I always hated New Year's resolutions.
I grew up as a fat kid, round cheeked and soft bellied, broad with baby fat that I never quite outgrew. Family, pediatricians, teachers and classmates all regularly reminded me of the unwelcome aberration of my body. There was a war on obesity, and I was its enemy combatant, an unwilling child soldier. Proving my loyalty meant changing my body.
So every new year, I tried. I painstakingly planned my weight loss resolutions at the beginning of each year, starting in middle school. I kept food journals, measured portions, joined Weight Watchers. I carried a points guide in my backpack, checking it at school lunches. I went to fat camp. In high school, I saw a personal trainer. I made anxious conversation with friends about “free” foods, and how much I wanted a bagel, but couldn’t have it. I squirreled food away in my backpack, quietly eating a quarter of a granola bar or a small bag of baby carrots, trying desperately to appease my never-sated appetite.
But despite my resolutions and dogged determination to meet them, my body remained stubbornly the same. Sometimes, it grew. And every January, I would redouble my commitment to fight my own skin.
Over time, New Year’s Day became not only a reminder of the weight I hadn’t lost, but of the resolve that didn’t change anything. Occasionally, I would lose ten pounds, maybe fifteen, but it would reliably return, an unwanted houseguest that wouldn’t stay away. My body was, I was told, a direct reflection of my character. It was clear that my character, then, was weak at best.
In high school, I slipped into depression, sliding under its surface like a warm bath. There was something oddly comforting about giving in to the perception of my body and my worth. I was fat, so I must be useless. I couldn’t seem to get thin, so I must be stupid, too, or weak. In addition to the since-banned Fen-Phen diet pills that were later found to cause heart failure, I added Prozac to my daily regimen, then Zoloft. Some days I would skip my medication, haunted by the reminder that weight gain was a side effect of both.
Depression is rarely rational. Its disorder doesn’t respond to reason. Like a fish caught by hand, it wriggles and writhes until it is free and unencumbered. It slips so readily through the fingers of the logic that seeks to trap it. I have long known this. But still, I am shocked by the depth of my own depression.
In retrospect, my life was good. I was a high achiever at school, relishing the opportunity to write lengthy papers and tangle with big, philosophical and political issues. I wrote about the literature of political revolutions; about curbing gun violence; about symbolism and synecdoche. I swam competitively, and loved it, a fat girl using her natural momentum to master the butterfly. I wrote poems endlessly, filling one notebook after the next, and penned plays that I later staged at school.
Mine was a life of abundance, but I could only see its lack. And New Year’s Eve and Day became my meditation retreat: a time to focus on the self-flagellation I believed I had earned. Over the years, New Year’s became a time of deep sadness — one that took days to move through. I meditated on all the ways I had failed my body, and my body had, in turn, delayed the start of my real life: the one that could only begin when I was thin.
Instead of moving in the direction of my dreams, passions, happiness, assets, I compulsively meditated on loss. I spent my days obsessively focused on the fat that had yet to leave my body, consumed with grief and shame that I had never managed to create the body I was alway told was within my reach.
And then, in college, I just stopped. I was a size 24 — the same size I’d been when I graduated from high school. The same size I am now, fifteen years later.
I didn’t make peace with my body. I didn’t learn to love it, didn’t radically embrace it. I simply allowed myself to stop thinking about it. And suddenly, I felt so free.
That’s when I stopped making new year’s resolutions.
Every resolution about my body carried a theory about its etiology, and my lacking will. Each one stage whispered that I was a failure for not becoming the 0.8% of very fat people who become thin, or the 19% who achieve and maintain their resolutions for two years. Instead of taking stock of my life, my dreams, and my plans for my nascent adulthood, I was locked in an endless struggle with the failure of my body.
So I stopped fighting. And I started allowing myself to just be.
In my mid-twenties, after a long break, I returned to resolutions. There was still such utility in them: taking time to take stock, correct course, more fully live my values, and more exuberantly pursue my blossoming young life. So I started making resolutions again — this time, not about my body, but about my character.
At 25, I noticed that my judgments of those around me were harsher than I wanted to be, so I resolved to be more open-hearted, more compassionate, and to unearth the judgments I made and find out what was rotting underneath them. At 26, I noticed that I’d lost some of my directness, so I resolved to balance compassion with straightforwardness. My motto of the year was love hard and pull no punches.
Each year, I would make my resolution in January, and before spring even arrived, I noticed a sea change in myself. I trained my growth like a vine over a trellis, weaving this way and that until I’d grown something lush and beautiful. For the first time, my outlook was truly my own. I felt my constitution shift, strong vines and tap roots growing within me. My character was uncoupled from my body and the messages I had so long internalized about myself.
For once, I didn’t feel as if my resolve was broken, as if my will was weak or my character lacking. Instead, I was investing in what mattered most to me: how I treated those around me, how I lived my values, and how I emulated the people I most admired. For the first time, I was my own.
Now, in my thirties, I have returned to bodily resolutions. I do not resolve to transform a body that has never changed. I do not resolve to look the way I never have, just for the comfort of others.
My body is my own, and I resolve to care for it as such. I resolve to move with regularity and joy, tackling my longstanding anxiety with the movement that counterbalances it. I resolve to cook foods that I love, and use local ingredients that inspire me. Now that I’ve found a doctor who will listen to me, I resolve to see her regularly, and learn to trust her.
Over the years, I have come to realize that giving up on weight loss isn’t a matter of letting myself go, it’s a matter of freeing myself from a scientifically impossible standard. It’s a matter of investing in measures of health that truly matter to me: sleep, relationships, blood sugar, anxiety, blood pressure and more. It’s a matter of investing in the relationships that nourish me, and that I can feed in return. Focusing on what needed to be jettisoned was never as meaningful as focusing on what needed to grow.
This new year, I’m resolving to chase after my dreams with abandon — to move boldly toward the life I have long dreamt of for myself, but rarely felt entitled to. And I’m resolving to care for the body I’m still learning to love.
After all, so little of what’s interesting about me — about any of us — is our size. There’s so much more to all of us than that. This year, I’m resolving to tend to the whole of me.