By Anya Cooklin-Lofting
The start of a New Year is a time for reflection, and for many, resolutions. Weight loss and fitness are ubiquitous terms when it comes to resolutions, and while maintaining a healthy diet and exercise regimen is important, sometimes such lifestyle changes can feel more like punishments than life improvements that actually serve your overall wellbeing. So this week, I sat down with Gemma McGuigan, a fully certified Functional Medicine Practitioner and Naturopathic Nutritional Therapist, and the founder of Gemma McGuigan Nutrition. I asked her about coping with the weight loss and dieting pressures that intensify over the New Year period, in the hope that you might find her words of wisdom useful, too…
Social media feeds often abound with weight loss programmes/fasts/juice cleanses in January – how can you manage this overload of information when it feels more damaging than helpful?
I think the most important thing is to spend a little time contemplating what your needs are for this fresh New Year. Try to limit the time spent reading social media posts about different fads. There is so much conflicting advice out there, so it can be super confusing and unachievable. We know ourselves the best. We know the things that don’t help us thrive and we know the things that do. So keep it simple and manageable. You can ask yourself, what should I do less of and what should I do more of? This way you are in control of helping yourself be the best you.
How do you recommend one deals with the pressure of setting fitness and weight loss goals in the New Year?
I think attention and energy should be taken away from weight and fitness goals. When we start to move more, eat better and think bigger, weight loss and good health come as a side effect. Work on your relaxation, work on what goes into your shopping basket, work on getting out into nature and connecting with the world at large, work on building strength, work on finding more joy and most importantly work on being kind to yourself.
Are there any warning signs to look out for, either in yourself or in friends and family, that they might be entering dangerous territory when it comes to dieting or exercise?
I do believe that when we are too rigid with diets or thoughts we are creating a limiting energy. I am all for abundance instead of denial. When patients, friends or family become too obsessed, too restrictive or too sore on themselves it’s not good for their health. It keeps their nervous system in a state of alarm which prevents optimal biological function. We need to change our belief systems around food ultimately, we need to see our food as important information for every cell in our body – it can be our medicine.
How do you formulate genuinely healthy and achievable fitness or weight loss goals? Perhaps the focus should be on heart health, stamina or strength as opposed to any aesthetic objectives…
I always start with the belief systems around food, many many people have very dysfunctional patterns of behaviour around food and exercise. It can become punishing. I try to encourage my patients to look at food and movement through a different lens, a lens that focuses on their vitality for life and health longevity. I am always looking for behavioural transformation. We have everything within us to thrive
And how do you stick to your objectives through these new lenses?
We need to be empowered. We need to be mentored into looking after ourselves so we can be the best we can be. It’s a state of being as opposed to some exhausting behaviour or goal. Once we work on removing the addictions to sugar, rancid fats, alcohol, cigarettes, exercise, and so on, we then work on what feels good for each person. It’s a personal thing, not one eating pattern or fitness regime works for everyone. So, sometimes we need professional support with this. I find that when patients start to feel good, they never look back.
Do you see a spike in enquiries around the dawn of the New Year?
Yes always, there is an energy of change and potential and the New Year is a great time to reach out.
Any final thoughts on January as a time of reflection and planning for the New Year and how to do this in a mindful, health-oriented way?
I find that ‘Dry January’ plays into the punishing mindset as opposed to the thriving mindset. Our relationships with alcohol are often not changed by ‘Dry January’, in fact, it can often make people bounce back and drink more. Instead, January is a perfect time to address the patterns of behaviour around alcohol and food. It’s a time to be honest with yourself, asking the question, what is not serving me? Maybe January is best spent creating more moderation around alcohol, for example, having five alcohol-free nights of the week or enjoying one or two glasses of wine instead of a whole bottle.
The same is also with behaviours around food. For example, identify when we eat sugar. If it’s at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, this may indicate that your lunch didn’t balance your blood sugar, so maybe you need to have a better lunch full of protein, fats and veg. If you’re having sugar because you are bored, it’s time to recognise these little responses. Once we have an awareness, we can create our intentions and this is very powerful. January is a great time to have a good look at your shopping trolly. How much of it is packaged and has more than five ingredients, pointing towards heavier processing? How much time do you give to nourishing yourself in the kitchen? Do you always rush to eat? Health truly begins at home and as a society, we have forgotten this. However, we have everything within us to bring health back into our homes and January is a great time to start with mindful intentions.