Backchat: Resolutions

Bryony Gordon is right ‘there’s nothing more designed to fail than a New Year’s resolution’ but it’s definitely still fun to give them a go

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Yes, my new year hasn’t brought a transformed new life full of gym-going and free from gossiping and drinking, as perhaps it should be. 

I welcomed in 2024 apologising and repeatedly saying pahdon to a French lady for knocking her drink at the hotel bar when on holiday in Spain. I’ve not opened my laptop (except for Netflix) until now – nearly a week in. And I’ve only just paid last term’s utilities bills. 

But what really is the point in resolutions. Are they meant to be ambitious, life-changing goals to finally get us on track? Or are they promises to stop lazing around and actually do all the stuff we said we would? 

As Gordon correctly points out, this desire for self-improvement comes at arguably the bleakest and toughest time of year. 

January no doubt is the most miserable month in the calendar. It’s cold, its dark, we’re celebration-fatigued and festival-starved until Valentines in February.  

January is no doubt the most miserable month in the calendar

Yet bizarrely this is the time we choose to re-evaluate ourselves, become almost puritanical and often try to purge from life what we usually enjoy. 

Why does New Year’s become an opportunity to redefine debauchery as a sin, rather than a lifestyle choice? A chance to knock down habits as too little, or too much and generally just to criticise ourselves for failing with some personal deficiency here or falling short there.  

There is no question that self-improvement led by discipline and commitment is what makes us better and more well-rounded people. Sometimes some habits need reigning in, and others need to be developed.  

Yes, it does seem strange to choose a moment in mid-winter to self-reflect and relaunch ourselves, especially when we are constantly doing so subconsciously and without announcement throughout the year.  

But it’s also exciting and reinvigorating that something as simple as changing calendar can present an opportunity to pursue new goals, do things differently and restructure our lives, particularly for us young adults where change is the only constant.  

It’s true that challenges such as Dry January and its sibling, Veganuary, do seem sanctimonious unless giving up drinking and meat really are your long-term goals. What’s the point in doing it just for a month to feel good, look smug and be dissatisfied, counting down the days whilst everyone else is enjoying themselves?  

Setting lofty targets may result in disappointment if we can’t attain them for the same inevitable reasons we couldn’t the year before. But taking a moment to re-evaluate what we do and figuring out why we do it can be rewarding experience. Even if it is discovering that a month without gin is unbearable, arguments are a coping mechanism and dessert cannot be replaced with granola. Devising resolutions in the full knowledge that you’ll fail in giving up what you crave, is in itself a good exercise and makes us appreciate and value those things more.  

Perhaps, as Gordon says, resolutions are designed to fail. But maybe that’s the whole point, and who is to say there isn’t any fun in trying to stick to a few.

In response to ‘The Guardian View on anti-obesity drugs: treating a disease that modernity made’

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As January progresses, many will be attempting to stick with the classic new year’s resolution: losing weight. In 2023, the rapid proliferation of the weight-loss drug Ozempic has provided what seems like a more efficient solution to the issue of losing weight. Prescribed on the NHS for type 2 diabetes, but with equivalents available for a price at online pharmacies for those who don’t meet the NHS criteria, the drug is quickly gaining traction, though not without accompanying concern. As the Guardian editorial mentions, the drug is not without side effects- nausea and vomiting are the principal examples- and elsewhere the emergence of bootleg versions of the drug pose a danger to those being promised a cheaper or faster-working option. What seems to be getting less attention, despite presenting what I believe is a more inherent danger, is the risk that the drug encourages disordered eating habits that will persist after treatment.

Unfortunately, the concurrence of attempted weight loss and disordered eating is nothing new: cultural privileging of thinness and the thinly-veiled prioritisation of aesthetics over health mean that many turn to rapid and unsustainable methods to shed pounds, including undereating, purging and overexercise. And while ‘dieting’ is a staple in our new-year vocabulary, and a massively common practise, eating disorders often go unrecognised until they reach their most extreme and harmful manifestations. Less culturally recognised still is the idea that eating disorders can, and do, affect people at any weight: even if it is deemed healthy for a person to lose weight, their chosen method, or the methods encouraged by others, may still be massively dangerous.

Eating disorders often go unrecognised until they reach their most extreme and harmful manifestations

Ozempic and its affiliates are appetite-suppressants, reproducing bodily hormones to curb hunger cravings and create a quicker feeling of fullness. While there is no denying that the drugs do produce effective weight-loss over the course of treatment, once the course has finished there is the risk that weight will be just as rapidly re-gained, leaving the door open for a new dependence on other abetting substances or habits: cigarettes, laxatives, etcetera. With this in mind, the ‘nausea and vomiting’ side effect reported by some appetite-suppressant patients becomes even more starkly worrying: bulimia or purging behaviours, while ineffective and debilitating, are addictive and can become a crutch for those suffering from an ED- a subsequent mental association between vomiting and weight-loss may develop these massively harmful practises post-treatment.

To denounce Ozempic as wholly dangerous is unhelpful: when prescribed in the right, critical circumstances the drug can evidently do a lot of good, and even when purchased on the market the drug-guidance requires or encourages healthy and regulated eating and exercise habits while on the course. But while the risks remain, be mindful this new year of your friends and relatives who voice or exhibit efforts to lose weight- keep an eye out for signs of disordered eating, however subtle. And if approaching them is appropriate, be mindful, patient and supportive – a better resolution than any other.

In response to Dr Louisa McKenzie’s article ‘A history of new year’s resolutions’ in The Times.

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I believe it’s a commonly held idea that new year’s resolutions aren’t as realistic as they’re supposed to be – and have become an inevitable cliché with the repetition of same-old manifestations. Even mainstream media outlets like The Economist share this logic, as they’ve broadcasted a similar tone through publishing articles such as ‘New year’s resolutions are pointless’. Nevertheless, the concept of new year’s resolutions continues to have a strong grip on the mind and the act.

In her article, Dr McKenzie recounts prominent moments in historical evolution, from the Babylonian new year in the second millennium BC, up until the end of 20th century. This indicates that the reason for new year’s resolutions’ stronghold in the 21st century lies in the fact that, contrary to common expectation, the concept isn’t a modern invention. Basically, new year’s resolutions have a far more intricate position in the calendar and therefore in our manifestations than we account for. In each one of her examples throughout different geographies and periods, resolutions remain the indicator of a ‘new beginning’, therefore fuelling expectations for this ‘new beginning’ and prompting ways to achieve them. These ‘new beginnings’ come in the form of the farming season in March, Christmas Day or Easter, and many more. What they all have in common is a reciprocal relationship where the calendar is defined, and the self is aligned with it through identifying tasks to be completed. In this light, resolutions seem less like a silly manifestation and more like a traditional contrivance.

Image: Vyacheslav Argenberg via Wikimedia Commons

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