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Health

Januscary: how to relieve ‘new year, new you’ health anxiety

January 30th 2019 / Anna Hunter / 0 comment

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If you’re feeling in any way panicked that you didn’t meet your January “goals”, read on, because being kind to yourself is as (*more) important than adhering to any diet or exercise plan. Here’s why the experts reckon it’s high time we took the pressure off

We’re surely on the 49th day of January by now, and I don’t know about you, but I’ve certainly not been to the gym any more frequently than I did in November, I’ve not maintained meat-free Mondays let alone Veganuary and my dry Jan has been more damp than arid overall. On paper, and in life, I’ve “failed” January. Except that, thankfully and in “it’s about freaking time” fashion, the tired old tradition of flagellating ourselves every time that the calendar flips is beginning to change, with acceptance and positivity filling the place of more punitive resolutions. If you’ve come to end of January feeling downhearted and/or anxious, heed the wise words of women who’ve been there, overcome external health pressures and set their own agendas revolving around what feels good for them rather than what they’re “lacking” or what a heath influencer on Instagram is up to.

Don’t let your resolutions rule you

Bronwen Foster Butler, lululemon’s brand manager for Europe, ran the most popular workshop at the company’s annual Sweatlife festival last year, with interactive sessions focused on goal-setting. As part on an ongoing global campaign lululemon has launched a ‘19 in 19’ programme, an initiative supporting goal-setting for the entire year rather than simply one dark, cold month, and with a very different approach to “resolutions” than the common route of deprivation. Instead of loading on the health pressure, Bronwen encourages concentrating on what makes you feel good, what you’re strong at and what friends and family appreciate you for, and basically doing more of that. Here’s why it works:

“By grounding your goals in things that you love, and your natural strengths, you’ll be inspired by them rather than just motivated. Also, recognise that you are in control of your own goals. If something you declared doesn’t bring you more joy then you don’t need it in your life. Goals are there to serve you, not the other way around!”

Kind of like Marie Kondo, but for your mind. If treadmills and crispbreads aren’t “sparking joy”, so to speak, ditch them and try something that does.

Don’t see yourself, or your body, as something to be “fixed”

Bronwen’s goal-setting approach is fix-free:

“Your brain has to be in a positive place to set goals that will be good for you. Don’t position goals as a way to “fix” something about yourself, but focus on an outcome you're keen to achieve instead. For example, if you’re planning to run a 5k, do it for the celebration and the joy you’ll feel rather than obsessing over the 5lbs you want to lose.”

Don’t let looks dictate your aims

Remember that we all wobble, literally and metaphorically. Bronwen has learned from experience that questioning why you’re asking yourself to do things is as vital as whether or not you actually do them:

“I’ve definitely set poor goals before. When I first joined lululemon, I declared that I would run a marathon and do a handstand. Two years later, when I was still writing these down as goals and feeling terrible that I hadn’t achieved them, I realised that I was writing them in an effort to “look good”, rather than being inspired by them. Fast forward five years and I’ve still done neither but I’ve set other goals which are all rooted in living a life I love. These help me get through the fiercest of wobbles.”

Co-author of Eat it Anyway Eve Simmons agrees that, especially where health goals are concerned, questioning your reasoning is fundamental to not only getting to where you want to go, but nurturing your mental health too:

“Take a moment to check in with yourself and be really honest about your motivations behind a health behaviour. Is it really because you want to go to the gym? Or is it because you saw an Instagram post of a model showing off abs you secretly wish you had? If your motivation is aesthetically driven, think a bit about why that is, and watch that your behaviours aren’t compulsive or self-punishing. It’s so boring but balance is really key. All things you enjoy are also a part of life and nothing should interfere in that to an extent that it feels unpleasant or detrimental.”

If you’re stuck in a scroll hole and comparing and despairing, put your phone down and do something that makes you feel confident and happy in yourself right now (rock climbing, a Netflix binge, brewing tea - whatever gets you going), rather than inadequate for not having achieved an Instagram or media fuelled aspiration. If it makes time fly and gives you energy off the bat, it’s a worthwhile activity. Stressing that you haven’t hit a number on the scales this month is not.

