Did you just see your tenth (or ten millionth) content piece about “new year, new me”? Let’s all say it together - ugh! It’s time for a new year celebration again, and with that comes all the diet industry ads and allll the pressure to make new year’s resolutions around health and body size (and just like every year, they come with that golden promise that “this time, you will make it work”!). Before you start your goal list (or don’t), can we invite you in for a little chat on why you should not make a new year’s resolution to lose weight?
Read that line again. Weight is not a behavior, and it’s not something you can directly control over the long term. Which means it’s not realistic to make a goal about controlling or changing weight. Research shows that there is little support for the notion that diets lead to lasting weight loss or health benefits. In fact, about 75% of weight and shape is determined by genetics, with much of the remaining percentage being influenced by stress, hormones, sleep, metabolic rate, and socio-economic factors.
The most common outcome of dieting, rather, is weight cycling. This is the process of losing and gaining weight over and over. Weight loss cannot continue on a steady downward slope, because our metabolic rate lowers to become more efficient and protect our body weight. This causes 90-97% of people who lose weight to gain it back within 2-5 years; and about ⅔ of those people gain back even more weight than they originally lost. Weight cycling can actually be more damaging to your body than if you had remained in a stable weight range by interfering with metabolism, causing insulin resistance, changing your hunger/fullness cues, and increasing inflammation.
There’s all the science-y stuff, but on a personal level, pursuing a goal that you are set up to fail undoubtedly leads to emotional damage. If you believe you hold personal responsibility for failing at weight loss, that is most likely going to be internalized as a deterioration to your self-esteem and self-efficacy, which can affect all aspects of your life.
Would you still pursue a health related goal if you didn’t lose any weight? If the answer is no, then it might be worth digging into that goal and how it really serves you. If you’re willing to let the answer be yes, even if just temporarily, let’s explore how you can still focus on the health related behavior regardless of weight changes.
Think about something more specific and within your control, like lowering your A1c. There are several actionable steps you can choose from to either focus in or scale up your intentions. Health behaviors that can decrease A1c include: eating consistently (every 3-5 hours), pairing carbs with fat, protein, or fiber, joyful movement (even in small doses), sleep and stress management, and yes, medication. For this example, the goal is also kept short term since A1c can be measured every 3 months.
There is a surprising power in a short term goal. Think even shorter than 3 months, like 1 week or even 1 day. A shorter time frame feels more immediate, real, and manageable to our brains. If you only have to walk 3 steps rather than over a hill, that feels much more achievable, right? On the other hand, resolutions to lose weight are often long term or always sit in the back of your mind as a “one day …”. This can contribute to lower motivation or self-efficacy around that goal (not your fault, just how brains work!), which can lead to cycles of being “on/off the wagon” and the damaged emotional/mental health that we spoke about above.
Speaking of motivation, before running off with a resolution on a whim, first - find your why. Why do you care about this goal? Do you actually care about this goal? How is it connected to your values? It can feel easy to make a resolution based on others’ expectations of what is a “good” goal, but that’s actually not easy to follow through with, because it’s not truly centered on what’s important to you. There are a lot of reasons why moving your body can be helpful, and I’m sure there are a lot of people in your life or online who would tell you this is a “good” resolution. But does joyful movement really connect to your values? If not, then it’s perfectly fine to move on to an area of your life that is more important to you.
This awareness will serve as great nourishment to your goal in the more difficult times. If/when it feels harder to keep working on a goal (because real life happens, and that’s okay); it’s easier and more realistic to return to a resolution that you feel truly aligned with.
So maybe at this point, you are starting to digest the idea that making a new years resolution to lose weight may not be not realistic, helpful, or aligned with your values… but you still enjoy starting out the new year with resolutions and you want to set your intentions for 2023 around your health.
So what can you actually do? Making health focused resolutions you can make that don’t center on weight doesn't have to be complicated. Here are a few ideas to start you off!
The list goes on & on!
Take what resonates, build on that, and leave the rest. Now you’re really on your way to not making a new years resolution to lose weight, but actually setting a health-supporting goal that is realistic and achievable!
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