It’s New Year’s Eve, and the weight loss industry is in full force with its messaging about how our bodies are all wrong & life would be perfect if we could just fix them. And of course they have the “cure.” According to them, we need to shrink our bodies or cut out some ever-increasing list of “bad foods” from our lives. I thought I would make a post with some considerations for making new year’s resolutions from a different perspective.
Now, there is a whole other conversation to be had about new year’s resolutions themselves, and our culture’s obsession with constant self “improvement” and so on. However, I know for some people, this time of year can be a prompt for reflection & setting intentions, and this process can be genuinely enjoyable. And you don’t have to get sucked into the diet & weight loss industry’s version!
Why might restrictive diet or weight loss goals not serve you?
- Diets don’t actually produce the results they claim to offer. Simply put, the available research we have to date does not provide evidence that any diet lives up to its claims of offering long-term, sustainable weight loss for most people.
- Diets can have harmful side effects. Not only do diets not “work” in the sense of producing sustainable weight loss, they can have a bunch of nasty effects like disordered eating, obsession & preoccupation with food, negative impacts on mood & energy levels, digestive concerns like constipation, decreased self esteem & self worth, and so on.
- Focusing on weight as the indicator or measure of health can distract us and actually take us further away from health. This is important on an individual level, where we might find ourselves focusing on the number on the scale at the expense of other elements of our well-being. This focus on weight and oversimplifying its relationship with health also has effects on a societal level. It contributes to: rampant anti-fat bias; the inaccurate & harmful view that health is simply an individual responsibility & solely the result of our personal choices or “discipline”; and investment in ineffective public health measures that focus on weight loss instead of more meaningful measures like improving social determinants of health (things like improving economic security, access to healthcare, environmental conditions and dismantling systems of oppression).
So, if we don’t want to focus on weight loss or diets for our new year’s resolution, but we still want to prioritize our well-being, what are some alternative approaches we could take?
Focus on Behaviours, Not Outcomes
In general, I would argue in favour of making intentions or resolutions that focus on behaviours that are within your control, rather than outcomes that are not. For example, a resolution to lose x number of pounds by the end of 2022 is not actually totally within your control. Weight is determined by a complex web of various factors, some of which are decidedly not in our control, such as genetics.
In terms of nutrition, focusing on behaviours can help us achieve beneficial health outcomes. Behaviours might be things like cooking at home, adding more vegetables and fruit to our diet, experimenting with different protein sources, etc. Outcomes could be improved digestion, improved markers of cardiovascular health, and so on. But at the same time we can acknowledge that these outcomes are not 100% within our control, so we focus our goals on doing what we can that is realistic and doesn’t impact us negatively in other ways.
Take a Look at Your Current Habits
Also consider what your habits look like now and whether your goals are realistic. For example, maybe you eat fast food or takeout most nights of the week because of your super busy lifestyle. In this case, aiming to cook meals that take 45-60 minutes every night may not be realistic. Maybe it would be more helpful to aim for experimenting with quick & easy homemade meals, so you can develop a list of 15-minute recipes you love and can throw together quickly a few nights a week. Or doing a big batch cook or meal prep once a week to provide leftovers for some of your meals. You also don’t necessarily need to aim to stop doing takeout completely, which brings me to my next point.
Add Instead of Cut Out
Focusing on things to add to your life or routine can also be helpful, as opposed to eliminating things. As a nutrition related example, making a goal to cut out sugar is quite restrictive. It’s also likely difficult to stick to, and might backfire in the form of intense cravings & a restrict-binge cycle. A goal that focuses on adding something might feel more positive and sustainable. This could take many forms, and chatting with a dietitian could help you pinpoint areas of your diet that could use some attention in this way. Some examples could be adding a snack with protein in the afternoon or having some vegetables with lunch.
I would also recommend incorporating some flexibility into your resolutions. For example, going for a walk every single day of the week may not be realistic. Other life commitments, weather, etc. might get in the way. This doesn’t make you a failure! But if your goal is too rigid, any setback might lead you to give up completely.
Something more flexible could be helpful. For example, aiming to engage in some movement for 30-60 minutes on 5 days a week. This allows you flexibility in what that movement looks like, as well as allowing yourself some grace if you can’t make it happen every single day. Pouring rain outside or you simply don’t feel like walking? OK, maybe try an at-home workout video or yoga flow. Or skip it that day and move on tomorrow. Missing one day isn’t going to derail your fitness or health.
Honour Your Values
Finally, I would encourage you to do some reflection on your values. Then, make sure your resolutions actually align with these. Sometimes you will have competing values, and only you can decide how to prioritize them to balance things out. But ultimately, resolutions that are in line with your values are much more likely to be sustainable, and to contribute in meaningful and positive ways to your life.