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Diet culture has hijacked our New Year’s resolutions, so where to from here?

WORDS BY MARY ROSE MADIGAN

“My New Year’s resolutions kept me in a cycle of self-hatred, constantly dieting and then giving up and then feeling guilty that I’d given up.”

When I was fourteen I remember closing my eyes at midnight on New Year’s Eve and promising myself I’d start a diet tomorrow that would transform my body and make me resemble Hilary Duff or Lindsay Lohan. Honestly, I would have settled for Amanda Bynes – I just wanted to be smaller.

This began a pretty consistent pattern. Every New Year’s resolution became centred around shedding weight. Instead of dreaming about what I wanted for the upcoming year, I dreamt about what I didn’t want. I wanted to shed bits of myself. I wanted to be smaller and it was a habit I carried with me well into my twenties.


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Forget making resolutions about smashing through university or dumping my shitty boyfriend, (you know, resolutions that might actually enhance my year), mine was always the same: lose weight. My resolutions to lose weight were never about being healthier, it was just about dropping kilos.

I wasn’t making a conscious effort to exercise more for my mental health or simply trying to eat food that made me feel good instead of giving me stomach cramps. Instead, I was focusing on crazy diets that involved cutting out entire food groups and not eating solids.

They were the kind of completely unattainable diets that promised to give me a body like Kate Moss or Khloe Kardashian. It was all about being smaller and never about my own health. Shamefully, I would have happily sacrificed my own health to be skinnier.

I was the kind of person that would spend the first week of the new year living off a soup diet and cracking jokes that diets are called die-ts because when you are on them they make you want to die. Basically, I took a completely manic approach to the new year and by February I was over it and very, very hungry.

As the dietitian, Sarah Leung, explains to me, “Many people still have the mindset that losing weight always means healthier. Again, focusing on the numbers on the scale might not be as useful as looking at one’s diet in a holistic approach.”

Whenever I speak to other women about diet culture hijacking their New Year’s resolutions I’m usually met with agreement, but the experiences vary. Some women have gone hardcore like me and others have just dabbled or had it in the back of their minds that they should try and lose weight that year. But pretty much every woman I’ve ever spoken to has a story about a resolution that has been tied to losing weight.

India, 31, followed a similar pattern to me. “Yes, all the time, even though I know they are bullshit,” she told me. The same was true of Shannon, 29. “Literally, every year my resolutions were about dieting and weight loss until last year,” she said. Alexis, 30, ruefully admitted to me that her resolutions were always about losing weight, “Every, single, bloody year”.

Somehow a resolution that is meant to set our intentions and the tone for the upcoming year has been ruined by society constantly telling women they need to be smaller. I have sat around tables with my extended family where we all share our resolutions for the year and every women’s set of goals for the new year involves dieting. In comparison, every man talks about striving to get more joy out of life. Uncle Kevin will declare he wants to spend more time on his boat, while Aunty Kathy will say she’s never eating pasta again – fun!

Often this is all done under the guise of health but I find when I hear women talking about dieting for the new year it’s far more about what size jeans they want to fit into. Sarah confirms what I already thought – that making your New Year’s resolutions centred around dieting and losing weight is unhealthy.

“Dieting by restricting what you eat to achieve weight loss is often short term and it doesn’t offer long term solutions, nor is it sustainable. Many diets require the cutting out of a certain food group or are restrictive in calories which can lead to negative health consequences, such as nutrient deficiencies,” she tells me.

Last year was the first year I made a resolution that wasn’t based on weight loss. Instead, I picked a word that would set the tone for my year. I chose the word, ‘embrace’ because I wanted to embrace life more. Simple things like new friendships, extending to exciting opportunities. It was a word I constantly circled back to whenever I was torn about making a decision and it made me more brave and bold.

In comparison, my past resolutions to lose weight have been completely unhelpful and often led me to be unproductive. In fairness, it’s hard to get excited about the new year when you won’t be eating potatoes anymore. The truth is, plans to lose weight don’t exactly inspire you to smash your university results or ask for a pay rise.

Instead, my New Year’s resolutions kept me in a cycle of self-hatred, constantly dieting and then giving up and then feeling guilty that I’d given up. But not anymore. I’m choosing resolutions that keep me motivated and excited about what’s to come. Ironically, this zest is actually translating into healthier choices.

So if you did make this year’s resolution all about losing weight I think it’s time to take a breath and really think about what you might be determined to achieve or at least aspire to this year. Sure you could concentrate on your health, but don’t add the word diet to the equation. At least attempt a more holistic approach incorporating all aspects of your health. Or, instead, pick a word or idea that means something to you and that will help you tackle the year ahead with excitement.

This year my word is ‘give’. I want to give more to others and to myself. It’s a word that brings me joy and reminds me to embrace life with a generosity of spirit and to look for, or see, this generosity in others. I’m hopeful that this will set me up for a fulfilling 2022, despite any difficulties that may lie ahead. Kate Moss once said nothing tastes as good as skinny feels but perhaps she has yet to taste all that life has to offer beyond the superficiality of appearance. I don’t look like Kate Moss, but I’m feeling bloody good!

For more on recognising and resisting diet culture, try this.

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