Every year I make the same New Year's resolutions: Eat better. Work out more. Lose some weight. In my mind, my health and fitness goals are the only things that can help me find true happiness. I create a diet plan, join a gym, and have every intention of completely turning my life around.
Then January 31 rolls around, and like clockwork, I've already failed.
It wasn't until I graduated from college that it hit me! I finally realized why none of my New Year's resolutions ever lasted more than a week or two: I have a truly terrible relationship with food and my body.
Don't get me wrong. I love food. If I could eat all day and not gain a pound, I totally would. The problem I have is with the whole process of eating. When I'm not counting calories or weighing the pros and cons of different types of protein, I'm beating myself up for something I've already eaten or thinking awful things about my appearance and blaming it on a lack of self-control. I essentially bully myself into dreading every meal. This turns eating from a joyous, nurturing experience that I should for thankful for (I mean come on, there are hungry people all over the world!) into something stressful and shameful.
So it's no shock that my resolutions each year reflect a desire to change the bad habits I have with food and guilt. I vow to give up dessert or tell myself that lemon water and salads are enough to make me happy. Spoiler alert: They aren't.
The worst part about this insane resolution spiral is how I beat myself up over the failure. And even though it often feels like it, I'm not alone. A recent study from the University at Buffalo says that while one-third of American adults claim to be on a diet at one time or another, 60 percent are still overweight or obese.
The study suggests a variety of factors are to blame, all of which lead back to the notion that how you feel about a diet is just as important as how you plan to execute it. If you're bummed about ditching dessert, or hate the bland food your plan tells you to eat, you are almost guaranteeing that it won't work.
Think of dessert as the boy from high school that your parents said you were absolutely NOT allowed to date. You were going to date him anyway because he was hot and popular. But now you want him even more because your parents said he was off-limits.
Not only are we less likely to stick with diets that make us feel cranky or deprived, but constantly falling off one wagon only to jump on another crazy diet wagon is seriously bad for our health. A study from the Society for Neuroscience claims that yo-yo dieting can lead to higher stress levels, which can derail your commitment and lead to more emotional eating.
Another resolution villain: half-assing it. The Loyola University Health System outlined the top four reasons why we fail at diets, and all four reasons are connected with poor planning. We underestimate calories, overestimate exercise, eat mindlessly, and fail to get enough sleep. So how do we set ourselves up for success that will last longer than a month?
Here's how to follow through: Set realistic resolutions with attainable goals. Then hold ourselves accountable without being too tough on ourselves if we mess up. You won't be able to starve or bully your way toward a goal. And even if you do, you probably won't feel satisfied when you get there. Enjoying delicious healthy food while also making room for what you love will help you turn a temporary resolution into a permanent lifestyle.
That's why this year I resolved to stop worrying about my weight and start working on the relationship with my body. I want to focus on the kind of food I'm eating instead of how often. I'll be looking for healthy and tasty swaps, instead of trying to give up dairy, gluten, or anything else I really enjoy. Plus, any diet that tells me I can't have a slice of dark chocolate cake is not a diet for me.
In fact, this year I'll be eating all the dessert I want. Because in the words of Emma Stone, "You're a human being, you live once and life is wonderful, so eat the damn red velvet cupcake."