Weight loss consistently ranks as one of the top resolutions for many people hoping to turn a new leaf and improve their self-image. However, many of us resolving to shed the extra pounds by dieting end up unsuccessful — sometimes in a matter of a few weeks — and fall back to our old habits.
We are exposed to messages and images in the media that idealize being very thin, which can lead to unrealistic perceptions and expectations about body image — blurring the line between being simply skinny and being truly healthy.
It's important to understand why weight loss resolutions can often be misguided. Shifting focus to overall health — not necessarily on losing weight — is a more attainable and approachable goal.
"Focusing on losing a certain number of pounds or reaching a certain weight fuels the yo-yo dieting cycle and can harm your mental and physical health," says Ursula Ridens, a registered dietitian affiliated with Sharp Grossmont Hospital.
Dieting implies restriction and deprivation, with pitfalls such as increased hunger, cravings and a sense of loss. The term "diet" often implies that there is a start and an end.
Shift the focus
A "non-diet" approach can help you adopt lifestyle changes that lead to long-term health improvements. According to Ridens, these three tips can help you establish a more realistic approach to making positive changes to your health:
Focus on specific things you can do to generate healthy outcomes.
- Don't get caught up in the amount of weight you need to lose. Instead commit to gaining positive, healthier habits.
- Add weight-resistance activities to your exercise routine to build muscle strength and increase bone health.
- Increase cardiovascular activities to build endurance and lung capacity.
- Eat 5 to 9 servings of fruits and veggies everyday to lower blood pressure. Eat fish at least twice a week to improve your cholesterol profile.
Focus on what you can increase rather than what you should decrease.
- Spending a lot of time thinking about what you should decrease in your diet, like fat and sugar, can make you feel deprived and frustrated, making it hard to actually make the diet change.
- Drink more water, eat plenty of fruits and veggies, and choose whole grains while slowing your pace of eating, which will empower you rather than lead you to dieting depression.
Focus on appreciating your body — no matter your weight.
- Build your self-esteem by recognizing all the amazing things your body does for you: providing protection for your internal organs, supporting and carrying your body all day long, and hugging a loved one. When you appreciate your body, you're more likely to take good care of it.
"Now is the time to shift our focus to health, rather than weight, by changing diet-mentality into health-mentality," says Ridens. "We are all wonderfully unique and our bodies are not meant to look just one way or weigh just one number.
"Healthy in any shape or size is beautiful."