself.
But on your deathbed, will you judge your worth or life well-lived based on how thin or fit or toned your body was? Most likely, you’ll measure your life by moments spent with your family, accomplishments, and that you loved with everything you had.
And because I know you’re thinking it — weight actually does not impact life longevity. Recent data show that individuals who fall into the “overweight” category of BMI actually live longer than those in other weight categories. Further data show that weight is a weak indicator of mortality, and using BMI as a classification of cardiometabolic health is not accurate.
The cumulative conclusion is that BMI is arbitrary, and weight is not the authority — and not even really a marker — for health.
Your weight does not contribute to your worth — not even a little.
Weight loss is not the path to better body image
More often than not, weight loss is a slippery slope that leads to worsened body image and eating disorder behaviors. Dietary restraint is continuously cited as a crucial predictor in the development of eating disorders.
In World War II, researcher Ancel Keys conducted a study to determine the effect of starvation on the body. He found that healthy male soldiers developed problematic body image and eating disorder behaviors as a result of starvation.
When I work with individuals who have undergone bariatric surgery, even when the weight is gone, they are still left challenged to accept their body, love their body, and love themselves. The weight or the eating is gone, but they are still the same person. And some are then left feeling empty after chasing a smoke dream for years.
Roxane Gay artfully depicts her own experience with body image in the aftermath of weight loss surgery.
The dominant narrative around weight-loss surgery is that it changes your life and makes everything better. It’s a lovely fantasy that, by cutting yourself open and having parts of yourself removed, everything that weighed you down will be lifted. But it is only a fantasy.
If you’re looking for weight loss as a step towards accepting yourself — feeling like you’ll be happier, more successful, more respected, or more accepted by others — it’s not the answer. And more often than not, it’s the problem.
Please friend, don’t fall into the trap of telling yourself that you’ll feel differently in a different body.
Weight is not actually that controllable
It’s a no-brainer that fitness and diet companies want people to believe that they can control their weight — to perpetuate the endless cycle of dieting and punishing exercise that repeats every January.
Our bodies like a homeostatic state. This includes our weight. We all have a weight “set point” — a 10–20 lb range that our body naturally gravitates towards. When we fall above or below this set point, our body fights to get back to that range.
Your body’s set point and it’s fighting to maintain homeostasis is one of the reasons why weight manipulation is so challenging.
This is not meant to be a hopeless message, but an empowering one. One that encourages you to stop fighting your biology and instead shift towards thoughts and behaviors that make your life more fulfilling and freeing. And yes, you can do this while keeping health in mind. (Your weight and health are not mutually exclusive — they’re not even the same thing).
A pandemic is not the time to diet
When we diet or restrict ourselves from certain foods, this sets up an internal threat of starvation. When our bodies feel this threat, we eat in the absence of hunger, consume more food, binge eat, and crave all the foods we’ve cut out. Additionally, nutrition deficits and heavy training are associated with compromised immune system function. This is the last thing we need to be doing in a pandemic.
I know this message is difficult to hear given the information around COVID-19 disproportionately affecting individuals of higher weight status. And yet — given that medical professionals continue to prescribe harmful diets despite evidence that diets don’t work and cause eating disorders, I hope that people will continue to take care of their basic needs and take all precautions necessary to prevent COVID-19 infection, sans dieting.
Don’t diet. Eat intuitively and adequately. Eat play foods and foods that give you vitamins and nutrients. Move your body in ways that feel playful, fun, or nourishing (not punishing). And rest.
In a world where our basic needs for safety and connection aren’t getting met, don’t deny yourself the basic need for food.
Dr. Paula Freedman artfully describes this concept in a recent blog post and introduces the idea that the desire to change our weight can signal unmet psychological needs.
Ask yourself, what function is this resolution serving?
If you’ve read this letter and still want to lose weight, ask yourself, “What function is this resolution serving for me?”
Are you looking to improve your health? (Psst — we busted that myth earlier). Is it to become stronger or have better endurance? Set a gentle movement goal instead. Is it to improve your self-esteem? Think about all the other ways that you could improve your emotional, mental, and physical health. Is it to exert control when the world feels uncontrollable?
I’ve been there. But whatever function this resolution is serving, I assure you that dieting is not the answer.
Think about setting a non-diet resolution instead. If you’re having trouble setting non-diet, non-body, and non-punishing New Years’ resolutions, check out this article to find out how. If you want a personal touch, Kimberly Dempsey details her experience setting non-diet resolutions.
Wellness Lately offers another strategy to help you reflect on last year and determine what led to joy and fulfillment over the past year, and what did not — this strategy can help guide, or take the place of, your New Year’s resolutions.
Bonus alternative: Intuitive eating
Intuitive Eating is an approach developed by dieticians Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. Intuitive Eating focuses on healing one’s relationship with food and their body. It was developed specifically as a solution for chronic dieters (because surprise, dieting doesn’t work long-term and is really harmful in various ways).
Intuitive eating has 10 key principles, which include throwing out the diet mentality, tuning in to hunger, fullness, and satiation signals, and responding to those signals in a way that honors your body and mind.
I recommend Intuitive Eating personally and professionally because it addresses the psychological and physical processes necessary for healing our relationship with our bodies and with food.
And the data are overwhelmingly positive. People who use Intuitive Eating have better self-esteem, better body satisfaction, decreased cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, and increased physical activity.
**However, this approach is not for everyone. If you suffer from or are in recovery for an eating disorder, you should not use this approach and instead consult with your care team. If you’re wondering if this is the right approach for you, consult your dietician, physician, or mental health provider.
I hope this letter has helped you bust some myths around weight and rethink your weight loss resolution. I hope that despite the discrimination perpetrated around higher weight status, you can remember that your weight has no bearing on your worth, abilities, or talents.
And I hope that you can remember that now is the most essential time to take care of your most basic needs — your need for love, safety, and adequate nourishment.
Don’t fall for the sparkly weight loss goals. The weight-loss goals seem shiny and pretty on the surface, but like anything built on misogyny and discrimination, are dark and sinister underneath. And ultimately are not serving you.
Weight loss New Year’s resolutions are, as Cheryl Strayed states, “a motorcycle with no one on it. Beautiful. Going nowhere.”
The answer is not weight loss. But it’s in you. Find it.