This, I’m sure we agree, has not been a ‘normal’ January. Yet popping up on social media everywhere are the same resolutions, diets and challenges that usually befit the month of ‘new beginnings.’
These are some of my observations, both from personal experience and the experiences of others, from this oh so unusual start of the year.
On December 28th, one of my former colleagues posted an Instagram post showing her drinking some kind of shake with the caption ‘back to being healthy.’ Whilst I am sure it was a harmless caption, it made me think about the perception that she, and probably others, have of what healthy means.
Christmas is generally an indulgent time, and particularly this year I found every meal comprising of, or at least including, chocolate, cheese or gin as I muddled through the disjointed celebrations.
However, switching from that to some kind of meal replacement shake is probably not something best defined as healthy.
My first question would be what is this shake – does it contain carbohydrates, protein, vitamins, minerals, fibre. Are they synthesised? I am not a believer in meal replacement shakes, I don’t believe they are as healthy as actual food, plus the psychological impact of not having a physical meal that you can chew can be quite impactful to your wellbeing. Going from a time when you are likely to be eating more than you would usually, to eating nothing at all, can be a huge shock to the system and can push the body into ‘starvation mode’ hindering weight loss. Which leads me to the second point. The reason she was drinking this shake was as a weight loss measure.
If you are overweight and this is proving detrimental to your health, then of course there are reasonable grounds to lose weight and this could be considered a move towards ‘being healthy.’ However, it concerns me that she has immediately linked losing weight with ‘being healthy’ as if maintaining your weight, focussing on nutrition, building muscle mass or gaining weight following illness are not ways to ‘be healthy.’ I think it is very important to remember that good health is so much more than a number on a scale. It is about exercise, sunlight, water, mental health and a host of other things that cannot be found at the bottom of a shake.
Another consideration, certainly from my perspective, is that starting any kind of diet plan in the middle of the ‘Christmas limbo’ period is an idea that requires an extraordinary amount of will power, particularly as it is cold outside and you are likely to have stacks of left overs and edible gifts all over the house. Additionally, at the time of writing we are in another lockdown, which is a breeding ground for comfort eating, or snacking through boredom.
Simon and I have acknowledged that we have let our eating habits slide over the last couple of months and we plan to get back on track. However, we have set ourselves the target to start in February with our version of Veganuary – Vegruary! The reason? It gives us a full month to eat the Christmas snacks in the house and gradually wean ourselves back onto ‘normal’ eating.
This leads me into an anecdotal observation about my eating habits which I am interested in further exploring. Back in December, a mince pie, a piece of shortbread, a handful of Quality Street, were all exciting and delicious snacks I enjoyed with relish. However, for about the last week I have been craving nectarines. As my body struggles to process fructose, I continued to eat the sweet snacks we still have around the house, but found I was eating them increasingly because they were there, not because I was enjoying them.
So, I bought some fruit, I made some soup, and I found myself falling back into nutrient dense, fibre rich eating. It was an intuitive act, and my body processed the fruit just fine. It has made me curious to explore intuitive eating further.
My last observation goes back to the idea of Veganuary or Dry January. These are both ideas which promote good health and a New Year’s challenge. I actually think both are interesting ideas and being vegan for a month, or going a month without an alcoholic drink, are both things I will be trying. But this is January 2021, and by its nature, is that not enough of a challenge without adding further pressure to your daily life?
Why does it have to be January?
The names of these challenges suggest if you don’t do it now then you will have failed. However, if you decide to stop eating meat for a few weeks in April, decide to have a month off wine in July, it makes no difference health wise, and by choosing to do these things at a time that suits you and when you think you will be able to succeed, is this not looking after your mental health as well?
My conclusion to this ramble is essentially that you should do what suits you. Pick your challenge, pick your time, and don’t think it has to be done in January. Also think about your motives. Is what you are doing healthy for your body and your mind? And if it isn’t, what is the reason behind it?
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