Ahh, 2017 beckons! Its’ bright and shiny head has emerged from around the corner of what has arguably been a dismal year. The bright and beautiful weddings of 2016 having been somewhat overshadowed by the political storms that brought us Brexit divisions, a worsening refugee crisis, European terrorist attacks and then topped off nicely by a President Elect few considered possible. And as 2017, gleaming and beautiful, begins to unfold, so too does the hailstorm that is the new years’ resolutions.
The companies vying for our pennies, smelling our exuberant scent of lowered self-esteem, preying on the guilt we feel for festive indulgences. Signs, advertisements, posters, everywhere encouraging a new us, a better me, a temple-esque zen bodied, goal achieving, independent, fierce, yoga-bending mega-getter with buns of steel and the body fat of a wooden spoon!
I had little doubt that my ‘helpful’ Facebook timeline would kindly remind me of the promises I made to myself 12 months ago, wrapped up in this 2016 mindset. And, fresh as a daisy prediction, on New Years’ Day I was reminded of the goals I’d set myself that I’m certain I forgot all of 3 weeks later and which made about as much of a meaningful impact on my life as the latest episodes of Desperate Housewives.
So, what went wrong? Did I not want it enough?
We’re told constantly that if we want something enough then we can have it. Dream big, dare to dream, be bold, you can anything you want if you want it hard enough. Did I want to have the insta-body of global envy? Heck yes! I really want it, like, really, really want it. And I went on my Maldives Honeymoon and got married in 2016 – hello incentive!
So, if the question isn’t ‘do I want it enough’, it must be, ‘do I want to suffer enough?’ closely followed, I think, by ‘what does it mean if I don’t achieve them?’ Specifically, I’m looking at you oh dieting frenzy, particularly to all the brides entering 2017 as their year and panicking over the bridal ideal we’re bombarded with.
I want the body of a glamazonian princess, personally scouted by Victoria’s Secret and selected without audition or hesitation. But I do not want to calculate and measure every micro-and macro-nutrient that I eat. I do not want to turn down social occasions with my friends, nor order and pay over the odds for the lean burger without the bun, the bacon and the cheese. I do not want to sit in the cinema munching on a bag of lightly thawing frozen peas, forsaking the golden sugar crusted popcorn with a scent that wafts lightly through the air like a sickly Ambi Pur from heaven.
I do not want to spend endless weekend hours’ meal prepping tiny portions of food into little plastic tubs. I do not want to skip the Christmas markets on my city breaks nor turn up to the gym 7 days a week, avoiding all alcohol and weekends away. These are examples of the things you need to commit to suffer through to achieve the ‘dream’. Wanting something enough does not bring it. And I for one am not afraid to hold my hands up and admit that I do not want to suffer in this way to achieve a visual, media decided goal.
My body is my only home, I need to take care of it, but I do not need to suffer to justify my existence within it. By that token, it doesn’t matter how many avocados I vowed to eat from January 1st, the best I can hope to achieve is the best that my suffering will bring: and that pretty much boils down to good, balanced health and fitness, mental wellbeing and happiness.
It is most certainly good enough. But it is not going to make me insta-envy of the world.
I indulged over Christmas as I’m sure most people did. More meals out than I care to calculate, so many social occasions that I had little time to move let alone exercise, and even a few holidays into the mix. I, consequently, gained a few kilos. I’m a bit less fit and I’m a little softer around the edges.
As such, I started January 2017 this year feeling like I needed nutrition, and in truth, I did, but I did not need to lose weight nor ‘tone up’. I needed a bit more moderation and balance, following a month of absent and missed vegetables and indulgently rich food. I, we all, should take care of our bodies and honour our health. We should nourish them, feed them, hydrate them, move them and rest them. But when the holidays come, or any other routine busting fraction of life, and the balance shifts and tips, should we start the next month guilty, ashamed, and vowing to be different?
Perhaps to achieve this, we need to start 2017 by stopping calling food ‘bad’. Instead of cutting carbs or sugar or fat from our diets, let’s cut that out instead! Just cut it out. There are no good nor bad foods. When was it that you remember the cheese wheel rolling around in a souped up Ducati, leather clad and dealing drugs, and thus earning the reputation as ‘bad’? When, in your memory, did chocolate sneak into a house at night murdering all those inside, thus forever being known as ‘sinful’? Never? Thought not. What is actually bad here is our tendency to impose moral values onto foods; it’s not the food items themselves.
We are bombarded by all forms of media which glorify thin body types, and promote dieting messages of all kinds. We are entrenched in an unhelpful culture, none more evident than when the calendar turns to January, and this media most certainly does not escape the wedding industry in its’ pursuit of the bridal ideal. From this media harassment we begin to forge an inner dialogue of food which we can categorise as good and bad – a kind of moral food scale. Often eating the ‘bad’ foods and proclaiming how ‘naughty’ we are being, or promoting the ‘good foods’ and praising ourselves for indeed that ‘good behaviour’. Thus, our moral compass is set. Except that you are not being good, or bad, or in fact, anything at all. Nothing about those foods reflects anything in the moral sense. Eating foods and their imaginary moral traits in no way reflects your character, worth, or integrity.
So how does good and bad food play a part in how we see ourselves after a period of Christmas indulgence? We know the media plays a role as studies demonstrate that diagnostic eating disorders appear in countries simultaneously with the arrival of western media infiltration. Consider products labelled ‘skinny’ – popcorn, ice-cream, latte’s, muffins, yogurt, fries… the lists are endless. They’re promoted as healthier, better, and far more wholesome and thus are ‘good foods’. Skinny, becomes a synonym for good.
We start to believe that the only way to be healthy is to be thin, and the only way to be thin is to be on a diet. But bodies can be healthy at all different shapes and sizes. And a dieting culture can quickly spiral into over obsession and rigidity (orthorexia), hunger and guilt cycles (binge eating disorders and bulima), severe restriction and pursuit of thinness (anorexia), as well as a whole host of other mental health problems, everything in between, and at best, just promote our sense of failure and low self-esteem.
What doesn’t help alleviate our anxiety about dieting rules, for example, is exposure to a dialogue about how ‘bad’ white bread is or how ‘guilt-free’ that muffin is (which implies that to enjoy the real recipe would be something one should feel shame for).
You know what I learnt this year, I love those extra kilos. And I will be damned if the dieting bug is going to get me! Those extra kilos represent an entire month of laughs and giggles with family and friends. Shared food, parties, happy occasions, games nights, Christmas markets, gifts, comfort and love. I don’t care if I’m softer. I’m happy, and rested, and I enjoyed myself. I really enjoyed myself. Celebrating and indulging is not synonymous with lazy, fat, bad, disgusting, or any of the other words our internal torrent of abuse likes to tell us. I, we, all of us, should not feel negative in any way for the fact that we enjoyed something. That we were flexible and lived our lives. We have no less worth simply because there is more of us.
We should show our bodies self-love and self-care yes, but that does not mean treating it like a wholesome temple of perfect nutrition. It means being kind to yourself when you’re standing in January. It means blocking out the media screams of a new and vibrant you. It means balance and moderation in all areas, and kindness to yourself; because beating yourself up is far worse than anything you ate. Talk about nutrition, wellbeing, vitality, wholesomeness, body positivity rather than diet, weight loss, body goals or (my pet hate!) shedding for the wedding.
The people who love you, love the fabric of you. Your soul, energy, intelligence, wit, personality, compassion, care, kindness, humour, drive, attitude and, all the terrible habits and hum-drum that you have too. They love you just the way you are. Today, yesterday, tomorrow and on your wedding day.
Because you do not need to be a New You in 2017.
You just need to be You.