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"Is it Just Me?": Why Americans Make Dieting Resolutions

“New Year. New You.” The mantra that's in most of our heads at the beginning of January. With a new year, we can finally change all the things about ourselves that we don’t like. And our relationship with food oftentimes takes center stage.

Dieting and/or eating healthier are some of the most common New Year’s Resolutions in the U.S. year after year. It is not only because New Years is a time to look forward and set goals but also because we reflect on what happened the previous year.

Let’s back up a bit. New Year’s Resolutions have been around for over 4,000 years. Ancient Babylonians were the first to celebrate a “new year” – though it was at the start of planting season in mid-March – and they were the first to make promises for how the new year would be different from the last. The Romans and early Christians had similar traditions and moved the New Year to January 1st. These forerunners to today’s New Year’s Resolutions were promises made to the gods that one would be a better person in society. Whereas, resolutions today are much more secular and about self-improvement, like exercising more or eating healthier.

Diets have also been around for thousands of years as a way to achieve the “ideal” body type, which has changed throughout history, and/or live longer. It’s in the last 70 years, however, that diets and eating healthily started to become popular New Year's Resolutions.

Source: Wikipedia
Early 20th-century New Year's resolution postcards, 1909-1915

Prior to World War II, lack of food was a more pressing concern than overeating or eating the ‘wrong’ food items. It wasn’t until the post-war economic boom that an abundance of food was accessible to the rising middle class. It was at this time that exercise also became a pastime, instead of a part of daily labor (Time). As physical labor declined and access to processed foods increased, diet and weight loss fads took off in popularity.

Though it’s not clear exactly when dieting and eating ‘healthy’ became the most popular of resolutions, by the late 1940s they had already started to make the charts and they’ve been climbing ever since. One thing is for certain, dieting and weight loss fads in the U.S. became fashionable around the same time that New Year’s Resolutions started to become more secular and focused on self-improvement.

If you are thinking about your body and what you are eating this New Year, take a moment to contemplate the history of New Year’s resolutions and dieting – or you could eat some cake. Up to you!

Please Note: There are different celebrations of the new year across cultures. For this blog post, we focused on the U.S. and the Gregorian calendar’s New Year (January 1).


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