New Year, New Body?

There’s a reason this time of year is all about gym memberships and food plans. It’s like the mentality is permeating through the air: the holidays are over; if you overindulged, time to lose those extra pounds.

The diet and exercise industries are always flashing advertisements, but January’s many resolutions to get in shape take on an often rash, extreme tone. What is the best way to kick-start a new “you”? Strap on a Fitbit? Start a cleanse or diet promising a quick fix to all of your worries? You certainly have plenty to choose from.

It’s downright scary. I’ve spent far too many holidays freaking out about the later repercussions of my choices to enjoy the time and food. Even as a vegan, this month of winter break has tested me. As is customary, I’ve spent much of the time enjoying treats and home-cooked meals and remaining fairly sedentary, especially compared to the miles I probably walk every day on a normal day in school. I have also a couple of days dealing with seasonal allergies that can lead to little extra water retention to nip it in the bud. But despite reasonable explanations for what I might feel is weight gain, I still freak out.

Or, should I say, my body dysmorphia is freaking out because chances are, nobody would notice if I somehow looked a different size from before. I’m the only over-analyzing myself and how I think I look. Ultimately, it’s just not worth my time or energy. The rational part of my brain is yelling at the not-so reasonable side that this is a problem so minuscule in the retrospect of life, but it can admittedly be a struggle.

No matter how hard I or anybody else tries, weight fluctuation is just a normal part of life. We will never be the same exact number on the scale forever. Heck, within a single day you can fluctuate drastically. Our bodies are too busy keeping us alive to care about its outer appearance.

Our bodies also have a natural set point, a weight that it will always want to go to because that is where it functions best. It might change over the course of our lives, but despite weight loss or gain, eventually your body evens itself out to that set point. A few weeks of not-so healthy habits won’t last if you’re healthy the rest of the year.  Give your patience and be gentle. Your body is insanely smart and complex; it knows what it’s doing.

And with that set point, it looks different for everybody. Different heights and sizes and what not. You cannot attain the same exact “goal body” as anybody else. If you’re starting a diet or workout solely to look like the “fitspiration” crowding your social media, think again. Your individual concept of “healthy” might not resemble somebody else’s, but unless you don’t have a job, we don’t all have time to keep up a strict workout regime and diet, nor do we want to.

I don’t want to discourage somebody who honestly wants to start living a healthier life by incorporating more exercise or, say, become vegan. I just don’t think that choice should come from a place of self-criticism, fear, or expectations from others and society as a whole. Losing a couple of pounds probably won’t change anything else in your life besides your gravitational pull. Your body is not a testament to your characters or impact on others and the world.

If you want to have those fitness-type goals, instead of having a goal weight in mind, strive for a resolution to run faster, lift more weights, train for a marathon, even just walk up a flight of stairs without puffing for air. A different number on the scale is instant gratification. It won’t bring you long-term satisfaction or accomplishment. Goals that encourage more self-love and appreciation for the awesome things are bodies can do are going to feel more worthwhile in the long run.

You don’t have to struggle with disordered eating or thoughts to face the tension the new year can bring when it comes to health. It’s only a problem if we buy into it. We try habits that aren’t sustainable or healthy. Crash diets and harmful thoughts cause way more damage than a couple of extra pounds from the holidays. If the new year is a time for improving our lives, the last thing we need is more diet industry pressure, a pressure that is recycled every January to people ready to spend their money on the “magic cure.”

Gaining a few extra pounds isn’t the end of the world. It feels like it, but it’s not. It doesn’t require overreacting or rash decisions. Sometimes our pants fit tighter. They’re just pants. And if you truly want to feel better about yourself, making healthier choices from a place of self-love. Your body doesn’t need you working against it. Start the year on the right foot, and be grateful for what that foot does for you.

This a reminder for us all, but especially those with a similar past to mine. We are strong. We will get through. We will thrive.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

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