This post is a week late but forgive me, I was eating Christmas leftovers. Last night we found two Chocolate Oranges on top of the cupboard, bought for the girls’ stockings but forgotten. We shared one between the four of us. It was delicious. I felt no guilt.
Today I went for a run, my first of 2018. As I was plodding along, listening to a podcast (The Guilty Feminist – highly recommend), I was aware of my hips jiggling, my thighs rubbing together in the middle of each step, my chin shaking a bit each time my foot hit the ground. There is more to me since a month ago. More flesh, more bulk. My bum wobbles when I run up the stairs and my tummy juts out further than my boobs if I stand sideways in the mirror. But, for the first January in a lot of Januarys, I don’t hate what I see.
I saw my first “New Year New Diet” post on Instagram on Boxing Day. The second was on Facebook, the day after. As the beautiful in-betweeny bit of Christmas rolled on and people reared their heads out of their states of Chrimbo Limbo, the diet posts kept coming. A little piece of me died every time I logged on. I ate a piece of cheese to feel better.
The thing is, eating is one of the joys of Christmas. For our meat-eating non-Vegan family it’s sausages wrapped in bacon, turkey that’s moist in the middle with a crunchy golden brown skin, succulent stuffing balls and perfectly done roast potatoes – crispy on the outside but fluffy as clouds in the middle. It’s cheese and crackers, posh chocolates, nice wine (for the grown-ups). It’s smoked salmon and slow-cooked ham with a sticky sweet honey and mustard glaze. It’s leftover turkey curry and pea and ham soup. It’s pork pies and homemade sausage rolls. Mince pies, Christmas cake, biscuit selection boxes from M&S.
I loved every mouthful of indulgence over the festive period, and so did my kids. We bonded over our love of the good stuff, laughing, rubbing our tummies and revelling in the elasticated waistband of our pyjamas. We were joyous, happy, content.
So why would I want to rain on that joy by standing in front of the mirror (in full sight of my daughters) grabbing handfuls of flesh around my belly and talking about a month of starvation? It seems counter-intuitive. Damaging, even.
We tell our children to enjoy their food, fill our fridges with delicious treats, laugh around the table and celebrate with special meals. Then, come January, we send out another message. A message of deprivation, of austerity, of body-hating. A message that it’s good and right and proper to go to bed hungry every night because at the end of it all we’ll be thinner and our Christmas excesses will be purged. Too much joy is bad for a person.
Your body is your body. And as someone who identifies as a feminist I baulk at the idea that any woman – big or small – should be made to feel an ounce of guilt over what they look like or how they choose to treat their own body. But there is a big difference between being healthy and wanting to shrink yourself through a fad diet of starvation (side note: there is a wealth of scientific research which proves most of these fad diets don’t work long term anyway).
This is the first January in a long time that I’ve really understood this. In the past I’ve told myself that I’m just trying to be healthy, to balance out the Christmas indulgence, when the real reason I’m eating lettuce for lunch and hauling my arse along to a workout session is because I’ve subconsciously bought into the diet culture that’s rammed down our throats from 26th December to 31st January every year.
I ate a winter coleslaw salad for lunch, with avocado and tuna. I went for a 6km run this morning. I devoured a quarter of a Chocolate Orange last night. I still eat carbs. My regular diet does not consist of cheese with every meal. I don’t enjoy a glass of Buck’s Fizz at 11am as I do at Christmas. It’s balance. And THIS is the message I want my girls to learn.
Their worth is not measured by their appearance. MY worth is not measured by my appearance. I want to be healthy and happy because I want to feel that natural buzz of elation that comes after exercise. I run for my mind, and experience shows that, slowly, as my eating habits return to “normal” and I do a bit of exercise, my body will slowly go back to how it was before.
There is nothing wrong with wanting to better yourself, chase a fitness goal, complete a challenge. But one thing I want my children to know is that they won’t automatically be “better” if they are a certain size. They are allowed to enjoy food without guilt. A week of indulgence should not equal a month of starvation afterwards.
I feel sad when I look back at past miserable January days when I could have just been a bit kinder to myself, given myself a break. I’ve started so many years feeling like an over-indulgent failure because I wasn’t a particular size and didn’t have the willpower to survive on lettuce or juice for days on end. I would regret the fun and laughter of Christmas and every negative body-hating thought sapped away some of that festive joy.
With that in mind I’m not giving up chocolate or wine for January. There is nothing I want less of in 2018 except the big side order of guilt that used to accompany many of my meals.
I think this might be what freedom tastes like.
Happy new year.