Every year, right around now, my office fills up with patients who are determined to turn a new leaf, preferably that of a superfood like kale. We do the same old song and dance, asking how we can undo the damage of the last eleven months in thirty days of paleo, keto, clean, whole, intermittent fasting, or other form of socially-acceptable anorexia.

The intention is authentic and valid. Sometimes getting “serious” about our health habits, in particular after periods of Christmas fudge and eggnog debauchery, is just the kind of commitment and motivation that we need. But is it sustainable? Or even healthy?

It is true that we typically feel amazing when we go on these nutritional and fitness journeys. We prep our meals, we make conservative lunch time decisions, we decline the cheese and second glass of wine, and we celebrate a kind of deprivation that is justified by the ever-nearing reality of wearing a size smaller, weighing a pound less, having a bit more energy.

Then the thirty days or sixty days or ninety days (for those with stamina) come to an end, and our old habits sneak in. While we may have a greater appreciation for our ability to successfully consume the recommended daily servings of vegetables, the mochas and bagels find their way back. Inevitably, they bring along guilt, bloat, and a kind of magnetic pull. Thus the pendulum swings and we make our journey back toward the pastry binging, drinking, or whatever our vice is until after the next Christmas.

The fundamental issue with this type of an approach to food and drink is that it does not address the issues of why we do the things we don’t exactly think we should be doing. It is impossible and unsustainable to expect ourselves to live at the apex of nutritional and habit performance all the time.  We may feel great while we’re there, thinking to ourselves that if only we could maintain these shiny new ways, we could feel this good all the time. Then we get sick or travel to a wedding or life just happens and some of those other choices sneak back in.

This leads to the guilt and donut eating that drives us back to consistently making less healthful choices. We often have a belief that if there is no perfection, why bother at all? We’re a culture that embraces and celebrates extremes, but it is not recommended to recreate this in your kitchen or health habits.

The most successful ways to create changes and new habits is to dig into the heart of what motivates us to make worse choices. Are we too busy? Are we emotionally exhausted? Are we stress eating? Transitioning after work with a cocktail? Identifying what our core needs are and how we can fulfill them leads to better self-care and prioritization.

Too busy? Decline an invite and stay home to make yourself good food. Stress eating? Learn to manage your stress better by taking a mindfulness class. Winding down after work with a beer? Find a tea you like and create a different ritual.

If you want to create lasting change in your life—change that nurtures healthy habits and choices that provide your body with the nourishment it needs—make those changes consciously and gently. Take time to explore the challenging moments and discover new tools. Think about the benefits of why you are making a better decision at the dinner table rather than allowing a voice of deprivation to enter. Think more about what you will add to your life than what you will take away.

And remember, everybody eats cake for dinner once in a while. //

 

Ammi Midstokke tried to sever more than one limb from her body this year. She’s currently on lock down and swimming slow, careful pool laps. Last month, she wrote about growing a new limb.