It’s been two weeks since New Year’s, and the enthusiasm of a fresh start has died down. So let’s cut to the chase: you’re not going to keep your nifty weight loss resolution. Which doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. But it does mean that you should keep your expectations in check, and resist the urge to throw your money and health away to an industry built upon failed resolutions. Seriously, stop body-shaming yourself, because science says it’s a terrible idea, and it won’t help you lose weight.
“At the start of the new year, millions of Americans will resolve to lose weight, but by tomorrow, or next week, or maybe next month, most of them will have given up trying,” Dr. Jerome P. Kassirer and Dr. Marcia Angell wrote in The New England Journal of Medicine. “There is a dark side to this national preoccupation.” Many who make these commitments cannot follow through, and so “the vast amounts of money spent on diet clubs, special foods, and over-the-counter remedies, estimated to be on the order of $30 billion to $50 billion yearly, is wasted.”
There’s no need to take my (or their) word for it. There are numerous studies demonstrating that New Year’s weight loss resolutions almost never work. Take this 1972 study which, three months after New Year’s, found no difference in weight loss between participants who had resolved to lose it, and those who had not. Or try this 1988 study of 200 people who made New Year’s weight loss resolutions—77 percent made it one week. Not even a fifth made it two years. Even when a promising 2002 study found that those who make weight loss resolutions occasionally stick with it, the data only demonstrated success for about six months.
Even if these resolutions stuck, and Americans managed to spend less money trying to make them stick, scientists are far from certain that weight loss is a good thing for the general public. Studies suggest that up to 35 percent of Americans are, at any given time, trying to lose weight. That number is too high, and likely includes a good number of people with normal, or slightly overweight body mass indices. And while we know that obesity is unhealthy, there’s scant evidence that people who are slightly overweight are at any increased health risk.
“Being substantially overweight—that is, having a body-mass index of 30 or so—is correlated with serious health problems,” Kassirer and Angell admit. “Nevertheless, the totality of evidence suggests that as weight increases, so does mortality, but only modestly. The optimal body-mass index is usually considered to be about 21.0. Above that level, the risk of death increases little until a body-mass index of about 27 or 28 is reached.”
Weight loss at a BMI below 27, then, is all but a cosmetic decision. This is important to keep in mind, as your resolution falls to the wayside, the gym hounds you for monthly payments you can’t afford, and you feel guilty for every nibble of a cookie between January and February. Your New Year’s resolution to lose weight was likely a poor decision. Failing puts you in good company with the majority of Americans who make this attempt. And, assuming you’re not significantly obese, now may be the right time to put that weight loss resolution on the shelf, without remorse.
Besides, the world has gone dad bod crazy. Who wouldn’t want to get in on that?
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