As we get further into the new year, the messages about “losing the holiday pounds” and “new year, new you” are probably coming at you from every direction. In fact, the messages probably started flooding in before the new year even arrived. The pressure to make a list of resolutions and create a new you is high. I call this the hustle for worthiness—basically it’s the idea that if we put all our effort into accomplishing certain goals, we will be worthier or more deserving of happiness. And thanks to the pervasiveness of diet culture, much of the time these goals are about changing our bodies, losing weight, or eating in a certain way (in an effort to change our bodies).
As a strength coach and trainer, I empower my clients to focus less of their mental energy on shrinking their bodies and to start taking up space, literally and figuratively. As such, a lot of work with my clients involves healing their relationships with their bodies and improving their body image. My goal for each of my clients and for anyone who comes across my work is that their relationship with fitness and nutrition be one that allows them to feel strong and capable and, most importantly, comfortable and confident in their skin. Fitness is not about a certain look, size, or physique. Although diet culture would prefer us to focus our energy on "fixing" our bodies and chasing restriction and perfection, instead of living fulfilling and purposeful lives, I encourage my clients to embrace their bodies and to engage in physical activity that allows them to feel nourished, energized, and powerful.
At this time of year, my questions for myself and my clients alike are, do you need to create a new you? Do your goals have to be centered on getting in the best shape of your life or losing weight? Do we even need to set new year’s resolutions at all? What if we approached the new year by taking the time to really evaluate what we want individually instead of defaulting to goals set for us by other people, or by cultural expectations? If you’re someone who finds this time of year more anxiety provoking than motivating and inspiring, these are questions worth asking. And let me be clear: I’m not opposed to people wanting to change their bodies. What I’m opposed to is the idea that we should all want to change our bodies all the time, and that cultural expectations based in diet culture should decide for us what we want for our bodies.
The thing is, if all we hear are messages about the importance of transforming our bodies, it’s hard to visualize anything more or different for our lives.
Diet culture preys on our insecurities. The messages about blasting holiday pounds and getting ready for summer are aimed at either making us feeling insecure and unhappy with our bodies or turning the dissatisfaction we already feel into trying a new weight loss solution. As long as we stay dissatisfied with our bodies, the diet industry can continue to market us the perfect solution and capitalize and profit from our pain. But if we’re stuck obsessing about our bodies and how to change them so that they’ll be more desirable by mainstream norms, it becomes more and more difficult to decipher what we really want for ourselves.
Before you get sucked into the new year, new you vortex, think about what you want for yourself. Do you truly desire to create a new you? Does setting a list of goals and resolutions feel truly desirable, or even the method that’s going to lead you to the changes you want? In a lot of ways, we have been socially conditioned to believe that we are required to use the beginning of the year as a time to set ourselves up for the changes that will make us new and better for the year to come.
What if we took the time to quiet our minds, quiet the voices of external influences, and decide for our individual selves what feels good?
Perhaps after some reflection, you decide you do have goals and resolutions that include changing your nutrition habits, committing to a new fitness program, or changing your body composition. Bodily autonomy, one’s ability to have control over what they do with their body, is of utmost importance. Your body and your goals are your business, and no one else’s. However, I do encourage everyone to examine their goals and desires. While a desire to make a change isn’t a bad thing at all, is your desire for change rooted in personal autonomy or diet culture? Sometimes, it can be really challenging to decipher the difference.
While the answer isn’t always clear-cut, it’s important to recognize that our happiness probably doesn’t lie on the other side of achieving goals that are determined by diet culture. Why? Because if you let diet culture make the rules, there will always be something more to change about yourself so you can meet the (very high, never-ending) expectations. If you have taken it for granted, even on a subconscious level, that you will be happier, worthier, and more fulfilled if you accomplish your New Year’s Resolutions, that may be an indication that your goals are rooted in diet culture or the hustle for worthiness.
While that ideology might be tempting, the truth is losing weight or getting in the best shape of our lives may not make us happier. When I was trapped in that mentality and found myself at my absolute leanest, I was still unhappy with my body and completely miserable. Everyone around me constantly told me how great I looked, and yet reaching my weight loss goal did not make me feel worthy. In fact, I found more reasons to be unhappy with my body. I always needed to lose five more pounds, change this part of my physique, or get a flatter stomach or perkier glutes. When we set goals from a place of unworthiness, believing that reaching our goals will allow us to feel worthy, we set ourselves up for failure. On the other hand, if we set goals from a mind-set of “I’m great as is, I’m worthy, and I deserve the absolute best in life regardless of what I look like or do,” we can set goals that enrich our lives and bring us joy.
Instead of starting the year with a to-do list of items that will get you closer to an ideal you, consider starting it with quiet and reflection.
There’s no quick, plug-and-play solution or set of four easy steps that will make the new year easy and uncomplicated. But there are ways to make this year about recognizing your own unique needs and wants. Perhaps that means disconnecting from social media and unfollowing people who are pushing agendas that don’t align with your personal values or leave you with feelings of being not enough. It could also mean being kind and compassionate to ourselves if we realize that perhaps some of our desires are rooted in diet culture. We are constantly inundated with these messages so it’s completely normal for us to struggle with feeling coerced into making certain kinds of goals. Maybe it means spending some thinking and talking with trusted friends about what you truly want for yourself and what happiness for you, as an individual, really looks like.
This is your gentle reminder that you do not have to create a new you to be deserving of all the wonderful things in life.
You are worthy now. There are no prerequisites for feeling whole and complete. Instead of entering the near year with a list of goals to create a better you, I encourage you to focus on how you want to feel in 2019, such as nourished, rested, or energized, and focus on doing more of the activities which foster those feelings.
Chrissy King is an ISSA-certified personal trainer, a strength and nutrition coach, powerlifter, self-proclaimed truth teller, and writer with a passion for intersectional feminism. She empowers women to stop shrinking, start taking up space, and use their energy to create their specific magic in the world. When she’s not serving her clients by empowering them to create stress-free and sustainable lifestyles and feel confident and empowered in their skin, she spends her time lifting all the weights, reading, traveling, and hanging with friends and family. Follow her on Twitter here, on Facebook here, and on Instagram here.