It’s that time of year again — early January — which for many also means that it’s time for yet another attempt to lose weight. Every year as January approaches, I get more and more e-mails about how to lose that weight gained or, even more improbably, how to lose 15 pounds painlessly. Typical tips include taking only one bite of that really delicious cookie, or exercising like a maniac five days a week. Few e-mails suggest that I enjoy what I eat, or that I treat meals like what they actually are — meals, not heightened experiences and certainly not cause for binging or purging.

As a regular reader of fitness and health-oriented magazines and websites, I’ve come to accept the constant barrage of weight loss tips and tricks. Like it or not, they’re embedded in my psyche. I know, for instance, that 3,500 calories equals one pound. Likewise, blueberries and green tea are “super foods” and should be consumed as often as possible for their bountiful health benefits. These are dietary tidbits that, in accepting them, I’ve stored away. I’ve also accepted that though these weight loss tips are ever changing, the overall message of the fitness magazines doesn’t change. Weight loss remains, issue after issue, the main selling point.

And though this message isn’t the greatest for readers’ self-esteem, magazines like Self and Shape retain subscribers year after year. The permanence of these magazines reflects the steady interest American women have in losing weight and a collective desire to lead a healthy lifestyle.

The New Year’s weight loss dilemma remains. Why, during the beginning of a new year, must weight loss be an issue? Why isn’t it possible to flip through Self without seeing a recipe for low-calorie dinners? Do people really gain that much weight over the holidays? It seems unlikely to me. And even if some people do gain a few pounds, I’d argue that fitness magazines contribute to the feeding frenzy the holiday season is so often associated with. By berating readers with weight loss tips, fitness magazines are (subconsciously or not) telling readers that weight gain during this season is a common occurrence. For me personally, this makes me more inclined to over eat. I rationalize it — it’s the holidays. I’m supposed to eat until I’m stuffed. I put off the serious thoughts about weight loss until after New Year’s, telling myself that this will be the year I actually make losing weight a serious resolution.

I didn’t always think this way. The family Christmas party used to be a time when I saw my family from out-of-state, and the food just happened to be really good. Now, though, the holidays are all about food to me. It can be a bit of a minefield. I want to enjoy all the hors d’oeuvres, the mashed potatoes and the sweets. But I also don’t want to gain weight. Fitness magazines, with all their hype about how to offset holiday weight gain and jumpstart weight loss resolutions, make it seem impossible to do both.

The New Year’s weight loss hype has gotten so frustrating that I’ve had to take a break from health websites and magazines. When I see an issue of Women’s Health Magazine at the drugstore during this time of year, I pass it up, choosing Vanity Fair instead. At least I know Graydon Carter won’t assault me with diet tips.

I’m trying something new this year. It’s sort of an anti-New Year’s resolution. I’m not going to diet my way through next December, nor am I going to eat so many cookies that my stomach starts to swell up like Santa’s. Instead, I’m going to do what I should have been doing all along, which includes thoroughly enjoying each meal — realizing that it’s only that: one meal. It isn’t magical. It won’t make me miraculously gain or lose five pounds. This rational mentality will serve as a practice run for something I’d like to start implementing full time in 2011: eating when I’m hungry without guilt.

This all sounds deceivingly easy. But ask anyone that’s felt stuffed after a few too many servings of turkey, and you’ll know that it’s not. And it’s OK to eat a little more on the holidays than you would usually. But doing so isn’t cause for panic. In choosing to not associate the holidays with food and food with guilt, it’s easier to stop thinking about weight gain. After all, good food is a major part of the holidays, but it shouldn’t be the only part. It shouldn’t be a powerful part. Thinking about food this way makes it easier to resist the pressure to make losing weight one of your resolutions. Food can only cause guilt if you let it.

Mary Demery can be reached at mdemery@umich.edu.

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