It’s that dreaded time of year again. The calendar reads January 1st and just like that, everyone seems to be on a fad diet. The SRC is packed at all hours and you can barely get a spot in your favorite class. BuzzFeed is posting “clean eating” challenges and magazine headlines read, “New Year, New You!” as if a workout plan and a detox diet can change your entire life.
This morning, however, I came across a different kind of headline. The Washington Post published a column titled, “About that diet you’re planning to start on Jan 1 - don’t do it.” I was intrigued.
If you’ve attended an Embody training, you know by now that we aren’t proponents of dieting. We drill it into your head that dieting is the biggest predictor of an eating disorder. It’s true. Among college students 35% of dieters progress to pathological dieting. Of those pathological dieters, 20-25% progress to develop eating disorders.
However, the possibility of developing an eating disorder isn’t the only reason your 2016 resolution shouldn't be a new diet. Although eating disorders are drastically more prevalent on college campuses than in the general population and undoubtedly a very serious issue, they don’t affect everyone. Diets shouldn’t be a part of your New Year’s Resolution because, to be frank, the majority of the time they don’t work, and in the instances where they do work, often it's only temporary. And, as Itkowitz eloquently explained in the Washington Post article, they’ll probably only make you miserable.
Embody is not the only group of people promoting the anti-dieting movement. Recently, there has been shift in focus from dieting to intuitive and mindful eating practices, which focus on being in tune with your body's own desires and trusting your body to tell you what you need, how much you need, and when you need it. Sick of restriction and deprivation, many ex-dieters have found peace with food through the practice of mindfulness.
Deepak Chopra, a physician and New York Times best-selling author who has had incredible success with what he dubs "awareness" eating, believes that “if you fill yourself with other kinds of satisfaction, food will no longer be a problem.” He attributes struggles with body image and size to lack of fulfillment in other areas of your life, and sees awareness not only in eating but in everyday decision-making as a key to overall health.
For most of us - whether struggling with weight or suffering from an eating disorder - it’s not really about the food anyways. So what makes us think that restriction and deprivation will be the answer? We need to focus on finding fulfillment in other areas of our life outside of food and diet/exercise regimens. Dieting, to him, is just another distraction. Maybe our New Year’s resolutions should be less about diets and exercise and more about discovering what makes us truly happy. Maybe in 2016, we should make a conscious effort to trust our bodies' natural signals when it comes to food and exercise so that we can discover where our minds go when not consumed by thoughts of weight loss and calorie deficits.
In 2016, resolve to journal more often. Designate an hour of each day to self-care - whether the be taking a walk/run, reading a book, catching up with friends or cooking; whatever makes you happy and re-centered. Promise to cut out fat talk and muscle talk for good. Work on your friendships and family relationships. Take up a new hobby - write letters, craft, work with your hands. Promote a cause you care about.
Resolve to do all of the above or one of the above and I promise you it will have a more profound impact on your life than resolving to lose a certain number of pounds. Your weight a lot has less to do with your self-worth than you'd think. Your personal struggles will not shed with the pounds, no matter how much we like to convince ourselves this is true, and your "dream" body doesn't come with a guarantee of happiness. Being consistently content with yourself while being completely present in your life is a much rarer and more admirable feat than a successful month or two of dieting. This year, strive for something deeper.
I’m not arguing against healthy lifestyles by any means. I value the importance of a balanced diet and moderate exercise. I truly do believe that health is wealth. However, I also believe a January diet probably isn’t the magic bullet to achieving your long-term health goals.
If you are eager to improve your physical health in 2016, I urge you to do so by learning to trust your body instead of letting numbers determine how you see yourself. There are great ways to be healthier (and happier) in 2016 that do not include calorie counting or tracking your steps.
Want to work on your fitness? Try these resolutions:
- Walk or bike to class more often. Bonus: it helps wake you up in the morning.
- Try a new class at the gym every few weeks.
- Learn to incorporate strength training into your workouts, or if you already know how, get back into it.
- If you despise cardio machines (you're not alone!), try yoga or walking.
- Stretch daily.
Think you can do a better job nourishing your body? Try these resolutions:
- Practice intuitive and mindful eating. Read up on it, or join the Carolina Meditation Club - they are known to have "mindful meal" events.
- If you live off campus, try cooking a new recipe every week. Chances are homemade meals will be better for you than takeout! (Pro tip: print out a bunch of easy and healthy recipes before the school year gets too hectic and keep them on hand)
- Make it a goal to get a greater variety of colors on your plate.
- Visit Antonia Hartley, the dietician at Campus Health (see our Resources page for her contact information), for professional advice on nutrition.
- Designate a certain day of the week as your obligatory grocery shopping day so that you're always stocked up on fresh produce.
Happy New Year!