New Year resolutions and eating
January is here! The time of year when after one too many glasses of plonk; extra mince pies topped with brandy butter and polishing off the tin of Quality Street, including the sickly strawberry cremes (because they just can’t be left in the tin!) that you might be thinking about setting some New Year’s resolutions around your eating. Once and for all you are going to become healthy, fit and lithe; eating nutrient dense foods and eliminating all those toxins. You already a few days in and feeling fantastic!
You may well have received in your Christmas stocking one of the bestselling books advocating sugar free eating and promoting no gluten; dairy free; super-nutrition and wonderful health. Many of these books are fascinating and enticing reads, displaying stunning pictures of delicious, healthy meals and promoted by glowing, attractive authors who have transformed their lives through nutrition. I have a couple of these books myself and I thoroughly love reading them. There is much to be learned about preparing and cooking nutritious and appealing food with superb flavours. Wouldn’t you just want to eat like this to capture of a bit of that vitality and exude the vibe of positive health?
In many ways, this shift towards wholesome, healthy eating has been significant and helpful. For some people gluten is problematic and cutting it out brings health benefits. I think most people agree nowadays that sugar is the enemy, and ideally it is best to eat in limited amounts. Rather than focusing on dieting, restricting your calories, trying to lose weight and then depriving yourself; instead, it is all about providing your body with the best possible nutrition, self-care and nourishment. This is to be celebrated.
But what if your relationship with food is a bit tricky? Maybe you have suffered in the past from an eating disorder or you continue to struggle with over-eating, bingeing or emotional eating. Perhaps you recognise that your relationship with food is a little bit disordered and you just cannot be at peace with eating, your weight and body shape. Or maybe you struggle to eat full-stop. Simply eating enough is a significant daily challenge. You worry about breaking your dietary rules and you feel very rigid with your eating structure. The whole food thing leaves you feeling incredibly anxious.
But you have your lovely, shiny, new Christmas book in your hand, holding so much potential for not only changing your eating but changing your life. This is not a diet either. You are pleased. This time you are going for the healthy approach. You know that you are doing your body a real favour.
If your relationship with food is not an easy one, then problems can creep in when the new regime becomes something that is rule bound; possibly a ‘should’ e.g. ‘I should not eat sugar full-stop or else’; maybe bordering a bit on the obsessive so it really affects your social life and daily interactions. For some people, taking on an extreme model of eating can work well for them. For many people though, anything that is too intense can become difficult and can trigger old negative coping strategies around food. I know personally that if I tried to cut out Cadbury’s chocolate, I would feel miserable, deprived and demoralised. Any regime that is too stringent for you personally is likely to be unsustainable and success will be short-lived.
So how are you going to feel if you break a dietary rule? You might feel ‘I’ve blown it’ in a very similar way to people feel when they blow the diet. This can bring on feels of self-loathing and is definitely not a self-esteem booster. You might also start to view foods as ‘good’ and ‘bad’. And then of course when you break a rule and eat a ‘bad food’, what will the after effects be? My guess is that you might not feel great. Guilty, remorseful, lacking in willpower and possibly ashamed?
For the majority of people it is helpful to adopt a more relaxed approach. Making mini and sustainable changes. Being kind to yourself. Enjoy these wonderful cook books and experiment with the tasty and delicious fodder. Embrace the messages delivered of well-being, nourishment, energy, vitality and sparkle. Eat lots of vegetables; low GI carbohydrates; limit sugar where you can; and aim to feel good from the inside out.
But, at the same time, no eating regime should strive for perfection. Food is a pleasure to be enjoyed. You can aim to eat well for most of the time, but allow for flexibility. Also, take care not to base your whole self-esteem and well-being on what you are eating.
If you identify with this article and recognise that you may be experiencing difficulties with your eating, it may be helpful to explore this further in a safe and confidential setting with a supportive therapist.
About the author
Harriet Frew is a counsellor, blogger, writer and enthusiast in supporting people with eating disorders. She has worked in the NHS; private practice and in the voluntary sector; working in the field since 1999. Harriet now works privately in Cambridge and at Weight Matters in London.
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