It’s the start of a brand new year, and along with it comes all those so-called ‘healthy’ new years resolutions and weight loss fads.
But I have decided to go in a different direction. In fact, I am actively discouraging people from making weight loss their goal for 2021. And here’s why.
Health versus weight loss
Firstly there is a difference between choosing to pursue a healthier lifestyle versus trying to lose weight. If you said your new year’s resolution is to prioritize your health, I would have given you a big old thumbs up.
I think we have grown accustomed to placing our health low down on our list of what is important to us. Every time we chose to stay at work late in order to impress our boss, rather than go home on time to look after ourselves. Or when we spend our evenings trawling through social media and end up going to bed too late rather than getting a good night’s sleep.
But if 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that we’ve been taking our health for granted for far too long. And we have got to stop doing that.
But please don’t confuse health with weight loss. I mean, weight loss might be a happy consequence of making healthy choices, but I am a strong believer that it should never be your primary focus.
What is health anyway?
That is an extremely complex question and I am willing to bet if I asked 100 people to define health, I would get a 100 different responses. As someone who has studied health since she was 18 years old, I am still not sure that I have an all-encompassing answer.
But I believe that health is more than just physical. It also encompasses our mental and emotional well-being. It is intrinsically linked to our social circumstances and finances. For many it is spiritual.
Think about it for a moment. There are so many different types of health. Cardiovascular health. Mental health. Sexual health. And they are all interlinked and interwoven with one another. You can’t have good physical health without good mental health. And vice versa.
The picture of health
Let’s try something different. In a moment I am going to get you to close your eyes and visualise a healthy person. It could be someone you know or just a picture in your head. All I want you to do is keep your eyes closed, think of someone healthy and take a good look at them.
Okay, now describe that person to me. Are they male or female? Tall or short? What size waist, hips, arms etc? I am willing to be that the majority of you visualised a similar person. And I bet they looked something like this:
Am I right?
How many people actually thought about themselves when they pictured a healthy person? Nobody? Thought not.
Isn’t it fascinating how health is such a complex concept to get our heads around and yet pretty much all of us have the same idea of what health looks like? I feel like I have spent the last 40 years chasing after that person in my mind, and the truth is I am never going to catch up with her. She’s simply not me.
Appearances can be deceiving
So it’s high time I stopped trying to appear healthy, and start trying to be healthy. And there’s no better place to start than taking care of my body. Nutritious food not only benefits you physiologically, but it also improves your mental state, gives you more energy, helps you to concentrate better and improves your sex life. Those are just facts.
So it goes without saying that eating healthy, nutritious food should be a priority for us. Espeically in 2021 in the middle of a COVID pandemic when we are trying to keep our immune system up.
The same can be said for keeping physically active. There’s a reason the government are permitting us to leave the house for unlimited exercise but advising us to stay at home otherwise. Exercise is necessary for health.
So that was nice and simple. Eat well, get plenty of exercise and all will be well. So says the fatdoctor.
But wait. There’s a bit more to it than that. I don’t know about you, but whenever I set myself a goal, I like to have a plan in place to help me to achieve it. Chances are I won’t stick to the plan and I’ll end up doing my own thing anyway, but it’s still nice to have one.
And whenever I make a plan, I not only like to think about what I am actually going to do, but I also try to think of any barriers that might prevent me from getting it done. Let’s take healthy eating as an example.
If you’re going to eat a balanced nutritious meal three times a day, you are going to need to take time out of your busy schedule in order to prepare it. You are also going to need to be able to afford to buy healthy ingredients over the cheaper, unhealthier foods that are available at the supermarket. Plus you’re going to need to know what to do with those ingredients once you’ve bought them.
So if you’re a single mum on universal tax credit who was raised on a diet of fried foods, you’re going to really struggle. In fact, the deck is pretty much stacked against you from the very beginning and you’re essentially destined to fail.
Most of us are destined to fail before we get started
And before you say anything, that doesn’t just apply to single mothers either. It applies to the majority of us. There is an overwhelming amount of evidence that shows the majority of people who commence a weight loss program at the beginning of January are going to have gained most, if not all of that weight by December.
No matter how good are intentions are, most of us struggle to eat nutritious food every day of our lives. It’s not always practical. Or affordable. And sometimes we just don’t feel like it. Ever wonder why obesity affects more working class people than it does rich people? Or why celebrities manage to stay so thin? It is, in part, because they can afford to.
So what, in anything, can we do about this? How can we ever hope to achieve our goal of prioritising our health and eating nutritious food when there are so many barriers and obstacles in the way?
What’s the solution?
No seriously, I’m asking the question! If I knew the answers, I wouldn’t be sitting here writing this post. I would be retired on a beach somewhere in the Caribbean, paying a chef and a personal trainer to cater to my every need. [That sounded way more kinky than I intended. Apologies.]
I honestly don’t know what we should be doing, but I do have some idea of what we should not be doing. Firstly, we should not be chasing after that picture of health that we call came up with earlier on. Unless that picture happened to be you on a good day. In which case, chase away.
Secondly we should not be setting ourselves unrealistic goals that we are never going to be able to achieve. Because then we’ll just end up feeling bad about ourselves. And that will lead to feelings of low self-worth and self-esteem, which will have a knock on effect on our mental health. And you can’t have good physical health without good mental health, so you end up defeating the whole purpose of this endeavor.
Thirdly, we should be wary of listening to so-called experts. Especially the self-styled ones that are trying to sell you something. Expect another blog post on this soon, but suffice it say that money talks and the diet industry is worth billions. In the time of this pandemic, it is one of the only markets that is thriving and that tells you everything you need to know about the world today.
Be kind to one another
Lastly, we should’t be so hard on ourselves all the time. Achieving good health is not as easy as it sounds. Let’s take sexual health as an example. Sexual health is more than just preventing STIs by using condoms and getting tested regularly. Sexual health includes learning to be comfortable with your own body and achieving pleasure through orgasm.
It requires you to get rid of your hang ups and overcome any past trauma. And since 20% of women and 4% of men experience sexual assault after the age of 16, that’s a lot of trauma to get over. You wouldn’t go up to a person that had just been raped and tell them to get over it, would you? So why tell an overweight person to simply eat less and exercise more?
That’s such a simplified solution to such a complex and nuanced problem. Let’s stop oversimplifying it, and instead ask ourselves what we can do to help ourselves and others to improve our general health and begin to make it more of a priority.
I started off by saying that I am not advising anyone to try and lose weight in 2021, and I stand by that statement. I am, however, encouraging everyone to make health and wellbeing a number one prioity this year. For yourself, the people you love, your employees and the world at large.
Now, more than ever, we need to take care of each other.
What does health look like to you? Got any advice you want to share with others or questions you would like to ask? Then why not drop a comment in the box below? I always love to hear from you. And as always, feel free to share this with people you think might benefit.