So, how’s that New Year’s resolution to lose weight going?
As a physician specializing in weight management, you would think I would be a big fan of New Year’s resolutions to lose weight. I’m not. Call me cynical, but I find New Year’s resolutions to be well-intentioned, but short lived, attempts to change ourselves dramatically for the better. With new energy January 1, we want to start going to the gym 3 times/week, cut out sugar altogether, never go through the drive-thru again, etc., etc.
The weight loss industry preys on our annual newfound motivation and promises big results. We are bombarded with commercials, overwhelmed with contradictory diet advice, and weight loss solutions. It’s enough to make you want to throw your kale salad with quinoa at the TV.
Now it’s a few weeks in- we’ve maybe spent a lot of money on a gym membership, and gone a few times to meet the trainer that was included in our package. But then work gets hectic, we miss a night, and the routine gets thrown off. We didn’t grocery shop this week; there’s nothing in the fridge except ketchup, and carry-out or boxed mac and cheese it is. Survival. We’ll get back on the wagon tomorrow.
By mid-February, we give up, exhausted. It’s not even a conscious decision. We just stop trying- then feel bad about ourselves because we couldn’t stick to it. Guilt over our failure. A tacit acceptance of the status quo- again. Why can’t we do this? Often, it’s because we are perfectionists- it’s not enough to simply take the stairs instead of the elevator, to sometimes order the salad instead of the fries. We SHOULD be able to give it all, do it all- after all, we DO in our work lives, as parents, in running a household. We’re pretty good at it. It’s just a matter of willpower to add this goal to all the other things. If we want it badly enough, we would do it, wouldn’t we?
It’s just a matter of… Willpower (noun)- control exerted to do something or restrain impulses.
Willpower is energy- both mental and physical. The problem is, it’s a limited resource, as Baumeister so eloquently proves in his book Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength. We only have a limited bucket of energy to do anything in our lives- whether it’s to deal with the kids’ complaining, the leaky toilet, or the deadline at work. We cannot simply manufacture more willpower, and cram more than 24 hours of stuff into a 24 hour day. We also cannot resist our biologically-wired, natural impulse, which -when we are tired and stretched thin- is to turn to easy sources of “energy” e,g,, sugar, fat, and salt, preferably all in one easily obtainable take-out container.
But are we doomed to failure? Should we give up and just face having to buy the next size up each year? Definitely not. But we do need to change our, “I can do it all at once and on my own,” mindset. The truth is, long-term weight management is about small steps, successes and failures, and surrounding yourself with supportive people and professionals. People who don’t criticize you, can help you figure out how your body works, and tactics that will work for you.
The most important things you can do are try, set achievable goals, get help, and not give up even if the scale drifts up a little. A normal weight loss curve is jagged, with ups and downs, and not the lovely straight line down we so want.
So, I don’t recommend resolutions, I recommend a change in outlook. A new year is a fresh opportunity to do good things for you, however small they may seem. Make an appointment for that physical, eat one green thing a day, go for a 10 minute walk at lunch, or listen to your favorite music. I’m happier than I was at the end of 2018 already.