January hits us all like a frying pan to the face. Up here in the Northern Hemisphere it’s cold, it’s grey, everyone has less money in their pocket and more flesh round their waist. The latter becomes a huge marketing opportunity for big heartless companies everywhere, selling us anything and everything with the promise it will make us thin, beautiful and above all, happy.
Some want you to ditch carbohydrates, eliminate gluten and grains, reduce fat, decrease sugar, forget about dairy, cut out meat, restrict all “processed foods,” the list is truly endless.
I’m writing today to tell you that weight loss or “clean living” does not necessarily equal happiness, and that you are worth so much more than the number your scales display. Here are some little friendly tips to help keep your mind healthy, avoid the needless restriction, and the reasons why you shouldn’t start that January diet.
“Clean eating” will not make you happy
Anyone who has tried a diet will tell you that you may lose weight and look good for a little while but the weight is likely to pile back on once you stop, and guess what? That extra weight is not necessarily a bad thing! The 5:2 diet, the Atkins diet, the Paleo diet, “clean eating” diets, and whatever other garbage idea might pop up this year, are all SOLD to you. In prescribing yourself to these diets and rules (unless for reasons of genuine intolerance or health concerns), you are putting money in a rich person’s pocket while they tell you how to live your life on their restrictive, and likely extremely dull diet plan. If losing weight is a serious life goal for you, gentle exercise and increasing your vegetable intake is all it will take to get you started, don’t buy into the extreme regimes for the sake of a “quick fix.” It will not make you happier or healthier.
You shouldn’t feel pressured to eliminate food groups
Refined grains, sugar, saturated fat, dairy products, gluten, meat, fish, high-sugar fruits, white potatoes, even carbohydrates as a whole, all of these have been vilified at some point. Claims have been made that any of all of these foods will make you fat, unhappy and even sick, and someone somewhere wants you to give at least one of them up for good. You know what? Don’t. Don’t give any of them up. Unless you have genuine medical or ethical reasons for eliminating food groups, you really don’t have to do it. No single foodstuff on this planet will make you fat or unwell, so don’t feel you have to restrict yourself in the name of someone else’s health ideals. You are old enough and smart enough to know what your body wants, likes and needs, so don’t let anyone else tell you that you’re wrong.
Joining a gym isn’t for everyone
Ah, that classic January task, starting or re-starting the dreaded gym membership. I was there a few years ago when I was in the throes of my eating disorder, and guess what? It didn’t make me healthier or happier. Unless you are already someone who enjoys exercise or sport, paying extortionate amounts each month to run on a mechanised belt, lift heavy metal objects and cycle on an inanimate bicycle is unlikely to improve your quality of life. I cancelled my gym membership a few months ago, even the student discount didn’t make the payments worth it, and I can’t tell you how liberating it is to be away from the stinky changing rooms, bicep-flexing testosterone-leaking lad culture, or the judgmental eyes that watch as your arms struggle to support a dangerously heavy barbell. Give it up people, that shit is unnatural.
You should enjoy delicious seasonal food, if you can
North of the Equator, we are in the depths of Winter. Post-Christmas Winter is cold, dark and miserable. Now is not the time to be eating cold watery salads, January is the time to enjoy warming food that nourishes your chilly body. Apples, pears, clementines, beetroot, brussel sprouts, turnips, turkey, rabbit and venison are all in season right now, not just in December, and eating seasonally can often be cheaper. So treat yourself to a Wintery meal at your favourite restaurant or cook up something seasonal (which will likely be cheaper than the imported stuff) and enjoy the deep flavours of this time of year while you can. Soups, stews, casseroles, whatever you like, you’ll have plenty time to enjoy Spring chickens, peppery crunchy greens and British strawberries when they come around!
You should comfort your body and mind with food that you love
What’s your favourite food? Mine is bread. Bread comforts me in all sorts of ways. Whether is takes the form of toast, a thick sandwich or a soup-dunked wedge, it fills me up, calms me down and I love the way it tastes. How often do you allow yourself to eat your favourite foods? Pasta, pizza, curries, noodles, cakes, biscuits, pastries, how often do you really get to enjoy them? We are raised in a diet culture which tells people to eat “everything in moderation” and uses words like “naughty” or “decadent” to describe a measly six-square bar of milk chocolate. Don’t let these negative attachments to food impact you, your favourite food is your favourite for a reason, even if you change your mind all the time. You don’t have to punish yourself for eating something that others might not, and you should never feel bad about enjoying food. There is no such thing as a guilty pleasure.
You should take time to appreciate what your body does for you every day
The body you have right now has something that many others don’t. Your body keeps you alive and functioning on a daily basis. You are able in ways that others aren’t. You are stronger and smarter in ways that others aren’t. Someone on this planet would fight like hell for your health and happiness, whether they be family, friend or partner. Keep all of these things in mind next time you look in the mirror and frown at the way you look. You don’t have to look like anyone else, your partner will not love you any more than they do already if you drop half a stone, and your incredible mind is so much more valuable than the way your belly bloats today. If your doctor has told you to lose weight for health reasons, by all means do it, but if you want to lose weight simply because you think it will make you and your life better, you’re running down the wrong road. Love your body the way it is, and don’t worry if others don’t, it’s not their problem.
Think how many companies would go out of business if we all woke up tomorrow and decided we liked our bodies just fine the way they are. Think about it.
Eat what you want, whether anyone deems it “healthy” or not. Food is to be savoured and enjoyed, and your life doesn’t have to revolve around every micronutrient you have consumed or “burned off.”
Trust me, I’ve been there, it’s miserable and painful. I’ll take my squishy belly, soft thighs and full stomach over it any day.
Happy New Year everyone. Be kind, and don’t take shit from anybody.