Written by: Natalie Pirolli, MS, RDN, LDN, RYT | April 13, 2023
I love the hope and joy this time of year brings. Something about the brighter days, budding trees, and green sprouts emerging from the cold brown earth feels exciting and energizing.
More so than New Year's, I find that spring feels like a good time to start fresh. I have more motivation to learn new things, create new habits, and focus on bettering myself. And what better way to start fresh than to do a little spring cleaning? While it feels great to organize, deep clean, and refresh the house, there are some ways we can spring clean to refresh our minds, too. Here are 5 ways we can be "out with the old and in with the new" this spring:
1. Social Media Cleanup
When was the last time you noticed what accounts you were following and how they made you feel? If you're like me, you can end up mindlessly scrolling on Instagram and realizing 20 minutes later you haven't been working on what you were supposed to be working on and then return to that task feeling no more refreshed or focused than before you took this little phone break. And sometimes, you might notice you're feeling less positive or a little down after closing out of the app, too.
It's hard not to compare to what we see on our feeds: the couple that is always traveling, the picture-perfect family, the model with the "perfect" body—things that make us question if our lives, partners, bodies are good enough as they are or if we should be doing something differently. We might not realize it in the moment but these comparisons, which are constantly available in the palms of our hands, make it harder to recognize and be grateful for what we have.
Then there are the accounts that fuel diet mentality like the person whose life is so much better since they've been intermittent fasting and the fear-mongering messages from influencers about why they stopped eating dairy or carbs (or whatever the latest fad diet is promoting), and why you should do it, too. And let's not forget the "What I eat in a day" reels and Gwyneth Paltrow's of the world promoting disordered eating as "wellness." Diet culture runs rampant on social media and the amount of nutrition and health misinformation is truly remarkable. Yet still, we can find ourselves tempted to dabble in these disordered recommendations or feel ashamed that our eating and exercise habits look different than these "healthy" people.
Next time you start scrolling, take a moment to pause and notice how certain posts make you feel, and don't hesitate to mute or unfollow accounts that aren't making you feel good. For me, these are the ones that promote unrealistic body image expectations and disordered eating, share false fear-mongering nutrition messages, and shame or bully others. It can actually feel really empowering to take control and get rid of the accounts that aren't adding anything to your life. Instead, start following accounts that promote body positivity, spark your interest, and make you smile and feel empowered. (For me, these are the accounts that share recipes, positive quotes, and videos of cute puppies and babies).
Still noticing similar posts coming up on your Instagram Explore page? Click the 3 little dots at the top-right corner of the post and select "Not Interested" to hide the post and see fewer related posts. (This also feels oddly empowering!).
2. Calorie Tracker Removal
Have you gotten into a habit of tracking what you eat? Apps like MyFitnessPal, Lose It!, Noom, Fat Secret, etc. are advertised as helpful tools for long-term weight loss but typically don't deliver and can end up doing more harm than good. Tracking our calorie intake can lead to or worsen disordered eating and preoccupation with food and/or our bodies. Plus, these apps are often pretty inaccurate at estimating our calorie and nutrient needs and recommend significant (and unsustainable) calorie deficits when weight loss is entered as a goal. They also suggest that weight management is as easy as adjusting our calories in and calories out, which is not so simply the case. So many factors like our genetics, stress level, phase of life, diet, exercise habits, and more, impact our weight and we are far less in control of it than these apps make it seem.
Our bodies are also quite amazing and can tell us how much food we need when we tune in and listen to them. When we don't eat enough throughout the day, we may get that insatiable feeling in the evening when we've finally tuned out of work and can hear our bodies. When we've eaten larger meals or had a more filling day, we may not be as hungry in the evening or maybe not even the next day. Relying on an app makes it much harder to tune in and trust our body's hunger and fullness cues, along with our food preferences. We're more likely to make food choices based on calorie amounts than what we're craving or what will nourish us best. We may be in the mood for something sweet after dinner but see we've already reached our calorie limit so we avoid that cup of ice cream. This may not sound like such a bad thing, but typically the longer we go on denying our desires, the more likely we'll be to end up overeating those foods or food in general later.
Even if you download one of these apps just to check in your nutrition status, beware that it can be a slippery slope. I noticed this when I recently tracked my intake to see how much potassium I was getting. By the afternoon, the app indicated that I met my fat requirements for the day. When it came time to make dinner, I felt very cognizant of the amount of oil I was cooking with, if I should add avocado to my taco, and if I should have dessert. Needless to say, it made for a less enjoyable meal physically and mentally. And I know better! It just goes to show the influence of these apps.
