The start of a new year inspires many of us to set goals for positive changes in the year ahead. For many women, these resolutions are tied to weight and body shape. In our pursuit for thinner or stronger or healthier bodies we set into motion grand plans to restrict intake or increase exercise or try the latest fad in dieting in a relentless effort to achieve a body ideal. Though I hate to burst the new year’s bubble so soon in January, let’s be honest — we know that most New Year’s resolutions fail to stick and fail to produce the results we seek. But, why? Before we blame ourselves for lack of willpower or adequate effort, consider the possibility that it may be the goals themselves that fail us before we even take that first step on the treadmill or reluctantly nibble our first rice cake.
Setting goals related to weight, calories and exercise may be reinforcing the harmful perspective that we are primarily defined by and valued according to our body shape. Of course, seeking to improve health or well-being is important, but tying success exclusively to the numbers on a scale or pair of jeans offers a narrow, frustrating and incomplete avenue to “success.”
This year, consider setting some new, if unconventional, goals about feeling good in your body in the New Year. Think about the whole you. Think about small but meaningful changes. Here’s a starter list of ideas:
- Do Daily Affirmations. Before you do anything else, say 3 positive things about yourself each morning. Do it before you stare at yourself in the mirror and allow your critique of your physical self to overly influence your overall sense of self.
- Avoid media and magazines that make you feel lousy about your body. Swear off your fashion magazines or pop culture publications for a few weeks (or months?). Media images in magazine and TV feed us an impossible physical ideal. Looking at these images tends to lead us to comparisons and harsh self-critique.
- Rediscover your hunger. You may be thinking, “That’s the last goal I need to set!” – however, often we have lost track of true physical awareness of hunger. We may eat because it’s time, because we’re happy, sad or bored, or because the opportunity simply presents itself. Experiment with tuning into the feeling of hunger. Am I actually hungry? How hungry? And what am I hungry for? Ideally, try to eat when you’re actually hungry but not ravenous and your body may tell you precisely what it needs.
- Wear clothing that flatters your body. Toss out that pair of “skinny jeans” that always makes you “feel fat.” Don’t try to dress like your teenage daughter or your grandma. Find clothing that is comfortable and flattering to your body type today – not the body type you think you “should” have.
- Make a list of great things about you. Write up a list of all the traits, abilities and things about you that you like. Post the list on your bathroom mirror and read it every day.
- Avoid body-bashing conversations. Have you ever noticed that when a group of women get together for a meal, they often survey each other’s menu choices, comment on their own, criticize what they eat, have eaten or plan to eat? Even though the camaraderie of this type of dialogue may feel good at times, the net result is feeling compared to, guilty and/or overly anxious about food, body and shape. Experiment with NOT talking about your food, body and weight.
- Move your body in ways you enjoy. Not everyone gets a lot of pleasure out of the gym Stairmaster or treadmill. Identify activities that you enjoy that involve physical activity –it might be yoga, dancing, swimming or walking the dog. Building pleasurable physical activity into your daily routine will be far more satisfying and permanent than forcing activities you hate from the get-go.
- Eat mindfully. These days, we are prone to eat without much awareness of what we are actually doing. This often means we aren’t really aware of what or how much we are eating and even what it tastes like. Practice eating slowly and noticing the texture and taste of each bite. Take breaks between bites to breathe deeply and notice how you feel. Eliminate distractions such as television and reading while eating. Eat sitting down. Focus on the act of eating and be fully present to the experience. You may find that you enjoy the food more and you will be more aware of your hunger and fullness.
- Stay off the scale. Do you find that your daily encounter with the scale can make or break your mood for the day? Stay off! There’s little value to frequently weighing yourself – and for many it can trigger lots of negative feelings and impulsive or unhealthy eating, restricting or other behaviors. Leave the weigh-in to the experts like your physician or a dietician.
- Have gratitude. Your body is an amazing machine! Say to yourself or write down those things that you are grateful that your body can do for you.
- Send positive messages to others. It’s easy to lose track of how our own body image, comments and behaviors may be affecting others. Especially if you have children, know that your own outlook on your body is speaking volumes to the young eyes and ears around you. Beware of comments that criticize your weight or shape (or theirs!) and try to let your words and actions demonstrate how you value and appreciate yourself as a whole person.
This list can go on and on. Find those things that will mean the most to you. You have the power to make positive changes — go for it!
Happy New Year!