Do focus on number one

It sounds cheesy, but there’s no one else on this planet like you, and this should inform any life or health aims far more than most ‘new year, new you’ plans allow for. Eve nails why considering your own personal priorities is so essential to your overall wellbeing:

“Remember that everyone is totally different due to a host of varying factors; most of which are beyond our control. What is right for you won’t be right for the person sitting opposite you on the train and no Internet nutritionist will know of the bespoke package that works for you.”

Eat It Anyway co-author Laura Dennison seconds this in no uncertain terms:

“Don't follow plans from unqualified "health" bloggers you follow online. What works for one person won't work for you, and the truth is that it's not right for someone to tell you how you should be eating unless they have access to your medical history or are a registered dietitian.”

Don’t stress about impressing anyone

Whether you’ve shouted your resolutions from the rooftops or kept schtum, Eve emphasises that you don’t owe anyone a progress report let alone an explanation:

“Your health is no one else’s business and you are under no obligation to anyone, apart from maybe your closest family or partner, to improve your health, whatever that even means. There’s no time limit on anything. Perhaps in the context of your life right now this second, health behaviours are not your priority - you have a new mortgage to pay or a family member who needs your attention. Fitness and diet doesn’t necessarily rise to the top of the priority pile at every moment. You can always address it next month, or the month afterwards. You can only do what you can do.”

Speaking of which, where workouts are concerned, beast mode isn’t always best…

Do know your limits

Laura reckons that this particularly applies in the context of exercise:

“I hate the whole "get hench or die trying" philosophy. It's joyless, and that mentality will leave you open to becoming obsessive. Now, I go to the gym because I love it, but I only do small bouts and on days when I feel too tired to go, I don't. Sometimes I get there, step on the treadmill, and am like "nope". It's also important to acknowledge that some people shouldn't be exercising; like someone recovering from anorexia when told not to under medical care. Everyone has their own individual needs.”

Do accept that “failure” could actually be better for you

Not the usual resolution rhetoric, but hear Laura out:

“If you start a diet or wellness plan, and it doesn't feel good for you, there's nothing wrong with stopping. This doesn't make you a failure, and in fact, it could be the best decision for your health overall.”

Do take relaxation seriously

Easier said than done, but Eve insists that downtime is more significant than most of us account for:

“Be kind to yourself and allow yourself to relax - scientific studies show this is almost as important for your health as diet and exercise so it should be taken as seriously.”

In fact, if you’re clinging to any resolution, chill time should probably be it according to Laura:

“I used to feel overwhelmed in January. We're told over Christmas that we have to overindulge, or to "make the most of it while we can", which is a really unhealthy way to think if you are someone who has struggled with binge eating; like I did. Then in January we're all told we need to "work off" the "damage" we did in December, but the reality is that for most people the diets they pursue don't last more than a week or two, hence why everyone feels so blue during this month. The best thing you can do for your health, and your mental health especially, is to try to relax throughout these two months and eat however feels right for you. That’ll set a healthy pattern for the year ahead more than anything.”

Which leads us neatly to our final ‘do’...

Just eat the bloody sausage

Contentedness comes with enjoying a barbecue, buying the odd vegetable and good old common sense- Eve maintains that restrictive regimes won’t serve you long-term, either physically or mentally:

“If you’ve got a sprained ankle or you are too hungover to move, don’t go to the gym. If you’re going to a barbecue with all your mates and you fancy a sausage, have a bloody sausage. Remember that all the research shows that punitive food rules - and even basic diets - do not work. Our bodies are very clever and work to protect and maintain our weight within an inch of our lives. The fact is that we aren’t biologically designed to eat according to set rules. Often our absurd eating behaviour has nothing to do with food or eating at all - it comes from a deep sense of emotional turmoil which should be addressed first and foremost.”

If you need a new mantra, Laura has a neat one to replace any guilt-inducing January goals:

“Eat and do the things you love, because life is too short and full of too many rules anyway."

I realise the irony of this being a ‘dos and don’ts’ list, but that right there is food for thought.

Visit the NHS website for more advice on self-help if you’re suffering from health anxiety

Eat It Anyway by Eve Simmons and Laura Dennison published by Mitchell Beazley January 2019, paperback (octopusbooks.co.uk), RRP £10.99

Download the Lululemon ‘19 in 19’ goal sheet

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