If you are like most Americans, December 31st becomes the day you re-commit to a diet.
DON'T DO IT.
Instead, commit to reading this book by neuroscientist Sandra Aamodt that just came out in 2016.
She writes in an easy, accessible style about the science behind why dieting is actually counter-productive. She explores cultural values of body image and also delves into her own personal backstory of constant extreme dieting and how she finally freed herself from that, ironically as part of a New Year's resolution NOT to diet in 2010. (Just to clarify, she does promote eating healthy and exercise. She uses the term "diet" to mean drastic reduction in calories for the sole purpose of losing weight).
Her pitch is this, in a nutshell - your body has a metabolic set-point within a 10-15 pound range. If you starve yourself to lose a lot of weight, your body will just lower your metabolism to quickly pack on the pounds again. Conversely, if you over-eat and put on a lot of weight, your body will raise your metabolism to get you back to your original weight.
BUT...if you are over-weight for a very long time, your metabolic set-point resets itself to that higher weight, sadly. Thus, you should try your best not to over-eat.
And if you plunge into an extreme diet and lose a ton of weight (a la Biggest Losers on the reality show), you will be fighting your metabolism and brain chemistry tooth and nail to try to maintain your loss, and ultimately, you will lose. Maybe you will "keep it off" for 6 months, or if you're ultra-disciplined, 6 years, but eventually, you will lose. And you'll find yourself on that horrible roller coaster well-known to all dieters, yo-yo-ing back and forth and perpetually trying to lose that last 20 pounds. Starving, binging, starving, binging, starving, binging...all the while shooting your metabolism to hell.
My favorite part of the book is when she writes about how girls on the island of Fiji got brainwashed into thinking that being thin is good. Traditionally, Fijian culture valued being thick and saying "you've lost weight" is a major insult. But as soon as they started watching Western TV shows in the early 90's (like Baywatch and Beverly Hills 90210) that all changed.
Now there are very high instances of eating disorders among Fiji girls, the first ever to occur in their society. The NYT wrote about it here: Study Finds TV Alters Fiji Girls View of Body
So what about us, on the great island of the Americas? Maybe it's time to get "un-brainwashed" and question our cultural aesthetic norms. Maybe some of us were made to be thicker and some were not. In the animal kingdom, variety of adiposity abounds (think: giraffes v. hippos). Why not for people groups?
There is a new movement that is trying to shatter the assumption that Fat = Unhealthy. Indeed studies have shown that "over-weight" people who eat well and exercise regularly can be much healthier than thin people who don't.
So let's just try to take good care of ourselves, without regard to our clothing size. Be good to your body and let the chips fall where they may, when it comes to the number on the scale.
It may be too late for some of us, steeped in the lore of Baywatch and 90210...but parents and aunts and uncles, let's at least try to save the children.
Our girls are watching us.