It’s finally the end of 2017. Congrats everyone, it’s nice to see you here. It’s been quite a while since my last blog post and I’m feeling compelled to give an update. While a lot has happened since *ahem* February of this year when I last wrote to you, I’m happy to say I’ve learned a lot of things during grad school, and my brain is feeling stuffed.
Enter: the end of the year doldrums. Here we are, at the end of a dumpster fire of a year, most likely enduring the glut of celebration food and feeling properly guilty for it. After all, is it really a New Years if you don’t regret all the foods and go on a diet?
But what if you just don’t?
Since January 1 is quickly approaching, that means many people are attempting to pay penance for their holiday indulgences. But why do we think we have to? Because the culture told us we should? What will it add to ours lives if we go on a diet? What will it take away if we do? When we are restricting calories, are we actually [instead] restricting life? When we avoid plans with friends, birthday parties, celebrations, and after dinner drinks for the sake of calorie control, are we saying no to experiences? Are we saying no to living?
Lately I’ve been able to do some nutrition counseling to student’s at my university as a graduate student. While I’m definitely not an expert, it’s been really helpful for me to hear my clients say out loud what is important to them. It also lets them hear what is important, and gives us both a working knowledge of what their goals are. With that in mind, what really matters going into the New Year? Is your appearance the ultimate goal? Will you be able to enjoy family gatherings, outings with friends, vacations, dates, and moving your body the way you want to by taking on a restrictive diet this January? Are we buying into vanity and trying to shrink our bodies because we think it makes us more valuable? More desirable? Does being smaller makes us better people?
Something else that I’ve learned while studying nutrition is how harmful dieting can be to our bodies. When you over restrict calories and avoid food groups like fat and carbohydrates that give your body energy, you won’t feel good. You’ll end up with a headache, or a bloated stomach, or dizziness; you won’t be able to concentrate on what you’re doing, what your child or friend or boss or client is saying, and your schoolwork or your activities will suffer. Your workouts won’t be as strong, and you’ll end up feeling more tired than when you started. Your metabolism, which inevitably slows down as we age (I’m looking at you, big 3-0) will slow down even further, because it’s trying to conserve energy to fuel your body’s needs. In a lot of ways, restrictive dieting does the opposite of what it promises.
This year, what if, instead of counting calories, juicing carrots and adapting your personal and social life to an overly restrictive diet, you used that time to be thankful for your body. It made it through 2017! Think about all the things your body was able to do: all the hugs it gave, the steps it took, the pictures it was in, the laughs, the tears, the happy and sad moments.
So what does this mean? This doesn’t mean throwing caution to the winds.
But this could mean maybe you’ve been fed (pardon the pun) false information about how to treat your body, how to feed it, and how to live around food.
So: how are you going to treat your body now that you don’t have to go on a diet? If it’s hard to think about or imagine starting the New Year without one, here are some soft steps in that direction:
Drink water. If you’re like me, your holiday break meant not a lot of sleep on uncomfortable beds + lots of coffee and little water. Being dehydrated can make you feel pretty crummy, tired with headaches. Maybe the first step to kindness for yourself is making sure you’ve had enough to drink.
Find some movement. Take a walk, do some yoga, or something that feels gentle. If you’ve been trapped inside or hanging out on the couch a lot, small periods during the day for movement can help clear your mind and chase away the cobwebs.
Change what you allow yourself to see. This means unfollowing friends and family who are engaging in detoxes and post-holiday fasts, if only for a season. Unfollow the celebrities and fitness gurus who are promoting their latest version of a diet, wrapped up as a cleanse or a detox or a ‘lifestyle’. After that, put some new images and words in front of your eyes. Here some great accounts to get you started:
The Real Life RD
Eat real meals. When you deprive yourself of carbohydrates (read: things like grains or bread that supply energy) you’re probably going to be hungry in about 10 minutes. Ever wonder why you crave everything you avoid when you’re dieting? Because your body knows it needs food that gives it energy, so it starts craving them. Give it what it needs! Let your meals include a protein, a grain/starch, and some kind of fruit and/or veggie.
Give yourself grace. Most of us don’t eat holiday food all the time, and this time of year, we get a concentrated dose. Remember, life happens. There will be birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, parties, and long days at work that need wine and chocolate. But also remember that these aren’t every day, and you need to feed your body to live. Try to think back on what you ate over the holidays with thankfulness, because you most likely got to eat it with people that you love. Remember that celebrations are just that, not a time to remind yourself of how ‘bad’ you’re being.
Now, before you think it’s all easy and good in my corner of the world, please know that I am not immune to the siren call that is The New Year’s Diet. I’ve done all the things. Whole30? Check. (You can actually read about it on this blog). Juice cleanses? Been there. Smoothie only diets? Yep. But I’ve also battled with anorexia, and body image, and lately I’ve been wresting with society’s impossible beauty standards that it imposes on women. I know that it feels like a good thing to start a New Year fresh, and revamp all the things. And while that may be actually useful for your closet, your schedule, or your organizer, it’s not useful for your health or your body (or I know its not useful for mine). I’ll admit, it was difficult for me to write and publish this. This is not a popular opinion, and I’m sure a lot of people will disagree or disregard. But what I have spent a lot of time and money on the past 1.5 years learning is that diets don’t work. And they can be harmful to your body and your psyche. Your body needs food, and enough of it, and at regular intervals to be healthy and happy.
Remember, your body is a gift. Yours (just like mine) isn’t perfect, but that doesn’t make it less worthy of food. You are not bad for giving it the fuel it needs, and during times of celebration, when that fuel includes an abundance of celebrations, you are still not bad. Celebrations are just that: a time to revel and party and rejoice, not a time to impose guilt on yourself for the fuel you’re giving your body.