Why it's time to let go of the 'New Year, new me' ideal when it comes to fitness

Have you subscribed to the New Year, New You health and fitness message?

Are you currently restricting calories, training like a beast, while also trying to slot in daily meditation, journaling and manifestation sessions?

For some, New Year’s resolutions are an overused cliché, but for others, it’s the annual promise to change.

According to YouGov data, one in seven Brits has made a New Year’s resolution this year and for the third year in a row, health and fitness goals come top of the list. The top three resolutions for those making them is to improve their fitness (49%), improve their diet (41%) and lose weight (40%).

However, is the whole ‘New Year, New You’ message more damaging than we realise?

Personal trainer Alice Liveing certainly thinks so and says this message is particularly damaging for women.

‘It gives the impression that you somehow weren’t good enough last year,’ she says. ‘It puts a lot of pressure, particularly on women, to overhaul themselves annually, which is quite exhausting.

‘Christmas comes round once a year and it’s a time to relax and have fun. We were particularly appreciative of it last year thanks to the pandemic, but to then heap on the idea you need to be a newer, shinier version of yourself just a few weeks later is silly.’

According to recent research from WW (formerly Weight Watchers), an estimated 22.6million Brits (with an equal split between male and female) embarked on a restrictive diet this month and the approximately 7,200 gyms in the UK will each capitalise on the January health kick. And let’s not forget social media, which is awash with diet plans, workout programmes and before and after photos enticing you in.

‘The New Year, New You movement is a marketing team’s dream,’ says Dr Omara Naseem, a counselling psychologist who specialises in eating disorders and body image. ‘It suggests that something about us is flawed or in need of change and encourages us to compare ourselves to others and fosters feelings of inadequacy.

‘How else would the wellness industry thrive if not to convince you that you need to change?

‘The message links back to the objectification of women through the lens of male patriarchal society. It encourages us to objectify ourselves and focuses on how to seek validation outside of ourselves at the cost of our inherent worth.

‘Change for health reasons is, of course, OK. However, your worth is not dependent on changing your appearance. There is no right way to look or be. The beauty is in knowing your strengths and being your individual self.’

Alice agrees that there’s nothing wrong in wanting to better yourself, however it’s feeling like you have to do it.

‘The industry makes you feel like you have done something awful in December by enjoying yourself,’ she says. ‘It plays into the mindset of us being good or bad and it creates a very binary way of approaching health and fitness.

‘Actually, if we look at it in a much broader context, what December really is, is a few weeks of eating more and training less.

‘Across the rest of the year, most people are probably exercising and eating well, so do we really need to make them feel bad about having a bit of time off? And, in the grand scheme of things, isn’t it more important to encourage people to do that and enjoy time with family and friends and rest?’

According to the trainer, it’s more about the language we use to speak to ourselves. ‘There is something to be said for the fact a new calendar year is a fresh start for some people and making small changes is fine, but instead of saying you need to cut out XYZ, say you need to include more vegetables or drink more water. That way it’s about enhancing what you’re doing, rather than punishing yourself.’

Alice is no stranger to a punishing fitness regime. Formerly known on Instagram as @CleanEatingAlice, the influencer started her account in 2015 as a way to keep herself accountable when losing weight. She got so sucked into maintaining her size-six figure that she admits it took up 80 per cent of her headspace.

She changed the account name to @AliceLiveing in 2018 as she wanted to distance herself from the negative connotations associated with the term ‘clean eating’.

‘I’d done a lot of growing and started to realise how problematic the term was,’ she says. ‘I questioned what health meant to me and back then it was very much about how I looked. Now I understand health is much more complex.’

Thankfully no longer that tiny size, Alice looks so much better for putting on a few pounds. ‘Was I the healthiest version of myself when I was that small?’ she says. ‘No. But now I understand there’s more to life than a restrictive way of eating. Now I focus on the simple things that make me feel good: getting outside and walking, eating and sleeping well and exercise.’

The influencer says she still has her wobbles and understands she’s never going to be 100% at peace with her body, but she now trains to feel good about herself, rather than to change.

‘Instead of trying to change and be a “new you”, focus on what you can bring to the table. Are you a good friend, do you run your business well etc. We should focus on who we are as people, rather than just how we look.’

‘Changing everything so quickly doesn’t work’

Alice isn’t alone in her thinking — these health and fitness experts agree that there are negative associations with the New Year message

Nutritionist to the stars, Gabriela Peacock, says: ‘I don’t ever recommend dramatic changes — they’re not sustainable. I have nothing against people doing a bit of a reset a few times a year and I think January is a great time for one.

‘What I don’t agree with is the hysteria about having to lose all your Christmas weight and working out like crazy. Instead, small changes create a habit, which you will continue throughout the year. It’s really about getting into good habits and not about putting your system into a distressing state of shock.’

Carly Rowena, a fitness influencer and body acceptance advocate, says: ‘New Year has become surrounded by pressure. What was once a time to reflect has become a popular time for social media to make us feel like we need to become our best self.

‘I feel that we’re conditioned to be used to the bombardment that happens in January. What feels new for 2022 is that it’s not just fitness and diets, it’s about completely reinventing yourself.

‘Changing everything about yourself so quickly doesn’t work and can lead to a negative mindset, bingeing, over eating, feeling overwhelmed and crashing. Instead of focusing on all the things you should be doing, use this time to unfollow accounts that make you feel like you need to be anything other than yourself.’

Founder of ROAR gyms and transformation specialist, Sarah Lindsay, says: ‘Improving yourself should come from self-love rather than hate and can be done any time of year.

‘Personally, I like to be on the front foot going into December and if I know I’m going to eat and drink more, then I try and make sure I’m in the best shape I can be, so come January I still feel good.

‘Also, use the extra weight as a positive. Most people try and lose the weight and then do weight-training but those extra pounds mean you will be stronger and more able to lift heavier. Pretend it was all part of the plan.’

Alice’s Give Me Strength app is available to download now. Her Give Me Strength January challenge is a four-week programme designed to help you feel stronger mentally, physically and emotionally. givemestrength.app

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