Dr Sarah LoBisco, ND

What Are Your Intentions?

With the start of the New Year, many are contemplating the events from 2017 and making intentions for improving the year ahead.  Although “losing weight” is still a favorite goal for starting “afresh”, many surveys of the population are finding what holds the top spots for 2018 resolutions may be experiencing a bit of a shift from previous years.1-5

A recent article in 24/7 Wall St. reviewed survey data by Statistic Brain to distinguish the goals people are making for 2018. This “survey based institute” bases its data on research from online surveys and direct mail questionnaires. The minimum sample size is 4,000 respondents. They also use supplementary data from a range of sources. 1

The article reported, “Resolutions that pertain to education and money are most common.” Following these were goals of weight loss and on topics of romantic relationships.1 (The top 11 are listed here.)

Statista reported similar results. The website states, “This statistic shows the results of a survey, conducted in 2017 in the United States, on Americans’ New Year’s resolutions. During the survey, 53 percent of respondents said their resolution for 2018 is to save money, while 45 percent would like to lose weight or get in shape.” 2

In a smaller poll of a little over 1,000 individuals by Marist, the most popular resolution was a tie between being a better person and losing weight. Other goals were exercising more, healthier eating, changing jobs or careers, improving overall health, quitting smoking, and saving money. (Interesting that being thinner was as important as being a better person to the overall population.3 See more on healthism here.)

Finally, another survey of more than 5,000 adults by GOBankingRates asked, “What is your 2018 resolution?” The results that were reported concluded that living life to the fullest was at the top spot when selected among 5 other options. These additional choices included:

– Save more, spend less

– Pay down debt

– Live a healthier lifestyle

– Increase my income

– Spend more time with friends and family4

The Broken Promises and Pitfalls of Resolving Based on External Drives

Many of these New Year’s resolutions have one of several themes that include stopping a “negative” behavior, quitting a “bad” habit, losing something unwanted, and/or trying to improve in some aspect.  With the exceptions of being a better person and living life to the fullest, they are based on external outcomes, rather than internal drives.

It’s no wonder that in 2015 U.S. News and World Report stated that only 8% of people achieved their goals by the years’ end!5  Who wants to survive a year of feeling deprived, craving more, and constant striving? This futility of achieving success may be why currently less than half of Americans (41%) even make any resolutions to start with.

As U.S. News and World Report concluded, the “guilt-driven-response to holiday excess” that catalyzes these intentions, have no lasting power. They are outside-in approaches:

To answer this question, it’s important to recognize that outside-in solutions such as dieting, joining gyms and so on are doomed to fail if, other than your well-intentioned resolve to change, you’ve done nothing to enhance your capacity to either sustain motivation or handle the inevitable stress and discomfort involved in change. Saying this differently: Unless you first change your mind, don’t expect your health goals to materialize. As the saying goes, it’s not the horse that draws the cart, it’s the oats. It’s not the gym, Pilates class or diet that will change you – it’s your mind.5

Trying to avoid physical discomfort, control disease processes, and/or appease dominating fears of physical or emotional insecurities, without real substance and contemplating the drive that fuels them, could actually perpetuate the very cycle one is trying to break. It is not possible to live in a state of fear while simultaneously growing and achieving your highest potential.

At a physiological level, living in constant tension by fighting or trying to manipulate the body or situation and ignore “negative” doubts can be harmful. We also now know that is useless. (Read more about this in my blog on the unsuccessful attempts of diets for solving the “obesity epidemic” here.)

These attempts of rigidly trying to achieve an outcome from a state of turmoil not only detrimentally impacts physiology due to stress, but also effects physical responses due to the psychology of negative expectations. If one doesn’t “get real” about what they really think, their hidden thoughts may be creating undesired outcomes. In medicine, it is called the nocebo effect.

