I've got a love-hate relationship with New Year's resolutions. Sure, January 1 is a great time to get a jump on some goals, whether professional or personal. For instance, in 2016, I hereby resolve to finally learn the difference between "lay" and "lie."
But with the wave of pressure to start often-dangerous crash diets and begin exercise routines our bodies aren't ready for, all in the name of weight loss — despite the evidence that weight and health are entirely different beasts — resolution season can do more harm than good.
Fortunately, there's a better way to go about this.
Here are six resolutions you can make today to start prioritizing and nurturing a healthy body image in 2016. As always, these are suggestions, not prescriptions. Your mileage may vary.
1. Do a social media cleanse
No, not the Beach Body in 14 Days kind. (By the way: Maybe don't do those.)
The average American spends 1.72 hours a day on social media — and if your feeds are cluttered with body-negative media, all those bad vibes will add up fast.
A quick litmus test: Does that fitness blogger, lifestyle brand, or high school acquaintance's body talk make you feel better or worse about yourself? If the answer is "worse," hit that unfollow button.
If it's a close friend or family member who's bringing you down, unfollowing might not be an option. Consider bringing it up to them in person. If that's not in the cards right now, you're more than justified in muting their posts.
There's nothing selfish about prioritizing your own mental and emotional wellbeing. In fact, it's downright radical.
2. Recalibrate your closet
Stop me if this sounds familiar: "I might fit into that shirt from six years ago ... someday. Better hold onto it, just in case."
Newsflash: Bodies change. We grow and shrink and sag and wrinkle and gray. We just do.
And unless you're living in some kind of weird Benjamin Button–style reverse reality, holding onto clothes that fit a younger or smaller version of yourself is doing you no good.
Do the clothes in your closet bring you joy or self-criticism?
Bag up those clothes from past life stages and donate them to your local shelter, thrift store, or resale shop.
(Pro tip: If you also resolved to clean up your house in 2016, you're doing double-duty here.)
3. Move in ways that feel good, when it feels good
You know that saying, "Pain is weakness leaving the body"?
Pain is your body's physiological warning that something bad is happening, and you should knock it off if you can before you do real damage.
You wouldn't stick your hand on a white-hot stovetop to prove you weren't weak. So why do we treat workouts as virtuous displays of masochism?
Exercise can be fun, if you find the right kind for you. I like running outdoors (when Chicago isn't under three feet of snow) while listening to NPR. But maybe walking, yoga, Zumba, spin, kickboxing, weightlifting, Pilates, cleaning the house, strolling around the mall, or dancing around with the curtains closed is more your style.
Do what makes you feel good. Don't worry about taking breaks, even extended ones, if you don't feel up to activity. And push yourself, sure, but for the love of everything, if it hurts, stop.
4. Take fear out of the kitchen
I say this so often they may as well carve it into my gravestone: There's no such thing as good or bad foods. Eating kale doesn't make you a better person, and eating cake doesn't mean you're a failure. And in moderation, pretty much anything can be part of your diet.
Of course, if you follow a kosher or halal diet or have a food allergy or what have you, caveats apply. But the less time we spend justifying our "indulgences" or "cheat days," the more we can see food for what it is: food.
Just. Freaking. Food.
If you want mozzarella sticks on a night out with friends, eat those mozzarella sticks. The world will continue to turn, I promise.
A calorie is a measure of energy, not of your worth as a human being.
5. Build a self-care toolbox
It's a tough world out there for body image. Between weight loss TV shows and cultural fatphobia, diet pills and exercise equipment before-and-afters, diet cereal trying to sell us self-esteem and hurtful comments (intentional or otherwise) from loved ones, it's important to prioritize yourself.
Make time to do whatever makes you feel like you — important, fulfilled, and satisfied — for however long you can.
Make art. Watch Netflix. Bake something elaborate. Write or journal. Learn something new. Sing along loudly to the Hamilton soundtrack while cleaning your kitchen. (Come on. That can't be just me.)
Taking care of your body also means taking care of your mind. The negative effects of stress on physical and mental health are well documented. Find what calms and centers you, and don't be ashamed to turn to it when you need.
6. Don't be afraid to screw up
Healing body image won't happen overnight. You might backslide into destructive patterns. You might find yourself with negative thoughts again. And that's fine.
One of the biggest steps to accepting your body is realizing that perfection isn't real. It's really not.
Everyone screws up, and that's fine.
Sometimes we fail.
But we pick ourselves up and keep going, little by little, day after day, year after year, until one day we look back and can hardly believe how far we've come.
Here's to a body image revolution in 2016!