Why wellness, not weight loss, should be your New Year's goal

“Losing weight” and “being a better person” are the top New Year’s resolutions for Americans in 2018.

Last year “being a better person” beat “weight loss,” but this year they tied. While 12 percent of people planning to make resolutions responded with “weight loss,” only seven percent wanted to improve “overall health.”

This is according to a Marist Poll released Dec. 20.

Overall wellness vs. waistline woes

But a nutrition lecturer and registered dietician at Arizona State University’s College of Health Solutions is stressing the importance of “overall wellness” as opposed to waistline worries this New Year.

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As a registered dietician who specializes in eating disorders and food as it relates to mental health and addiction, Megan Kniskern had a wealth of knowledge to share with All the Moms. Especially pertaining to New Year’s resolutions.

Much of what she stressed was moderation and balance, not getting overzealous with your goals and recognizing our culture’s problematic tendency to let physical size dictate how we feel about ourselves.

Q & A with registered dietician, Megan Kniskern

Note: Answers without quotations have been shortened for brevity.

Q: What are the most common problems people with food or weight loss related resolutions?

A: “We tend to get a little over-excited about what (they) are going to be, which is why most of the time people find that they stop following their resolutions or kind of disregard their resolutions only a couple months into the New Year … For people who might not cook that much, maybe a New Year’s resolution is to try two new recipes each week for dinner.”

Her suggestion: Keep it simple and realistic. Rather than ditching all carbs or all sugar, make it more specific and attainable.

For example: Limit caffeine to 12 or 16 ounces a day and/or drink 60 ounces of water a day. Rather than working out every day of the week, add in three 20-minute walks.

Q: What is wellness? 

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A: “Overall wellness comes from a place of making sure that you’re in a nourished state, that you feel you can accomplish the things you need to accomplish within your body — whether it’s within your work… physical activity (or) taking care of things within your home life; but it also has to do with being at peace with where you are as a person, having that time to slow down, (and) de-stress. Sleep is really important. All of those things have to be aligned.”

Her suggestion: Make sure not all your resolutions focus on food or appearances. Look inward and try to analyze what other beneficial changes you could make. And don’t overlook small changes that could make a big difference in the long run. 

Q: Is it common for people to mistake food or weight goals with a different, perhaps deeper issue? 

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A: “Absolutely. Especially when they find themselves becoming food restrictive, which is what we tend to do (like eating less carbs or sugar)… but we get pleasure from those things. So that restrictive nature creates a new anxiety or a new annoyance or hinderance in how you go about making food selections, especially if you’re a busy person.”

Her suggestion: Before you assume food and exercise is what you need to resolve this year, consider another area of your life where you can add joy. Maybe it’s reading a book at night, or planning a no-technology game night with the family once a week. 

Q: Why do you advocate against food restrictions?

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A: When we become food restrictive, we usually take away something that our body needs. So an innate desire comes from not having that particular thing. This leads to a deprivation, which we can only handle for so long. Eventually, we give into temptation and then feel shameful and guilty. Once we get over that, we feel a “renewed sense of optimism” and repeat the cycle. This is a large part of why people are not keeping weight off long term.

Her suggestion: Make small, manageable changes that work with your schedule and lifestyle. Be forgiving and understand that it is human to overindulge at times. It doesn’t mean you have a problem. You do NOT have to be perfect.

Q: A lot of blogs say avoid situations where you’ll be tempted by bad food. What are your thoughts?

A: “Figure out a way to go into the social situations so you don’t have to feel intimidated or overwhelmed. Maybe you eat a little something before you go if you think there’s going to be a lot of things you struggle with resisting. Don’t go there really hungry. Maybe contribute to the food that’s going to be there … something you might enjoy that might bring a little more balance to what’s being offered.”

Her suggestion: Much of how society’s interactions and gatherings revolve around food. Don’t let fear prevent you from participation and enjoyment. In fact, “a lot of the times … the avoidance … isn’t really creating a solution so much as it’s not allowing a person to understand what the true struggle might actually be.”

Q: Is it OK to want a different body?

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A: “I think that is kind of our innate struggle right now as people… Can we have self acceptance?” Does self acceptance mean accepting one’s genetic makeup or accepting how hard or not hard one wants to work to have a certain body or appearance? Some stress health at every physical size while others are very concerned about the obesity epidemic. I lean more toward health at every size but understand the clinical concerns of being overweight.

Her suggestion: The bigger question, Kniskern says, is “Do you like the person you are? A lot of times we let our size dictate how we feel about ourselves, and I think there’s a lot that is lost in that.” At any moment, you could be diagnosed with a body-altering disease or endure an accident that limits your ability to control your appearance. So can you learn to be happy with yourself regardless of appearance?

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