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Give yourself a break: The pandemic is punishing enough without a New Year's Resolution on top

Why, after years of grief and isolation, are we still so obsessed with changing our bodies? Have we not been punished enough? 

"Bathroom Scales" by eltpics is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

It’s mid-January, usually about the time when everyone’s new year resolutions begin to dwindle and fizzle out. And what’s wrong with that? Who cares if you’ve neglected your Duolingo goal or forgotten that cheese isn’t vegan in Veganuary. Most of the time, new year resolutions are fun and fickle, a fresh start that needn’t be taken too seriously. 

Why then, after screen time targets go out the window, or the ‘I’ll read more’ book is dusty on the shelf, is it that diet culture and weight loss prevail? 

In 2019, research by YouGov found that resolutions centring around fitness, weight loss and diets dominated new year resolutions. Twenty-two months of a pandemic and multiple lockdowns later, Forbes found similar results towards the end of 2021. 

Why, after years of grief and isolation, are we still so obsessed with changing our bodies? Have we not been punished enough? 

It goes without saying that exercise and weight management are no bad things – at least, in the right context. People are free to work on themselves and, with a positive mindset and healthy relationship with food, their lives can change for the better.

However, with roughly 1.25 million people currently suffering from eating disorders in the UK, I can’t help but feel that infamous ‘New Year New Me’ diets and regimented fitness routines will just exacerbate an already terrifying mental health crisis.    

At the end of last year, influencer Nelly London, renowned for her body positivity and acceptance content, posted a photo in her underwear on Instagram captioned: “This year I’m choosing life.”

In her post, Nelly scorns the diet and weight loss industry that targets and takes advantage of vulnerable people, women in particular. London, who is in recovery from an eating disorder, told followers that this year she will “not to succumb to the immeasurable pressure put on [her] by the diet industry to lose weight” and will  “ignore the relentless talk of making this [her] ‘best year yet’ by paying for [a] fitness app.”

“Instead” she wrote, “I’m choosing life, I’m choosing me, I’m choosing my friends, my family, my passions.”

London’s post was flooded with comments by users in agreement, joining in the collective despair brought on by the torrential storm that is diet culture in the New Year. Talk about January blues. 

Obviously, she’s right. Why should we have to reinvent ourselves every year? Why are we always striving to look better when we’re already good enough? 

Companies in the diet industry know we’re delicate this time of year. It’s beyond natural to gain a couple of pounds in December – especially when (COVID permitting) we’re indulging, celebrating and socialising. After the last couple of years, there’s no reason to chastise ourselves for joy over Christmas. 

Nevertheless, they are waiting for us to crack. Waiting like predators, watching their prey, mouths watering as they patiently lay ready for when the first glimmer of guilt bubbles to the surface. The diet industry capitalises on our shame, promoting and sharing until we are driven to the gyms and into low-calorie recipe books. 

When will enough be enough? Will the time ever truly come when we begin a new year free of shame and unconcerned by weight loss? Because after years of mourning our lives and hiding away from this dangerous virus, we should be celebrating our bodies, the vessels that have adapted to vaccines and fought off illness. Now is surely not the time to be punishing ourselves this new year. 

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