The central theses
- Losing weight is a common New Year’s resolution, but focusing on the number on the scales often leads to more harm than good.
- Personal weight loss goals can be influenced by social pressures. Try to learn more about your medical history to personalize your goals.
- When you think about changing your eating and exercise habits, focus on your intent and how your body feels. You should start slowly with techniques like habit stacking.
You may believe that making a New Year’s resolution for losing weight can help you work toward your healthy lifestyle goals. But focusing on the number on the scale could distract you from making changes that will actually improve your health.
“I’m a strong advocate of health behaviors beyond body weight,” Candace Pumper, MS, RD, LD, a registered nutritionist at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center, emailed Verywell. The decision to lose weight in 2022 is not inherently good or bad, Pumper said. However, it is important to take into account your health history and social pressures, such as dietary culture or beauty standards.
“Ultimately, the issue should be approached with sensitivity and care,” she added. Small behaviors and habits, like eating fruits and vegetables in most (if not all) meals, or drinking a glass of water regularly before breakfast, can set you on the path to your healthiest self after consulting with your doctor.
It is important to remember that weight loss does not automatically mean health. Dalina Soto, MA, RD, LDN, a registered nutritionist and body-positive health attorney based in Philadelphia, said Verywell that many people want to work on themselves especially after the December vacation. “Most people associate weight loss with being healthy,” she said.
But focusing on weight isn’t always the most helpful way to achieve a healthy body. “What’s that of those twenty pounds? [weight-loss] Goal you want to accomplish? “Soto asked. Asking these types of questions can help separate weight from feelings about your body and actual health.
At the end of the day, Pumper adds, working with your body, rather than against it, helps you lead a full and healthier life as possible.
What that means for you
If you think changing your eating and exercise habits would make you feel better about your body, talk to a doctor. An exam can help you understand basic health characteristics (such as blood pressure, waist size, and cholesterol) that can help you decide if and / or how to make changes. And adding more fruits and vegetables and exercise to your day is usually beneficial.
The weight doesn’t tell the whole story
The ratio of body weight to height is often associated with health. But people have been unpacking this claim for years.
The body mass index (BMI), for example, is not without its problems. Weight to height ratio has no way of telling apart muscle from fat, or how fast a person’s metabolism is. Because of this, a person with no health problems who happens to be muscular and has a slow metabolism could be classified as obese. It also doesn’t take into account a person’s age, race, or ethnicity.
In addition, we don’t have as much control over body fat distribution as we might think. This distribution is largely inherited and plays a role in the shape of our bodies making it harder or easier to gain or lose weight. For example, someone may be naturally thin, but that doesn’t mean they are immune to diet and exercise-related health problems.
“Our bodies don’t care what we think we should look like,” said Pumper. “[Your weight] will be what should be if you properly refuel and move around in the way that is appropriate for you. ”
Problems such as high cholesterol can also be inherited – regardless of diet or exercise. These physical and health factors, which we cannot really control, make it all the more important to speak to a doctor and your family about your particular case.
“Genetic traits are inevitable, you can’t change them, but we can learn to accept them,” says Pumper.
However, if setting weight goals is important to you, Pumper advised thinking about what those goals mean for your values, well-being, quality of life, and relationships.
“If you fear every crumb that gets into your mouth, is it really healthy?” Soto asked. “If you can’t enjoy your life to the fullest, if you can’t go to a party and just enjoy food because you have to work out for three hours tomorrow to burn that piece of cake – that’s not health.”
If you are concerned about your eating habits and weight loss, it is a good idea to speak to a doctor or contact an eating disorders helpline for additional resources.
Make lifestyle changes
In the long run, it will be more helpful to shift the focus from weight to lifestyle changes.
When customers come to Soto and say they want to lose weight, she asks them questions. For example, next to the number on the scale, would you like to learn how to balance food to make you feel more energetic? Would you like to know if you can eat healthily for your body or if you can move around in different ways?
“We can do all of these without putting the number on the scale,” Soto said.
In this process of focusing on how you are feeling, weight change can happen naturally, Pumper said. But the point is to get there while practicing healthy behaviors – not harmful ones, like fasting or excessive exercise that were used to achieve a certain weight or appearance.
“If there is only one piece of advice I can give you, it is: Don’t blindly pursue your outcome goal regardless of the impact the process has on your health and wellbeing,” said Pumper.
Pumper also encourages its customers to ask questions, specifically what this change means for future life and values:
- Why is this goal important to me?
- What if I achieve this goal?
- Does my goal match my values?
- What are the risks involved?
- What behaviors will I use to get there and can I maintain these over time?
“Come into your life and focus on what is good for you, physically or mentally,” added Soto. “Let go of all those buzzwords that really have nothing to do with health.”
Slowly and steadily
Once (and if) you have decided to make lifestyle changes, start small and develop a strategy.
“Instead of taking big, drastic leaps, small steps can help you build new healthy habits and behaviors (whatever that means to you),” said Pumper.
Changes should be made on a case-by-case basis, but things like the consumption of colored fruits and vegetables in most, if not all, meals; drink another glass of water; eat a biscuit without guilt; or going more is good for health, no matter who you are.
“Set the intention and hold on,” said Pumper. “The only way to progress is to use habits and behaviors consistently.”
A non-exhaustive list of health-promoting behaviors to adopt that do not focus on height or shape include:
- Eat fruits and vegetables in most, if not all, meals
- Eat protein in most, if not all, meals
- Eat more whole grains
- Have a varied and nutritionally diverse, balanced eating behavior
- Establish a regular meal plan
- Practice mindful eating
- Stay well hydrated
- Reducing the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages and alcohol
- Exercise every day
- Establish a sleep routine and prioritize better quality sleep
- Spend time with your loved ones
Still, in Pumper’s experience, perseverance is easier said than done. She therefore recommends the “habit stacking” method, in which people integrate a new habit into an existing behavior. For example, what if instead of scrolling your phone while your coffee is brewing, instead of scrolling? Or what if you put on music to dance to while tidying up the house?
“Habits are automatic behaviors that happen without regular conscious knowledge,” she said, so adding something to them can act as a “seamless transition” from one behavior to the next. “[It also serves] as an opportunity for positive behavior change that brings you closer to your goals, “she added.
Some more examples of stacking habits are:
- Drink a full glass of water before breakfast.
- When serving a meal, put vegetables on the plate first.
- Take a 10- to 30-minute walk around the neighborhood after putting the dishes in the sink.