After a month of gorging ourselves on gingerbread, stuffing ourselves with Christmas cookies, and washing it all down with so much eggnog that we have to ask Santa to bring us clothes in a larger size, we end our year with a final night of feasting and champagne. Then we wake up on January first and think, “I ate what?”
Most retailers wait all year for Christmas, but gyms live for January. That’s when Americans wallow in self-loathing at their flabby bodies and drag themselves to a gym to sign up for memberships en masse. We resolve that this year we will stick to a strict diet and hit the gym regularly. We spend over $60 billion each year on weight loss — but then we spend more than triple that on fast food.
But what if we didn’t do that this year? What if we did something crazy? What if we resolved to love our bodies instead?
What if we took all of that self-loathing, that shame, that judgment we derive from the size and shape of our bodies and we left it behind in 2012? In 2013 and beyond, we should resolve that self worth is no longer connected to one’s waistline. No more fad diets. No more holiday binges. In their place: love and appreciation for our bodies’ beauty and capabilities.
If you really want to be thorough about it, chuck the fashion magazines and turn off the TV. Human bodies in the real world don’t look like the ones portrayed in the media. In real life, fashion models, who are compelled to starve themselves until they’re skinnier than telephone poles, can actually look a bit freakish.
But by loving our bodies, I don’t mean simply admiring your love handles and multiple chins as you sit on the couch watching TV and eating Cheetos. I mean something more like loving our bodies like we love our cars.
Think about someone you know who loves his (or her) car. He takes good care of his vehicle, putting the right fuel in the gas tank, getting regular oil changes, keeping enough air in the tires, and so on. She doesn’t drive recklessly or carelessly fling open her doors in crowded parking lots because she doesn’t want to get in accidents or get a bunch of dents. A good car owner treats his or her car so that it will run well for as long as possible. But odds are that same car owner is not half so kind to his or her body.
It makes no sense really, because you can always buy another car — given the right budget — but you sure can’t get a new body. So why would anybody spring for premium gasoline but then fuel their body with cheap junk food? Why would you keep to your car’s maintenance schedule perfectly while allowing your own body to fall into disrepair?
Loving your body means eating food that makes you feel good and helps your body be able to do the things you love to do. A cookie may taste good, but does eating one make you feel good? Not in the way eating a hearty homemade dinner does. Real food — minimally processed foods that come from plants and animals — nourishes you. It satiates you. Junk makes you crave more chow without any satisfaction until you’ve got a stomachache because you’ve had too much.
This year, let’s love our bodies by eating foods that nourish us, doing activities we enjoy, allowing ourselves to say no to things that stress us out, and getting enough sleep. Forget weight. Forget clothing size. Focus on what’s important and the rest will take care of itself.
OtherWords columnist Jill Richardson is the author of Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It. OtherWords.org