As we begin February this year, I am reflecting back on New Year’s resolutions, wondering how many of you set them a month ago and how you might be getting on with them…

Personally, I’ve always been fascinated with the concept of the New Year. The transition from an old chapter to a brand-new, unwritten one and the opportunity to reset, start over and reflect on how I desire this new phase to be has always filled me with excitement and got my imagination and intention-setting skills on fire.

Throughout my teenage years, when I was stuck in a diet-binge cycle, weight and body-related resolutions would always be at the very top of my long list every year. ‘I will lose 10 kilos this year’. ‘I will give up chocolate’. ‘I will get Christina Aguilera’s abs’ (who was then also a teenager and, as she later shared herself, was being forced by the music industry to be ‘toothpick thin’) ‘I will exercise for an hour every single day’. And so on…

The emotional ‘high’ I would get by simply fantasizing about these goals coming true, along with the collective wave of fresh, new beginnings’ energy that was all around me, made me feel unstoppable and so very determined to accomplish what I had in mind, certain that my determination alone would be enough to carry me all the way to my much-desired goal (my dream body) and break through any obstacles that might get in my way. ‘This is THE time that I will finally do it’, I remember thinking to myself.

And I would start working really hard…but then, about a couple of weeks to a month later, something would apparently go wrong, my rigid self-control would crack for just a moment, and before I’d even know it, I’d ‘fall off the wagon’ –I would break the diet, binge on sweets (or whatever I had said I would give up) or not show up at the gym for several days. And, almost instantly, my positivity wave would come crashing down. My hopeful determination would give way to self-loathing and desperation, and my ‘can-do’ attitude would be replaced by ‘you’re never going to do it’ self-accusations, ‘how can you be so weak?’ outcries and ‘you need to be more disciplined’ new, punishing resolutions in the making.

{That was before I turned into an ‘uber-successful dieter’ and my whole life became one non-stop resolution. But more on that story in my next blog post…!}

Any of the above sound familiar?

I know for a fact that my experience with resolutions is in no way just my own; it seems to be a rather universal one that most of us have had at one point in our lives -and not necessarily, or not only, at New Year’s.

So, why is it that setting resolutions so rarely works, and, not only that, but often leads us into feeling much worse about ourselves than before we’d set them?

There are actually many reasons why this happens, and a lot has been already written about them. I have personally addressed previously why relying on will-power when it comes to food and your body absolutely does not work in the long run and why to not go on a diet in the new year -or at any time for that matter.

Today, I would love to go a bit deeper with you and look into the underlying reasons, the inner, mental and emotional place that we set our resolutions from; in other words, our motivation. More often than not and especially when food, weight and body-image have been an issue for a long time, our motivation to change our diets and change our bodies comes from a place of disapproval and dissatisfaction at best, deep body hatred and loathing at worst; we want to change our appearance, so that we can finally like ourselves, accept and enjoy our bodies, feel confident, worthy and ‘enough’.

Lack of self-love, low self-esteem and body shame become the fuel that feeds our food and body resolutions.

You might be thinking, ‘well, yes, and that’s exactly why I want to change SO MUCH!’ – I hear you. I used to believe too that my negative feelings toward my body and my unwillingness to accept it as it was were my greatest weapons in my battle against settling for the wrong, average or undesirable body. Letting them go would certainly mean that I had failed, that I had given up trying to become how I desperately wanted to be. Right? Well, not quite…

Why unconditional acceptance is a prerequisite for any lasting change

To our mind it makes sense to simply get rid of what we don’t like and is causing us trouble. This approach is very much influenced by the medical model; what is not good for you, you ‘attack’ and remove in some way or another.

However, our relationship with food and our bodies cannot be remedied by taking a pill or having surgery. It is largely psychological and psyche does not work this way. Internally, removing anything by sheer force has the exact opposite outcome.

Unconditional acceptance and love is one of our greatest, deepest human needs. Unconditional means that we feel the same positive regard and affection toward ourselves, regardless of how we look, how much we weigh, whether we’re being ‘good’ or ‘bad’, strong or weak, and regardless of any other external measurements of success and worth.

The fact that it is a need means that, when left unmet, we will unconsciously try to satisfy it in any way possible –and so will our bodies. When I deny my body, at any weight and shape, this unconditional love, it will still try to find a way to get its need met, whether I like that way or not. 

