During my youth, I wrote down many of my thoughts, feelings, and goals into dozens of journals. These little notebooks were my safe space to talk about anything, set intentions, and get honest with myself. About a year ago, I found a box of them tucked away in a closet, and I decided to give them a read.
What I found in the words from my childhood broke my fucking heart.
As tears streamed down my face, I read countless entries I had made in my early years that focused solely on weight loss. I’d obsessively write down everything I ate that day, and if I decided to enjoy my meals one weekend, I solemnly vowed to “get back on track” once Monday rolled around. The Weight Watchers “point system” was scattered throughout much of these journals, and constant criticism was doled out when I failed to uphold my dieting ideals.
I was also sure to set one major New Year’s resolution that I ended up choosing for over 15 years. At the beginning of every January, I would severely restrict my eating and passionately exercise to lose weight and continue dropping the pounds until I felt totally satisfied.
Except that I never – not once – felt the satisfaction I was so hoping for.
December 31st would inevitably roll around, and there I’d go again. In permanent marker scrawled across all of my journals, the impending words would be there. The number one resolution would always be, without a doubt, to lose as much weight as physically possible.
There’s something I need you to understand in order to get why this was so fucked up. The entire time I spent chasing weight loss, I was already living in an extremely thin body. I was a child and young woman struggling with an eating disorder, an addiction to diet pills, body dysmorphia, and unbearably low self-esteem. As an impressionable young kid, I absorbed every single message I read and saw in magazines, on television, and through the conversations I heard grown-ups having about their bodies.
The pervasive theme running through all of this conditioning was crystal clear. All of society should all be aiming to lose weight until we are skinny, because a thin body is synonymous with overall health, beauty, lovability, worth, and lasting success. And the beginning of a new year is the perfect time to get started on our weight loss efforts – or for many of us, to get back on the dieting track.
Of course, hiding behind the weight loss curtain was the unavoidable truth. It has now been proven that 95% of diets fail and that weight loss programs sincerely bank on their clients gaining the pounds back to become lifelong return customers. In fact, now that we as a culture are beginning to understand that dieting breaks down to a lifestyle of restrictive eating, more and more people are starting to realize that constantly monitoring our food intake is assuredly leading many folks down the path to eating disorders.
I want to give you a good old-fashioned history lesson about New Year’s resolutions, because their origin has nothing to do with self-improvement. The ancient Babylonians who existed 4,000 years ago are the first humans on record to have created yearly resolutions. During a 12-day religious festival known as Akitu, the Babylonian people would stick a crown on a new king or proclaim their undying loyalty to a returning one. They’d then make the resolution to pay their debts and return things they had borrowed, all in an effort to please the gods. If they successfully followed through, the gods would shower them with good luck in the coming year. If they didn’t achieve their resolutions, however, the gods would basically smite them.
You might be scratching your head at this point and wondering what the fuck all of this has to with weight loss. And you’d be right to do so. Because it doesn’t. Even the resolutions that were made by other cultures early on were largely steeped in religious tradition and often required a guilt-inducing willingness to think back on the previous year with remorseful hearts and make amends to be repent in the future. Which isn’t too far off from what a shit ton of us experience during the holiday season. How many of us indulge in food and drinks and later feel obligated to lose weight in the New Year as a way of apologizing for our very merry behavior?
But here’s the thing – we have virtually nothing to apologize for when it comes to our bodies. Not a fucking thing. Our physical homes have held us up, fought for us, done everything in their individual power to keep us safe, and have continued to try in vain to care for us even when we don’t love them. Yet diet culture has us so goddamn disconnected from our bodies that we can’t see the forest for the trees. No matter your size, shape, or condition, you do not need to apologize for your bodily existence by aiming to lose weight each year. And now more than ever, research is being done to debunk the harmful myth that health can only be achieved in a thin body.
I think it’s also important to note a few interesting details about the sneaky trickster known as the diet industry. In the last ten years alone, the Federal Trade Commission has doled out at least 80 law enforcement actions against companies who make unfounded weight loss claims. Even Weight Watchers went on record and said that they decided to switch over their marketing to attract lifetime members because their shareholders would gain more returns. And in order to be awarded lifelong membership, people need to get down to what WW deems as their “target weight,” be publicly weighed in at meetings, and stay within that range for at least six weeks. Which basically turns weight loss into a race against ourselves where the trophy is getting to spend the rest of our lives on a diet program.
Oh, and did I mention that the entire weight loss industry has brought in profits of roughly $72 BILLION DOLLARS this past year alone?
Allow me to be the one to call bullshit on this overwhelming fuckery. No matter what you have been conditioned to believe and no matter how much money has been poured into the efforts to keep believing it, there is virtually no reason you need to pressure yourself to put dieting at the top of your New Year’s resolution list.
These days, I’ve stopped battling with myself to lose weight during every month of the year — and for very powerful reasons. Letting go of the need to regularly shed pounds has allowed me to heal a lifelong disordered way of existing that only perpetuated shame for my body and my very existence. It has created space in my days to enjoy moments more, be present with my family, dive into my mental health, and go after the goals I actually want to accomplish. It has quite literally set me free, and there’s no way in hell I’m ever getting back on the diet culture hamster wheel.
I also stopped making New Year’s resolutions in general about three years ago, when I decided that they were hurting rather than helping. There is so much damn pressure to have a “fresh start” every year, and it drives me batty. Instead of resolutions, I spend my entire year leaning into self-love, embracing my current body with compassion and willingness, having fun, continuing on my path to trauma recovery, and letting go of impossible standards and expectations. And I certainly don’t need January 1st to be the precise moment I choose to start doing all of those things.
No matter how you celebrate the end of this year, I hope you will you give yourself a much needed break. Eat the damn pie. Let your belly shake when you fake laugh at your relatives’ stupid jokes. And fuck it, why not try to pick something outside of weight loss to aim for in the coming year. Or don’t aim for anything at all, that’s okay too. And if you’re feeling bold enough to do it, please consider joining me in sticking up a collective middle finger to the multi-billion dollar industry that has been endlessly profiting off of our New Year’s resolutions.