There’s this advice in all those lady mags, the ones that tell you how to get Thin Thighs in 30 Days and promise to tell you What He’s Really Thinking. The recommendation is to post a picture of yourself back in your thinnest days or pictures of women you wished you looked like up on your refrigerator so every time you go get something to eat you’ll be shamed away from the kitchen.
We act out versions of this all of the time. We berate ourselves for missing deadlines or for not getting chores done. We look at other people “for inspiration” but then play back their success to remind ourselves that we are failures.
But what if we decided to feel good about ourselves anyway? Even though it’s been more than 30 days and our thighs are not thin? Even though our carpets are not vacuumed and we turn in projects late? What do we have to lose if we liked ourselves anyway? What might we gain?
When I talk to clients about being kind to themselves they sometimes worry that if they take the heat off they will run roughshod over their own lives. They will eat M&Ms for every meal! They will stay in bed watching Jersey Shore reruns instead of going to work! They will leave the dishes in the sink FOREVER! Then sometimes they point to people who have done just that.
Well, I say, we’re not talking about those other people — we’re talking about you.
Most of us will get sick of M&Ms on our own. Most of us will also get sick of watching Jersey Shore episodes. And most of us will eventually do the dishes, even if we do them reluctantly. We will find our own best balance, which doesn’t necessarily need to look like anyone elses.
It’s easier to be good to ourselves when we feel good about who we are already. It’s easier to meet goals when we trust ourselves to meet them. Jettison the shame for the new year and you might be surprised at how far you can go.
As we wind down to the end of January, many of us are contemplating where we are regarding our New Year’s resolutions around eating well and some of us are feeling pretty grouchy about our progress. Changing our diets is hard — it takes new planning, new habits, new skills and sometimes new tastebuds.
There’s no such thing as failure
Most of us, especially when it comes to the food we put in our bodies, view failure as a big, shameful black mark. We carry a lot of other things in our plans to eat better like negative attitudes towards our bodies, fear-fueled concerns for our health, and values we learned at our childhood dinner tables. Suddenly a stalk of broccoli or a bite of white bread gets awfully mixed up with a bunch of other emotionally-charged ideas. This is why we need to learn how to be kind and patient with ourselves.
Here’s the good news about missing our New Year’s resolutions: Not reaching a goal is an opportunity to get a better understanding of what works for us and what doesn’t. When we’re talking about how we fuel our bodies, we need to look beyond our physical well-being and look towards our spiritual and emotional well-being. Changing how we eat confronts essential ways we nurture our bodies and souls and sometimes restriction confronts the ways we need to do a better job of covering ourselves with kindness.
There is no one way to “eat right”
We are all carrying different bodies. We are not physically, culturally or spiritually identical to any other person. How our bodies respond to different foods and ways of eating is unique. Some of us do better with a greater variety of foods or less of a certain kind of food and that’s just fine. If your plan was to eat less carbs or more greens and you’ve found yourself heading back to your 2012 ways of eating, it may be that you do better with a menu that’s different than what you envisioned when you were making your new year’s resolutions. Choking down a food you don’t like or depriving yourself of one that you love isn’t the best way to long-term physical or emotional health. Think of yourself as an explorer lovingly discovering what suits your life best and honor the fact that you are an ever-changing human being. What works for you today may not work tomorrow; be flexible.
Going beyond dieting
If you have missed your goal perhaps it’s time to write a new one and use the information you gleaned over the past few weeks as an impetus for loving change. Perhaps you can look back and tune into what your Self (not just your body, but your heart and mind) were trying to say. Did you feel nurtured, nourished and cherished? Or deprived, afraid and resentful? Were you hungrier than was comfortable? What did work? Even if you didn’t succeed in all of your goals, did you discover a new food that’s delicious and makes you feel good? Or a new routine that makes you feel more energized? Celebrate that new information and give yourself permission to incorporate those “imperfect” successes.
You can also take The Fat Nutritionist‘s tagline to heart: “Eat food. Stuff you like. As much as you want.” When you give yourself permission to eat “too much” or “too little” and do it in a mindful, present way you can learn an awful lot about what works best for you. Instead of cutting out whole swaths of food on someone else’s say-so, you may want to give yourself the time, space and attention to eat those “offending” foods and see if they actually are a problem for you. I know that leaning on a plan can feel very comforting but you may find that someone else’s “perfect” diet only works for you when you let go of the rigidity that defines them. Paleo, primal, raw or vegan can be guides to what makes sense for your body in general instead of inflexible how-tos that set you up for failure.
Stay in it for the long-term
Being healthy goes beyond fueling our bodies a certain way; we also need to take care of every other part of ourselves. For some of us, the spiritual or emotional costs of giving up a certain food may be greater than the physical costs of eating it. By all means, add a green smoothie to your morning routine if it makes you feel great but don’t beat yourself up if you find that it’s not a habit that makes long-term sense for you. It’s ok to have one when you can but skip them on the days you’re over-scheduled or just don’t feel like cleaning out the blender. After all, adding green smoothies to your routine is supposed to make you feel better not worse and if it’s not improving your life, feel free to chuck it and try something else.
Remember, none of us will ever be perfect so instead aim for good enough and know that with every new thing you learn about yourself, you’re also getting better.