So my recommendation when it comes to calorie tracking apps: delete and start tuning into the best predictor of your needs. (You!)
3. Bathroom Scale Toss
We can often feel like we need to see our weight to "stay on track." What we don't realize is that using the scale to determine how much we should eat, if we should allow ourselves to eat certain foods (like dessert), how much we should exercise, etc. sets the stage for body distrust and a worse relationship with food and our bodies. I can't stress it enough: our bodies have their own way of telling us if we need more or less nutrition. Relying on the scale makes it harder to tune in and trust ourselves. It's like always relying on your GPS to get you somewhere—you just turn it on and follow its lead. Then one day your GPS isn't working so you go on without it and realize you knew the way all along.
The scale further complicates things because our weight is also impacted by so many things besides food. Water retention, where we are in our menstrual cycle, and the time of the day are just a few. Yet when we see our weight has gone up, we immediately blame ourselves as if it's all in our control. Think about it, have you ever been having a good day, feeling good about yourself and your health habits, then hop on the scale and it all goes to shit? Using the scale regularly can affect our self-worth even if we don't realize it. Plus, using the scale to measure our success as we embark on new health habits can also set us up to feel defeated amongst other things.
It's also worth mentioning that our weight may truly be increasing, and that can be OK, too. If you've started working out more regularly, maybe that change on the scale is due to an increase in muscle mass. Or maybe you've been below your set point range or not eating enough and are now properly fueling to get your body where it needs to be. Or maybe your body is just going with the seasons and it's a time of year when you're eating and exercising differently (this happens to me every winter!). We're quick to think that weight gain = bad, but this isn't necessarily the case. And micromanaging the changes we see won't necessarily be helpful.
If you find yourself regularly hopping on the scale, I encourage you to ask yourself why and reflect on how weigh-ins are making you feel. Tossing your scale will likely bring some peace and help you learn to tune in and trust your body.
4. "One Day" Clothes Donation
It is difficult to part with clothes. We always find some reason to hold onto items we no longer need whether they "might come back in style" or "might fit again one day." I encourage you to challenge both of these, but especially the latter. It is normal for our bodies to change as we age, start families, go through different phases of life, but that doesn't make it easy to accept. We might think that if we just go back to the way we used to eat and exercise then those clothes will fit again but it's usually not that simple—our bodies can change due to a number of factors outside of our control.
Keeping clothes in our closet from a time when we had a different metabolic rate, set of nutrient needs, body that hadn't miraculously created a human, or when we had a disordered relationship with food, sets unrealistic expectations and unnecessary pressure. Next time you go through your closet, pile up those "one-day" clothes and donate them, recycle them, or consign them and make spaces for the clothes you'll wear and make memories in during this next chapter of life.
I recently did this when I realized I had been holding onto some clothes from a time when I was smaller. For a while, I could still squeeze into them and put up with the digging waistbands, until I realized the physical discomfort was also taking a mental toll. Wearing clothes that don't fit is like being constantly poked at and told "You are uncomfortable in your body" or "You don't like this body." It's one sure way to ruin your self-esteem and body image for the day. Yet still, I had kept these tiny pants and tops thinking maybe I'll be that size again. But then I remembered what it took to be that size—I wasn't eating healthily or properly taking care of myself. I also wasn't really happy in my life, either. Getting rid of those small pants and tops that were staring at me and reminding me of thinner times ironically has been a huge weight off of my shoulders.
5. Negative Self-Talk Swap
This one could be its own blog so since I've already had your attention for some time, I will keep this brief! Do you get upset with your friends when they gain weight? Do you shame your child/grandchild because they enjoyed a piece of cake? Do you lay a guilt trip on your spouse because he/she missed a workout? I'm going to guess the answer to all of these is no. My next question is, how do you talk to and treat yourself in the same situations? Or when you make a mistake at work, or forget something at the store?
It is usually easier to be understanding and empathetic with our loved ones than it is with ourselves. Next time you catch yourself self-criticizing or shaming, pause and think about how you'd talk to a friend in this situation. You deserve to treat yourself with the same compassion!
It's time to start fresh.
Notice what's no longer serving you whether it's diet culture on social media, keeping track of your calories and weight, holding onto a past life in your closet, or talking down to yourself and let. it. go. Use the new space to make room for things that bring you joy and help you to feel good about yourself and your body.
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