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For too much of my life, New Year’s resolutions were all about diets. One year, after I had half-tamed the monster, I managed to monetize my obsession by writing and, most importantly, personally marketing a diet book. It was a guarantee, of sorts: unlike Oprah, I figured I’d be too embarrassed to show my face or figure if I gained it all back. Which I didn’t, but I struggled, until five years ago when chronic stomachaches and botched stomach surgery combined to, almost literally, kill my appetite. Food gives me stomachaches. The more I eat, the richer it is, the worse I feel. It is no longer my friend. I’ve had to search for new resolutions, like drinking enough water and eating enough protein. Boring stuff.
And I’ve come to resent all the years I spent determined to be thin as opposed to being healthy, determined to eat less as opposed to eating right, determined to be a smaller size and a lower weight, not to run a faster mile or master meditation or learn Hebrew again — all things that might have helped more with the stomachaches than all the self-flagellation did.
This is, of course, the year of all years that overweight Americans need to wake up and lose weight. If we have learned one thing in our collective COVID-19 nightmare, it is that being fat kills, and the fatter you are, the more likely COVID-19 is to kill you. If we could change one thing that would change the morbidity numbers, it is our collective obesity.
And, of course, instead of all this news driving us to diet and exercise, it has — collectively, at least — led us to do just the opposite. The figures are all over the map: Depending on who you ask, you can find average American weight gains as high as 20-plus pounds apiece. This much is clear. The pandemic has not curbed our appetite. It has not ushered in an era of healthy moderation.
As a country, we can’t stop eating. The supply chain might be slowing down; restaurants have certainly been struggling; the cost of groceries keeps going up; and only the rich are getting richer, but almost all of us are getting fatter. Many more people are gaining than losing, with those who can least afford to gain gaining the most. Poor people are worst off.
There is, also, the way we’ve come to dress — without waistbands, belts, pantyhose and all the other things that remind you that if it’s a war, we are losing. At least until New Year’s rolls around, and even if there are no parties this year, no slinky dresses or too tight dress pants to wear or, worse, have no reason to, there is still the matter of resolutions.
Consider this: For the last two years, what have we asked each other? We have asked: “How do you feel? Is everyone healthy?” What do we say to each other? We don’t say, “Be wealthy.” We say, “Be well.”
Be well. It is all you can ask for. It is everything. We know that. Every one of us does, after the last two years. And we know how powerless we are, in so many ways, to control our well-being. “There is only so much you can do,” we say to each other. “There is so little we know,” we say to each other.
And that is all true.
But there is also so much we do know, and so much we can do. We can be better — healthier, not skinnier; more fit, not more sculpted. We can make ourselves feel better. We can make it more likely that we will be well. Why not?
Happy new year. Be well.