Here we are, on the cusp of another year. While New Year’s Eve always makes me a little nostalgic, I’m also excited to usher in new beginnings. This is the first year I’ve had where I can’t predict where I’ll be living in six months’ time, what I’ll be doing, or what my plans will be. It’s unnerving, but it’s also exciting. No matter what happens, I’ll be doing something new, and somehow, in spite of my considerable resistance, my post-bacc experience has turned me into a person who embraces new things. Go figure.
In past years, I’ve been a bit critical of new year’s resolutions. This morning, as I sip my coffee and contemplate the start of 2014, I think maybe I was mistaken. There’s something special about all of the excitement that surrounds new beginnings and fresh starts at this time of year, a hopefulness and optimism. In some ways, it reminds me of the back-to-school excitement that swings around once every August/September, which I’ve always loved, whether I was a student or not. It’s not so often that we’re given a direct invitation to turn over a new leaf. I don’t believe that making positive changes or resolving to improve patterns that aren’t working for us should be reserved for January 1st. But if the transition from one year to another reminds us to do those things, so much the better.
Of course, I don’t love the fact that so much of the collective energy that emerges at this time of year gets focused on the body. Everywhere we turn, we’re invited to “shape up” or “slim down.” We’re told that this is our change to “firm” this body part, “trim” that one, or “shrink” another. If it’s not our bodies we’re trying to mold and shape and make behave, it’s our food habits. We’re invited to “clean” our diets, “detox” our bodies, or “reboot” our systems. It’s perfectly reasonable to crave fresh, simple food after all of the indulgence of the holidays. But indulgence is a natural–and often very lovely–part of shared celebration. The fact that we’ve had a few more treats or cocktails or late nights than usual isn’t a mark of shame. The suggestion that we need to “cleanse” implies that our bodies are dirty, and the invitation to “detox” implies that they’re toxic. Neither is true. It’s possible to crave a return to routine without resorting to this kind of guilty, loaded talk. (As I write this, I’m reminded of Vanessa Grigoriadis’ article about juice fasting, and her assertion that “food is the focus of an enormous amount of modern moralism”).
This isn’t to say that it’s wrong to make a New Year’s resolution that involves healthful eating. Depending on your circumstances, dietary change may indeed be a wise way to welcome a new year. Perhaps you’d like to seek out foods that are more nutrient rich, and rely less on ones that aren’t. Perhaps you’d like to find a little more balance and consistency. Perhaps you’d like to explore a more conscious or compassionate way of eating. Perhaps you’d like to adjust habits that tend to work against you. That’s great–and hey, if you need a hand, I’m practicing nutrition counseling again. But it’s important to remember that small, meaningful, consistent changes are usually more effective and healthy than drastic, unsustainable ones. And it’s also important to be able to separate the impulse to be healthful from the impulse to be overly critical, or self-loathing.
It’s also important to remember that “healthful” behaviors don’t always involve restraint, or abstinence, or discipline. Many folks might actually move closer to a healthy lifestyle by relaxing their approach to food, rather than tightening it. I can speak for myself, and say that a huge part of my current commitment to “healthy” living is the recognition that my inclination to seek out order, discipline, and routine in the realm of food doesn’t always serve me; it has in fact been the source of a lot of unhappiness and wasted energy in my life. In the last few years, I’ve learned to stop attaching so much self-worth to my ability to say “no.” I’ve stopped taking so much pride in what I don’t eat, in the ability to be abstemious when others around me are partaking and participating. For so long, I felt that sitting on the periphery of celebratory events or settings made me superior. Today, I see that I was only missing out. What good are healthy habits and the strong bodies they support if we don’t use them to participate more fully in the world around us?
There’s a spectrum that covers the distance between indulgence that is overly robust, or reckless, and a restraint so extreme that one becomes removed from the pleasure of living in the moment. I’d never suggest an approach to food that isn’t health-conscious and mindful, and January is a good time to contemplate a way of eating that will help you to thrive. But thriving bears little resemblance to dieting, and since New Year’s Day presents us primarily with directives to restrain ourselves, I think it’s important to remember the flip side of the coin. Be healthful, yes, and renew your commitment to experiencing a plethora of nutrient-dense foods. But don’t shape 2014 around all of the things you aren’t going to eat.
These themes–abstinence and appetites, self-restraint and self-worth, pleasure and participation in life–are all germane to the topic of eating disorder recovery. In 2013, a number of brave young women shared their Green Recovery stories with this community. I’m linking to all of them, in case you missed some:
I have two more wonderful Green Recovery stories to share in January. If you have a story to share, please feel free to email me at email@example.com. I welcome your contribution.
So, now that I’ve warmed up to the idea of New Year’s resolutions, what are my personal goals for 2014? There are some practical ones, such as reorganizing my budget, controlling my inbox more successfully, and keeping in better touch with certain friends. I want to improve Choosing Raw in a number of ways–better food photos, more thoughtful posts, consistently easy and accessible recipes, fun lunchboxes. Giveaways. And I’ve promised myself that this is a year in which I’ll try to travel a bit, because who knows what next year brings.
But one resolution is standing out to me. In a recent yoga class, my instructor mentioned a quote that I think is attributed to Shirdi Sai Baba: “Before you speak ask yourself: Is it kind, is it necessary, is it true, does it improve upon the silence?” It struck me as such a beautiful way to approach relationships. While I always do my best to be truthful, I’m not so sure that I pause often enough to reflect upon how necessary my words will be, or how kind. I’m not perfect, and I don’t imagine that a day will ever come when absolutely every word I utter is simultaneous true, necessary, and kind. But hey, it’s the start of a new year, and I can certainly try.
Happy New Year’s Eve, everyone. As always, thank you so much for reading this blog. May all beings living be happy and free.