Diet Another Day

Carrie Arnold suggests that weight-based New Year’s resolutions are a lost cause:

With fears about obesity ever present, as well as the West’s intense societal stigma against fat, it makes sense to want to lose weight. What people need to stop and ask, however, is whether it’s realistic to diet and lose weight long term, and whether that will improve health. The answer to both questions, [Body of Truth: How Science, History, and Culture Drive Our Obsession With Weight—and What We Can Do About It author Harriet] Brown says, is no.

“If you look at the studies, most of them stop after six months, one year, two years,” Brown says. She wanted to know what happened over five years, or even 10, but the scientific literature had little to offer.

The longest study Brown dug up was the Look Ahead Study, which randomized 5,145 adults with diabetes to either an “intensive lifestyle intervention focusing on weight loss” or a control group and then followed them for 13.5 years. After 9.5 years, however, the study was halted. Although the intervention group did lose more weight than the control group (6.0 percent versus 3.5 percent of starting body weight), the researchers found no significant difference in cardiovascular events like heart attack and angina, or in premature death.

Sarah Kliff adds:

[T]here’s actually a tangible risk to failure:

research has shown that people who don’t meet their goals in dieting, for example, become less likely to succeed in future attempts. They seem to build up a narrative in their head that the thing they want to do is impossible. They have, after all, screwed it up before. “Every time we fail, we damage our own self-esteem,” says Janet Polivy, a psychologist at the University of Toronto in Mississauga. “We make ourselves less able to bounce back the next time. One thing we see is that, when people fail, they don’t blame the diet. They blame themselves. And that makes it hard to start again.”

Meanwhile, Lindsey Averill reflects on the success of her 2012 resolution to find clothes that fit rather than lose weight:

I was a clothes-that-fit badass. And while resolving to buy clothes might seem superficial and ridiculous, it wasn’t. It was amazing. As soon as I tossed my too-tight favorites, I started to forget to be self-conscious in private spaces. In other words, when my jeans were too tight, I could sit alone in my car at a red light – feel the tightness – and be reminded that I thought my body was wrong. Once my clothes fit, the “wrongness” I felt with regards to my body was rarely present unless other people or media made me feel that way.

I’m not trying to oversell this idea – all my problems with my body weren’t magically solved by clothes that fit, but I was loving myself more and I was treating my body like it deserved nice clothes, like it was okay to live and be happy and enjoy fashion at my size. So yeah – a resolution that was about accepting my body was way healthier for me than starting another new diet.