This year, resolve to look past diet culture

Many nutrition resolutions set us up to fail from the start. So if you’re looking to lose weight in 2021, consider this.

Jan 1, 2021
Jacqueline Ballou Erdos
scale with apple on it

It’s that time of year again when many of us make resolutions. We recommit to the gym, resolve to eat clean and strive to lose weight.

The holidays can be a wonderful and festive time of year. But, come January, you might feel drained. You could worry that you overindulged over the holidays, or you may feel a little dreary about the long winter ahead. You may be stressed about the toll the holidays took on your finances. Maybe you couldn’t travel or see friends and family this year because of the pandemic.

The new year offers us a clean slate, a chance to reset. Resolutions encourage us to better ourselves. They inspire us to do good and they bring hope about the year ahead. In theory, resolutions are a good thing, right?

But, when it comes to nutrition resolutions, it depends. Why? There’s one not-so-little problem about many nutrition resolutions that are made: they set us up to fail from the start.

If you’re resolving to lose weight in 2021, consider this. (Hear me out).

Diets aren’t sustainable

Diets work, in the short term, but the long-term outlook on diets and weight loss is bleak at best. A meta-analysis of 31 weight loss interventions with follow-ups of two to five years showed that although most people can initially lose 5–10% of their weight in the first six months, the large majority eventually regain all the weight they lost. Between one and two-thirds of people even regain more weight than they initially lost within 2–5 years.

Sticking to a diet isn’t about willpower

Dieting decreases the metabolism and increases hunger. The compensatory mechanisms that occur with dieting make sense from an evolutionary standpoint since our bodies are hardwired for survival. To the body, dieting is viewed similarly as a famine. It defends itself by responding with hormones and signals that decrease metabolism and preserve body fat. This makes us think about food, increases hunger and makes us feel less satisfied when we do eat. In short, dieting causes bingeing through compensatory biologic responses. That is what makes it difficult to stick to a diet — not a lack of willpower.

Body weight is difficult to control

Just like our shoe size, height and eye color, set point theory says that our weight is determined by a complex interaction of genetics and lifestyle. It’s estimated that our weight set point is a range of somewhere between 10–20 pounds, at which point our bodies function optimally.

When we try to lower our set point weight through dieting, the cascade of regulatory mechanisms described above sets in motion to defend our body weight. Set point weight is a weight you tend to maintain when you eat to appetite, in response to hunger and fullness cues. You may have already heard of this under a different name: “intuitive eating.” It may be the weight your body naturally returns to in between diets, or when you do not fixate on weight or food. However, this may not be your target weight, just your natural one.

What to resolve to accomplish instead

This year, instead of making weight loss resolutions that may set you up for failure, how would it feel to start working toward acceptance of your current body? In honoring your body where it’s at now, how can you take best care of it in the new year? Would it be through finding ways to move that you enjoy? Or maybe it’s resolving to take more time for self-care, whatever that looks like for you. Or, it could be finding a way to eat the foods you love and make you feel good.

Food for thought.

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