After a turbulent year, it’s safe to say we’ve all been eagerly awaiting the arrival of 2021. Not because ringing in the new year is the same as starting with a blank slate, but because with it comes hope, good attitudes and a sense of rejuvenation. People take on the mindset of doing whatever they can to make this year “their year.” Like the start of every year, unfortunately, this heightened awareness of goal-setting is too often placed under a banner of weight loss, diets and — as the diet industry has changed to keep up with times — “health.”
As we entered a new year, ads for diets, wellness programs and “lifestyle changes” were in abundance. This is especially true at this moment, as diet companies are taking the opportunity to prey on fears of the “Quarantine 15” or “Covid 19.”
Aside from the common understanding that last year was exceptionally traumatic — so we should be gentle with ourselves and not nitpick at weight — the year itself shouldn’t matter. One should be able to abstain from the pursuit of weight loss any and every year. In some ways, invoking the idea of “especially this year” — as in, “you shouldn’t focus on weight loss so much, especially after this year” — sends the message that you need an external, tangible excuse as to why you’re not looking to change your body. You don’t.
Let’s move away from this justification — this citation of a rough year as to why you are choosing not to follow the norm of setting weight goals for the new year. There are so many better reasons not to fall into the weight loss trap this year, the biggest one being that intentional weight-loss diets don’t work. This is becoming a more well-known fact — why, then, are they still so popular, maintaining their allure and drawing in a reliable clientele?
Well, they’ve remained popular because they’ve modified their products and marketing strategies to keep up with the times. The diet industry has moved away from selling overt weight-loss programs because they know consumers have caught on.
Now, they’re pitching the “lifestyle change.” While it is undoubtedly true that leading a healthy lifestyle — defined by eating a variety of nutrient-rich foods and moving your body regularly — is beneficial, the extent to which one does so for optimal health is individual. Your eating and exercise habits may be right for you, but too much or too little for someone else.
There’s also the glaring privilege in this statement rooted in healthism, the idea that an individual’s health status is entirely under their control. This turns a blind eye to the external factors such as poverty, environment, existing health conditions and disabilities that are at play for many people. Thus, it’s crucial to be critical when faced with programs urging a “lifestyle change.”
Be wary of any program that throws around the words wellness, health, lifestyle and fitness, or that also uses weight as an indicator to track your progress. These are just diets in disguise — any program or protocol of eating that puts a cap on how much food you can eat daily and prescribes frequent weigh-ins is a diet. This may seem straightforward, but the diet industry is extremely deceptive and creative when it comes to advertising its products.
Let’s take Noom, for example. Noom brands itself as anti-diet and even goes so far as to say it is safe or ideal for those with binge eating disorders (BED). Noom boasts that it doesn’t forbid any foods, but it strongly discourages some over others via a color-categorization system. A user receives a warning when too many foods fall in the “red” category — i.e. the “limit your portions” category, which is easily interpreted as the “bad” category — are consumed, as well as when a user has gone over their total calorie allotment for the day, perpetuating the harmful dichotomous good food vs. bad food mentality.
Noom, preaching that they are not a diet and that the program is ideal for those with BEDs, is an abomination. To those struggling with an eating disorder or disordered eating behaviors, I encourage you to stay far away from any sort of program that entails food tracking with the goal of staying within a caloric range. The exception would be similar apps used for recovery purposes, prescribed by one’s treatment team. The difference is these programs usually serve the purpose of allowing your treatment team to keep track of your progress and make sure you are hitting a caloric minimum. The calorie information and other quantities eating disorders tend to fixate on are not available to the individual in treatment-based programs.
Eating disorder professionals also rightly dispute Noom’s claim of being suitable to those with eating disorders, with one psychologist pointing out a conflict of interest in the research: The lead researcher in the study deeming Noom safe for those with BED is an equity owner of Noom.
Nonetheless, the overarching message is still that intentional weight-loss diets have been proven time and time again to be ineffective at keeping weight off and show no long-lasting health benefits. If anything, diets are a big predictor of future weight gain. The diet industry succeeds because its product fails.
What, then, should you do about your unhappy feelings towards your body? Accepting it for what it is may seem like too big of a feat, let alone loving it. But body acceptance will be crucial in order to develop and maintain a healthy relationship with food.
Without it, you’re looking towards a lifetime of ill feelings towards your body, food and maybe even poor relationships with loved ones, since these negative feelings may be all-encompassing, leaving little quality time to spend with others. With food also being a cornerstone of social interactions and relationships, even time spent with the ones you love can become tainted by disordered thoughts.
Finally, let’s address our society’s toxic productivity culture, which shines brightest this time of year with pressures of New Year’s resolutions. What may have once been a positive way of setting achievable goals for yourself has become a pressure to constantly strive for something better and not settle for your current state. It makes sense that people would turn to their bodies when faced with the prospect of making a New Year’s resolution. We want to be successful in our goals and our bodies appear to be the most tangible thing we can change about ourselves.
However, we’re becoming more aware that this isn’t true. We don’t have as much control over our bodies’ shape and size as we have been led to believe — at least, not for a prolonged period of time. It is more than OK to be content with your current state in life and orient your goals around maintenance instead of obsessive improvement.
Constantly pursuing a better version of yourself is great, until it is not.
When you’re continuously finding something wrong about yourself, and looking to “fix” it, maybe it’s time to assess what it is you’re valuing, and why you believe your current self isn’t enough.
Nyla Booras can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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