Why Your Weight Loss Resolution Will Fail

diary showing new years day and list of resolutions

We are one week into the New Year, which means we are one to two weeks from most people giving up on their New Year’s resolutions. Maybe that sounds cruel but I am not a fan of New Year’s resolutions. I am a big fan of goals, planning, and choosing to live a better life but there’s too much about the annual tradition of planned change that is artificial and designed for failure.

What brings about meaningful and permanent change? In my experience, it’s NOT sitting down at the end of a season of stress and overindulgence and randomly drawing up a list of things you will and will not do as of January 1st.

Meaningful permanent change comes from a place deep in our soul. It is the result of a voice that finally speaks so loudly it cannot be ignored. Often, meaningful change comes on the heels of unhappiness, tragedy, or failure. Motivation for change can come in a blinding flash of light (or barfing up Asian Lettuce Wraps in a hotel bathroom), but that blinding flash of light rarely appears conveniently in the days or weeks leading up to the flip of the calendar. Meaningful change is organic; it cannot be manufactured.

This is not me dumping on your New Year’s resolutions. Most of the items on your list are harmless whether you follow through or give up after even 24 hours. But there is one common area of New Year’s resolutions that does concern me: weight loss.

Why does this concern me? Because if you’ve listed weight loss as one of your goals, you are probably going to fail. The more you fail at this goal, the worse you are going to feel about yourself and the more likely you will be to not do the kinds of things you need to do, in the way you need to do them, to feel good about your body.

You will fail because you’ve made an arbitrary decision. Your motivation is mostly external (New Year! New me!) and not internal, where the most powerful changes come from. You will fail because you won’t see changes in your body quickly enough. You are caught up in a rush and don’t understand that physical fitness is a long, slow process requiring years of work. Becoming and staying physically fit is a lifelong commitment. It’s not a gym membership or a Pilates class or a fad-diet-of-the-week. Fitness is a mindset, not a number on a scale.

(I am not a fan of scales. More about that later.)

How do I know you will fail? Because I’ve seen it. Year after year after year after year. I’ve watched you bound into the gym on January 2nd, full of enthusiasm . . . and I’m still in the gym on February 2nd when you and the rest of the resolution crowd have disappeared.

I want you to succeed. I want you to cross weight loss off your resolution list right now. I want you to stop thinking in terms of pounds or kilograms. I want you to think, instead, of being physically fit, strong, and healthy. I want you to start taking the very small steps that will result in permanent change and keep up those steps even when life puts obstacles in your path.

Who am I to tell you how to get physically fit? I’m a forty-six year old, peri-menopausal, not-financially-wealthy nomad with hypothyroidism and a job that involves hours upon hours of sitting in one place, who still manages to stay fit, strong and healthy most of the time. I have no degrees, I am not an expert, I am not a substitute for your doctor or other healthcare professionals but I can share with you some of the lessons I’ve learned that help keep me physically well-tuned.

Here are some suggestions to consider in lieu of that designed-to-fail resolution.

