A different look at New Year’s Resolutions

Time magazine reports that the most common New Year’s Resolution people make is to lose weight. As an expert in the field of Eating Disorders, this resolution always makes me cringe a little, because it is known through research and practice that diets can be a trigger or even a direct precursor to an eating disorder. Yet every year, millions of Americans make the annual pledge to lose weight, and it seems like this phenomenon is not going anywhere. So, if you do find yourself in this camp here are some pointers that could help you avoid dangerous pitfalls when it comes to losing weight.

Assess your motivations for wanting to lose weight

There are individuals for whom weight loss is medically indicated. These individuals are experiencing adverse health consequences as a result of their weight, or their weight contributes to other medical conditions, which would be helpful for them to address. But are you in this situation? If not, that doesn’t mean it is necessarily wrong to want to lose weight, but your approach to doing so should be reflective of the severity of need. Rushing to lose weight because you dislike the way you look or desire a different appearance, is not a balanced approach. You will actually be more successful and safe if you take a more moderate approach. Set moderate goals with moderate timeframes. A rule of thumb is that it is generally not advisable to lose more than 1 pound per week unless you are on a medically-supervised, health related weight loss regimen. Stepping on the accelerator too quickly will actually backfire in the long run and lead to an up and down pattern of weight changes called Yo-Yo Dieting.

Losing weight versus losing body fat

Many people confuse the loss of weight with the loss of body fat. They mistakenly believe that they need to lose weight, when their weight is actually within a perfectly acceptable range. It is not weight loss they truly seek, but perhaps improved physical fitness, increased musculature and reduction of body fat, which doesn’t always result in weight loss. Someone can be in excellent physical condition and good health at any number on the scale.A classic example of this is a professional football player, who based simply on body weight would actually be considered obese, but because weight is not a good indicator of health, it doesn’t take into account body constitution and musculature, etc. I challenge most people to beat one of the “obese” athletes in a foot race. Anchoring oneself to an arbitrary number is not only scientifically inaccurate, but can be extremely frustrating as you are working against nature when you don’t really need to.

Go with a pro

Losing weight is no joke. You are forcing your body to go through an unnatural, counterintuitive process, and as I mentioned earlier it can be dangerous. Don’t do this alone. A nutrition professional can help you avoid powerful missteps, such as setting too aggressive a goal or following bad nutritional advice that is floating around out there. You wouldn’t try to perform a surgery or other medical procedure on yourself, would you? The same should be true of losing weight. Not only will your nutrition professional provide you with good guidance for a safe process, they will provide support and accountability, something that it is very difficult to manufacture for oneself.

When it comes to health, aim to gain

Since losing weight has such a seductive appeal in our culture, it is important that we examine it with a careful eye. I would suggest that most people who “want” to lose weight, probably don’t need to, and losing weight is actually a red herring for what is truly important, gaining health. If you are open to changing the wording of your resolution, I highly advise that you make it not about losing weight, but instead“gaining health”. This will open up a variety of pathways to achieving that goal. Sleeping more, being more physically active, spending more time with loved ones, engaging in community or spiritual practices then can all be part of your new year. It will then be a year spent meaningfully engaged in life, not just clinging to a number on a scale for meaning. You will gain so much more than you could ever hope to lose.
Matt Keck, MFT is the Founder and CEO of Cielo House Comprehensive Eating Disorder Treatment Centers. With 5 locations in the San Francisco Bay Area, Cielo House works with individuals to find recovery from Eating Disorders at every step of their journey.