Are you feeling guilty for recent holiday or lockdown indulgences? Have you vowed to turn over a new leaf of health in January? This article will help you approach your New Year’s resolution with a healthy, rather than self-destructive, mindset.
Our team nutritionist, Gretchen DePalma recently sat down (virtually of course) with nutritionist Abra Pappa MS CNS, who specializes in disordered eating. These days it’s easy for our relationship with food to become skewed and heading down an unhealthy path—whether its excessive restriction, binge eating, emotional eating, or even an obsession with healthy food that impedes other aspects of our lives and causes undue stress (the latter is defined medically as a condition called orthorexia). Gretchen shares her takeaways from their conversation below—they are enlightening even for us seasoned nutritionists and offer useful insights that remind all of us to check our food and body mindset. – Romilly Hodges MS CNS IFMCP Director, Nutrition Programs with Dr. Kara Fitzgerald
Food Strategies That Will Last
Every year at this time, I see numerous headlines promising things like New Year, New You! or Lose the Holiday Weight Fast! I will admit that I’ve been sucked into these before and used them to make new year’s resolutions to try to make up for an indulgent holiday season. But as I’ve continued to learn more about nutrition and work on my own relationship with food and my body, I’ve come to realize this mindset is never going to serve me. This holiday season I was determined to find a balanced way to enjoy the festivities I cherish so much without feeling so guilty in the new year. 2020 taught me to truly cherish and appreciate the opportunities I have to savor amazing food with people I love. Here’s how you can do that too, and still reach your health goals.
A typical but unproductive mindset this time of year, as Abra explained to me, is to “judge our eating and drinking behaviors in December and repent in January”.
But why is it that we feel like we need to judge and punish ourselves? Shouldn’t we be allowed to enjoy pleasurable experiences, like eating delicious food?
Let’s just say you did indulge, and now you’re not feeling quite your usual vibrant self. It’s okay to recognize you might need to make healthier choices to get back to feeling your best. But rather than focusing on workouts as a punishment and diets to lose weight, a more productive and lasting way to build change is to instead focus on rebalancing yourself from a place of self-love and nourishment.
#1 Check your MINDSET
Consider spending some time journaling about your relationship with your body and food to better understand your current mindset. It’s much easier to identify areas for growth if we first examine our current state. I invite each of you reading this to spend some time thinking or journaling about your relationship to your body and food. Here are some prompts to help you in the self-examination process.
- How do I want to feel today?
- How is my relationship with my body? Do I show it love and respect? Or am I constantly trying to manipulate it and change it?
- Do I exercise to punish my body? Or do I move my body because it feels good?
- Do I ever eat for pleasure?
- What if I just allowed myself to eat whatever I want?
- Do I manipulate my food to address body size?
- How could I increase my curiosity around food?
- When I sit down to eat, do I take the time to be present and notice the colors, flavors, aromas and textures of food?
- What is my motivation for wanting to change my diet or my lifestyle?
- What do I feel would improve my quality of life?
#2 Cultivate healthy and lasting MOTIVATIONS
Resolutions aren’t inherently bad. However, they do have a reputation of being something we focus on for a couple weeks, if we are lucky, and then abandon completely. And often they are intended to manipulate the current shape of our body. For example, resolving to workout five days a week may sound like a positive thing. But are you trying to increase your workout frequency because it feels good to move your body? Or are you hoping that by increasing exercise, you’ll lose weight? Are you moving your body in a way that intuitively feels good and is fun for you? Or are you doing a form of exercise you hate because you read somewhere it was the most efficient way to burn fat?
Aiming for better body shape or weight loss is not always negative. But there is so much more to overall health than a number on the scale. With my clients, weight loss is rarely at the top of the goals list. Instead, we focus on symptoms that can be addressed through diet and lifestyle upgrades. When we work to resolve chronic symptoms like joint pain, fatigue, or digestive issues, clients find their quality of life improves dramatically, in ways that focusing on weight loss alone could never achieve. Weight loss (when desirable) happens as a happy side effect. Examining the motivation behind the change can be an integral part in making these diet and lifestyle changes sustainable long term.
#3 Set mindful GOALS
Once you’ve spent some time reflecting on your current mindset and motivations, then you’re ready to set some mindful goals for the new year. Here are some examples.