  1. Visit your doctor. Do this before you do anything. Get a complete physical. Talk about your desire to lose weight and/or be healthier. If you have serious health problems, part of your plan may require medical treatment or medication. I actively encourage healthy eating and exercise habits but don’t assume that those two factors alone will help you. From my doctor I learned that I have very low iron (borderline anemic). Incorporating iron supplements and more red meat into my diet has made all the difference to my level of health and fitness.
  2. Add instead of subtracting. I like this as a general rule for life. Taking things away feels like deprivation, adding feels like abundance. Who doesn’t like abundance? And the crazy part of this piece of advice is that adding will lead to subtracting, naturally. If you add a physical activity you enjoy into your routine, your body will start to crave the fuel that helps with that activity. It will be easier to let go of cookies when you know tomorrow is swimming day and you love swimming and you want to feel good when you dive in the pool!
  3. Make plans. This one should be repeated one thousand times! MAKE PLANS! Nothing undoes a good diet and fitness regime faster than a lack of preparation. If you want to stick to healthy eating and exercises, you need to consider all the obstacles and think of work-arounds well ahead of time. How will you deal with social situations where you have little or no control over the menu? How will you continue to exercise and eat properly when you travel? What about times of emotional upheaval and stress? What if you lose your job and can’t afford to pay for your gym membership? Sit down and seriously think about all the “what ifs” and develop strategies.
  4. Look deeper. Most bad habits have a root cause that may have nothing to do with the actual habit. Over-eating or eating crap is often an emotional response. This may be the time for some introspection, either alone or with a professional.
  5. Say it out loud: “This is work”. Let go of the ridiculous notion that there is a magic solution to maintaining a healthy body. There is not. Genetics only help for so long, sooner or later every fit person must work for it. You can find fun activities (and you should) that you enjoy but that doesn’t mean those activities won’t require a lot of sweat and effort.
  6. Educate yourself. I am frequently shocked at the lack of basic understanding that exists around fitness and weight loss. Learn to read labels in the grocery store and understand what they really mean. Find out how much weight it is healthy and realistic for you to lose per week (hint: it is far less than you think). Research those fancy pills and potions before you waste your money—yes, you are wasting your money. Etc, etc. Knowledge is power. Not sure where to start? How about asking a physically fit person you know to point you in the right direction? Here is an excellent resource, written by someone who really knows what she’s talking about (no, you don’t need to be a creative person to benefit from this book): Health and Fitness for Creative People by Sandra Wickham
  1. Accept that you will fail. Last night I ate far too many tortilla chips and guacamole, then proceeded to devour a big slice of lemon pie that a friend had made. Oh, and I might have had a piece of leftover brownie. I knew I’d overdone it before I’d finished. Oh well. Today is a new day and I know that last night’s binge was not my normal eating pattern. I fail at my fitness goals all the time. Sometimes I fail at just one meal. Sometimes I fail over months. But I never take my eyes off the goal on the horizon…because that is my lifelong goal and it can’t be undone by a few chips and some pie. Don’t beat up on yourself when you fail and DON’T think that one moment of weakness means you must toss aside all your weight and fitness goals. Keep going!
  2. Start slow. So many people jump into fitness with guns blazing, and then burn out or get injured. As I keep repeating (aren’t I annoying?) this is a lifelong goal. You do not need to do everything right now.
  3. Know thyself. Peer pressure is a fantastic tool for sticking to fitness goals. Make lots of plans to do activities with friends! It’s harder to back out when someone else is counting on you to show up. But don’t push yourself beyond safe limits for the sake of the people around you. Listen to your body.
  4. Surround yourself with love! There are lots of people out there who will be happy to cheer you on and offer you support as you start your transition into a new, healthy life. Keep your eyes and ears open for them, and when you find them hang on tight! These are the people who will help drown out the negative voices (including your own) that want you to stay just the way you are, no matter how unhealthy or unhappy you may be.

Finally, let’s talk about that scale. Weighing yourself is only one method to measure progress, please remember that! Realize, also, that the scale lies. It’s too easy to look at that number and despair because you’ve been working your butt off for a week and your weight has actually gone up. UP?! Stop. Take a deep breath. Those extra pounds could be water retention or they could be muscle. It’s not uncommon to gain weight when you start replacing fat with muscle—the latter is heavier than the former. Find other methods to chart your progress (two months ago I could not run 1km, now I can!) and think of your scale as a long term tool, not a target that must be met each week.

I want you to succeed. I want you to know how it feels to be at peace with your body—no matter how big or small that body may be. I want you to experience the satisfaction that comes from years of dedication and hard work. I want new years to come and go without you ever having to think about adding “lose weight” to your list of resolutions because healthy living is just what you strive for every single day.

You can do this. I believe in you.

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One Response to Why Your Weight Loss Resolution Will Fail

  1. Josh says:

    Speaking to my own journey of around a hundred pounds over two years (with some excellent advice and constant unrelenting support from the wondrous author of this post, who I coincidentally just happen to know somehow), this is pretty spot on.

