December Letter: Entering the New Year

It’s upon us, a new year in the form of 2024. The changing of the year can bring so many different reactions and emotions. As a team, our sincerest hope is that the coming year brings joy and opportunity for you and your loved ones. However, we acknowledge that navigating this path isn’t always straightforward. So, I’ll share another hope that I personally have. 

Food is a complex, beautiful piece of our existence as humans. It is more than just sustenance. Food is a source of love, support, community, pleasure, and a genuine source of joy. Food brings us together and transports us into the past, while also grounding us in the present. Food is our memory and our future. Sometimes, we lose sight of this. We allow food to be diminished to a set of numbers. We allow food to be demonized, to be the villain in our story. The New Year ushers in this demonization as we forget the joy in favor of prescribed statistics. 

Our culture has a unique tradition of making bold resolutions with each calendar swap. As we turn the page from one year to another we take it upon ourselves to make changes to the way we look, act, speak, eat, move, and more. I love the positive intent behind these proclamations. The idea that with each new year we aim to progress and grow together is inspiring. What I personally find less inspiring is the fixation on how we look, the overbearing obsession we place on numbers, and the diminishment of food. Arguably this fixation and obsession exists year round as we continuously value small bodies and eating as little as possible. But, it seems to peak and be particularly celebrated in the new year. 

I’m not going to sit here at my computer and type out some manifesto telling you all the merits, or lack thereof, for this yearly declaration. Instead, I am going to propose that we consider what we truly want to change in the coming year. Want to be healthier? Great. Want to be kinder? Amazing. Want to be more confident? Incredible. Want to be smaller? Here I will pause and ask, why? I will always understand the desire to feel better, the desire to evade illness, the desire to be active, but I will always question the desire to be smaller. Now this doesn’t mean that striving for a lower number on the scale is always bad, in fact for some it may be good. However, I will always ask why. Our relationship with food and our bodies has become so convoluted and, excuse my language but, fucked up. I don’t question the desire to lose weight because I can judge the wrong and right reasons for this ambition. I ask ‘why’ so that the ambition can be challenged. It’s become so normal to aspire for weight loss that we infrequently question it anymore, in fact we almost solely celebrate it. 

Imagine if we all went into the new year aiming to add one more sustainable practice to our lives. Or, if we each aspired to add one more practice of kindness to our daily routine. Or, if we all adopted the mindset of giving ourselves grace in the new year. What if we improved the relationships we had with the planet and one another and ourselves? What if that was the goal in the new year? Again, losing weight may have some merit in your life. I acknowledge that. But, does it have as much merit as these other things? 

As a person who has struggled with an eating disorder, I realize that I approach this topic with a unique perspective and perhaps a biased one. Through my experience with anorexia and bulimia, I learned some valuable lessons. And, I’ve learned some even more valuable ones since then. Similar to others that have struggled with eating disorders, I was my most unhappy at my smallest. Getting help and gaining weight was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The body I now inhabit is larger than it used to be. Sometimes that makes me uncomfortable, but most of the time it makes me grateful. I’m grateful for the ability to comfortably skip a workout, to drink wine with my friends, to eat late night snacks, and to enjoy pasta and bread and dessert when I want. I am so incredibly, deeply grateful to no longer place my self worth on the reflection I see in the mirror each morning. I am grateful for everything I’ve gained along the way.

It may seem strange for me to share this story, particularly with mostly strangers. But, I listen to people talk about losing weight or changing the way they look and it makes me sad. Then, I think about how incredibly loud the voices that promote this will be in just a week or so. The minute Christmas passes we will be bombarded with the message that we must all change the way we look. This prescribed goal is dangerous and damaging. What if being healthy was the goal? And what if being healthy meant learning intuitive eating and incorporating all food groups that make you feel good? What if we strived to listen to our bodies instead of pressing mute on them? What if we approached our bodies with kindness? Imagine how much we could learn from ourselves, from our bodies, if we treated them with the love we hope to receive from the outside world.

So, I’ll leave you with the proposition that we all pause this holiday season and allow ourselves the space to enjoy the festivities, and allow food to be a source of joy, nostalgia, and comfort. If your jeans tighten after a week of family meals and powdered sugar covered memories, practice patience and remember the joy that resulted in this change. If the scale ticks up after cheersing to belly laughs and skipped workouts in favor of lazy mornings and late nights, smile at the new number for the memories it gave you. And remember, it will likely change back naturally. So, I propose that we ignore the ever so tempting bait that tells you that you need to be smaller this new year. I mean that in every way. Be loud, be passionate, be full and vibrant, and buy bigger jeans if you need to! Just enjoy the holidays and love the wonderful food that you will celebrate around. And lastly, love the beautiful body that carries you through life. It’s incredible how much it will love you back if you let it. 

In 2024, Slow Food Denver plans to host a Food and Mental Health panel through our FED Workshops that will offer a space for this to be discussed and explored.

I’ll reiterate one more time that for some people, losing weight can be healthy. Health is a subjective and deeply personal thing. I don’t believe that a fixation on losing weight is ever healthy, nor do I believe that promoting it as a widely prescribed goal is productive. But, I do think that some people personally feel that it is best for their physical health. I am not a dietician or personal trainer or anything of the type. I’m just a woman with a deeply personal relationship with the harms of over emphasizing weight loss and “smallness.”

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