Checking in: Healthy New Year's resolutions or sinful motivations?


By about this time of the year, I suspect that many of you who created New Year’s resolutions for exercise, diet, or weight loss have already abandoned them. You might have burned out, realized that you set goals to high for yourself, or you may have just gotten busy with regular every day life. But if you’re still working away at your goal, there might be another reason to check it at the door—your New Year’s resolutions were sinfully motivated all along.

Goals in general can be great. They can be healthy plans that help us to measure our success in achievable bites (pun definitely intended). The thing that often sends health-related New Year’s resolutions careening in the wrong direction is unhealthy motivations.

If at the beginning of the year you set yourself a goal to lose weight, to eat “better” or to exercise more, I would challenge you to examine the root of your “why.” When we give our resolutions and goals undue weight, it’s probably because we’re banking on them for something they can never deliver.

Five questions to evaluate if your weight loss/exercise/food resolutions are sinfully motivated:

  1. Will I be happier when I meet my resolution goal? If your answer to this question is “yes,” you might want to leave that resolution behind. Your happiness should not ever be founded in your weight, how you eat, or how much you exercise.

    If you’re banking on changes in that arena to make you happy—they will fail you. And somedays you will fail in meeting your “healthy” goals. Your happiness comes from Jesus whether you’re succeeding or failing. Philippians 4 talks about both rejoicing always and being content in all situations because of Christ. Not because of our own efforts or successes/failures.

  2. Was comparison to others (or myself at a different time of life) part of the creation of my resolution? In this age of Instagram it seems near impossible to escape images of so-called healthy people. Our friends, our family members, even pictures of our former selves can seem to taunt us with some sort of ambiguous standard about what the “right” weight is.

    If you set your resolution goal based on a comparison, abandon ship. There is envy at the root of your plan. And also—your body will never be like anyone else’s. Don’t try to make it.

  3. Is this goal a healthy long-term lifestyle? Diets are unsustainable. They’re not designed for longevity. If your resolution is intended to be a burst diet, and not a long-term healthy lifestyle change, it likely has a “fix it” undertone.

    Diets like this—that involve short term food restrictions (like cutting out sugar, or carbs, or everything that’s blue, or whatever) or extreme exercise, have the goal of targeting and “fixing” a problem. Implicit then is the idea that you will be better when that perceived problem is solved. But what’s at the root of this? The idea that something is wrong with you the way you are. Pursuing health for your body is great. But it should be part of your lifestyle always, not a burst of a resolution to “fix” your current state.

  4. Will these changes be healthy and helpful for my mental, physical, and emotional well-being? This is a simple but essential question to consider, especially if you’ve ever struggled with body image issues or are in eating disorder recovery. If your resolution pushes you to make changes that will add anxiety rather than remove it, perhaps it should be discarded. If you’re willing to sacrifice your mental, physical, or emotional health for the sake of meeting your resolution, it’s probably not a resolution worth meeting.

  5. Why do I want to lose weight/exercise more/eat differently? Force yourself to answer this question honestly. If your answer sounds anything like “because I will look better when I lose a bit of weight,” you might want to be careful. It’s a slippery slope from wanting to take care of your body and appearance in a God-honoring way to pursuing beauty for the approval of others.

So many of these motivations are considered culturally acceptable. It’s easy, even within churches, to allow these ideas to exist quietly around New Year’s. But there’s only one truly good motivator for making changes to eating and exercise habits. Honoring God.

As with anything you’re pursuing, don’t rely on your own strength to accomplish it. Pray. Read the Bible. Ask God for help and guidance to pursue your healthy goals in a way that’s focused on bringing glory to Him and not yourself. Share your goals with other believers so that they can support you with encouragement based in biblical truth, and not in cultural standards.

If your New Year’s resolution involves pursuing health for the glory of God, go to it! If you want to choose healthy foods that will give your body nourishment and strength so that you can serve Him, amazing! If your goal is to be a good steward of God’s creation (your own body being a part of that), then keep going! That’s a resolution worth pursuing.