Mental Health Corner: Why weight loss as a new year’s resolution can harm your mental health

By Julia Rhea

Julia Rhea, Mental Health Counselor

Julia Rhea, Mental Health Counselor

If you’re reading this, you’ve made it to another year that will surely be filled with more laughs, memories and ambitions than the previous one! The New Year holiday marks a time for celebration and refocus. Many see the beginning of January as a time to set new goals and adopt new mindsets. A common New Year’s resolution is to meet a weight loss goal or lose a significant amount of weight. While this mindset can be constructive and motivational, an obsession over meeting this resolution or adhering to a certain body image may be harmful to your mental health.

If you’re anything like the typical busy college student who juggles coursework, a job, bills, family life and a social life, it may be difficult to meet the strict weight loss goal you’ve set for yourself. Weight loss does not happen under the normal circumstances that we’ve grown accustomed to—we either have to move more or eat less (experts recommend a combination of both) and results don’t happen overnight.  Many who have set a New Year’s resolution to lose weight have reported feeling depressed and unhappy with themselves after missing the gym, not seeing results soon enough or feeling as though they’ve gained weight. The negative self-talk that develops after we’ve disappointed ourselves is harmful to our psyche.

Perhaps we are setting our standards too high. Many dieticians think so. Experts at WebMD argue that the key to effective weight loss is to not focus heavily on it. They suggest changing the smaller things, such as water intake, the amount of snacking you do or sweets you eat. By changing these things, it becomes easier to add additional things like exercising or healthier food choices. The bigger the lifestyle changes you try to make overnight without proper preparation, the more likely you are to not stick to them.

Regardless of how this goal is approached, it’s important to know the reasoning behind it. Would you like to lose weight because your current weight negatively effects your health, or do you feel it will boost your self-esteem? If self-esteem is the underlying issue, it is important to explore the underlying causes. Many times, personal issues with weight can lower self-esteem, but they are not the sole reason behind an overall poor self-image.

In short, wanting to lose weight or better yourself physically is completely normal (in 2016, 73% of American men and women reported being unhappy with their physical looks). However, it is important to accomplish your goals and plans in a safe and practical way. Before you begin your weight loss journey, ask yourself “why is this so important to me?”. Your mental health is much more important than fitting into an old pair of jeans. Remember, self-esteem is all about perception.