January is both an incredibly inspiring time, and a downright depressing one.
It seems like every year around the 1st, a new diet comes along that points its finger at some ingredient on our dinner plate. One week there's an article on The New York Times' most emailed list that grains are corroding our brains. The next it's that gluten is fine, but sodium is our silent killer. There's so much conflicting information out there, it sometimes seems that the only thing anyone can agree on is that blueberries are awesome. (So long as they're organic and not flown in from Chile).
With so many evils to sort through, it's easy to end up feeling lost come resolution time. And with the ambitious scope of so many of these diet trends, it becomes even easier to fail at the ones you do eventually make.
Being a health-conscious chef, I'm all for adopting better eating habits. I love seeing my friends--full of hope and the power of selective memory--deciding to put down the pizza, put on the brand new Lulu Lemon spandex they unwrapping in December, and tear down a path towards their better selves. But when life gets in the way, and a simple detour turns into a Hansel and Gretel-worthy binge fest, the feeling of failure tends to leave them too paralyzed to find their way back. Every year, it's an all too familiar journey to no where.
I've seen first hand the disasters that result in the kitchen when you bite off more than you can chew. And tackling your wellness-related hopes and dreams is no different.
I know, because after being diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, I spent the better part of my mid-twenties trying to get on board with the health hand I was dealt. I adjusted to a gluten-free diet, drank green juice, did yoga and in general, tried to abide by the health rules that doctors and wellness experts set for me -- rules that many people apply to their lives every January, and then slowly shed as the weeks pass by.
After many years of health ups and downs, I couldn't help but feel like I was failing at my lofty goals year round. By last January, with a raging case of adult acne that no one could solve and a general halo of guilt every time I ate a bag of potato chips on the couch or ordered a bellini at brunch, I knew I had to change my approach.
I wanted to find a way to be healthy and still indulge in my more hedonistic, boozy brunch loving behavior--to figure out a way to feel well, and not just be well on paper. So I decided to take on a series of monthly wellness challenges to tackle my problem areas--to do for my health, what Gretchen Rubin set out to do for her happiness.
The beauty of this type of wellness project is that by simply committing to making a change for a short period of time (a few weeks), you'll never tumble completely, painfully off the wagon. And by experiencing one behavioral extreme with awareness, it becomes easier to settle back into some semblance of balance thereafter.
This year, I'm dedicating my wellness project to the art of healthy hedonism--to doing right by my body, without giving up my life. Figuring out your non-negotiables for pleasure is just as important as going through the pain of creating a new "healthy" habit.
Instead of a new strict set of rules for healthy living, I want to give myself room to see which health experiments improve my life and which changes, despite the best scientific and spiritual intentions, just don't. Finding balance is often a simple act of writing your pro and con lists in the moment, even if the subject at hand is kale smoothies.
So considering throwing out your resolutions this year. The time has come for a new type of list that actually makes us feel well.
For more on Phoebe's year-long blog series and forthcoming memoir, The Wellness Project (Pam Krauss Books/ Penguin Random House, 2017), visit FeedMePhoebe.com and check out her full list of monthly challenges.