Opinion: New Year's Dieting is Not Automatically Wellness

Fad diets and fitness gurus will only make you miserable.
Fad diets and fitness gurus will only make you miserable. Photo by Laura Lewis/Flickr
It’s a new year, and that means that millions will flock to the gym as part of a resolution to lose weight and “get healthy.” Here’s another idea: don’t bloody do that.

There are decades of scientific proof that diets do not work, and the only consistent weight lost is around $70 billion annually. Obsessing about intake and BMI is essentially a culturally acceptable form of self-harm. Throw in quack detoxes and the way many fitness outlets like yoga and CrossFit lead to poisonous conspiracy thinking, and it’s clear that throwing yourself into the diet culture machine is a bad idea from a true wellness standpoint. At the best, you will drop ten pounds of glycogen (which is partially just water) while torturing yourself, doing things you hate like starving and exercises that don’t appeal to you.

Changing your entire diet on a dime is just asking to be miserable, and the human body does not react well to it. You don’t have to live on kale smoothies. Instead, just find a smoothie you enjoy and replace a few lunches or breakfasts a week with it. It becomes less about what you’re denying yourself and more about embracing a new thing to like. Learn to cook because it’s fun, not just so you can stare at a sad plate of green beans wondering why everything is so hard. Eat off the kid’s menu at restaurants. They give you crayons!

In his book The Holy Sh!t Moment, James Fell talks about the actual mechanics of change. Long-term healthy change does not come from a place of self-hate and a desire to better fit into society. It comes from a very human desire to be excited about a new thing. If you really want to find wellness in the new year, you’re way better off looking for things that make you happy.

If you hate going to the gym, don’t go. Find something else cool to do. Take up fencing or something. Houston Sword Sports will even let you do it sitting down. Go walk the trails at the arboretum. You meet so many cute puppies, and it’s a great excuse to hang out and talk with a friend. Join a ballroom dancing class. It doesn’t matter. If you were going to be a person who got excited by exercise for its own sake, it probably would have happened by now. Get a more active thing that’s actually cool, and let the exercise be a byproduct.

So much of this diet culture bullshit is built on a capitalist system that runs on human self-loathing. You’re likely to get better results from seeking therapy than you are for a gym membership and being a premium member of a calorie tracker app. For many of us, overeating and lethargy is a symptom, not the disease. When you’re unhappy you don’t want to move, and extra food makes the dopamine centers work overtime. Put in the hard gains with a therapist, and you will probably find yourself motivated to be out in the world far more than media portrayals of skinny people will ever do.

Wellness will never be defined by a waistline measurement. It’s a holistic thing that requires a mind at peace and a body that is enjoying life. Throwing yourself into a meat grinder for the pleasure of diet companies will not deliver you the life you desire. Seek fun, activity, moderation, and contentment instead.
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Jef Rouner (not cis, he/him) is a contributing writer who covers politics, pop culture, social justice, video games, and online behavior. He is often a professional annoyance to the ignorant and hurtful.
Contact: Jef Rouner