Ever since I was a preteen, I’ve greeted almost every New Year with that tortured resolution common to many women: some combination of diets or cleanses.
Some years, I called it a detox. Others, a cleanse. When I was a teenager, the fad diets were South Beach and Atkins. Those gave way to the Zone and Paleo. These days, it’s intermittent fasting or keto (which as a registered nurse I’m slightly appalled by, but that’s another rant for another day).
The diets change, but one thing remains constant. Every year women (and some men) go through an almost identical cycle. In December, we eat in celebration. We cook and feast with the people we love. We indulge in more cookies, mashed potatoes, or prosecco than we normally would.
And then January arrives, and we are led to believe we should not only hate ourselves for the past month, but we should rectify it immediately and drastically, not with subtle, moderate lifestyle changes, but with detoxes and cleanses and strict diet regimens.
I’ve been a part of that cycle for more than half of my 33 years. I’ve bought into the idea that a fresh start in January is synonymous with shame over holiday treats, with self-hatred for my “winter body”. I’ve cleansed and detoxed and shed holiday weight, only to repeat the cycle the next year.
This year, however, I will not be taking part in any kind of cleanse or ultra-strict diet come 2019.
I might cut back a little, eat more real, nutrient-dense foods and less sugar, listen to my body and eat when I’m hungry and not just because I’m bored. I’ll head back to the gym, but only because I know it’s more important for my mental health than my physical appearance.
But I won’t jump unto the detox bandwagon, and for one very important reason.
I have a daughter. A beautiful, rosy-cheeked, round-bellied 2-year-old. She is bright and curious and silly. She is learning every day, more observant every day. Soon enough, the world will have her. As much as I hate it, she will be subject to its pressures and judgments. She will face the scrutiny all girls face, the idea that we can always be thinner and prettier. She will struggle with the body issues with which every woman, no matter how confident, at some point struggles.
She will be bombarded by ads for detoxes on TV. Read about celebrity fad diets in magazines. Social media influencers will try to sell her laxative tea (yes that is a real thing, unfortunately).
But not yet. Right now, I am (mostly) in charge of her world. I get to set its rules and edicts, soften its edges, and make it kind and gentle.
And I do not want detoxes or cleanses or ridiculous diets to be a part of that world, or of her childhood memories of her mother.
It might be naïve, but I so hope that my daughter can avoid the New Year’s body shame cycle. I want her to eat cookies and pie at Christmas and not feel like she needs to atone for it. I want her to see food as something healthy and positive, a source of energy primarily, and sometimes a source of love and joy, never as a loaded gun.
Of course, I want her to understand moderation. I will teach her that too, the importance of healthy foods, of an active lifestyle, of feeling good from the inside out.
But not in a way that equates food with shame, that teachers her that the size on a clothing tag is the sum of her worth.
That has to start at home, and it has to start with me. So, this year, on New Year’s Day, instead of cleaning out my pantry and filling my refrigerator with overpriced, turmeric juice. Instead of weighing everything I eat. Or treating carbs like a dirty word. I will talk about food in a way that is healthy and appropriate.
I will be mindful of the impact my choices and words have on my daughter, on how she will one day see herself and her relationship with her body. I will do my best to teach her that she never has to punish herself over a Christmas pie. Or starve herself because she had an extra serving of holiday mac and cheese.
I will tell her, as often as I can, that she is perfect and beautiful, and exponentially more than a number on a scale.