If December is the month for making merry, January is the month for taking a sobering, cold hard look at ourselves.
The trials of 2021 are behind us and there’s always something energising about the first month of the year, when we’re not yet encumbered with disappointment and we still have the potential to make good on all our goals and resolutions.
And, of course, top of the list for many is losing weight – a common resolution that seems to continue to dog us despite the well-known fact that losing weight itself isn’t the only path to better health. Instead, focusing on gaining better health is more likely to result in lasting change.
But it’s hard to move past the rhetoric of snap dieting and weight loss when that’s the message that is pushed continuously around us, especially to women.
I used to belong to a women-only gym, and every year at around October the backs of every change room or toilet door were plastered with promotions for programs designed to help you get your “bikini body” sorted.
By the time January rolled around, these were exchanged for posters promising to help you meet your New Year’s resolutions to lose weight.
Spend any time on social media as a woman, and you will no doubt be served ads for the diet programs, intermittent fasting calculators for your body type, weight loss boot camps, meal replacements and shocking stories of how other women have lost 10, 20, 30 kg by changing just ONE thing in their diet!
Don’t get me wrong – health resolutions are perfectly reasonable, and weight loss can certainly be an important and valid part of the journey to better health. But framing your goals around weight loss specifically, and not around a more healthy lifestyle or routine, can not only reinforce negative and unfounded stereotypes about appearance and body image, but can also make those same goals impossible to achieve.
Despite the many, many different products and methods out there that claim to provide a permanent solution to weight gain, the one thing we know for sure is that the best and only real way to be healthy is to eat a healthy diet, exercise often, and sleep well.
And, if you want to address your health concerns, the best thing you could possibly do is see your GP, get an assessment, and work on a health plan, ideally informed by nutrition and fitness experts.
But if you think of your goal through the narrow frame of weight only, it’s easier to be swayed by fad diets and unhealthy methods that focus on restriction and encourage disordered eating patterns.
I know skinny people who have major health concerns related to poor eating and exercise routines. I also know fat people with excellent exercise and eating habits and very functional bodies.
Weight and health are linked differently for different people, and until we realise that and stop focussing on the scales to tell us how healthy we are, we’re continuing a cycle that reinforces poor body image and can have drastic consequences.
So this January, let’s focus on healthy intentions, not weight loss goals – building a better routine could be the key to not only smashing resolutions but staying sustainably healthy in the long term.