This fall is all about fresh starts for me. In the past week, I’ve been feeling the excitement that comes with that more than ever. I’m so glad to be relaunching my nutrition counseling practice and enjoying the work as it comes in. I’m still in disbelief when I wake up each morning and realize that there isn’t any schoolwork to do; instead of laboring over assignments, I can sit down at my desk each day and map out professional goals, think about creative projects, or even plan what I’m going to make for dinner that evening. It’s been a long time since I could give my attention to any of those things, and it feels great.
Not surprisingly, I started the week with a lot of energy and positivity. Also not surprisingly, nothing in life is never all one thing or all another—in this case, new vs. familiar. On Friday and Saturday, I came up against some familiar challenges. Yesterday morning, I found myself having an almost comedically disproportionate, irritable response to something that wasn’t really a big deal at all.
I calmed myself down, but after that it was just really difficult to regain equilibrium. I felt totally off-kilter and hypersensitive all day, moody, anxious. Very unlike the upbeat and energetic person I’d been only a few days prior. As I worked to catch my breath and check in on myself, I realized: big new beginnings are often so much easier than little ones.
It’s why back-to-school season, in which I can indulge my adoration of organization supplies, lists, and spreadsheets, feels so great. It’s why I used to love New Year’s resolutions, birthdays, and any other holiday that gave me an excuse to set goals or intentions for the whole year ahead. There’s something so wonderful about believing that the slate can be wiped clean, that we can be handed a great, benevolent opportunity to discard our stuff and begin again.
The thing is, we can always begin again. It’s what they teach you about meditation practice, and it’s true: fresh starts aren’t granted to us by holidays or seasons or even life changes, like the one I’m passing through now professionally.
Starting over is something we can do for ourselves in small ways, each and every time we see a pattern or reaction that we know we’ve outgrown. We simply have to stop, recognize what’s happening, and do something (anything) differently—even if the difference is stopping to breathe when we’d normally get reactive.
I say “simply” because the whole point is that a fresh can be quiet and small. But I know that there’s nothing simple about it. It’s why it often feels so impossible for me to break my own cycles of negative thinking, worry, or irritability, why I so frequently find myself reacting the same way to familiar challenges even though I want to do differently. Starting fresh is fun when it involves calendars, planners, and the big goals they help us to visualize when we’re in a positive headspace. It’s really hard when we’re caught up in the flow of everyday life, presented each day with dozens of moments that invite us to do what’s familiar instead of what’s new.
I see this in my nutrition work all the time. It’s why clients love, and often beg for, a super-specific meal plan, a set of strict rules or things to eliminate, a cleanse, a reboot, or even a stringent diet to follow. In addition to the fact that rules and regulations make many of us feel safe, there’s the promise of a big, bold new beginning.
But the truth is that small, consistent, everyday changes are the heart and soul of nutrition work. Being able to start over the moment after you eat something you regret, or restrict when you hoped to be more permissive, or overeat in spite of the mindfulness tools you’ve been practicing: that is the work. Resisting the urge to “throw in the towel” or categorize the day as a lost cause (and keep doing whatever familiar-but-painful thing it is you do around food) may not look like much, but it’s everything. For many of us, it’s a lot harder than committing to a new diet.
I know how much it takes to make major dietary changes, and I celebrate stories of life-changing, 180-degree turns. Many people need to see results before they can be encouraged to keep going, which is why there’s a time and a place for ambitious goal-setting. In my heart, though, I believe that resilience, persistence, and patience are the most important tools in crafting a peaceful longterm relationship with food.
Needless to say, resilience, persistence, and patience are exactly the tools I hope to summon up more and more readily when I get thrown “off” by life. It’s normal to get rattled. But I still fluctuate between states of positive and negative thinking that are more unilateral than I’d like them to be.
It’s important for me to believe that new ways of looking at the same things are possible. When I’m dealing with depression or anxiety, it’s especially important for me to hold hope for the possibility of change. That change doesn’t need to be big or impressive; it can be as simple as taking a walk, breathing, doing a little self-talk, and feeling different on the other side.
Wishing you all the changes you need in the week ahead. Here are some recipes and reads.
First, I’m super intrigued by this hot potato salad. I’d definitely opt in for the optional smoked tofu topping: I love smoked tofu in and on anything!
Heidi’s chickpea rice soup with garlic chili oil may become my favorite comfort food this fall.
I’m always on the lookout for lunchbox inspiration, and I love these refried bean pinwheels.
This pumpkin chickpea stew is chock full of good things for fall, and it looks so cozy.
Last but not least, I definitely need some of Britt’s homemade sweet potato gnocchi in my life.
1. Nothing brings on my reactivity more than overwhelm. I love this essay by Sharon Salzberg, in which she looks at states overwhelm, depression, sluggishness, and mindful rest, always with a compassionate gaze. I re-read it a few times this weekend.
2. One of the most powerful components of my own ED recovery—and a touchstone that I invite my clients to use, too—was learning how to regard nutrition through the positive lens of necessity and nourishment, rather than the fearful lens of “should nots.” On that note, I really like this essay from RD Tammy Beasley, in which she offers simple reminders about how and why nutrition supports our bodies, minds, and relationships.
3. I thought this story of purpose and giving back was so inspiring.
4. The CRISPR gene editing technique may show promise in treating, or even curing sickle-cell disease, but patients express doubts about its accessibility, which points to the “medical disenfranchisement” of the SCD community.
5. This one is appropriate for me today: turning negative emotions into a source of strength.
Happy Sunday, friends. I’ll be back tomorrow, probably, with a tasty new spread (and a sandwich to put it in).