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Plantastic: Misery Loves January

Updated: Jul 10, 2019

By Anne Trominski:

During the throws of Christmasdom as I was sipping on my extra-nogged egg nog and chomping on some of my Mama’s homemade fudge (nope, neither is vegan), I was watching one of the many incarnations of Ebenezer Scrooge declare, “I will carry Christmas in my heart all year long!” As usual at that point in the story, it got me. My eyes welled a bit, and I was filled with the warmth of feels. It’s a beautiful sentiment, no doubt. But . . . it’s not realistic. Let’s face it, we as human beings are a distractible lot. We’ve got a lot of good ideas and a slew of good intentions, but the everydayness of life does tend to get in the way. It’s hard to carry Christmas in your heart while flossing or washing dishes. And did I pick up the dry cleaning? Is there a vegan recipe for fudge?

We’ve got a lot of little things going on constantly that we really need to take care of (oh, crap, I need gas!), and sometimes the big concepts in life get pushed to the side. So, I would like to state for the record, I am 100% on board with reminders that come in the form of holidays. I like a nudge once a year to remind me to be thankful for what I have and to tell the people I’m thankful to, to remind me to look up from my personal dilemmas and see that I can give something to someone else to help with theirs, and, yes, bring on those January resolutions! You don’t need the New Year to remind you to take stock and adjust some of your hedonistic tendencies? Then, go you! Sure, you really could do it anytime of year, but in March you’ll be distracted by Irish stereotypes and Guinness cocktails, so let’s get with the healthy now.

If you are one of the ones who is using the new calendar as a way to jump start your good habits, I’m right there with you. Let’s clean out that fridge, focus on our flawed habits, and kick a little healthy ass as we charge into 2019. Setting goals is great way to accomplish change, and a shiny new calendar is a great place to start tracking said goals. I know there’s been a lot of backlash against the tide of resolutions, and you’ll hear as many people explain why they don’t do resolutions as those who tell you what their resolutions are. I’m sure you saw at least one article (or heard one radio host talk about such an article) that had some gloomy statistics about how resolutions fail each year. Yes, ideally we would keep our habits pristine all year long, that’s a great goal, but just like Ebenezer Scrooge, sometimes we all need a nudge that there’s more to life than accounting.

So, how do you beat the statistics? How do you carry New Year-resolution enthusiasm in your heart all year long? I’ve got one suggestion: enjoy it. Let me tell you a story and see if it is familiar. My coworker has been bringing dry salads for lunch all week long. I know this because she is loudly declaring that she has brought dry salads for lunch every day this week while decrying her holiday weight gain. She lasted until Friday, where during her daily announcement of having brought a dry salad for lunch, she asked if anyone would like to go out for Chinese takeout. She was sick of dry salads.

Is this you? Are you pushing your dry salad out of view? Are you wondering if I work with you?

Let me tell you another story. While discussing breakfast options with a loved one, he said he was going to have a low-fat English muffin with organic apple butter. Not a bad breakfast at all, but I was a bit surprised since he usually goes for an egg breakfast sandwich. When I queried the change, he said he was trying to be good, and the first option was lower in calories. Well. Yeah. But. The breakfast sandwich isn’t “bad.” It’s an egg white and lean ham on a similarly low-fat English muffin, so it’s not like he was eschewing a quarter pounder with cheese. I explained that while higher in calorie, it was also higher in protein, which would keep him fuller longer and would be more satisfying. So, was the breakfast sandwich really the less healthy choice?

Is this you? Are you looking only at calories? Are you surprised that “satisfied” came up in a discussion about health? Have you conflated the idea of healthy with hard, miserable, tasteless? Are you a believer that less is more and that you can’t, indeed, gain without said pain?

Well, cut it out! Misery does not equal health! Yeah, healthy isn’t necessarily as easy-fun-times as eating fudge while sitting on the couch watching old movies, but it doesn’t have to be a series of sad meals either. There is something in between absolute hedonism and self-punishment. Yeah, we all went a little bonkers at the end of last year, but it’s kind of ridiculous that most of our conversations in January seem to be about how miserable we can make ourselves. If you are torturing yourself in the name of health, stop it, because you are setting yourself up to be one of the numbers in those dire New Year’s resolution statistics.

