We used to have a dog who loved to wander. From what I hear, it must have been the beagle in her. I had to pull this picture out today as a reminder of how many of us felt at some point during the holidays. This was taken after she disappeared for about 14 hours. We thought she was a goner for sure, but she came back in the middle of the night from what turned out to be a bird seed bender. (Apparently that was all she could find in the middle of winter.) Her “waist” had disappeared and she was so full, she just kind of tilted over. So . . . read on as I talk about the post-holiday period. I have my own spin on New Year’s resolutions involving weight loss.
How many times have you resolved to take off that extra weight, starting (of course!) on January 1? All health clubs love your resolutions, because it means a good first month of the year for income. And a resolution to get things going is not a bad idea, but if you find yourself in a pattern of starting and stopping based on days on the calendar, it is time to rethink the logic of this kind of planning. What is so magical about January 1? A plan for a huge lifestyle overhaul starting New Year’s Day can be a set-up for packing it in before the big day of change arrives. Just make the commitment whenever you are ready, even if it is an ordinary day, like January 12th or May 2!
Now let’s look at the kind of weight loss goals people make most often, ie. “I will lose 20 pounds by . . . . ” Judging your success or failure based on a number on the scale puts many people on an emotional roller coaster. More importantly, though, a goal of weight loss alone takes the focus off the real goal. What, you ask, is the real goal then? I would argue that what all people really want is to accomplish a bigger goal – health and happiness – and many see weight loss as a means to get there. (“If I can just lose the weight, then I will be healthy and happy.”)
This may seem like just a detail, but where we focus our energy matters. By switching the focus away from the scale toward a goal of a more balanced, “happier” life overall, we begin to focus on self-care and habit changes instead of the too often temporary goals that come from reacting to a number on the scale. We begin to see how everything in our lives affects how we eat. Maybe work stress is causing nighttime overeating. Will a diet plan really take care of that?! More likely, it will make things worse by adding deprivation to the mix. Would it really be best to start another diet without considering life in general? This is what I see too many people doing, over and over again – losing weight by following some kind of food plan, but not examining the reasons why overeating was happening in the first place. Will power alone is not enough in this case, and it’s no wonder I see so many people afraid of gaining back weight when they lose it like this. There is no confidence, because there is no real behavioral change!
I think that many of the lifestyle patterns that cause extra weight to accumulate are a result of not taking good care of ourselves, in other words not making ourselves a priority. Keeping our emotional baggage from getting too heavy is critical. It is very human to eat when emotional baggage feels too weighty. Developing strategies to manage emotions is a key part of a long-term weight management plan, and more self-compassion in the face of challenges is not optional!
Making time for ourselves is another life balancing goal. This is not selfish in a bad way. I call it “positive selfishness.” It may not be possible to find any more time, but using what you have is important. A 30-second break to close your eyes and breathe deeply can be helpful if that is all you can manage at a stressful moment. Anyone can do that!
So, thinking of weight as the problem and a person’s emotional state as the result is a little backwards, don’t you think? I believe unhappiness and lifestyle imbalance contribute to overweight, not the other way around. Doesn’t it seem more productive to make a resolution that will directly affect the balance in your life and have a more direct effect on your happiness? I think so. It can be very hard for busy people to make themselves a priority and be “positively selfish,” but my experience (both personal and professional) tells me that it is not optional for good health and happiness, or weight control for that matter.
Where am I going with all of this? I would encourage you to choose a New Year’s (or any other day’s) resolution that will set you up for success with health and weight control. If you often find yourself stress eating, think about how to address the stress management problem. You will save calories automatically if you can successfully find a substitute, even some of the time. If you never make time to cook, resolve to start experimenting in the kitchen. Your health will improve.
A food plan can help with weight loss, but it is only a tool. A food plan will seem like a welcome addition to your life if you thoughtfully choose one that is realistic and then continue to work on supportive coping skills for life in general. The food plan then becomes a form of self care instead of a part of some cruel torture ritual. Set yourself up for success and any plan you choose will work better! And the more balanced life you create in the process is a reward in itself. Happy New Year!!