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How to Set New Year’s Resolutions Without the Shadow of a Diet

One of the most powerful statements I read in 2018 was a sentence in Virgie Tovar’s book, You Have The Right To Remain Fat. Towards the end of the book, she writes, “In the dreams I have of my future, I am fat.”

I stopped right in my tracks when I read that, amazed by a truth I knew in my bones but hadn’t connected with until that point: the reality of fat people everywhere, who put their futures on hold until they have measured up. Or, as society would like it, measure down. Plans and hopes and dreams cast aside, because our culture only ever shows us slim people getting the lives they deserve.

That can make the landscape of New Year’s resolutions a difficult one to navigate. Millions of people imagine the life they could lead, always just outside their reach, if they were only small enough. With this in mind, the resolutions come tumbling out. They sign up to gyms or new weight loss programmes, or they buy a new weight loss book. “Be your best self,” according to diet culture, is “be your less self.”

For those rejecting mainstream diet messaging, and instead embracing counter-cultural ideals of body respect and food peace, New Year’s resolutions can feel outside our grasp. They may trigger memories of painful, lost Januaries — bulk bags of brown rice, punishing new regimens. Even non-body-based resolutions can be tainted by the mindset of diet culture — punitive, negative, self-critical. Rebelling against the tidal wave of restrictive self-promises, lots of people choose to opt out of the tradition of resolutions entirely.

But the celebration of a new year is for all of us, and I understand the desire to want to set intentions for change and growth at this hopeful time of year. The change in years is a potently symbolic time to leave behind that which is no longer serving us, and commit to making space for that which will. So, with that in mind, keep reading for some top tips to avoid the threat of diet culture casting shade on your sparkly new intentions, whether they are body-based or not.

Check in: whose resolution is it?

With every second person making a vow to go on a diet, it can be difficult not to want to join in with family, friends or co-workers.

To get the best of your intentions, make sure they’re really for you, and not created in response to the values and beliefs held by others, either individually or socially. As you make your resolutions, take a moment with each to think about whether this is one that is for your, to make yourself happier and more satisfied, or whether this one has snuck in at the behest of someone else.

You can be liked, accepted and valued simply for who you are. You don’t have to sign up for something that makes you uncomfortable just to please others.

Focus on abundance.

Since diet culture puts out messages focused on limitation, restriction, starvation and shrinking to fit in, a useful way to work towards whole-health intentions is to turn that on its head and focus on more. More joy, more freedom, more choice, more adventure. It entirely changes the tone and the mindset of the plan.

Watch for coded diet talk.

Diet talk is sneaky and insidious, and has learned how to hide in plain sight. Often, we can think, sound like, and believe that we are choosing healthful options, when really those options are diets in disguise, based on cutting back and controlling. So, double check. If whatever you’re considering involves counting, restricting, limiting, “earning,” or rigid and binary distinctions between “good” and “bad” options, then it’s probably a diet.

Aim for improvement, not perfection.

One of the key elements in diet culture is the harmful idea that we can refine ourselves to reach perfection. However, perfection is a myth, and the only people who seek to gain from that myth are the ones selling you products promising perfect results. You do not need to be perfect. No one is perfect. You don’t need to build impossibilities into your resolutions or intentions.

Growth and change are about incremental steps, not one giant leap. When you’re setting your intentions for 2019, don’t let the idea of perfection creep in and ruin things. Aim for improvement, and practice gratitude and self-compassion on the way.

Rather than make plans based on weight-loss, just go for it!

Your New Year’s resolutions don’t have to be body-based at all. If your previous pattern has been to restrict and limit, to get to a shape and size that would allegedly gain you entry to all the exciting things you want in life, maybe 2019 is just the year to grant yourself permission, to do the exciting things and live the life you deserve, right now.

Make 2019 the year that you make plans for the body you have, rather than the body that diet culture makes you think you should have. Happy fatventuring!