It’s amazing how aware I’ve become of the prevalence of diet culture since I’ve given up dieting. I really noticed it on Christmas Eve at dinner. Everyone was talking about how “bad” the food was for them, and was looking to me, the fitness professional, to affirm that their choice to eat something made of dark chocolate was somehow a healthier choice. Christmas morning I got a Snapchat from a friend eating a banana so she would feel less guilty about the rich food she would eat later. This morning after teaching my yoga class, I listened in as two fellow instructors complained about how much sugar they ate this weekend, and how it would be nothing but greens for the next few days. Went to the chiropractor, and saw an ad about a program that would apparently help me to “lose 5 lbs in a week”. All of my Facebook friends who sell shakes and supplements are now advertising their pills, powders and programs so hard for the New Year. I just know that in the next few weeks the gym and yoga studio where I teach will be temporarily packed with people determined to lose that last 10lbs once are for all!
If you feel like I just called you out here, trust me, it’s not just you. Its EVERYBODY. This might sound shocking coming from someone who works out for a living and enjoys a good green smoothie, but I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t have to be that way. If you don’t know my story, let me give you the short version. Prior to the past year or two, I’d been on some sort of “diet” on and off since I was about 12 years old. In the worst stages, it manifested as full-blown eating disorder behaviors. For awhile, I worked out every day, sometimes 2-3 times a day and didn’t take a day off for at least 10 years straight, unless I was violently ill or something. Then I found yoga and “clean eating”, became “recovered enough” and started taking better care of myself–kind of. I became known as the healthy one, praised for my discipline. In all reality I was actually super unhealthy in my mindset, and it all blew up in my face last spring. Turns out, under-eating carbohydrates and overexercising does not result in 6 pack abs in the long term, especially for women. In fact, it can really slow down your thyroid, mess with your cortisol, and make you a moody, itchy, anxious, hot mess of a human. After doing two rounds of a popular 30 day elimination diet where the only thing I lost was my sanity, I knew that I had to make a big mental shift if I wanted to actually be happy again.
Diets don’t work. At least in the long run. If they did, there would be no diet industry. There would be no need for anyone to sell us meal plans and shakes because we’d all stay thin and have our dream bodies 365 days a year. But giving up dieting doesn’t mean being unhealthy either. You can still aspire to take good care of yourself, and actually keep the results long-term. 2016 was a rough year for me in terms of my health. But it was the harsh reality check that I needed to start to re-frame my ideas of what it means to be truly well. If my story sounds like yours, maybe it’s time to reconsider those New Year’s resolutions. Instead of another diet, here are 7 ideas for healthy intentions you can set for 2017. They don’t involve getting on a wagon, giving up so many foods that you can’t order out at a restaurant, paying for an expensive program, or any form of physical torture.
7 HEALTHY INTENTIONS THAT DON’T INVOLVE DIETING
- Get the word “can’t” out of your vocabulary when it comes to food. You are a grown woman (or man), and can eat whatever you choose. You may choose not to eat certain foods that don’t make you feel well. Or you may choose to enjoy them anyway, and deal with an upset stomach or acne later. But it’s always a choice. The food police are not a real thing.
- Aim to find a way to move your body that you actually enjoy. This can change over the years so don’t be afraid to reassess your fitness routine every so often. I used to love running and ballet class, but these days I’d much rather lift weights or go to yoga. There are a billion and one New Year’s specials at gyms and fitness studios everywhere. Take advantage and see what you like. The “experts” will tell you that their style of workout is the best way. The truth? The best workout for you is the one that you will be excited enough to do that you’ll stick with it.
- If you want a cookie, have a cookie and hold the guilt trip. You can ask anyone who knows me well, I used to have no self-control around sweets. “If I eat one, I’ll go on an all out sugar binge for the rest of the day. I can’t do moderation!”, I would wail. Food restriction leads to loss of control later. Openness leads to food freedom. Try it, and you’ll see. The minute you give yourself unconditional permission to eat cake on any day of the week, it loses its magic, and you may just stop obsessing over it like I did.
- Figure out your “why” for working out. And if your reason involves burning off your most recent “cheat day”, pick a new one. Your workout should never be a punishment. Some good reasons include acquiring a new physical skill like pushups or pull-ups, or having more energy to keep up with your kids, whether they are your biological children or your students, (shout out to my fellow teachers!).
- Invest in some clothes that fit you well and highlight the things you like about your body. You don’t have to fit into the exact same clothes that you wore 10 years ago. Spoiler alert–they probably aren’t in style anymore anyway. Take advantage of the post-holiday sales that are happening right now. I’ve recently discovered Fabletics for workout clothes. Also, I just found out The Limited is going out of business and everything is on crazy sale! Have at it! You’re welcome.
- Aim for more rather than less when it comes to food. Instead of restricting, try to incorporate more of the foods that work for your body and make you feel great. I love Trader Joe’s for this. They always have such novel things that make me want to try new healthy foods that actually taste good. Their sauerkraut with pickled persian cucumbers, Murasaki sweet potatoes, and sriracha hummus are some of my new faves! Being healthy doesn’t have to mean boiled chicken breast and steamed broccoli, or being hangry for most of the day because you are trying to conserve calories or points.
- Curate your social media to reflect your new values. I’m not saying that you have to unfriend people on Facebook, but you can certainly unfollow accounts that aren’t inspiring you, or that you find triggering. Instead of mindlessly scrolling through your Instagram feed, search for hashtags that fit what you want to see. I find that things like #selfcare and #bodypositive are a good place for me to start when I’m feeling overly critical of myself. Or find things that inspire you that have nothing to do with health and fitness like #cutedogsofinstagram.
Approach your fitness and health endeavors from a place of self-love, or at the very least neutrality. You can’t hate yourself into a better body. Trust me, I’ve tried. Movement is good. So is rest. Vegetables are almost always a good life choice. Your mental health is important too, and cake is great for that. If you were planning on a post-holiday diet or detox this like you do every January, consider trying some of these things instead. Raise an eyebrow and turn your back on diet culture in 2017.
Did you ever wonder why you are doing everything “right” in terms of your health and fitness but just not seeing the results you want? I’ve got a list of 10 good reasons that you may not have considered. Want it?