“New year, new me” has become an immensely popular phrase describing many people’s outlook as we reset our calendars and make resolutions for the next chapter of our lives. It has also taken on a tongue-in-cheek meaning, because let’s face it: no one can completely reinvent his or herself overnight with a few lifestyle changes. But no matter how unrealistic these changes seem, the new year is, for lots of us, the biggest motivator in pursuing them.
The most popular resolutions, from my observations, are ones having to do with diet and fitness (and more often than not, weight loss). I think people from all walks of life are drawn to these because they are the most tangible way to improve oneself. You want to be able to run into an old friend and hear her say, “Wow, you look great!” (as opposed to “Wow, I can tell you’ve been meditating a lot recently!”). I don’t know if there’s a single person who hasn’t fantasized about a moment like this. It’s a part of being human. But is it really in our best interest to concern ourselves so much with appearances?
There is an extremely fine line between striving to be healthy and striving to be perfect. This is why I am so skeptical of the “health” trends that spring up everywhere this time of year. New diets, detoxes, exercise regimens, fitness gear–it all seems so appealing in those pretty Instagram photos and TV ads, but are those really going to be the things that whip us into shape?
I say all of this not to be a pessimist or bitter towards my own past failings, but to prompt some discussion about why we are so eager to jump on the bandwagon and then likely hop right off in a few weeks’ time. Unfortunately, that’s the way it usually works.
There is no realistic way to keep such promises when they are so dramatic to begin with. It’s not fair to expect yourself to commit to a completely new way of life if you don’t let your body and mind adjust to it. If you want to make healthier choices in your diet, for example, your body won’t be happy if you go from eating fried foods on a daily basis to only eating kale salads and tofu. You’ll crash and burn within the first few days.
I’m not a nutritionist or any type of health expert, but I am strongly opposed to any type of fad diet that does not promote balance in what you are consuming. There are all sorts of liquid-based “cleanses” out there in which you don’t eat solid food for several days while your body is flushed of toxins. I tried one of these once. It made me feel miserable and sick. It had no lasting impact on my diet; I went right back to eating heavy foods (which is an extremely bad idea, by the way).
I think the best way to transition into a healthier way of life is to make small changes over time, gently easing into better habits, rather than trying to tackle them all at once. When you go on a diet, you’re likely looking for a quick fix, not a permanent lifestyle change. For students, dieting can interfere with our incredibly busy lives and lead to more stress than we already experience. From lack of food options to budget limitations to meal-scheduling difficulties, it is difficult to adopt entirely new eating patterns. We have so few options to begin with.
Each new year, I fall into the trap of thinking I can eliminate all junk food and unnecessary eating in one go. This year, though, I have decided to take the journey one step at a time. The first steps have been cutting out soda and fast food, both of which have been very manageable changes. Of course, there is still a plethora of fried foods at Etown which remain a temptation, but it hasn’t been all that difficult to stop eating them on a regular basis. My goal is to cut them out over time instead of forcing myself to give them up in one shot.
If you want to move towards healthier eating, I strongly suggest you spend some time looking at your current habits and make a game plan for yourself. If you know you’re a boredom-snacker, think of some distractions that would help you avoid the temptation of eating when you’re not hungry. If you order pizza every weekend, try replacing it with a less greasy form of takeout. Whatever you do, don’t expect yourself to go cold-turkey with the foods you enjoy. Becoming healthier is a long process that requires commitment and self-discipline, but it is doable with patience.