New Year, New Resolution, Old Challenge — Reversing 25 Years of Brainwashing
Like most people, I start desperately planning how to right the self-inflicted havoc four weeks of unbridled eating and drinking have inflicted on my body the day after Christmas. I’m realistic enough to know I have to wait to get through New Year’s to start because who really wants to drink a La Croix instead of champagne at midnight? And the all-day pajama football fest that is New Year’s Day seems far less appealing with a menu of nothing but celery and burpies. I’ve felt the barely contained panic mounting for a week now as the number on the scale creeps up and my carefully controlled addiction to refined sugar, processed foods, and all things carbs goes to hell in a hand basket. But this year, I’ve consciously stopped myself from planning. This year, I am resolved not to plan…not to diet…at all.
For at least 25 years, I’ve been on a constant quest for a better body. Flatter stomach, thinner thighs, chiseled arms…in that order. Every January (and several other times throughout the year), I launch a new offensive aimed at this end. And while I’m usually somewhat successful, I’m never fully satisfied with the result, and I typically find myself an anti-social homebody who farts a lot (salads are tough on the belly) and has little to talk about but my latest workout regimen. I don’t have a healthy relationship with food. I’m not sure I ever have. I think about everything I eat, starting the day with a breakfast that is chosen based on what we’re eating for dinner, my workout plan for the day, and how terrified I am of the dreaded carb bloat. I haven’t ordered lasagna in almost three decades — I love lasagna. Why don’t I order lasagna? Because the mental guilt that will follow the consumption of that cheesy gooey yumminess will ruin the painfully short period of time I actually allow myself to enjoy it.
I always say I hate dieting. I don’t count calories. I don’t count blocks, or protein grams, or carbs. But I know what I have to eat, or more aptly not eat, to lose weight. I am acutely aware of how every glass of wine, piece of bread, slab of butter, scoop of granola, slice of cake, 2am Cookout burger, and Chickfila waffle fry is going to derail my progress. So, in reality, I am constantly on a diet. I am exerting just as much, if not more, mental and emotional energy on what enters my body as the most diligent Weight Watcher. It’s exhausting.
There have been brief moments in my life where I was legitimately proud of my body. As an adult, those moments have actually been the result of healthy, diligent, long-term attempts to lose weight. As a teenager, it was a destructive spiral the scars of which I still clearly carry. At this moment, I’m only about 10 pounds from another of those moments. It’s doable, and I may get there. But what if I don’t? Will I go on exerting an inordinate amount of energy and denigration towards the body I currently have? The one that ran 5 miles on Thanksgiving day barely six months after delivering my daughter. The one that completed a 50,000m row challenge. The one that nursed my daughter or runs with my puppies or dances with my husband or takes care of our entire existence with its strength, resilience, and health?
What scares me the most is I feel myself starting to throw this shade on my daughter. I feel the need to defend her when someone lovingly mentions her “baby chub.” I launch in to her statistics, trying to prove that she is, in fact, right on track for her weight while secretly scared she’s jumped percentiles since her last visit. My child is a product of both her parents. She freaking LOVES bottle time! She literally shakes with excitement when we hand it to her. And she nom noms on all solid food. Literally, all of them. We haven’t found one yet that she won’t eat with reckless, joyful abandon. I’m grateful my daughter is an adventurous and voracious eater. But I’m terrified that that love of food will turn in to an unhealthy addiction that will plague her. And so I’m careful not to overfeed her…or underfeed her.
I do not want my daughter to spend 25 years dieting. I do not want her to expend valuable energy on a constant balancing act that destroys her love of food. I want her to develop a healthy relationship with food, her weight, and her body. I want her to see carrots as “yum yum”, not what you eat when you need to cut calories but still fill up. I don’t want her to think of bread as the devil unless it has so many seeds, nuts, and ancient grains that you can only eat one piece or risk getting lock jaw. I want her to indulge on occasion without the foodie form of Catholic guilt weighing down on her. Ultimately, I want to release her from the responsibility of constantly monitoring herself. I want her to grow up being thoroughly baffled by people like me.
And so this year, my New Year’s resolution is to release myself from this responsibility. It is not a free for all. I am not releasing myself from taking care of myself, quite the opposite. It is a year long commitment to eating food as it was meant to be consumed — for fuel, for health, and occasionally for joy. It is a year long promise that I will not punish myself with the number on the scale but develop trust that my staunch commitment to healthy eating and regular exercise can and will take care of itself. I actually like working out. It gives me energy. I’ve learned how to incorporate it in to my life in a way that is healthy for me, my relationships, and my body. That is not the case with food or weight, but it is the goal.
I am incredibly hesitant about this resolution. It will be the hardest one I’ve ever made. Deprogramming my brain from 25 years of self-monitoring will not come naturally. This will be a mindful exercise, but my hope is that it will eventually require less effort and produce less angst than the guilt-laden win-less game I’ve been playing.
I’m not sure I could do this just for myself. There’s some sick satisfaction in the self-control it takes to play this game. But I will do my damndest to make this change for my daughter. I don’t want this for her. She should have “baby chub”, and it’s shameful that her own mother can’t embrace that as a clear sign that she is healthy. And happy.
I look forward to seeing what happens over the next year. Maybe I’ll gain a few pounds, but maybe I won’t. Maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe I’ll finally be able to order lasagna. Maybe my daughter will love carrots AND her baby chub. Maybe I can finally let go. I certainly hope so.