It’s all over. The decorations are down, you’re back in the office, and you’re ready for the world to start turning again after what feels like a fortnight of Sundays. But now, every advert break is dotted with adverts flogging gym memberships and diet club registrations. Even if you’d just come back after a year away on Mars, you’ll know that you’d landed back in January. And that’s because it’s the same thing, every damn year. Apparently, we can’t just enjoy the earth’s rotation as we step into a new calendar year, we have to make that time as yet another opportunity to slim down, up our fitness and cut the amount of calories that we eat.
It’s sad how many of us feel the need to get caught up in diet culture in the New Year. Sure, a lot of us like New Year because of the feeling of new beginnings that it can bring, but there are more things to make resolutions over than the number that shows when you step on the scale, or the number in the waistband of your jeans. Just because it’s a new year, it doesn’t mean that you have to throw yourself into spinning classes or commit to running a marathon. Okay, if you’re an athletic type that takes that kind of thing in your stride, maybe you might want to make that a goal. But for the mere mortals who get out of breath at the thought of getting on a spin bike or shudder at the idea of eating only salads from here on out — you don’t have to do it. Any of it.
The idea of New Year, New You was harmless, in the beginning. It was about making small changes to make yourself a better person, however you imagined that. That could have been anything from being more organised, offering more random acts of kindness into the world, or even learning how to cook. New Year, New You was a self-development idea that you had full control over, and there was no punishment for not fulfilling your goals. Then, just like everything else, the diet industry found a way to make it their own and create profit, creating a marketing ploy off of the back of it that encouraged people to buy into diet and fitness products because they’d been caught at a time where they’d perhaps overindulged and were vulnerable to its messaging. But now its a global notion, a mentality where we feel the need, come January 1st, to shrink our thighs and our meal portions, even if we haven’t seen any of the poisonous advertising.
And of course, we can’t forget the diet club’s accomplice: the gym. Step foot in a gym any time after New Year and the queues will be like trying to shop in Primark on a Saturday morning (a word to the wise: avoid at all costs). Come the second week of February, the New Year’s Resolutioners will have absconded and you’ll get your elliptical and your spot by the kettlebells back. And why’s this? Because once again, the New Year’s diet is calling all humans and telling them that they need to get off of their backsides and exercise. Of course, any form of movement or exercise, but it’s not when it’s done as a form of punishment or compensation for eating whatever you wanted over Christmas. I can promise you that, just like the last four gyms you joined — and hated — this all singing, all dancing one you’ve signed up for this year will be no different. And the only pounds you’ll be losing will be from your bank account.
The diet culture calendar is a vicious cycle. January, as we’ve just said is time for New Year, New You. February, you hear bits and pieces about looking your best for Valentine’s Day (another wonderful marketing holiday!) for your significant other. Come March/April time, it’s Easter, and with all the chocolate and sweets surrounding the holiday, we’re encouraged to restrict or ‘get back on track’ once the chocolate eggs have left supermarket shelves. In May, the ever-tiring ‘bikini body’ rhetoric chimes in, with the weather gradually getting warmer. Throughout June and July you’re reminded that the summer is here, and if you haven’t started your summer diet yet, why not? The body shaming moves into August as magazines and diet companies alike push crash dieting for those who haven’t lost enough weight to be deemed ‘worthy’ in a swimsuit — and there’s always an influx of headlines like ‘Lose 10lbs in FIVE DAYS!’. (Are you fed up yet? I sure as shit am.) The autumn glides in around September and October, and so does the ‘summer bodies are made in the winter’ bullshit. November and December focuses on the festive season and how to lose weight for your Christmas work do/New Year’s Eve party, encouraging the disordered attitude that you have to earn the food that you enjoy during holiday time. And then, surprise surprise, by the stroke of midnight on December 31st, not only are you exhausted but you’re back to square one being bombarded by companies telling you it’s time to change. Yawn.
If you haven’t realised it by now, I’m here to tell you that diet culture never sleeps. And whilst January 1st offers a nice reset button for some, it doesn’t have to mean that the reset has to involve changing your body. Any guilt that you may feel from opting out of the New Year’s ritual that makes the rich, white men richer only exists only because these companies pay people who are capable of making you feel that way. Say no to it all, and focus on your own goals. You’ll be amazed how much better you’ll feel when you realise that your motivation can be directed towards something more important than weight loss, and that no, you don’t need to go on a New Year’s diet.