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Why I’ll be resisting January detox culture this year

PHOTOGRAPHY BY AGNIESZKA CHABROS
WORDS BY GENEVIEVE PHELAN

Or why I hope to at least try.

It’s been a marathon of food, fun and frivolity over the last few weeks. I’ve landscaped lavosh crackers into lavish spreads, gobbled up carborific banquets, gorged on feature-length set menus and pushed my stomach’s storage solutions to the brink. I’ve abandoned routines, let exercise fall by the wayside and gone for fifths when I’d typically refuse seconds.

I’ve been sunning and sanding myself, rejecting rigorous fake tanning and grooming rituals to embrace prawn-pink bikini lines and freckles on the pinnacles of my body. I’m well-fed and warm. I’ve broken bread with old friends and new, zipped in and out of drive-through windows with salty hands on hot steering wheels, and cheers-d hectolitres of mixed drinks to make memories.

Now it’s 2021 and I feel grossly guilty.

The punitive cycle

January 1 rolled around and the detox-speak began. It’s the mentioning of the gym or the barrage of email marketing campaigns rolling out the same, tired ‘new year, new you’ garbage that sucks me in every time. Girlfriends will comment about all-consuming compulsions to get back into the gym, or substitute meals for smoothies as we bid farewell to day dancing and drinking in welcome of desk time.

We’re all plotting radical plans to go vegan for February again or opt for an occasional AFW (alcohol free week). And we’re readily depriving ourselves to rewrite ‘wrongs’ in short, narrow, punitive bursts after what were actually the best couple of weeks we’ve had in a very long time.

I’m dying to get back into a spin class or test my planking endurance in a KX Pilates session soon. But I’m also enjoying drifting from coast to coast and plan to plan while my mirrored wardrobes wait for me at home. When I return, I’ll take a good look in those familiar reflective sheets and push a few pudgy bits of my tummy around. I’ll give my arms a shake and watch them jiggle around like the desserts I’ve vanquished. I’ve only just recently stopped logging my daily food intake in my head and retracing it before sleep each night. This is probably just because it got so wildly brilliant and busy that I couldn’t keep track of how many different cheeses I grazed on in a day.

It’s such an indictment to think that during all these festivities and luxuries, I was thinking about how enjoying myself would detrimentally affect the size of my body. That guilt is the only real shame.

Just do what feels right

I’ve just signed up for a $33 two-week trial at a local F45 which will be just that: a two-week, short-lived attempt at shedding my imaginary holiday hunkiness. I love moving my body and find it paramount to supporting a functioning mind, but I must be wary of navigating this back-to-work and back-to-routine month, as I know that monotony fuels some of my most detrimental habits.

I’ve found that my eating hasn’t been inherently evil or extortionate over the past few weeks, but instead has verged on the intuitive side. I’ll pick something up when I feel like it, I’ll sleep in way later than usual and I’ll be so occupied that I don’t need to trudge down the road from the desk to get a boredom croissant. If I’m really analysing things, I’ve probably eaten in a way that’s healthier and kinder to my body than it had been previously.

Why ingratitude is the ugliest gain of all

For anyone feeling remorse around their holiday hedonism, I beg you to reflect on the bliss that lies in the breakdown of strict, regimented routines. Back in Melbourne’s late 2020 lockdown, we would’ve sold souls to sashay around a bowl of chips and an espresso martini on a dance floor.

I’ve also realised in the heat of corona commotion (with the holiday period moving at breakneck speed), this ‘new’ year is simply a continuation of the last. Time has literally just ticked over and here we are, moving through another lap around the sun, dealing with the same BS, the same virus, the same promotional marketing and the same services that have always been guilting us into thinking there is something wrong with our bodies that needs to be made right. There is no obligation to reinvent oneself in the span of the month of January. Nor should we mandate a list of doomed resolutions relating to exercise, weight-loss and undoing weeks of living a good life. It’s just another month on this earth.

Make the most of the good times while they’re around

A Thai restaurant around the corner from my place has been a cluster for coronavirus and she’s been spreading around the burbs like wildfire. And so it’s suddenly hit me that I’d rather be living and luxuriating in carb-loaded escapades than be locked up obsessing over my daily running incremental improvements again.

Instead of rigorous weight-centric goal-setting, or falling into the body-shaming narratives that large corporations so hugely rely upon to make bank in January, try to look at these few weeks as a natural progression into a happier and more mentally stable you. By all means, get back into the gym, move yourself in a way that feels fantastic, plan some home-cooked meals. But don’t berate yourself to the point where living your best life taints moments of pure, unadulterated happiness and nourishment with delayed-onset regret.

Think about who you want to be, not what size you want to be

I closely follow really underrated, everyday people like Penelope Benson and Jessica Vander Leahy on Instagram, both NSW-hailing models and life-livers that exude this inarticulable sense of fullness and vivacity. I look at their cool outfittings and bikini-clad uploads and wonder how to replicate such ostensibly effortless self-certainty and beauty in my own world. I’d be foolish to brand them ‘body positive’ or ‘size diverse’ or whatever, because they’re actually just fucking comfortable with their own limbs and skin on a public platform, and they do it in such an unpretentious, organic way. In my mind, they are two of the most beautiful women I pay attention to online, and their waist-size doesn’t have a thing to do with it.

Another person I won’t be unfollowing in my 2021 Instagram audit is Cat Webb of Good Times Pilates. Something she told us months ago has stuck to me like glue: “The sun doesn’t shine brighter when you’re a size 8.” I’m making a conscious effort to support and align myself with wellness communities and leaders that resonate with my thoughts around the feel-good body movement, and Cat is certainly one of those voices.

Did your weight define you last year?

When we think about signing up for a gym trial, or start obsessing over ‘what I eat in a day TikToks’, or try to work out what puts us in a calorie deficit, we begin to develop more insecurities, infidelities and problems than we had before we set those ‘goals’.

There is still so much celebratory eating and drinking to be done as we dive further into January. Instead of resolving to cut back, eat less, sweat more and deprive yourself, ask what changes you can make to leading a leaner-from-bullshit life.

I truly, deeply want to detox from those predatory ‘wellness’ empires that goad us to think weight loss is the key to unlocking a good 2021. I want to detox from people-pleasing, love-chasing, second-guessing, overspending, self-pitying and excuse-making. When I look back on the last 12 months of life, my body size doesn’t correlate with any of the turmoils or triumphs that I’ve experienced.

Don’t waste your consciousness

I could go on forever about this and still fail miserably to take my own advice. But I’ll leave you with a passage from one of the summer’s best beach reads: Lily Allen’s memoir, My Thoughts Exactly. A writer first and singer second, she’s got such a tight grasp on a lot of the personal battles we face universally, weight being one of them. And this paragraph stopped me in my resolution-writing tracks:

“…For years my every waking day was shadowed by a preoccupation with my size. What a waste of headspace. What a waste of consciousness. What an insult to every person struggling with illness or poverty or homelessness; what a diss to the sunshine and the sky and the birdsong and to any number of small pleasures or preoccupations that could have more joyfully and usefully occupied space taken up with worry about body weight.”

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