    I was sitting at dinner last night after getting my workout on, and one of my dining companions mentioned that her friend that she gyms with was going on a 21 day diet of some kind.

    Useless. Worse than useless, counterproductive. Crash diets and the like create a cycle of failure, misery, and despair. They create a search for answers besides the fundamentally simple, unpleasant ones that we would like to avoid.

    It’s about changing your diet and getting exercise. It really is that simple, conceptually.

    For me, it was a matter of scaling at 352 at the doctor’s office and saying ‘Fuck it, I’m going to lose the weight.’

    Had not a lot of idea what I was doing at the start- some basic info on nutrition, some concept of exercise, my own field-related knowledge of how muscles work and the like. I bounced from one concept to another, trying them out to see how they worked (Josh’s 5k period, Josh’s swimming every day period, etc.)

    Along the way, I realized that the American way of losing weight was seriously bent. Badly, badly bent, wrong, counterproductive, and very sad given the problems that it creates for people.

    One thing I realized from early on is that my work in this area would never truly be done. I still hadn’t settled on program and diet, but I knew that I was aiming for about six pounds a month, which meant more than two years worth of work, and at the end of it? I was still going to need to maintain a program of managing my diet and staying in shape.

    Therein lies the problem, and why the 21 day diet is almost always guaranteed to fail. First, one should never ‘go on a diet’, unless using it for a specific training purpose for some athletics or whatever. One should acknowledge that their current diet is unhealthy, creating weight issues, and then change their diet to a more healthy one.

    Secondly, ‘going on a diet’ is an act of deprivation. If you tie your health goals to suffering and misery, whereas your unhealthy lifestyle is one of ease and plenty, in the end what are you going to be inspired to pursue? I can roll until I puke and then stare enviously at everyone scarfing potato chips and chocolate cake, or I can just be lazy and eat a tub of ice cream? You can only win so many arguments with your gut.

    You have to change your life and your attitude about life. You have to make your program as fun, as diverse, as entertaining and nourishing as you can.

    How do you do that? That’s the highly personal part of the journey. I tell people that on the diet end, they have to find their blueberries.

    Meaning this: I have Celiac Syndrome, which means I have a highly restrictive diet. Going for weight control meant that I had to cut significant portions of my staple foods down or pretty much out.

    (MY FRENCH FRIES! NOOOOOOOOOOO!)

    Okay, so yeah, there’s some deprivation in the mix. But I cycled around through the various foods that I could still eat in quantity until I found something that worked for me: frozen blueberries. I have no idea why, but they’re about 220-240 calories a freakin’ pound(less than half a kilo for y’all metric types) and they’re my addiction. Healthsome, I eat my regular nutritious veggies and proteins and healthy fat avocados and fill out the hunger cap with low-caloric density blueberries.

    That’s what you have to find, healthy foods that tickle your fancy.

    On the workout side, like Kris says start out slow. Remember this above all other things: form over weight, and work over reps. I was just coaching somebody through a restart of their program today, she did fifteen triangle pushups before giving out, in three sets. Is that where she wants to be in six months? Of course not. And because I expect her to stick with the program, she’ll blow that number away in six months.

    Remember, this isn’t about today, tomorrow, the first month even. This is about getting the work in and seeing improvement over time.

    But above all, embrace life. Embrace the joy of life. Kris said it to me a few months ago, when she was being her usual super-enthusiastic supportive self: being healthy is a form of self-love. So yeah, love yourself.

    One final note: being the fat person at the gym.

    Been there, done that. Still am, albeit in much slimmer form now. I was the guy who couldn’t hardly do anything, couldn’t handle much weight, had zero endurance.

    Don’t be self-conscious. Understand that when people see you putting in the effort, they respect it. When they see you coming back time and again, they find it encouraging. Monday I was doing my workout, and I was chatting with a couple of the regulars when a woman pulled me up and told me she’d been watching me come in since I started at that particular gym a bit over a year ago, and she was amazed at how she could see differences from month to month as I went along.

    People who are healthy (or getting healthy) like to see other people getting healthy.

    So go forth. Be awesome.

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