- Perhaps you’ve identified through the journaling exercise that you tend to use exercise as a means of punishment for indulgent meals. And on top of that you’ve been feeling sluggish, stiff, and stagnant.
- Typical resolution: Workout 5 days a week.
- Your mindful goal might look like: Move my body in some way daily, whatever feels good. I will listen each day to the type of movement my body is craving, whether that be gentle yoga flows or more intense spin classes. I will lean into movement that is fun and brings joy to my day.
- Maybe you realized that you don’t have a great relationship with food. You enjoyed more sweets over the holiday season because you have been depriving yourself from enjoying pleasurable foods other times of the year. Now you’re left feeling fatigued, heavy and constantly bloated.
- Typical resolution: I will cut out all sugar and sweet treats.
- Your mindful goal might look like: I will include more whole foods straight from the earth to nourish my body and bring it back into balance. I will be present while I eat and truly enjoy the experience. I will pay attention to the colors, aromas and textures of my food. I will take the time to chew my food to aid in the digestive process. When I choose to partake in a sweet treat, I will allow myself to enjoy enough of the food to bring me pleasure, but also listen for my body’s cues as to when it’s had enough.
- Perhaps you’re stuck in a food rut or have been limiting your diet in ways that impede food diversity. Maybe food has just become boring! Instead of punishing and restricting in the new year, think about how you can add in new foods. Be curious and challenge yourself to get outside of your comfort zone.
- Your mindful goals might look like: I will incorporate 30 different plant foods in one week. Were you able to reach 30 foods no problem? Try 40 or 50! The more plant diversity the better.
- I will commit to trying one new recipe each week. Save or print the recipes so that at the end of the year you have 52 new recipes. Meal planning will be much more fun with so many recipes to choose from.
- I will challenge myself to try one new vegetable, fruit, or herb each week. Think of how much your tastes will expand in a year. You may not love every new food you try, but you might be surprised at the new foods you’ll find.
2020 has been a year unlike any other, so this could be a great opportunity to start the new year unlike any you have before. I would love to hear your feedback on what you learn about yourself. Be curious my friends!
Restricted diets, a caution…
Here in Dr. Fitzgerald’s clinic we are keenly aware that how we position and use therapeutic diets (so much a central tool in functional medicine) can have a big and lasting influence on someone’s relationship with food. Not infrequently, individuals who have been working with integrative/functional practitioners or reading up on diets for their specific condition come to us with significant food fears and severely restrictive eating behaviors that aren’t always demonstrated to be clinically helpful. These may impact the variety of foods they can eat, or even healthy aspects of living that are avoided because they are perceived to be incompatible with their dietary requirements. Like social engagements, travel, or other positive life experiences. Abra reports that many of the individuals she works with who have developed eating disorders or disordered eating behaviors have done so during their time working with practitioners who, with the best of intentions, use dietary and lifestyle tools to restore health. It is crucial that we remain aware of how some therapeutic diets, like elimination diets, might affect our long-term relationship with food. It’s also why we must always keep food options as broad as possible, follow up with food challenges and reintroductions, and not continue with dietary restrictions that have been tried if they aren’t therapeutically helpful.
An important topic I also discussed with Abra is how someone’s relationship with body image and food can be so important in their healing journey, regardless of whether they tend toward disordered eating behaviors or not. Paying attention to this relationship is especially important during times that could be triggering for people (i.e. a global pandemic, holiday celebrations, media focus on losing weight, etc.).
By the way, Abra Pappa is featured in this month’s Teach-in for practitioners. Register here to watch her talk on talking to patients about eating disorders. It’s available for free through February 24th, 2021, and exclusively for members after.
Abra Pappa, MS, CNS, LDN holds a master’s degree in functional medicine and clinical nutrition from the University of Western States. Abra practices functional nutrition in New York City with a clinical focus on eating disorders, digestive imbalances and women’s health. Abra is the publisher of the popular food blog, Abra’s Kitchen, a celebration of wholesome food, and has appeared in dozens of publications as a recipe developer, and wellness authority. Abra speaks and teaches on the topics of functional nutrition and mindful eating throughout the country.