noun res·o·lu·tion \ ˌre-zə-ˈlü-shən \
1 : the act or process of resolving: such as
a : the act of analyzing a complex notion into simpler ones
b : the act of answering : solving
c : the act of determining
I sifted through the six variable definitions of resolution.
None held the weight or seriousness we hold in our promises for the new year. To analyze, to answer, to determine. These are the most relevant to the month of January here in America. As it turns out, we have the Babylonians some 4,000 years ago to thank for this emotionally complicated ritual. Many other cultures besides our own also celebrate the old, the new, and hope to bring in change, prosperity, and happiness into the new year. There is much feasting the night before the 1st. I spent my last night of 2017 with lovely people, eating as much food as I could. Naturally, this was in preparation for my restrictive diet starting the following day. I agree with the basic premise of Mardi Gras: eat as much as possible, then fast for a long time. That can't go wrong, right?
New Year's diets are not unusual. It's almost as if we are in on the same joke; holding up a mirror to all the other people hoping to be thinner, healthier, more attractive, etc. I wanted to lose some of the weight I'd gained inevitably in the Christmas season (thanks cheese, chocolate, cakes, pies, pigs-in-a-blanket. No really, no sarcasm, you were worth it. I don't regret a thing.). I also wanted to address a health concern: my hormones. Since the summertime, I've had symptoms of hormonal imbalance in ways that are infuriating. The appointment with my doctor is many months off, and being a believer in food being medicine, I decided to take part in a hormonal "detox" diet. Now, I believe in food as medicine; I can name all the supplements I've run through over the years for optimal health, but I'm also skeptical of practices that capitalize on our health insecurities. I know people that have trusted in and found relief through naturopathy and herbal remedies, and I've known (and read) of many people who found no form of relief. I'm skeptical of the lack of research in the field and the possible health risks of diets in general, particularly extreme ones.
And yet, after extensive website hopping, I decided to try it. I invested in a protein supplement and liver detox tablets, and committed to three weeks (which later became four) of a plant and high-quality-protein based diet. No dairy, no grains, no soy, no corn, no added sugar, no caffeine, no alcohol. I joked before my diet that it was much easier to explain what I couldn't eat than what I could. I drank less and less coffee, switched to tea, and by January 1st, I had no caffeine in my system. I've only had several bouts of heavy drinking in my adult years, and didn't find the no alcohol rule to be a problem. I've gone months sans drinking without batting an eye. Soy and corn I was okay with leaving behind, and outside of my daily yogurt I didn't normally consume milk or ice cream (my inner child is aghast). But grains? Sugar? That meant not only no wheat or chocolate, but no rice, quinoa, bread, pastries, waffles, etc. My sweet tooth is inherited and oh so strong. Despite cringing, I committed, in part because I was NOT going to waste the money I put into the supplement.
Besides, I told myself, restricting habits you do without thinking is a good way to become aware of them. Do they serve you? Do they hurt you? Do they help you? Can you remind your brain and body to resist something that provides pleasure? Ideologically, I'm a big fan of self-discipline. The kind you see in Akira Kurosawa movies. The kind you read in a Hemingway book that tells you Hunger is Good Discipline. In a way only an adolescent overachiever can tell you, disciplining and challenging yourself is incredibly rewarding and motivating. The more one internal voice tells me "there is no way you can do that" the more the other voice declares "try me."
The first three days I craved chocolate so much that the dates I ate after dinner were roughly as satisfying as soggy cardboard. But after that, I found I could do it. Not only was I full of energy, but my skin cleared up amazingly. I've struggled with acne my entire adolescent and adult years, and now it was like this one change was the answer. "I have so much energy, " I excitedly told my friends and family, "I can hardly go to sleep." My mood was also at a high. I've struggled with depression and anxiety as long as the acne, and though I've made peace with it and work with it like an old friend, the winters are challenging for me. Not a negative thought passed my mind that entire week. I felt giddy. I really, really believed this was the answer to everything.
