CN: dieting, exercise, alcohol, smoking, clean eating
It’s that time of year again when the entire population suddenly becomes healthier, fitter, happier. Gym membership cards are foraged out from the bottom of that one bedroom drawer, the one full of hundreds of useful things that descend into uselessness when strewn together in a cluster. People start to actually enjoy the taste of strange vegetables, like kale and celery. Shiny new bottles of Bombay Sapphire sit sadly in kitchen cupboards, relegated by the warm embrace of sobriety until February. It’s that time of year again when the phrase ‘new year, new me’ is most often uttered.
The saying is a useful one, evoking hope and positivity, certainly at the beginning of a new calendar year. Whatever number of mistakes you made in the last year, all are kindly erased at the end of 31st December, providing a clean slate to come with the change of year. I personally use it to try and force myself to make changes to my life, do things outside my comfort zone, or eat a few more pieces of fruit. So far, I’ve already done things I wouldn’t have been comfortable doing generally. I have difficulty in being outspoken and standing up for myself sometimes, or being confrontational when needed, and I’ve been pushing myself to speak up in situations where I normally would be too nervous.
‘I can’t help but think of the pressure that I and many others have been putting on ourselves’
I think this is a case of where “new year, new me” can be a positive mantra; utilised as a motivating force to push people beyond their comfort zone under the guise of creating a better person out of themselves, it can achieve immediate results. Though this has so far been helpful for me personally, I can’t help but think of the pressure that I and many others have been putting on ourselves. At the time of writing this, I have been proud of my “new year, new me” persona achieving tangible changes – I’m thinking small steps here – but I’m thinking ahead to February when I can no longer viably use the “new year” excuse. Will I just give up? Will I lose motivation because the year is no longer sparkly and shiny brand new?
Last week, I was feeling awful and battling through the runny nose and shivers of a particularly bad cold. Feeling sorry for myself, I traipsed out from under my duvet and into the kitchen in search of Lemsip and sympathy. My mum was watching a programme on TV so I settled down to watch with her – a show about a group of people looking to lose as much weight as possible over two months through completely changing their diet. This type of programme is available on every other channel all throughout January, deliberately targeting vulnerable people with their “new year, new me” blinkers on. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with watching these types of healthy diet programmes with the right mentality and there is nothing inherently harmful about wanting to improve your own diet and look after your body. However, it is the manner in which these programmes shame people into feeling bad about their diets and lifestyles that I take issue with, which is encouraged by the “new year, new me” mantra.
Former Great British Bake Off contestant Ruby Tandoh has been absolutely amazing in speaking about this issue, penning a Guardian article about the dangers of wellness and clean eating. Many of these “clean eating” gurus, she argues, are aware of the negative connotations that inevitably follow the term diet, and they try to avoid it by calling clean eating a lifestyle, and promoting “wellness”. Clean eating is technically all about cutting out junk food, eating natural ingredients that are good for the body and not filling it with toxins and all of those tasty bad things. Plenty of ex-clean eating advocates, celebrity diet authors such as Ella Mills of Deliciously Ella fame, have since tried to shift their image away from clean eating once criticism of it intensified.
I think there are indeed some positives to be taken from clean eating; using natural plant-based ingredients is good for the environment and probably healthier in general. Yet these TV diet shows, and these glamorous celebrity food authors whose Instagram feeds glisten and shine with their bright white teeth and their boring meals, grow from the insecurity that “new year, new me” creates in people.
‘We don’t need a meaningless mantra to make positive changes in our lives’
I’m willing to bet that they rely on the month of January for being their best sales period, as people feel obliged to make some sort of change to their lives and naturally feel that their body should be the first thing to scrutinise. During the Christmas period, one of the things I dislike when enjoying my nice mug of mulled wine and mince pie are those people who are already excusing their festive food indulgences by loudly discussing their January diet plans. Please, stop. Let people enjoy food! Let people treat themselves!
We don’t need a meaningless mantra to make positive changes in our lives; we should do it because we recognise things we can do better and want to improve on them regardless of the month of the year. I recognise that it can spur people on, but relying on ‘new year, new me’ puts people in danger of abandoning their self-improvements as the year goes on. On the first day of January I threw away my only packet of cigarettes, I’m trying to eat a bit healthier, and although I’m not doing dry January I have yet to have any alcohol since New Year’s Eve. These are positive things (I think), but I don’t want to feel shamed if I have a G&T or a bar of chocolate. The pressure that comes with the new year could also be especially tough on people who struggle with food, or their self-esteem. Just let people live; no-one needs more pressure to live up to unreachable expectations.