Why You Shouldn’t Start the New Year With a Diet

The New Year has traditionally been a time for reflection on the past and hope for the future. In light of our popular culture's obsession with "thin and fit," the New Year has also become somewhat of a weight-loss pledge season.

We are a society that wants results immediately. And this notion is reflected in today's diet culture, with many trends promoting short-term weight loss, usually with little concern for nutritional guidelines, balance and sustainability.

Some diet fads encourage drastic calorie restriction, while others call for the elimination of an entire food group. Even diets that began as a medically indicated solution for a legitimate condition have hit the mainstream.

While the term "fad" indicates short-term popularity, some of these diet trends have been around for years — Atkins, South Beach, Weight Watchers, Paleo, Zone, Raw, Grapefruit, etc. For every "success story" of these diets, you'll inevitably find the dejected soul whose failure to lose weight or keep it off perpetuates the cycle of inadequacy that drove them to the fad diet in the first place.

Unequivocally, committing to a healthy lifestyle — body, mind and spirit — in the New Year is a good thing. Nutrition, how we move our bodies and how we feel about ourselves as a whole are important aspects of living that commitment. The insights below seek to support a healthy mind, body and spirit.

Stop Dieting

In general, diets rarely work. In fact, research shows that 65 percent of dieters gain back their lost weight within three years of the initial weight loss. There's a big difference between consciously and reasonably evaluating and altering your food intake and dieting.

Dieting is a short-term approach; changing your eating philosophy and committing to consuming natural and minimally processed foods — but embracing all foods in moderation — is a long-term lifestyle choice.

The key to healthy eating lies in balance: Labeling foods as "good" and "bad" can stigmatize food and food groups and create shame around eating. If your diet or thoughts about food and mealtimes become troubling, see an eating-disorder specialist. Early intervention can prevent disordered eating behaviors from spiraling into a full-syndrome eating disorder.

Don't Overexercise, Either

Our cultural narratives around exercise tell us that exercise is a good thing — and it usually is. Exercise supports general health, helps maintain a healthy weight, manages anxiety and staves off depression.

However, even exercise can become unhealthy when it becomes compulsory. Exercise compulsion is a very real problem for many individuals, especially those struggling with eating and body-image disorders.

If a New Year's resolution involves a new or enhanced exercise regimen, consider the frequency, intensity and duration of physical activity as well as the intention behind the exercise. If there's a sense of urgency or agitation when you can't exercise, there might be an issue.

You Are More Than Your Weight

New Year's resolutions focusing on diet and/or exercise generally underscore some degree of body dissatisfaction. It's really no surprise that Americans are so unhappy with their bodies — the culture's depiction of the "perfect body" is pervasive, yet it is unrealistic and physically unattainable for many people based on physiological and genetic factors.

Instead, set goals that nurture the mind and spirit, as opposed to goals specific to body improvement. Meditate. Identify your values. Journal regularly. Reconnect with your spiritual beliefs and traditions. Mend relationships and create new ones. When we focus myopically on perceived inadequacies related to our weight, shape, size or appearance, the health of our minds and spirits can be easily neglected.

The New Year is a time to reflect on who you've been, who you are now and who you want to be. Be sure to consider alternatives to enhance mental and spiritual health alongside body-focused resolutions that emphasize balance and sustainability over short-term weight loss.