If you couldn't tell from the foreshadowing in the last few sentences, the diet was not the answer to everything. After the first week, I became obsessive about the diet. It was a feeling I can only describe as a tightening in my chest--a common personal sign of my anxiety. I carefully and happily prepared my food, eating a great array of vegetables and proteins. I even cooked salmon for the first time. But every time I thought about the four weeks being over, I felt a panic. I noticed cravings for food coming back. But a voice inside said "you know you can never eat that again." I nodded my head and pressed on. I swallowed the idea that I couldn't turn back and eat the way I did before. The change was working. I couldn't go back on it now. Little by little over the course of the last three weeks, I felt more and more trapped. I read article after article on wellness, on diets. If you've ever pored over dozens of WebMD articles when you only intended to look up "is my mole cancerous", you will know what I was feeling on a similar scale. Now, being someone who relishes in a level of self-awareness that borders on selfishness (or is, depending on how you look at it), I had the thought that this is how an eating disorder starts. I was being tightened into a coil. I wasn't even enjoying the diet much anymore. My skin was still clear but my emotions were hard to get a hold of. I was constantly worried about the next meal, obsessing over my body in the mirror, picking up new imperfections on my face. Negative thoughts again invaded my brain in a familiar way. It wasn't until I had a conversation with one of my best friends that I hit the wall of my deception. I was telling her the updates on my diet, painting it in bright and hopeful tones, when she said, "Alexa, I just hope that this year you love yourself more." Umm, WHAT? This is advice I usually dispense for my beautiful, amazing friends who don't see the same incredible person I see when they look in the mirror. Besides, I did yoga. I ate healthy. I was on top of my mental health. I follow my passions. I'm committed to seeing my dreams through. "Why would she be saying that to me?"
It quickly became clear. The core of what she was saying is a flaw that has haunted me, if I may be allowed to say, my entire life. Never feeling good enough. It's a phrase I roll my eyes at. I see articles titled something like "For Those who don't Feel Good Enough" as I scroll through my facebook feed, and scroll past, feeling that this doesn't pertain to me anymore. Well there it was. Right in front of my face. The familiar feeling that in order to be loved, valued, and respected I needed to be a certain person. And this person is like me, but more. She's more funny. She's more talented. More easy-going. More daring. Skinnier. Healthier. Fitter. A better artist. More sure of herself. A better daughter. A better friend. A better lover. She has time for everything. Her skin is perfect. She never runs out of things to say. I never seemed to be able to catch up to her.
My friend, I am not what I seem. Seeming is but a garment I wear--- a care-woven garment that protects me from thy questionings and thee from my negligence.
- from The Madman: His Parables and Poems
Khalil Gibran, besides having one of the most poetic voices of literature in the 20th century, also nailed the crux of our curated lives on social media in this short story with startling accuracy. This image we put forth, it is that perfect version of ourselves reserved for others. Calculated so carefully, it lives more vibrantly than we do. I don't pretend to be that person on social media, however. I thought I had escaped due to my lack of perfection online. But in person, the version I project to my loved ones and am always chasing after, is the better version of me.
noun meta·mor·pho·sis \ ˌme-tə-ˈmȯr-fə-səs \
a : change of physical form, structure, or substance especially by supernatural means
b : a striking alteration in appearance, character, or circumstances
They are not so simple, these metamorphoses. I had learned, in a few short weeks, the beauty and pain of prescribed change. I gained much from it. I learned the power of a diet based around fresh, healthy foods. I taught myself I can yet again discipline myself. I feel closer to health than I did before. I also learned through a few weeks of darkness the danger of such a change. If we are not careful, these changes become obsession. I count myself lucky to have people in my life who call me out when I'm trying to change myself in order to feed a deeper insecurity. Still, I have resolutions I'm committed to seeing through in 2018.
Based on his own experience, Frankl believed that our health depends on that natural tension that comes from comparing what we've accomplished so far with what we'd like to achieve in the future. What we need, then, is not a peaceful existence, but a challenge we can strive to meet by applying all the skills at our disposal.
- from Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life
The above passage from a short, helpful read briefly touched on Logotherapy and the other findings of psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl. When I read it in October I stored it within, feeling it could help with the goals I want to accomplish. I see a way to move toward a bigger resolution. One not focused on my weight, my body, my hormones alone. I'm looking to analyze what I've done in the past and determine what course I can take. The way requires a much broader view than a four week cleanse. It requires truly caring for all parts of myself: body, mind, and soul.
I found part of the answer in a recent conversation with my uncle who referenced the ancient Greek philosophy via media centered around moderation. We can find this mirrored in many teachings, including those of Siddhartha Gautama who describes the Middle Way, at the center of Buddhism. I can even remember my mother saying this to me often: "everything in moderation", throughout my childhood.
As it turns out, the answers are all around. As much as I'd like to believe there is one way to solve all my problems, I'm also glad to know there isn't. That tightness in my chest, that coiling motion and trapped feeling attest to this. Change isn't easy, and it doesn't happen overnight. Much of what changes us we have no control over. So what I do have control over, I'll listen closely to make sure it's from a good place, from a place of love. Now that those four weeks are up, I'm toasting myself and you with a glass of wine and a square of chocolate. I wish you luck in your metamorphoses too. What are you planning to change?