Special to Mustang News
The concept of the New Year’s resolution is stubbornly ingrained within our society.
Advertisements and blog posts flood social media feeds in the wake of holiday overindulgence. Posts like Elle.com’s “9 Detox Diets for the New Year” and Dr. Oz’s “48-Hour Weekend Cleanse” serve as blatant reminders from the media that the new year is time to get back to focusing once again on dieting after months of indulgence during the holidays.
Losing weight and dieting are “hot” topics after the holiday season. The United States government has even gone as far as creating a website of the country’s most popular resolutions in 2015. Unsurprisingly, “losing weight” topped the list.
But as the sparkle of the new year starts ebbing away, the possibility for a resolution to falter becomes increasingly apparent. If you have already nixed your New Year’s resolution to lose weight, don’t sweat it. Experts say many diets are actually destined for failure when approached in certain ways.
“We know definitely that diets don’t work,” assistant psychology professor Julie Rodgers said. “And when I say diet, I mean severely restricting your calorie intake and severely changing your normal eating habits. That doesn’t work.”
Rodgers explains that individuals partake in unhealthy and restrictive dieting because they are convinced by the media that drastic results can be achieved.
“We believe that in society, there are people that are successful at this, and that is just not true,” she said. “We think that actresses are successful at this and people in the media are successful at this. Most of those people are just naturally thin with very high metabolisms.”
Simply restricting calorie intake is not only unhealthy but unsustainable as well, Rodgers said.
“Diets contribute to binge-eating, and binge-eating in itself triggers all kinds of things in your physiology and in your mind,” she said. “It leads to surges of insulin in your body, which then triggers desire for more high-calorie foods, and then it becomes this really bad cycle.”
What people assume is their own lack of self-control and willpower is actually their body telling them that they are depriving themselves of proper nutrition. This can result in a negative sense of self and, subsequently, more disordered eating habits.
“You can’t just say, ‘Oh, the next month I am not going to have any sweets.’ That is the New Year’s resolution of setting yourself up for failure,” Rodgers said.
Rodgers advocates framing weight loss in a more positive context and to understand what motivates an individual person more effectively.
“In your mind, it’s essentially about losing things, and it’s about deprivation instead of about gaining something,” she said. “Frame it as a positive that you want to acquire rather than a loss or deprivation.”
If you focus on fitness and eating healthy, the rest will follow, Rodgers said.
“What I tell my students is that it’s about fitness, not about fatness,” she said. “It’s about being healthy and not having unrealistic ideals about how your body should look like or the percentage of fat you should have on your body.”
One of the most crucial parts of trying to lose weight is to forgive yourself when you fall off track because it will only contribute to harming a person’s self-esteem.
“If you’re trying to maintain a healthy diet and you fall off track for a while, don’t beat yourself up,” she said. “That’s just going to play into that whole shame model. Forgive yourself.”
The pressures to result to unhealthy measures in order to lose weight during the new year may not be just bad for yourself, but bad for society as well.
Coleen Carrigan, an assistant professor of social sciences at Cal Poly with a background in culture and health studies, notes that our culture and society plays a big role in how New Year’s resolutions are conducted.
“There’s a lot of indulgence, and I feel like a lot of people feel that they’re allowed to stray away from certain standards during those holidays and that there’s a price to pay when the New Year comes,” she said.
Carrigan explains that it’s nearly impossible for women to escape the “billion dollars’ worth of advertisements” that target them with the message to lose weight.
“A lean and fit body is proof that you’re working hard, and working hard is close to godliness in our culture,” she said. “We idealize hard work as something that has tangible benefits that have shown to be manifested into our beauty standards.”
Cleanses and other trendy healthy practices of the moment have been appropriated from other cultures and manipulated into a more Western context, Carrigan said.
“What our culture has done is that it has assimilated some aspects of healing practices, like acupuncture and cleanses and left behind, unfortunately, some of the more deep, spiritual reverence of those practices,” she said. “It’s meant to serve the western-capitalist ideal of the body rather than staying rooted to the ethno-medicinal practices that they are rooted in.”
Carrigan believes western society’s obsession with dieting during the new year is only a small part of a bigger issue plaguing our culture.
“It (New Year’s resolutions) has warped and it is a microcosm of a larger trend, always wanting women to be serving others,” she said. “We have to look for others; we have to serve others; we want to make sure others are comfortable with who we are.”
Industries that cater to women, like the beauty, health and dieting industries, benefit with their “coordinated and strategic campaign” to make women believe they are lacking in some way.
“Picture millions of women completely grounded, completely happy with themselves coming into collective union with other women,” Carrigan said. “I think that would be very dangerous to the capitalist patriarchy that we live in. And therefore, they have to keep us divided from each other and keep us divided from ourselves.”
Biology junior Swethaa Manickam agrees with Carrigan’s belief that the practice of New Year’s resolutions has been manipulated for marketing and business purposes.
“The idea of a New Year’s resolution is so overdone,” Manickam said. “It pushes people to go to the extremes.”
Manickam rejects the idea of a “one size fits all” approach to being healthy that advertisements for the beauty, health and diet industry continually suggest.
“There are so many advertisements saying, ‘This is for everyone — it’s so easy,’ when it’s not true,” she said.