by Ann Tomoko Rosen
It’s January, which typically means that a many of us have taken inventory and are recommitted to making healthy habits that we will finally stick with in 2017. At the start of the year, we tend initiate our juice cleanses and our detox regimens and initiate new exercise programs in the hopes that this time they will become the foundation of a new lifestyle. But are these things really the answer or could there be a reason for what seems for many an inevitable cycle of success and failure?
I’d like to suggest a slight tweak in expectations and perspective as you navigate your healing journey this year. For starters, look at it as a journey rather than a set of fixed habits. Although I understand the temptation of wanting to make diet and exercise habits second nature, the simple truth is this: the things we do to influence our health tend to influence our health. This means that, for better or worse, our lifestyle choices create changes over time requiring us to make constant adjustments to our health regimens if we are to stay in balance.
Furthermore, far too many of us use a scale or a mirror to measure progress. This can be misguided and even dangerous if we are not checking in on our internal landscape. Neither weight loss nor fitness should be equated to health on their own and continuing or accelerating on the same path that led to the initial “success” of a diet or exercise program can propel you right past health to the opposite end of a health spectrum (i.e. from overweight to underweight, from hypothyroidism to hyperthyroidism). The underlying imbalances that can result can seem vague or even insignificant at first, but they can have significant health repercussions, often including the reversal of the initial benefits.
This type of pattern can manifest in a number of ways, but here is one common example. You start the year with a juice fast that launches your new raw food diet and cardio exercise program. After a few initial detox symptoms, you start to notice increased energy and begin to lose weight and notice some nice changes in the mirror over the next several weeks and months, and you’re inspired to remain on the diet, perhaps enjoying a few cheats on the weekend once you’ve achieved your goal weight. You feel great for several months, but notice after a period of time that, not only has the weight loss leveled off, it is threatening to return and your will power and energy are not what they were.
Many people will simply recognize this as the pitfall referred to as “yo-yo dieting”, but that pattern represents a process of moving from one imbalance over and into another as an excessively cold/raw or high protein diet taxes the digestive system and diminishes “metabolic fire” and vigorous exercise further taxes the kidney/adrenals and other systems. And it is not simply a matter of a diet or exercise program being “right” or “wrong”, but rather of a misconception around oversimplified health solutions. For example, a detoxifying juice fast can be helpful to someone with a strong digestive system who needs to clear a build-up of toxins from the system, but can weaken and overwhelm someone with a digestive weakness, liver problems or with any impairment to the organs required for proper elimination. Even in a person who starts out with a relatively strong digestive system, a consistently cold and raw (i.e. macrobiotic or vegan) diet can weaken digestion over time. In some cases, these dietary regimens are most effective as a temporary measure to clear and strengthen other systems. If you remain on an alkalizing diet for a prolonged period of time, at some point you will eliminate the need for such an alkaline diet.
Also, keep an eye on the big picture. People often embark on a new health regimen with some very specific goals in mind, but lifestyle changes can bring unanticipated results. Take it all into account. Your new exercise program may have taken inches of your waistline and have you feeling great while you’re working out, but if you are starting to notice some joint pain, insomnia and irritability, you may be trading one condition for another. On some level, weight trainers apply this principle, alternating between muscle groups to give each group a chance to recover and rebuild. It’s helpful to do this for our organ systems as well. Our cardiovascular, digestive and other systems can also become overburdened and need opportunities to rebuild and recover.
There are reasons that a diet that once worked wonders can fail to produce the same results at a different point in your life, just as there are reasons that weight loss plateaus or that exercise programs that were once invigorating can start to feel taxing or monotonous. The same holds true for supplements and medications. Changing it up is not just about boredom and poor results aren’t necessarily about “failure”. Sometimes it’s simply time for reevaluation. Our bodies are constantly evolving and we need to adjust our lifestyles to accommodate them.
Perhaps 2017 is the year to redefine what it means to be healthy and commit to reexamining those goals on a regular basis. This year, bring mindfulness to the changes you make and cultivate health one decision at a time.