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Why you don’t need to change your life this new year

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People love to set New Year’s resolutions, or they love to hate them. Either way, the start of a new year brings an opportunity for a fresh outlook, even if not too much has actually changed. 

According to the decision assistant website Finder, almost 75% of Americans have set resolutions for this year, and it comes as no surprise that the top resolution for many is improving their health. With the dawn of the new year comes flashy weight loss ads, with influencers kicking it into high gear to promote celery juice. It is important to remember that all of these diets and get-results-fast promises, from Keto to Whole30, are part of an industry worth $71 billion, according to CNBC. It’s one that profits off of ensuring that people look in the mirror and hate what they see. A 2007 UCLA analysis of over 30 studies found that after dieting, 83% of people gain back more weight than they lost. What gives? 

I get it — who am I to tell you that what you want to do with your body is wrong? If you want to start a diet this new year, by all means go ahead. But as someone who started dieting when I was 13 (and failed miserably at it for years), I just hope that you know that you don’t need to lose weight or change anything about yourself for anyone except you.

Imagine if we took all the energy that we invested in despising ourselves and put it toward something slightly better; we would all be much happier. If you only set resolutions because you hate yourself, maybe the best initial approach is to ask where all of that hatred comes from, instead of hopping from diet to diet with the hope that this time you will finally feel good about yourself.

My own experience with dieting taught me a valuable lesson: prioritize feeling good and nourishing yourself — with food but also with whatever truly fulfills you. The new year is a great time to work on self-improvement, as countless self-help books will tell you, but it is also an opportunity to generally just do more of what makes you happy.

Haley Staudmyer, a third-year atmospheric sciences major, used the structure of a New Year’s resolution to slowly make her diet more vegetarian over the years because she wanted to make more sustainable choices. While going cold turkey works for some, she knew she’d be more likely to stick to it if she set small goals that felt exciting yet sustainable.

“I’ve had two years in a row where I started with a low bar and it evolved into me taking it further by the end of the year,” Staudmyer said

If lifestyle changes are what you’re after, slow and steady really does win the race, even if it isn’t the sexiest suggestion. Following the SMART goal structure (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timely) is helpful to actually visualize what you want to accomplish and how to make it happen, even if this sounds like something a finance professor would say. 

It is alarmingly easy to set a goal and have it, with your motivation disappearing into the void a few weeks later. Break up your resolutions into manageable pieces to make a steady dent of progress instead of feeling like a failure when you don’t reach your goals in two weeks. Of course, it helps to also actually be interested in the goals that you set, and not just make them to meet someone else’s standards.

“It has to be something you actually care about and not something you feel pressured to do,” Staudmyer said. “If you don’t care about it, you’re obviously not going to succeed.”

If the new year motivates you to change your habits, there is nothing wrong with that, but the danger comes from feeling like you need to change how you look to fit into a certain societal mold. Make resolutions that excite you or skip out altogether; the beauty is that there is no right answer. 

Reach writer Michelle Austreich at Twitter: @djmeezus

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