Strava, the app that helps athletes track exercise regimes, analysed data from millions of users and determined that January 19 is the date people are likely to give up their New Year’s resolutions. I can’t help but speculate that resolutions might be even more readily abandoned this year, given the alarming numbers of Covid cases announced every day, the inclement weather, the basic tenants of democracy being undermined in the ‘greatest country’ in the Free World.
I could go on but you get it. January, a traditionally bleak month as we recover from our post-Christmas comedowns, has become even bleaker. I’ve heard many of my friends and family remark that they would like to go to sleep and awake when it’s time to receive their vaccine; summer has never felt further away.
We need to self-soothe and for some, the habits we fall back on in times of stress are healthy – yoga, walking, meditation. Others, perhaps less so – that extra bottle of wine, the compulsive online shopping, the multi-pack of biscuits devoured without even tasting them. If the lockdown weight gain memes are anything to go by (I beg you, stop sharing them. They’re not funny and they’re hurtful to fat people), the number one New Year’s Resolution on everyone’s list in 2021 will be to go on a strict diet. But what if we didn’t?
Here’s the thing. Diets don’t work. Experts wager that 95-97% of weight loss attempts fail. A 2017 article on Weight Watchers in the New York Times stated that according to WW’s own research, “the average weight loss in any behaviour-modification program is about a 5% reduction of body weight within six months, with a return of a third of weight lost at two years.”
Countless scientific studies have appeared over the last decade which indicate that this endless cycle of weight gain and weight loss could cause permanent damage to our metabolisms. One study conducted by the National Institutes of Health followed contestants on the American TV show The Biggest Loser, and noted that their metabolic rates slowed dramatically; by the end, one contestant’s resting metabolism required 800 calories less per day than an average man of his age and size.
Studies have also shown that vast majority of people who engage in yo-yo dieting end up at a heavier set-point than what they started out at.
Tracy Mann, who has been studying eating habits and dieting for more than twenty years at the University of Minnesota’s Health and Eating Lab told the Washington Post that “everyone is blaming dieters for regaining weight they lose and that’s just wrong – it’s not their fault they regain weight, and it’s not about willower, or lack thereof… after you diet, so many biological changes happen in your body that it becomes almost impossible to keep the weight off.”
She lists these changes in three categories – neurological (when you are dieting, your brain becomes overly response to food, thus making it harder to resist), hormonal, (as you lose fat, the hormones that make you feel satiated after a meal decrease and those that make you feel hungry increase) and biological, the aforementioned changes to your metabolism.
Diet culture is inherently designed to set people up to fail and then we shame them for that ‘failure’, creating a vicious cycle where they start on yet another diet which cannot and will not work.
The rampant fatphobia pervading our society contributes to diet culture too, even as more and more evidence suggests the way in which we understand weight is deeply flawed and that many health issues which have been attributed to fatness can be explained by other factors such as stress and genetics.
The Health At Every Size movement (which promotes acceptance of one’s body, no matter your weight) encourages people to shift focus from losing weight to general wellness. Weight is not a reliable indicator of health; a fat person who exercises regularly is much more likely to enjoy good health than a thin person who smokes and subsists on a diet of fast food. The presumptions we make about their medical histories are shaped by our own biases.
Ultimately, there is no chart which can show us what weight we ‘should’ be. We are all born with a different set point weight; the weight at which our bodies feel most comfortable when we are exercising regularly and practicing intuitive eating (eating when we are hungry and stopping when we are full). This set point can vary; we might weigh a little more after Christmas, a little less after a stressful period at work. Left to their own devices, bodies will return to their set point weight naturally.
We don’t need a ‘plan’ to help them do so, no matter what the dieting companies tell us. All we need to do is feed them, move them, and accept them for what they are. It’s as easy and as difficult as that.
Girl A by Abigail Dean sold in a seven-figure book deal and it was worth every penny. Lex escaped from her family’s “House of Horrors” as a child and now, as an adult, she is still trying to outrun her past. An astonishing, breath-takingly accomplished debut; it’s a masterpiece.
Rina Sawayama’s album was described by Pitchfork as a Y2K flashback that’s as reverent of Korn as it is of Britney. Need I say more?