As the holiday season comes to an end, many of you are already making diet-related New Year's Resolutions which almost always include weight loss. In fact, did you know that out of all of the personal goals that people make New Year’s resolutions about, two out of every three revolve around eating habits and weight loss.?
Unfortunately, the breaking of these resolutions within a few weeks is a tradition almost as common as making those goals in the first place.
There is nothing wrong with wanting to improve nutrition, fitness, and health right after the holidays. This is referred to as the “fresh-start effect” where goals center around a time-related milestone—like the start of a new year.
But keep in mind that there is no physiological reason to wait for a specific date to take a step toward better health. You can start eating slower, choosing a fruit or vegetable, and stopping eating when you're full at your very next meal. You can decide to implement your “fresh start” goal right here and now!
I encourage and celebrate health goals at any time of year. But, let me share with you a different way to improve your health (and I would argue, your sanity as well).
Why we should rethink weight-loss-focused New Year’s resolutions and focus on health and fitness instead
Research shows that most people who make New Year’s resolutions give up on them before the end of January, especially when they are weight-loss-focused goals. Most of the time, it’s not the fault of the person who gives up, it's the fault of the weight loss diet itself. These diets are usually too rigid or too unrealistic to follow long-term.
Many people become frustrated when the weight doesn't come off as fast as they'd like, or they lose weight for several weeks and then hit a plateau. They become frustrated and give up which then leads to regaining the weight they lost.
Dieting almost always leads to disappointment, shame, guilt, and possibly even worse health habits and outcomes. Some experts believe there may be a link between weight-loss-focused New Year’s goals and worsened well-being (3).
One reason for this is that the motivation behind many weight-loss-focused goals may have unhealthy origins. Rather than coming from a place of self-care, empowerment, and future health, there are many not-so-healthy reasons some people make weight-loss-focused New Year’s resolutions:
Because others around them (or online) are doing so
Feeling guilty about overeating during the holidays
Wanting to be liked or loved by others
Believing that weight loss is the only way to improve health
I'd like to propose that instead of weight loss, we should focus our time and energy toward improving our strength and fitness
Why focusing on fitness and strength is better for you than weight loss.
Most people think "fitness" means having six-pack abs and zero body fat. But nothing could be further from the truth!
When I say fitness, I'm referring to cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF), which is the capacity of the circulatory and respiratory systems to supply oxygen to skeletal muscle mitochondria for energy production during sustained physical activity. This is often assessed by a VO2max treadmill test, although there are some field tests available that can give you a good idea of what your CRF level is.
Low CRF is now considered to be a strong and independent risk factor for heart disease and all-cause mortality. Improving your cardiorespiratory fitness level (CRF) through regular physical activity not only reduces your risk for the major chronic diseases that are common in the US, but you'll have more energy to do the things you want to do. This is true regardless of whether you lose weight or not. The graph below shows the all-cause mortality rates of people with low, moderate, and high levels of CRF (which was independent of body weight).
The good news is that you don't have to run marathons to improve your CRF. Simply walking or doing other moderate-intensity activity for 150 minutes each week should do the trick.
You also don't have to lose weight to get the benefits of a high CRF. Studies show that fat, fit people outlive skinny unfit people. I realize that many women want to lose weight but the research shows that CRF levels are independent of body weight and BMI so this is good news! See the graph below that shows that fat, fit people have a much lower risk for cardiovascular mortality than fat unfit people.
Another way to reduce your risk for chronic health conditions is with resistance training - sometimes referred to as strength training. The benefits of strength training include lower risk for heart disease, diabetes and some forms of cancer, as well as improved bone density, joint health, and metabolism....not to mention looking toned and buffed!
Another compelling reason to redirect our resolutions toward fitness and strength lies in the well-known cycle of weight loss and regain that I mentioned above, that many of us find ourselves trapped in. Countless studies have shown that most people who lose weight quickly end up back at square one, or sometimes even heavier. This not only takes a toll on our self-esteem but also brings with it potential health risks associated with the ups and downs of body weight.
Some people will lose weight as they strive for better fitness and strength but some will not. Even if you don't lose weight in the process of becoming more fit and strong, you will most likely feel better, have more energy, and be able to do the things you really want to do, which is not always the case with dieting-induced weight loss.
This brings me to my biggest concern with semaglutide drugs (aka, weight loss drugs). Many of these drugs cause weight loss by inducing nausea, which makes you consume less food and then you lose weight. But if you're frequently feeling nauseated, I doubt if you have the energy to exercise or do strength training; thus, you probably won't improve your CRF and strength, which puts you at a higher risk for heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and some forms of cancer. Weight loss alone (from the drugs) is not as powerful in improving your health as having a high CRF level and strong muscles. You may weigh less, but you won't be lean, strong and fit.
So how do you focus on strength and fitness? By setting small fitness and/or strength goals such as the following:
Hold a 60-second plank
Do five pushups
Walk for 15 minutes nonstop once or twice a day
Run a 5k roadrace
Increasing the weight on any weight machine by 5 lbs
Because muscle weighs more than fat, you probably won't see a change on the scale (if you choose to weigh yourself which I highly discourage!) but you will feel stronger and be able to do the things you want to do. Being stronger also helps to keep older women out of nursing homes because they can take care of themselves.
Want someone to create a strength and fitness program for you AND follow your progress? Would you like to learn how to nourish your body to maximize strength and fitness as well as improve blood sugar control, blood lipids, and/or blood pressure?
Then join my 8 week program called Power Up: A Midlife Woman's Guide to Nutrition, Strength, and Fitness! You will get a detailed 8 week nutrition, strength, and fitness program AND weekly group zoom calls with me to ask questions and give or get support from others. Because this is an introductory program, it only costs $39!
Have questions? Book an appointment with me today to see if this program can help you achieve your health and wellness goals!
(1) Oscarsson, M., Carlbring, P., Andersson, G., & Rozental, A. (2020). A large-scale experiment on New Year's resolutions: Approach-oriented goals are more successful than avoidance-oriented goals. PloS one, 15(12), e0234097. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0234097
(2) Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health. (2019, January). Re-thinking your New Year’s resolutions. The Nutrition Source. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/2013/12/20/re-thinking-your-new-years-resolutions/
(3) Dickson, J. M., Moberly, N. J., Preece, D., Dodd, A., & Huntley, C. D. (2021). Self-Regulatory Goal Motivational Processes in Sustained New Year Resolution Pursuit and Mental Wellbeing. International journal of environmental research and public health, 18(6), 3084. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph18063084
(4) Pychyl, T. (2009, February 8). Approaching Success, Avoiding the Undesired: Does Goal Type Matter? Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/dont-delay/200902/approaching-success-avoiding-the-undesired-does-goal-type-matter
(5) Canadian Mental Health Association. (2022, December 7). Rethinking your New Year’s resolutions. https://cmha.ca/news/rethinking-resolutions/
(6) Bradley, G. (n.d.). 7 New Year's Resolutions That Will Actually Make You Feel Good. National Eating Disorders Association. https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/blog/7-new-years-resolutions-will-actually-make-you-feel-good