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Erika Nicole Kendall If you want to lose weight in 2018, don't get a gym membership on January 1

You can't change your weight unless you change your lifestyle. Exercise is only one part of that.

People in the gym running on the treadmill.Getty Images
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As we start another year, after spending day after day celebrating the previous year’s accomplishments, laughing and drinking, enjoying the company — and food — of friends of family, far too many of us will look in the mirror and be disappointed with what we see.

This disappointment frequently turns into another line item on a long list of resolutions: weight loss.

And then, eager to get started tackling that weight loss resolution, we gravitate towards our nearby fitness centers, health clubs and gyms in hopes that the solution is as simple as adding a new appointment to our schedules. Those health clubs and fitness centers, of course, are more than happy to accommodate us — and take our money. If the average gym membership hovers around a reported $50 a month , many of us make an expensive snap decision.

I keep saying “we” and “us” because I can relate: I’ve been one of the reported 49 percent of Americans with a desire to lose weight — not because I’m at odds with my curvy figure, or because I’m unfit. I’m strong, I have healthy blood pressure levels and, as long as I’m wearing the right shoes, I can run pretty quickly should the zombie apocalypse finally begin.

Still, a miraculous pregnancy knocked me out of my wardrobe, and I want it back.

Gym memberships have earned a halo for being bastions of fitness and weight loss, and for good reason. With the right kind of work and consistency, you can make amazing things happen. But the problem for most people who want to lose weight isn’t the lack of a gym membership. It's that working out for the express purpose of rebalancing your caloric intake has the unintended consequence of making you even hungrier and, consequently, can cause your weight to stagnate or even rise.

So much of our country’s dialogue regarding weight loss surrounds the idea of “eating less” and “moving more,” which contributes to the idea of gyms being the solution to the problem that weight gain can be.

The gym is a place where you do nothing but move, and more movement is what you need to lose weight, we're told. Problem solved, right?

Not quite.

The frustrating truth is that so much of what contributes to weight gain are the small things — many of which we’ve grown emotionally attached to over time — that we do consistently because they make us happy. That morning muffin we pick up on the way into the office, the extra sugar in our coffee (and the subsequent 3 cups of it), the second helpings, the detour to the fast food joint on the way home from work — all small things might contribute to our happiness, but they can also contribute to what we see in that mirror.

And, the truth is that the average person might find it hard to set aside time to spend alone in the gym when their jobs are demanding, their kids are exhausting and they believe their reward for surviving the day is doing things they’ve already grown to enjoy: sitting on the couch, watching their favorite shows, with a pint of heaven in a cardboard-ish cup, instead of another appointment to focus on something that makes them unhappy.

Much of weight loss is about the delicate balance between being satisfied and being happy. I should know: Before giving birth to my youngest child, I lost 160lbs, through learning how to cook healthier dishes that made me happy, while also being fulfilling and nourishing. I found a source of activity that made me happy, with people who were fun and enjoyable, which made it easy to stay committed to it. Most importantly, I took stock of habits I had — smoking, drinking alcohol, indulging in soda-pop and ice cream — that I was using to bring me joy instead of nourishment, and took the steps to limit my attachment to those.

You can't change your weight unless you change your lifestyle, even with a pricey snap decision on New Year’s Day.

A thoughtful, concerted effort towards accomplishing a weight loss goal any day of the year extends beyond the gym. It’s about being mindful of what we eat and why, it’s about finding sources of joy and stress relief that are healthy and helpful, and it’s about creating boundaries and guidelines for handling our old habits. Then, and only then, can the benefits of a gym membership truly be felt.

Otherwise, your gym membership may fall victim to next year's resolution — saving money on things you simply don't use.

Erika Nicole Kendall is the writer, certified personal trainer and certified nutritionist behind the popular weight loss blog A Black Girl's Guide to Weight Loss.

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