by Tess Adair
So it’s New Year’s resolution time. I don’t do resolutions anymore.
I don’t have a problem with them, exactly. I used to do them when I was younger, although I never really admitted it to anyone. The resolution was always the same: This year, I will lose weight. Sometimes, depending on my level of ambition and delusion, there was a secondary one: This year, I will write a novel.
I’m not sure when it got this way. I knew I wanted to write a novel by the time I was 11 or 12, and I started to hate my body when I was about that age, too. (And, like a good number of people who’ve dealt with body shame, I wish I could go back and reassure 12-year-old me that I was absolutely perfect. But I know I wouldn’t have believed myself.)
The resolutions kept up at least through high school. Every time I made them, I never believed them. I didn’t even see them as resolutions exactly--it felt more like they were pointless reminders of general goals I’d so far failed to attain. I must have dropped them entirely at some point in college, which had launched a particularly pessimistic period for me.
Then, of course, came the year after college. When I actually lost all the weight and wrote the novel. That was about when I started to see resolutions in a new light.
I’d always thought before that I was the one who was wrong, because I could never seem to do the only things I resolved to do. Even if you told me that everyone fails their resolutions, it wouldn’t have mattered, because I thought these were things I should have been able to do anyway, resolutions or no. And so many subtle things in the world backed up this sense of failure that it became entrenched. (“Subtle things” like endless beauty campaigns and ‘easy’ fad diets and the body type of every single woman deemed worthy by the media.)
And then I actually went and did it. Lost the weight, wrote the novel. And all of a sudden it clicked for me--resolutions are all lies. A resolution is about as real as a fad diet, and about as important.
A real change in your life cannot come about suddenly. Every change must be carefully decided upon and worked for. Every change must be built.
I was able to lose weight after college because I had nothing else to focus on. In college, I had been extremely overburdened--hard classes at a hard school, coupled with 20-25 hours of work every week. And my school had a specialized, graduated-independence meal program, so that for the last two years, I used most of my points [campus currency] at the campus grocery store and cooked at least 80% of my own meals. For an exhausted college student, that’s a bit much. I ate a lot of cheese and a lot of frozen meals. A lot.
But after college, mom let me stay at home for a year rent-free. For 8 months, I didn’t have a job. I had two goals--my old New Year’s resolutions, to lose weight and write a novel. With nothing else to occupy my time or stress me out, I planned every single meal, down to the calorie, and structured my days around that.
It was kind of an exhaustive process. I’m not even sure how to explain this to someone who’s never lost a significant amount of weight, but being hungry is hard. Suffice it to say, anyone who tells you that losing weight is about “being healthy” is full of shit. Losing weight is about being hungry. All the time. You wanna be healthy? That’s great, you totally should! But you will not lose weight. Maybe a little initially, especially if right now, you’re not someone who moves a lot, and you do start moving a lot. You’ll shed a little, maybe up to 10 pounds. And then you’ll even out. Your body will adjust, your hunger will increase.
If you want to lose weight, it’s mostly about numbers. On average, male-bodied people burn about 2,000 calories a day, and for female bodies, it’s closer to 1,600. If you want to lose weight, you need to consume fewer calories than you burn. That’s the simple version, anyway.
(Sorry about the gender-based statistics. I have no idea how this falls out for trans folks, or how hormone therapy and irregularities might affect it. I do know that hormones play a role in losing and retaining weight, I just don’t have the education to explain most of it.)
So, I planned out every single meal. I found out how many calories were in every food I consumed, googling for average calories in anything that didn’t come in a package, and I came up with plans for meals that seemed filling enough but kept beneath my maximum.
I learned a few things in the process: first of all, coffee is a key tool in the fight against hunger. Second, exercise never burns as many calories as you think. But third, it does make you much, much hungrier. Fourth, if you hit a wall in the weight loss (which for me was whenever I went more than a week without dropping any weight,) sometimes the only way to break through is to increase your calorie restriction. Fifth, if you are not careful when you do that, you will probably faint or otherwise hurt yourself.
Seriously, anyone who tells you that losing weight is about being healthy has no idea what they are talking about.
The point here is that losing weight is not a simple process. If you want to be successful at it, you have to see it as some unholy conglomeration of obsession and religion. You have to do it every day, you have to think about it critically all the time, you have to put up with a lot of discomfort and delayed gratification, and you have to accept that at the end of the day, it won’t be like you thought it would be, and it probably won’t bring you what you think it will bring you.
So if you’re doing a New Year’s resolution this year, I suggest you just try something like read more books or go on a hike. The sort of things you can commit to haphazardly. The sort of things that will fulfill your expectations exactly.
January 1st isn’t about profound self-change, no matter how many times we pretend it is. It’s more about hangovers. Anyone who tells you differently is selling something.
And on that note...losing weight isn’t about profound self-change. I mean, sure, your self will probably change as a result. But let’s not pretend that’s why we do it.
We do it to fit an image that somebody else decided was better.
So, seriously, fuck that. Use your resolution on something that’s actually about you.
Read more books. Go on a hike. Whatever you want.
Anything is better than being hungry.