After being away on holiday for 3 weeks, I came in to my office on Tuesday morning and gasped when I saw a 6ft x 3ft poster promoting a weight loss programme in my shared reception. I was aghast because my clients, who struggle with disordered eating and who are all working really hard to challenge their diet mentalities, would be faced with that toxic message as they await our sessions.
But when I thought about it, it really isn't that shocking. It is January after all, and weight loss still remains one of the top New Year Resolutions for many people. December is a month of indulgence, and it seems only acceptable because January is branded as a month of repent. As I've delved back in to client work this week, I've also heard my clients' experiences of how toxic and challenging this is for them as they fight to improve their relationships with food and their bodies. Faced with conversations at work and in their social lives about people striving to lose weight, exercise more, or "working off" the delights of Christmas is distressing and triggering for those who are battling the voice of an eating disorder. The fact that it's so normalised and widespread is also a reflection of a cringe-worthy cultural discourse that desperately needs to change.
The very idea that the New Year equals a New You doesn't really make much sense either. I mean, if you really think about it:
Why do you need to change who you are and the way that you look just because we've entered a new calendar year?
Why do you need to repent for enjoying yourself throughout December?
So what if you drank to much or ate too much?
Why does January need to be the month of self-improvement?
And, most importantly, why is diet and exercise the key to self-improvement?
The sad reality is that diet-culture has hijacked the way that we think about our bodies and ourselves by capitalising on our insecurities. Being 'healthy' and 'fit' have become moral obligations, and hence self-improvement has become focused on changing our bodies, what we put in to them, and what we do with them. Reading between the lines, "New You" really means "New Body". Sadly, it's no surprise that body image concerns are at an all time high for women and men alike, as is the incidence of disordered eating and eating disorders.
Whether you've already committed to diet-focused New Year Resolutions or not, you're allowed to reframe your approach to self-improvement and let go of the idea that you need to become a "New You". There's so many ways that you can do this:
** Try and practice body acceptance and positivity
** Spend more time volunteering or helping others (as this gives us a sense of accomplishment and value)
** Make new friends or reconnect with old ones
** Try to be kinder and more compassionate to yourself
** Read more books
** Focus on building boundaries for yourself - learn the freedom that comes with being able to say "no"
** Commit to spending less time communicating on your phone and more face-to-face time with the people you care about
** Spend less money on material objects and reinvest it in experiences
** Have a "year of knowledge" and google new and fun facts every day that you can share with your friends
Reflect on your life: what's important to you, how you want to enrich your life as a whole, what will contribute to an overall sense of wellbeing (body, mind, soul,), and what will still matter to you 5 or 10 years down the line. Once you do this, you can identify the areas that you can focus your energy on instead of wasting it on trying to change your body.
If you're really feeling adventurous, you can commit to ditching dieting completely in 2018! xx