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We’re officially at the start of 2021, which is—no surprise—the time of year when many people resolve to make major lifestyle and diet changes. In many of these cases, that means weight loss resolutions, intense diets or unsustainable exercise habits. Weight loss resolutions that involve a drastic change in lifestyle are often nearly impossible to keep—and likely lead to far more harm (and food obsession) than good. In fact, many experts in health and nutrition urge their clients to take a more body-positive approach, and focus on healthy New Year resolutions.
Instead of encouraging these clients to change their bodies, experts encourage mindset shifts around food and fitness that make healthy eating and movement simple and flexible, instead of strict and punishing. Because this is easier said than done, STYLECASTER asked a few experts to suggest gentle “resolutions” that aren’t pass/fail.
The suggestions below will all help you work towards a positive relationship with food and movement, instead of making an unsustainable New Year’s resolution centered on losing weight. It’s your body, your life, your year—love yourself and the rest will follow.
1. Step Out Of Your Food Comfort Zone.
“Having a healthy relationship with food means also having room for curiosity, satisfaction, and adventure,” says Kimmie Singh, MS, RD, a dietitian in NYC who works with clients on intuitive eating and body positivity. “You may want to eat a meal alone at a restaurant, take a fun cooking class, throw a themed dinner party, or try cooking with ingredients from other cultures.”
2. Engage In Movement That Helps You Feel Embodied.
“As you find ways to move your body that helps you feel more connected, you will notice a natural shift in your ability to be present with yourself and less focused on trying to change your body as a response to how society says bodies should look,” Singh says.
If you’re not sure where to start with this, think about the kinds of movement that were fun for you (maybe as a kid or in high school) before you started moving explicitly for exercise. Maybe that means picking up an intramural sport like kickball or basketball; maybe it means throwing solo dance parties in your living room every evening.
3. Stop Beating Yourself Up For Not Feeling In Love With Your Body Every Single Day.
“It’s hard to embrace body positivity when society hasn’t quite caught up yet,” Singh says. “Have extra compassion for yourself on tougher body image days. Remember that having love for your body isn’t an all-or-nothing experience.” More important than body positivity is body neutrality and body acceptance—you don’t need to love your body, but you should aim to treat it with the respect and compassion it deserves.
4. Get More In Touch With How Your Body Actually Feels.
“Each morning before I rise I take a second to lay still and do a full body scan,” says Ilya Parker, PTA, CMES, a physical therapist assistant, medical exercise trainer, social justice activist and educator whose work centers racial, gender and healing justice. “You can do this by taking three deep breaths and paying attention to what sensations you feel from head to toe. Do you notice any aches, tightness, or tingling? This allows you to drop down in your body, regain a connection to it and listen to the messages it’s giving you.”
5. Let Go Of Food Rules And Food Guilt.
Food isn’t something to feel guilty about. In fact, food guilt can actually make you obsess over the very foods you’re feeling bad about eating. Dalina Soto, MA, RD, LDN, a dietitian in Philadelphia, describes a situation in which a client felt so guilty about eating chips (because she thought they were “bad”), that she thought about them all the time and couldn’t imagine keeping them around for fear of overeating.
Once she was finally able to let go of the guilt and stop restricting, she was able to enjoy chips when she wanted them, instead of all the time. Take a page out of her book and stop your inner monologue about foods being “good” or “bad.” No food guilt in 2020.
6. Realize That There’s No Such Thing As “Perfect” Eating.
We’re all different, which means we all have different food needs, preferences, and cravings. Plus, there’s room in everyone’s life for all kinds of foods. Rabiya Bower, RD, LDN, a dietitian in Philadelphia, shared a story about how a photo of her eating a sandwich sparked a controversy on social media when another dietitian called her out for promoting “junk food.”
Her response? “Food has no morality. It’s not inherently good or bad. Food will not face judgement day. Foods have different levels of nutrients and calories, and that’s all okay!” You don’t need to eat salads all day in order to be healthy—Eating salads all day is likely not healthy. This year, focus on eating a variety of foods that you enjoy, instead of trying to eat “perfectly” all the time.
7. Stop Believing That Food Will Solve All Of Your Problems.
These days, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that certain foods have magical healing powers. But, that just isn’t the case. “Wellness culture will tell you that food—or ‘nutrition’—can prevent, treat, or even reverse medical conditions or physical symptoms,” writes Amee Severson, RD, a non-diet dietitian in Washington State. “I’m here to remind you: That might not be the case.” While food certainly plays a role in overall health, and eating in a certain way might be helpful for some people in managing some conditions, food isn’t medicine. Stop thinking of food (or foods) as a miracle cure-all—the vast majority of the time, food is just food.
A version of this article previously appeared in December 2019.