Rethinking That Resolution

by LindsayHill

Now that January – our month of choice to go on crash diets in an attempt to reset weeks (or even months or years) of bad habits – is over, let’s try to engage in a time of self-reflection rather than self-flagellation if we fell short of our resolutions (because most of us did, right?).

I believe January – especially this January in which many parts of the country endured the coldest temps in recent history – is actually the hardest month to try to lose weight. Not only do the majority of us enter the month with increased appetites from weeks of holiday overeating (perhaps because we live under the threat of voluntary starvation in the new year), but it can be hard to motivate to change your shape only to hide it in wool sweaters, big boots and puffer coats.  While I always encourage people to make improved health their primary goal on a weight loss plan, the power of vanity cannot be underestimated when it comes to dropping a few unwanted pounds.

You can actually make a science-based argument that January is the worst month to try to lose weight. Ayurvedic medicine, a holistic approach to healing with roots in Indian culture and medicine, supports eating richer foods in the coldest months to protect immunity and the nervous system. Does this mean a few extra pounds can even be healthy during winter?

I have never delved heavily into Ayurvedic theories about seasonal eating, but I have eaten a clean diet for about five years now, and as a result my body craves different food in different seasons. Several times in the past few weeks I have prepared a salad, usually my go-to lunch and one of my favorite meals, and thrown it out after a few bites because it tastes and feels unnatural. A warm quinoa dish, a hearty lentil stew or steel-cut oats with nuts and dried fruits is much more appealing when it’s below freezing outside, and these are still highly nutritious meals, if not low calorie. I have no desire for moldy tasting fruit with frequent flyer miles or produce that doesn’t actually grow in cold weather.  Not to mention having warm and full insides was a pleasant feeling during Atlanta’s “blizzard” that made national headlines.

But I don’t mean to be a diet downer. Starting a new year can be a motivating factor for some people to create new habits and stick to them. The fact that so many other people are doing it can also be helpful since research shows both good and bad health habits tend to spread among peer groups.  However, the reverse effect can occur in December when groupthink tells us to eat as much as we can because we all know punishment is looming come January 2nd.  I have clients who readily admit to having a “last supper” attitude the whole holiday season and, as a result, gaining more weight than they can reasonably lose in one month. As I discus in The Get Real Diet, this reward/punishment narrative about food is a poor weight loss and maintenance strategy.

So if it feels unnatural to be hungry while you are freezing or have a nasty cold, relax and give your diet (which I hope is sensible and full of real, health promoting foods) another go in March or April when fresh produce tastes great again and the body naturally begins to crave lighter fare. You will likely have more success, and you will have the upside of flaunting it in swimsuits, shorts and spring dresses.  I know I will be on the Lose Phase of The Get Real Diet as soon as my body gives me the signal (or two weeks before spring break if it doesn’t).

By all means, when January 2015 rolls around, take advantage of discounted gym memberships, stop approaching the dessert table like a kid on Christmas morning and do your best to ride the wave of enthusiasm for health and wellness around you if it helps you get motivated. I’m not saying it can’t be done, just that January certainly isn’t the only month (and may be the hardest month) to kick start new, healthier habits. You might even find that taking the New Year pressure off actually leads to you making better choices next holiday season so that you find yourself in great shape January 2nd, 2015.

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