Thursday, December 22, 2011

Rethinking New Year's Resolutions

This post is a part of my “Out of the Kitchen” weekly column at The Progressive Playbook in which various news and pop culture items will be examined through a feminist lens.

As 2011 comes to a close, our minds inevitably turn to New Year's resolutions. In general, resolutions are great. They push us to examine our lives and ask ourselves what areas in which we would like to grow. I'm all for self-reflection. It's a great process and should be engaged in much more frequently than just at the New Year.

However, as we each consider what changes we'd like to make this year, I wanted to provide my thoughts about all of the resolutions focused on losing weight. It's no secret that I am sick of the constant message that, as women, we are never good enough. We also continuously receive mixed messages which push consumption but shame large bodies, so much so that large women often feel that they have to actually fight for the right to be seen. (Never mind the fact that women's bodies actually need fat.)

There is no time where the pressure to lose weight is greater than at the New Year. The media and the weight loss industry capitalize on resolutions and our insecurities coming off the holidays. They push diets, workouts, and weight loss procedures. The commercials are endless. And the conflation of weight and health are impossible to escape.

At the end of the day, the diet industry is just that --an industry with the goal of making money. As Ragen Chastain at Dances with Fat recently blogged, the diet industry nets over sixty billion dollars a year. She takes a close look at what else we could do with this money, if we didn't spend it on failed attempts at weight loss.
  • We could buy a pair of good, supportive athletic shoes and a one year membership at a HAES friendly gym for every person in the United States
  • We could spend $10.75 more on every school lunch (According to the USDA the national school lunch program serves 31 million kids a day for the 180 day school year. Currently we spend about $1 for every school lunch so this could dramatically increase the quality of kid’s food)
  • Instead of serving one $1 meal to 31 million kids, we could serve three $3.58 cent meals to all of those kids every school day. Or we could serve those same 31 million kids three $1.76 meals every day of the year.
  • We could give $522 to every US household
Chastain's list includes many other things, so check out the rest. It's really staggering and puts into perspective just how financially lucrative the diet industry is, despite the fact that diets overall are relatively unsuccessful.

I'm not here to tell anyone that what they should or shouldn't choose for their New Year's resolutions. As with all self-reflection, it's a deeply personal process. I trust you to know what is best for you. However, I would like to provide options beyond the stereotypical "I want to lose 20 lbs." Instead of going for this, perhaps consider a resolution which focuses on any of the other areas of improvement. Or, if being more healthy really is the goal, consider a resolution which has health, and not simply weight loss, at its core.

This is why I subscribe to Health at Every Size (HAES) practices, as I've mentioned before. HAES is about behavior and choices, not body size. According to HAES website,
Let’s face facts. We’ve lost the war on obesity. Fighting fat hasn’t made the fat go away. And being thinner, even if we knew how to successfully accomplish it, will not necessarily make us healthier or happier. The war on obesity has taken its toll. Extensive “collateral damage” has resulted: Food and body preoccupation, self-hatred, eating disorders, discrimination, poor health... Few of us are at peace with our bodies, whether because we’re fat or because we fear becoming fat.

...Health at Every Size is based on the simple premise that the best way to improve health is to honor your body. It supports people in adopting health habits for the sake of health and well-being (rather than weight control).
Chastain also has a good run down of her brand of HAES. She says,
What is Health at Every Size?
  1. Accepting and respecting the diversity of body shapes and sizes
  2. Recognizing that health and well-being are multi-dimensional and that they include physical, social, spiritual, occupational, emotional, and intellectual aspects
  3. Promoting all aspects of health and well-being for people of all sizes
  4. Promoting eating in a manner which balances individual nutritional needs, hunger, satiety, appetite, and pleasure
  5. Promoting individually appropriate, enjoyable, life-enhancing physical activity, rather than exercise that is focused on a goal of weight loss
At the end of the day, the real problem with general weight loss resolutions are that they proclaim health, but actually place undue focus on body size/shape. When size alone is the goal, it is very easy to feel as if you are continuously falling short. Pounds can stay on the body, even when other indicators of health are outstanding. HAES acknowledges so much more than weight. As such, it is inclusive, supportive, and self-esteem building.

If you are interested more in HAES movement this resolution season, I suggest you check out both Dances with Fat and the HAES website in more detail. You can also sign the HAES pledge.

I'll be taking the next couple of weeks off from blogging as I travel for the holidays. I'll be back after the first. I hope everyone has a very happy holiday season and a healthy New Year!

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