For some reason, we don’t believe something can be good for us if we enjoy it. While, yes, a lot of the things we enjoy don’t always turn out to be healthy, but the reverse isn’t always true. The world isn’t that black and white. Just because you enjoy something doesn’t make it unhealthy, and just because you’re making yourself miserable doesn’t mean you’re a paradigm of virtue. True health lies somewhere in the middle. You want a health hack? Only have fudge at Christmas, but eat nutritious food you’ll enjoy the rest of the year. If you go back and forth between eating all the things to eating as little as possible, you may not be in a true binge-and-purge mode, but you are getting dangerously close. Such wild back-and-forth consumption is not good for your health, and contrary to popular magazine opinion, it’s not good for weight loss either. Yo-yo dieting might show up in some short-term pound dropping, but it does not support long-term weight loss. It can even lead to more extreme weight gain on the other side. It also in no way benefits health issues like blood pressure or cholesterol levels. One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was, when losing weight, only do what you are willing to do to maintain that weight loss. If you aren’t willing to eat dry salads the rest of your life, don’t eat them now for some short-term result.

With all due credit to my coworker, she didn’t completely throw out the baby with the dry salad, and she ordered a sensible stir-fry option without rice or egg roll when she cracked and went for Chinese food. But, what if she had started there? What if, instead of subjecting herself to the food equivalent of self-flagellation, she had started out her week with a veggie stir-fry? What if she had then chosen to eat various other equally healthy but tasty options on the other days of the week? She might have avoided take-out altogether. She might have been more satisfied. She might have made positive declarations to her coworkers all week long.

How about that? Being happy with being healthy? Can that be you?

Instead of focusing on what you are missing out on (like, egg nog is literally the exact opposite of vegan), maybe you could see what you are getting instead. For one thing, healthy food can taste good. Dry lettuce isn’t the most fun, but arugula with a little salt and pepper and lemon juice is a flavor explosion. Combine that with some roasted veggies on some toasted whole wheat bread and you’ve got a hearty, filling meal. If the flavor isn’t enough for you, focus on how healthy eating makes you feel. Are you more energetic? Are you fuller after a meal? Is it possible, that you just might be satisfied after such a meal in a way that you never were after drive-thru? How about accomplished? How good does that feel?

This advice goes for any goal, not just healthy eating. If you want to be more active but hate running, don’t run, people. Don’t join the boot camp at 5:00 a.m. when the very idea of it makes you cringe. Find something you enjoy doing, at a reasonable time to do it, and you are more likely to get it done. A good friend of mine discovered disc golf (nope, it’s totally real) and spends his weekends being active that way. Even if your goal is something like “floss more,” focus on what you get out of it more than how annoying flossing is. Nicer breath, less-embarrassing spinach moments, a self-righteous declaration of, “Yes, I have, damnit!” when the dentist asks, “Have you been flossing?” are all highly enjoyable things. Whatever it is, focus on what you are getting out of the goal rather than what you are giving up or what is hard about it. Because just because you’re are unhappy about doing something, doesn’t mean that thing is good for you.

Torturing ourselves makes us feel like we’ve done something, but the truth is, long-term health is usually more of a challenge than that. First of all, you have to start with where you are at. Yeah, maybe you want to go full vegan, but if the only vegetable you ate last week was fries, you should probably start slow with just adding a fruit and/or vegetable at each meal. Once you’ve got that down, move on to two. By the time you get to eight to 10 servings of vegetables, you’ll be plant-based. (And very regular.) Also, if you are starting something you’ve never really done before, prepare to experiment. I didn’t know I loved arugula until I tried it. You might not be as arugula enthusiastic, but that doesn’t mean you should go for Chinese takeout. Keep trying the things until you find the thing you like. It might be bok choy; it might not, but you don’t know until you try. Finally, pay attention to those feelings. Are you miserable and declaring it loudly to your coworkers and loved ones? Then what you’re doing probably won’t be easy to maintain. Are you feeling good and find yourself telling your friend that she should really give kale chips a chance? Are you looking for a new goal to tackle? Awesome! Go you! Keep that up!

Every once in a while, it’s good to look up. It’s good to ignore the laundry for a few minutes and see what not-so-great habits have crept back into place and which could use a little more focus. If you need an excuse to make a resolution, find one. Arbor Day is a wonderful reason to take a long walk through some trees and eat some plants. Tuesday’s also a good day for a new beginning. Whatever your reason for trying something new, find your happy medium, and enjoy it.

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