Weight loss ranks among the top national New Year’s resolutions every year, and according to our survey, it’s the top goal of Blisstree readers in 2012. But the overwhelming message we’ve seen about weight loss in January is that for most people, it doesn’t work. That’s not to say weight loss is impossible, but more and more evidence that shows the cards are stacked against permanent weight loss, and simply deciding to shed pounds isn’t a great way to successfully frame your goals. The good news is that there’s still time to rehab your resolution.
Magazine headlines and book sales alone prove we’re a nation obsessed with weight loss, but that we’re largely unable to get it under control. And studies abound to back up what we already know: Alex Chernov, a professor of marketing at Northwestern, surveyed 900 Americans about their resolutions in 2011, and found that a whopping 42% listed weight loss in their top three. He also asked his survey respondents about their failed resolutions from the previous year; weight loss was at the top there, too. And a growing body of evidence shows that, whether it’s resolution-related or not, permanent weight loss is one of the most elusive goals of Americans.
David Frum pointed out in a column for CNN that half of dieters end up heavier than when they began. That’s at least in part because they were unable to make the complete change in lifestyle that successful, permanent weight loss requires, but New York Times health writer Tara Parker-Pope outlined an even more depressing story about our failure to lose in her inaugural article of 2012, “The Fat Trap”:
For years, the advice to the overweight and obese has been that we simply need to eat less and exercise more. While there is truth to this guidance, it fails to take into account that the human body continues to fight against weight loss long after dieting has stopped. This translates into a sobering reality: once we become fat, most of us, despite our best efforts, will probably stay fat.
But in spite of their fatalistic messages, even Frum and Parker-Pope find hope. Frum suggests that society needs to address our country’s obesity problem; for individuals, Parker-Pope suggests setting more achievable goals:
[W]ith a third of the U.S. adult population classified as obese, nobody is saying people who already are very overweight should give up on weight loss. Instead, the solution may be to preach a more realistic goal. Studies suggest that even a 5 percent weight loss can lower a person’s risk for diabetes, heart disease and other health problems associated with obesity. There is also speculation that the body is more willing to accept small amounts of weight loss.
Setting smaller goals is one way to get more realistic, but another is to set focused, positive goals. Weight loss is a pressing concern for many Americans, but it’s one of the most difficult goals to achieve, and one that can make you feel easily defeated. Instead of focusing on what’s wrong with your weight or what you’d like to change about how your appearance, try focusing on what your body can do. Push yourself to train for a 5k. Build up to doing military-style 10 push-ups. Or simply start by making yourself get seven hours of sleep every night. You’d be surprised at what big changes you can achieve by setting what seems like a simple goal, and how successful you can feel by tracking your progress toward it.
While 23.9% of Blisstree readers told us they were hoping to lose weight this year, we were happy to see that getting fitter, eating better, managing stress, and getting a better job were some of the other top resolutions, too. Weight is just one measure of health; all of those more specific components are easier to measure and achieve–and if you lose weight in the process, even better. If all you can think about is the numbers on the scale, we urge you to reconsider. Set a specific health goal, decide how you’ll track your progress, and, most importantly, make sure you know how you’ll reward yourself when you get there. You’ll have a much better chance of establishing good habits to last you through 2013.