To make this clearer, I often use this analogy: imagine that your body was a little child. And then imagine telling that child ‘I will only love you when you are good / when you are quiet / when you are a size 8.’ What do you think the child would do? Depending on its personality and the specifics of the situation, it would either rebel and act out, doing more of what you told it not to, in an unconscious attempt to finally get your attention and your approval, or it will comply and try really hard to earn your love by being ‘good’ at all times, while internally hating on itself and feeling innately ‘bad’.

This is exactly what your body does too.

Because, here is the great paradox: On an inner level, anything that you fight, will fight you back. What you resist, persists and what you treat like an enemy, will treat you like an enemy too. Anything we might deem unacceptable and thus disown (our hunger, our cravings, our ‘less than perfect’ body parts and ‘less than ideal’ inner qualities) will come back knocking on our door over and over again –and if we lock it out repeatedly, it might just break the door.

When your motivation to change comes out of feeling rejection toward your body, these feelings will be infused into anything that you do. Even if you choose to eat the best quality food out there, when you do it out of fear that otherwise you won’t be ‘good enough’, rather than out of pure love and care for you and your body, you might nourish yourself nutritionally, but you will still starve yourself emotionally. The attacking, punishing energy that you bring in will be felt by your body much more strongly than the nutrients you feed it and your body will try to find a replacement for what’s missing –and food is one of the most easy-to-get substitutes of the love and care you’re denying it.

What’s more, when you believe that getting to a certain place, body-wise, will make you better in any way, it is much more likely that, on the way there, you will be willing to sacrifice what makes you feel good in the now, ignore your needs and postpone taking care of yourself in ways that do not involve food and exercise, until the time when you will have supposedly earned it and deserve it. I personally used to avoid going out to meet my friends, when I felt that I had gained weight, and I wouldn’t buy new clothes, until I had gotten to my ‘goal weight’. What was the outcome of that? I would feel even more deprived and punished, and I would either turn to food for comfort or starve and exhaust myself, policing every bite I would put in my mouth and relaxing…never. Does that sound like a life you would choose to live?

Postponing enjoying your life and treating yourself well to some imaginary time in the future is the single most self-sabotaging behaviour when it comes to your relationship with food and your body.

But, if I give up the fight and accept my body as it is, won’t I just resign and end up getting really fat?’ – this is always the question that follows.

Surprisingly -or not- the minute you drop the fight, your body drops the fight against you too. When you stop expecting to feel good and happy, as a result of how you look and how much you weigh, but shift your focus on taking really good care of you, making yourself happy now, and treat your body with kindness, your body will treat you with kindness too. It won’t need to rebel anymore, it won’t need to shout to get through to you. You are then not enemies anymore, you become partners working together with the same intention: to take care of you

What to do instead

Embrace ALL parts of you and give them permission to be here.

When there is any food-related behaviour that bothers you and which you would like to change, look for the reasons WHY it is there in the first place and try to understand what is really needed, instead of suppressing it and trying to make it disappear. For example, instead of saying ‘I will be stronger than my cravings and won’t give in to them’, try ‘I will bring awareness to my cravings, listen to them, understand what my real need it and do my best to respond to this need with love and care’.

Do not focus on numbers, sizes and external measurements of ‘success’. Avoid setting a goal weight, a number of dress sizes you need to go down, etc. Focus on what you want to get MORE of, what you want to cultivate and strengthen (such as awareness, acceptance, self-care, self-love, kindness, comfort, confidence), rather than what you want to eliminate.

Take some time to think about and write down how you imagine having an ‘ideal body’ would make you feel and what you would do more of or differently, if you had it today. Then, ask yourself: How can I cultivate these feelings NOW and how can I start doing the things that I put off TODAY? For example, if you believe that getting to a size 8 would make you feel beautiful, brainstorm on all the ways that you could help yourself feel beautiful NOW. And if you avoid buying beautiful, comfortable clothes for the size you are at the moment, like I used to, a visit to shops would probably be a very good idea…! 

If you need help with recognising the real, unmet needs that lie behind your cravings, fat feelings and body loathing, I’ve got a free resource for you right here that is a perfect place to begin your journey.