- Dina Cohen
5 Swaps For The New Year
Updated: Dec 30, 2021
Switch up these habits for a healthier mind + body!
1. Exercising to change your body-> moving because you respect your body
The word "exercise" has negative connotations for many people, and for good reason. If exercise has come to mean a punishing experience that you engage in primarily for purpose of changing the way you look, then it's natural to want to avoid it. Your body deserves better. Being physically active can be a great way to take care of yourself, physically and emotionally, but ideally it is something you do because you value your health and wellbeing. It is a way of showing respect for your body, not a way to punish it. Exercising when you are sick, exhausted, or contrary to medical advice (such as after an injury, during hypothalamic amenorrhea recovery, or if exercise has become obsessive) is not moving in the service of your body. While we do need a push sometimes to do things that are good for us, the activity you choose to do should not feel torturous. There are many ways to get movement and if you are moving because you respect your body, you are more likely to choose something you actually enjoy.
So is calling it "movement" instead of "exercise" just a matter of semantics? If you have a neutral or positive relationship with the word exercise, then no. But if you are one of the many people who dread exercise or view it as punishment, then changing the way you think about moving your body is certainly indicated, and starting to think about it as “movement” would be, well, a good move.
2. Externally-driven food decisions -> internally-driven food decisions
If you choose what to eat because of rules in your head (or in an app), then you might want to consider re-examining your methods. It's true that we need some external information to make appropriate food choices. (What food is available? Affordable? How much time is there to eat?) But in today's day and age, the external factor can be blown out of proportion. Counting macros and weighing food are not things that most people need to do. Following complicated food rules or having too many rules altogether generally lead people to swing in the opposite direction. Dietary restriction is very often followed by out-of-control eating. Turning down the volume on what your head is saying and turning up the volume on what your body is saying can help you eat in a much more sustainably healthy way.
Sometimes people really do need firm guidelines regarding their intake, such as in the case of certain medical conditions or in the beginning stages of eating disorder recovery. But whenever possible, allow your body's wisdom to have a say. You will be enabling a saner relationship with food and will probably feel a lot more comfortable.
3. Checking your weight -> checking your wellness
So many people have gotten into the habit of regularly checking the number on the scale. Some people don't even know why they do it anymore. They just do. Other people realize that the habit wreaks havoc with their mood and their eating but they just can't seem to stop. People fall into this trap for many reasons, but one of the most common reasons I see is that a number seems to have a concrete element to it. It's something measurable, and that has an allure. If you are making an effort to change things in your life, it makes sense that you want a way to measure your results. By the same token, if a lot of things are changing for you in a way that feels out of control, you may want a way to check that at least one thing stays the same. But checking your weight (especially checking it often) can be a big ol' trap. It can keep you stuck in old habits instead of moving you forward. If you want a way to measure progress, or to reinforce positive changes, try checking your wellness instead. What has improved as a result of your changes? Are you feeling better physically? Emotionally? Does your new routine leave you more energized? Are you creating better habits? How do your lab results look?
It's so natural and understandable to want to have a way to measure your progress, to know that your efforts are paying off. But don't let your way of measuring things actually pull you back, which a scale so often does. Choose a few indicators of health that you can check in on to get more valuable (and less risky) information. Doing so will propel you forward instead of backfiring.
4. Less screentime -> more sleeptime
5. Using criticism -> using curiosity
If you've read this far, you are likely someone who cares about health and wellbeing and has probably made a lot of effort in this direction. But it can be tough. Making changes is difficult! This is not just true regarding health; it's true in all areas of life. If you slip up, which we all do, you may notice that you yell at or shame yourself for not doing what you said you would do. This may be a pattern from your childhood or a more recent habit, but either way, it's not super productive. Criticizing yourself not only feels yucky, it also runs the very real risk that you'll just get stuck in a puddle of shame and not even fix the thing you're mad about. It may seem counterintuitive, but being nice to yourself when you mess up is actually a much smarter strategy. Because you're not so busy yelling at yourself, you actually have the space to figure out what went wrong - and how to do better next time. So instead of criticizing yourself, try getting curious.
Critical looks like this: "I'm such a loser. I can't even do something as simple as getting dinner on the table on time. This should be basic. What's wrong with me that I can't do it?" Now here's curious: "Hmm...I wonder why I am still having trouble getting dinner on the table. I know it's important to me. I even sat down and wrote a menu in the beginning of the week. What else is going on that could be getting in the way?" This is productive.
If this feels foreign to you, try asking yourself what you'd say to a friend who was having the same struggle as you. Now try some of that on yourself. See?
I hope that one (or more) of these ideas will be helpful to you in the new year! Let me know how it goes!