This is the time of year where many of us will look at what is important and what commitments we want to make in the New Year of 2023. In the midst of this, health and wellbeing goals are some of the top goals, many of which include diets and weight loss. According to a survey by Statista the top three resolutions for 2023 are exercise, eat healthier, and lose weight. All around us, there are ads for diets, exercise programs, supplements, and wellness.
As a dietitian, I value balanced healthy eating and movement, and navigating all the information out there can be challenging. In the 20 years I have worked as a dietitian, there are several things that have held true in finding balance in our eating that enhances our lives.
First, diets have a very low success rate. In a world of endless new dieting patterns and a focus on weight loss, it may be difficult to accept that diets do not work. There is also the risk of dieting leading to harmful consequences. Evidence indicates that up to 95% of diets fail within 1 – 5 years with people gaining back most, all, or sometimes even more weight then was lost. This can often lead to a cycle of dieting, gaining weight, then dieting again. This cycle has been shown to increase our risks of certain health conditions as well as take a toll on our mental well-being.
Diets and restricting also consume a lot of our time and energy planning, monitoring, and thinking about food. While our relationship with food should take some of our time – time to plan meals, grocery shop, cook, and eat; dieting often leads to a hypervigilance on what we are eating and how to avoid eating that may take away time and energy from other important things in our lives.
Second, all foods can fit with balance, variety, and moderation as the key. For most people, there is no one food that can make or break your health. Of course, there are exceptions in cases like allergies and certain diseases. However, for most of us removing judgements from foods as good or bad, and instead being intentional to get a balance of food groups, enjoyable and satisfying foods, good variety, and all foods in moderation (for some that means not only the fun foods but also fruits and vegetables) leads to a well-nourished and satisfied body.
Third, learn to listen to your body’s cues. While guidelines can be helpful in nourishing ourselves, learning to become attune with our body and know our body’s hunger cues, fullness cues, satisfaction factors, and more can help us feed our body well. Our body’s innate wisdom can help guide us in this as we learn to understand what it tells us and provide what it needs. This also can help us understand when we are eating for our bodies and when other factors may be leading us toward or away from food. Learning to tune into our patterns of eating, body cues, emotions, and more can help us find health and balance in food.
Finally, we can be healthy at every size. Over the past few decades, we have focused on our weight as the means of health. A wide variety of research is demonstrating health can be supported no matter our size, and weight may not be one of the major factors in overall health and well-being. Factors including eating patterns, stress management, use of alcohol in moderation, and fitness levels have a much higher influence on health then our weight. And with the difficulty in sustaining weight loss, moving toward an approach for health apart from weight loss, may help with long term sustainable change.
So, as we look to determine how to move into 2023 with a healthy mindset and realistic expectations and goals, here are a few questions to ask before making any changes to your movement or eating patterns:
- “Why do I want to make this change?”
- “Is this change in line with my values and will it support the things in my life that are the most important?” How? Dig deep into this. Often working toward weight loss may seem like the answer, but there may be many other ways to support these values.
- “Is this something I will realistically be able to do for the rest of my life?” And if so, how will it affect my physical and mental well-being?
- “What might some small, sustainable changes look like in my life that support my overall values and goals?” These may be related to food and movement, possibly other things in your life, and possibly practicing acceptance of your body, journey, circumstances, and more.
In all these things, practice grace and self-compassion. Our relationship with food supports our life and the meaningful things in our lives; however, our value and worth is much more then eating right and having our body as we want it. Happy New Year and Best Wishes in 2023!