When you’ve consumed a thousand holiday treats and feel awful about your body, the lure of “starting over” on January 1 might entice you to make that infamous New Year’s resolution, “I’m going on a diet!”

Everywhere we turn, there is talk of dieting, losing weight and plans to swear off junk food for good. The start of a year seems to hold the promise of something new: a fresh start, a ‘better’ you, weight loss, a smaller body and healthier habits. But come February 1, most of us are stuck back in old ruts and even more frustrated than before.

The problem is that our New Year’s resolutions are based on rigidity, punishment, deprivation, guilt and fear.

“Do not eat that cookie!”

“Go work off that cake you just ate!”

“Don’t you dare eat that third slice of pizza!”

Esther Hansen, a Fort Collins based dietician nutritionist, has seen this firsthand in her nutrition and weight loss practice. Time and time again, she has seen the downside of diets.

 

“Scientific research has established that 95 percent of diets fail the user,” she says. “Read that again—the diet failed you, you did not fail the diet. This happens for a variety of psychological and physiological reasons. Restriction in any form (calorie counting, carb counting, etc.) doesn’t work long-term and can actually backfire.”

This rigid approach is just not sustainable. At some point, the pressure builds, and we cave in to devouring the foods we have forbidden ourselves to eat. So, if these types of resolutions don’t work long term, what is the alternative to building sustainable, healthier habits?

Begin with redefining health
The alternate is a gentler approach; a new view health. Instead of focusing on dieting, strict food rules and rigid exercise regimes for a New Year’s resolution, let’s resolve to shift our focus and adopt a new way of viewing health.

Hansen continues, “The five percent [of diets] that do work sustainably are those that work with your body and genetics. It is an eating process we call Intuitive Eating which, in a nutshell, is giving yourself full permission with food while being attuned to your body’s signals and feedback. Your body can be trusted to give you accurate signals to guide you to the proper amount and quality of food.”

Self-love is beautiful at any size or shape

We usually think of health from a physical standpoint. We think of numbers, weight, jean size, diet and exercise. But we aren’t machines and we can’t simply prescribe to a food plan. Food is so much more than just physical: it is comfort, celebration, memories, boredom and many other things. In order to adopt an inclusive perspective on health, and to make habit changes that last longer than a few weeks, we need to include the mental and emotional sides of ourselves, as well.

Instead of swearing off eating at night forever, we gently look at why we’re soothing ourselves with food. Instead of forcing ourselves to go on a diet, we learn to understand our bodies and what types of food work for us. Instead of obsessing over calories, clean eating and rigidly following a food plan, we spend time learning what makes us feel alive, engaged and excited.
Then, we are able to use our own built-in guidance system to cultivate healthier habits that nourish and energize us, instead of using deprivation to lose weight or make changes.

Thus, we end up cutting ourselves some slack. We don’t force 45 minutes on the treadmill when what we actually need is rest and a cup of tea. We can much more easily cope with stress if we recognize that we need to find other outlets besides food. We see more clearly how our mindset (and that critical voice) directly impacts how we view our bodies.
By tending to our physical, mental and emotional well-being, we begin to have a relationship with our bodies instead of forcing them to do things solely based on willpower.

Promote a kinder view of ourselves and our bodies.
Susan Hay, a confidence coach in Fort Collins and founder of online boutique Dame + Heart, weaves this message of redefining a “perfect” body through her blogs and videos. She says, “A part of our body acceptance comes from letting go of conventional beauty standards. We get to define beauty. We don’t need to conform to what society tells us is beautiful; it can be so empowering to allow ourselves to feel beautiful and confident from within. Beauty is an inside job.”

Hay has lived this journey of redefining beauty. She shares a little bit of her story: “For years, I struggled with body image and eating disorders. The message I received was that my body was different and not in a desirable way, and so I believed it. I spent years hiding under a beach cover up and rarely leaving the comfort of the poolside lounge chair. Even when I was so hot that I thought I’d burst into flames, I sat poolside wishing I was skinny enough for a dip in the pool.

“I thought I had to diet to earn anything—a vacation, to wear a swimsuit, to show people I was doing just fine. I wish there had been a role model back then that would have encouraged me to participate in my own curvy girl life. I wish that my self-confidence had been strong enough to speak up sooner on how beautiful self-love is at any size or shape, and I really wish I would have seen the beauty in being different sooner.”

Acceptance can begin with a kind word and more compassionate view of ourselves. We remind ourselves that societal ideals are standards that we don’t have to endorse. Instead of spending energy on criticizing and hating our bodies, work to replace that voice with a kinder, more gentle view of what we see in the mirror.

For Rebecca Moon, owner of Mystique Lingerie in Fort Collins, body acceptance is a key part of her store’s message. She says, “I believe everyone’s journey to body acceptance is different. Promoting body acceptance to me is encouraging women to do or wear what truly makes them feel good, and not because they think society says they can. I want them to embrace the things that they love about their body. As for the store, my goal is to help customers find something that makes them feel good about the how they look, to help show them that can feel sexy at ANY size!”

By encouraging women to give themselves permission to wear lingerie, no matter how big or small their bodies are, this helps to shift the message society gives us, says Moon.

Society tells us we have to fix, change and sculpt our bodies to look like a certain ideal body type. But a crucial part in our journey to health is learning how to value our body and size no matter what. It doesn’t mean we can’t work to also be healthier; it just means that we aren’t hating ourselves along the way.

When we make these changes, something magical starts to happen…how we view ourselves changes, which enables us to treat ourselves better, choose foods that better serve us and have more compassion with ourselves. And that sounds like a lot more fun than a rigid, willpower-based New Year’s resolution.