What To Do Instead of a Detox: A Gentler Way to Start The Year
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We’re just a couple of days into January, and already you are being assailed by messages of diet this and detox that.
And certainly, you will feel the pull. Who wouldn’t? It’s everywhere, and you feel a little food-ed out from the holiday celebrations. But. There is more than one way to handle this feeling, and I’d like to offer an alternative to self-punishment.
Instead of diving head first into group guilt, self-loathing, shame, restrictive eating, imaginative cleanses, and the inevitable backlash they breed, consider directing these vast (VAST!) amounts of time and energy and brain juice toward making peace with food and with your body.
I don’t believe anyone passionate enough about food to read cooking blogs — or, um, write one — has a perfectly carefree relationship to food and body image. In fact, I’ve long surmised that many of us food bloggers start their blog in part to make sense of that relationship; I know I did.
And it’s no wonder, friends. We live in profoundly body-obsessed societies that hold up impossible standards for us to beat ourselves up over. And French women, with their worldwide reputation of slim figure and effortless elegance, are in no way immune to this. I don’t remember a time, past the age of nine or ten, when I was a-okay with the way my body looked. Do you?
The obsession and its implications come in different flavors depending on the culture, but it is so profound, so internalized that few even question it.
Over the past couple of years, I have become more keenly aware of this: in the way I inhabit my own body, and in my environment, both online and offline. Body positivity and unconditional self-love* are radical ideas, and I am fully on board.
The Illusionists: A documentary about the marketing of unattainable beauty around the world.
Instead of a detox, how about this
And in the spirit of being the change I want to see in the world, I offer my thoughts on detoxing, and how to brace yourself against the overwhelming message you will be receiving today, throughout the month, and year-round, that you need to fix yourself. Instead, I say:
YES to acknowledging that the holidays are (also) about the food, and that depending on your social circle and personal history, it’s likely you ate more than you needed or wanted.
YES to being okay with the imperfect choices you made.
YES to listening to your body’s cues after this period of more bountiful meals than you’re used to. YES to eating mindfully (most of the time), honoring your hunger (most of the time) and recognizing your signals of satiety (most of the time).
YES to seeking out the foods that make your tastebuds sing and make you feel full of energy (rather than virtuous or “clean”). For many and for myself, this is typically fresh, colorful, whole foods, cooked simply — i.e. 99% of the recipes around here — but do what feels right for you.
NO to measuring your self-worth by how much kale you’re eating and how many fries you’re not.
YES to finding a practice of self-knowledge that helps you process your emotions. It could be meditation, inspirational podcasts, your faith, good old therapy… the idea is to gain clarity on whatever difficulties you’re experiencing in your life. Food is never the core issue; it’s what it means for you.
OKAY to “cleanses” and “nutritional resets” ONLY IF you’re trying to untangle emotional ties to certain foods, identify food sensitivities, or troubleshoot digestive issues. Even then, proceed with caution.
NO if the cleanse or reset is just a covert, socially acceptable(ish) way to restrict your food intake or pay penance for the “bad” choices you made. Only you will know the difference, deep down.
OKAY to searching for “detox” or “clean eating” recipes online to find the kind of produce-centric and wholesome foods that make our mouths water (I’m assuming you’re with me on this, if you read this blog to begin with). NO to clicking on the ones that use images of photoshopped women in fitness wear, or promise you will lose twenty pounds and ten years from drinking that ginger water.
YES to doing a social media detox — unfollowing, unfriending, muting anyone whose highlight reel makes you feel less than, or inadequate in any way. While you’re at it, allow your subscription to lapse for any magazine that celebrates a single body type. Instead, expose yourself to images of normal people in various shapes and colors, and consider supporting such magazines as Bust or Causette.
YES to opting out of diet talk, and withholding judgment on what others eat and look like. (Like magic, you’ll stop judging yourself on what you eat and look like.) You can even form the habit of (privately) noticing something you like in anyone you come across: a scarf, a smile, a stance, a stride. It makes the day so much lovelier.
YES to moving your body in whatever way feels good and joyful (not punishing).
YES to showing up as yourself, unapologetically, unashamedly, because you are enough.
None of this is easy. Being absolutely okay with yourself is so counter-cultural! It takes time and deliberate daily efforts to undo decades of conditioning, especially when more and more of it is hammered into you every day. But it’s completely doable, and then it’s like a switch you can’t unflick. Not that you would want to: the light in here is beautiful! And we breathe so much easier!
Sharing, reading, listening
If this resonates with you, please share this post with a friend who you think would benefit.
And if you’d like more resources, I recommend:
The Intuitive Eating book,
Women, Food, and God by Geneen Roth,
My friend Elena Rossini’s documentary The Illusionists about the global marketing of unattainable beauty,
Isabel Foxen Duke‘s blog,
Summer Innanen and her podcast,
Meret Boxler’s Life. Unrestricted. podcast,
Jes Baker’s book Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls — a thought-provoking read on body positivity and weight discrimination,
Brooke Castillo’s Life Coach School Podcast — not just on body image but on emotional adulthood (life-changing),
My very own podcast Change ma vie (in French) — not about body image, but about managing your thoughts, understanding your emotions, and living with ease and joy.
* If you understand the term “self-love” as romantic love, as in “Oh, I’m so passionately in love with my body”, that may feel weird, narcissistic, or unattainable. That’s not it, though. The love we’re talking about here is more like the love you have for your child, a dear friend, a sibling: profound, tender, and more important, unconditional.
This post was first published in January 2017 and updated in January 2018.
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