Things to Focus on Instead of Weight Loss or Dieting This New Year

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Literally anything else.

Ok, but in all seriousness with the New Year we are inundated with the “new year, new me” message. The 60-billion-dollar diet industry seizes onto this idea because lots of money is made off of your self-doubt and insecurity.

“Dieting sets you up for failure. It creates an unhealthy relationship with food and eating. People turn eating into black and white. They are either “being bad” (not following the rules of said diet) or “being good” (following the diet). Dieting is also not healthy from a physiological standpoint. When we are underfed, we don’t get the nutrients we need for our brain to function correctly and for our other muscles and organs to get fuel to work efficiently. This takes a toll on our body and is nearly impossible to do long- term. And if it is done long- term, it takes a toll on your life,” says, Jacquelyn Stern, Registered Dietitian, of Annapolis Nutrition.

Not only is dieting not “effective” in terms of sustaining weight loss for 95 to 97 percent of people in the long-term, 35 % of people who diet will develop disordered eating behaviors, and 25% of people who diet will advance to full-blown eating disorders.

As an eating disorder therapist, I see all of the time how restriction (i.e. any kind of diet, food rules, or guilt or shame around food) often leads to bingeing or compulsive eating. From an evolutionary standpoint, it makes sense that starvation or the threat of future starvation would trigger us instinctively to binge eat. Lauren Muhlheim, PsyD, CEDS, director of Eating Disorder Therapy LA, says,

“Our bodies evolved in an environment in which food was relatively scarce. To survive in such an environment, our bodies had to prioritize the consumption of food above other activities. If our food supply was less secure, we learned to stock up on food when we could. It is a behavior that ensured our species’ survival. Bingeing was not a matter of poor willpower, but a perfectly normal and healthy body response to starvation.”

Essentially, at minimum dieting is a colossal waste of mental energy. We all have a limited amount of brain space. When we fill it with fixating on numbers, food rules, or trying to shrink our bodies (due to arbitrary cultural standards), we use up precious energy that we could be devoting to more meaningful pursuits.

At the end of your life, will you really be fondly reminiscing over the size of your pants or the time that you spent at the gym? Fixating on these things takes you away from what is actually important.

Things to Focus on This New Year Instead

  • Practicing self-compassion and kindness towards yourself. Check out Kristen Neff’s resources to learn more.
  • Self-care: traditional things like bubble baths and massages, but also setting boundaries with people, scheduling your doctors checkup, and taking care of your basic needs.
  • Mindfully nourishing your body with food and movement that you actually enjoy. You are far more likely to keep something up in terms of movement if it actually brings you joy. Also, life is far too short to torture yourself at the gym or deprive yourself of delicious foods. All foods have value and can fit into a healthy diet. What’s truly unhealthy is stressing about what you eat, as this spikes cortisol (the stress hormone) and may negatively impact your relationships.
  • Taking a closer look at your “true life values,” and setting goals in accordance with those values.
  • Setting goals around ways that you can support your mental health i.e. seeking therapy, finding mood-boosting activities, spending more time with friends or family.
  • Beginning a regular practice of keeping gratitude lists.
  • Setting goals around ways that you can give back to your community or advocate for a cause that you believe in.
  • Examining ways that you can step out of your comfort zone i.e. thinking about trying something new like meditation or a cooking class, or venturing back into the dating scene.
  • Setting intentions around being more mindful in the present moment, and maybe spending less time on your cell phone or social media.
  • Nourishing your existing relationships and setting an intention to form new ones.
  • Creating a vision board of what you’d like the next year to look like for you.

Take Up Space

We are taught to try to shrink ourselves. We are sold the lie that our bodies are “wrong” and that they are “projects that we need to work on.” They aren’t.

Despite what the 60-billion-dollar diet industry may tell you, I know this to be true. You are not more valuable if you take up less space in this world. Your worth is not found in your body size or shape.

Your true value is found in the sparkle in your eyes when you laugh, the way that you pursue your passions, how you help others, and in your relationships. You are enough, just as you are.

Jennifer Rollin, MSW, LCSW-C: is an eating disorder therapist in private practice in Rockville, Maryland. Jennifer specializes in helping teens and adults struggling with anorexia, binge eating disorder, and bulimia, and body image issues. Jennifer provides eating disorder therapy in Rockville, MD, easily accessible to individuals in Potomac, North Potomac, Bethesda, Olney, Germantown, and Washington D.C. Connect with Jennifer through her website:

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