According to a 2016 review in Pharmacology Research and Perspective:

Nocebo effects are adverse events produced by negative expectations. Nocebo effects can be observed not only in everyday clinical practice, but also in clinical trials. These nonspecific side effects distress patients, add to the burden of their illness, and increase the costs of their care. They may lead to nonadherence, cause physicians to discontinue what is otherwise an appropriate therapy, or prompt attempts to treat these side effects with additional drugs.6

The article provides many examples of evidence of this effect in clinical trials focusing on pain, cardiovascular disease, Parkinson’s disease, migraines, and many others.6 I also discussed the nocebo effect in relation to its harmful outcomes in moralizing food choices as “good” or “bad” in this blog.

Summary

A viewpoint of health and weight loss as a means to an end and weight can perpetuate ineffective “solutions” and lead to bias, stigmatization,7 and a nation of hangry, mean, judgmental people. Perhaps this is why the popularity of weight loss for a resolution is shifting to other aspects of life and health that are more “well-rounded.”

There is a difference between survival and thriving.8-9 Obsessing over weight and health to the point of dysfunction is different than maintaining a level of physical comfort and fitness in order to avoid being grumpy from pain as one is working toward being a better person.

Rather, the  research seems to point to relaxation, self-compassion,10 and living in a state of optimism as a means of reaching even greater states of holistic health.

So, what could create lasting change? In the next blog I will discuss this in more detail.

References:

  1. Stebbins, S. 24/7 Wall St. December 28, 2017. http://247wallst.com/special-report/2017/12/28/most-popular-new-years-resolutions/
  2. United States: “What are your 2018 resolutions?” https://www.statista.com/statistics/378105/new-years-resolution/
  3. Marist Poll. 12/20: Being a Better Person & Weight Loss Top 2018 New Year’s Resolutions. December 20, 2017. http://maristpoll.marist.edu/1220-being-a-better-person-weight-loss-top-2018-new-years-resolutions/
  4. Huddleston, C. ‘Enjoy Life to the Fullest’ Is 2018’s Top New Year’s Resolution. GoBankingRates. December 14, 2017. https://www.gobankingrates.com/saving-money/top-new-years-resolutions/
  5. Luciani J. Why 80 Percent of New Year’s Resolutions Fail. U.S. News and World Report. December 29, 2015. https://health.usnews.com/health-news/blogs/eat-run/articles/2015-12-29/why-80-percent-of-new-years-resolutions-fail
  6. Planès S, Villier C, Mallaret M. The nocebo effect of drugs. Pharmacology Research & Perspectives. 2016;4(2):e00208. doi:10.1002/prp2.208.
  7. Dollar E, Berman M, Adachi-Mejia AM. Do No Harm: Moving Beyond Weight Loss to Emphasize Physical Activity at Every Size. Prev Chronic Dis 2017;14:170006. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5888/pcd14.170006
  8. Turner S, Goodchild van Hilten L. Thriving or surviving? Taking a wide angle on mental health. Elsevier. May 8, 2017. https://www.elsevier.com/connect/thriving-or-surviving-taking-a-wide-angle-on-mental-health.
  9. Tremethick MJ. Thriving, not just surviving. The importance of social support among the elderly. J Psychosoc Nurs Ment Health Serv. 1997 Sep;35(9):27-31.
  10. Neff K and colleagues. Self-Compassion Publications. http://self-compassion.org/the-research/?mc_cid=1026f19644&mc_eid=6989e40d1f
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Sarah Lobisco, ND, is a graduate of the University of Bridgeport’s College of Naturopathic Medicine (UBCNM). She is licensed in Vermont as a naturopathic doctor and holds a Bachelor of Psychology from State University of New York at Geneseo.

Dr. LoBisco is a speaker on integrative health, has several publications, and has earned her certification in functional medicine. Dr. LoBisco currently incorporates her training as a naturopathic doctor and functional medicine practitioner through writing, researching, private practice, and through her independent contracting work for companies regarding supplements, nutraceuticals, essential oils, and medical foods.

Dr. LoBisco also enjoys continuing to educate and empower her readers through her blogs and social media. Her recent blog can be found at www.dr-lobisco.com.

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