After being diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, I spent the better part of my mid-twenties trying to get on board with the health hand I was dealt. I adjusted to a gluten-free diet, drank green juice, did yoga and in general, tried to abide by the health rules that doctors and wellness experts set for me — rules that many people apply to their lives every January, and then slowly shed as the weeks pass by.
After many years of health ups and downs, I couldn't help but feel like I was failing at my lofty wellness goals year round. By last January, with a raging case of adult acne that no one could solve and a general halo of guilt that hovered over all my health choices, I knew I had to change my approach.
92% of the population doesn't achieve the New Year's resolutions they set because they're too ambitious.
I wanted to discover what it really takes to be "well." And not just to be healthy on paper, but to feel well — to do right by your body without giving up your life. So I decided instead of resolutions, I was going to take on monthly challenges to tackle my problem areas.
The beauty of these experiments is that they're not cumulative. By simply committing to making a change for a short period of time, you never tumble completely, painfully off the wagon. And by experiencing one behavioral extreme with awareness, it becomes easier to settle back into some semblance of balance thereafter.
So this year, instead of resolutions, I'm taking on a new wellness challenge every month to explore my limits, and find a more sustainable middle ground going forward. Once you find that, there's no real need for rules or resolutions at all.
Here's what my year will look like:
1. I'm going to cut our alcohol, caffeine or sugar.
Since most people like to start the year with a detox, I'll be recommitting to my liver by giving up three of my favorite vices. Part of the challenge will be tuning into why I crave these items, and what I can do going forward to re-tox in a healthier way.
2. I'll skip makeup on Mondays.
I'll be doing Make-Up Free Mondays to re-evaluate my relationship with liquid courage in concealer form. Becoming more comfortable in the skin I'm in is a necessary step in transitioning to organic makeup, where there's less of an emphasis on "covering" up your face.
3. I'll see how far I can stretch $40 at the farmers market.
To make healthy eating more affordable, I'm challenging my budgeting skills to see how far I can stretch $40 at the Farmer' market. Every Sunday, I'll come home with my organic loot and turn it into as many healthy meals as possible for the week ahead.
4. I'm going to drink half my body weight in water.
One of the simplest changes you can make to improve your general wellbeing is to drink more water. The rule is to aim to drink half your body weight in ounces. There's a great app called Moro that can help you log your progress each day.
5. I'll avoid sitting for more than 30 minutes at a time.
Since I started spending more time freelance writing than cooking professionally, I've suffered from chronic lower back pain. There are many gadgets and treatments available. But the simplest fix is to simply get up and move. There are a few timer apps to help set reminders for when it's time to stand up and give your body a little stretch.
6. I'm going to give my hair a break.
Sure, there are a million products out there that promise stronger, shinier strands. But the best way to fuel your hair health is by improving your diet and limiting the amount of damage your inflict on your locks. One way to cut down on daily abuse is to limit your heat styling. I'm going to attempt to cut it out completely to give my hair a reset.
7. I'm going to do 30 minutes of movement every day.
For the last 5 years, while my adrenals have been in limbo, I've been on a pretty steady fitness downward spiral. And while in my early twenties I could go a month without exercising and then snap my droopy delts back into gear with a 4-mile run, when months turn into years, you eventually reach a point when you've officially "let yourself go." I'm going to try to get it back with a little light exercise every day. And yes, walking counts.
8. I'll have sex according to my cycle.
Sex itself is great for your health. It's great for reducing stress by helping to balance your cortisol levels. As women, we benefit from tailoring our eating, exercise and pleasure habits to different parts of our cycle. Since energy levels fluctuate depending on the time of the month, it helps to choose milder or more strenuous forms of movement accordingly, even in the bedroom.
9. I'll chew my food food until it's pulp.
There are many digestive supplements and probiotics that can help repair your digestive system. But it often doesn't matter what you eat, if you're not chewing your food properly. Saliva is such an important piece of our digestive puzzle and we often swallow our food down so fast that our bellies are forced to do most of the work. Chewing properly is an arduous task and one that takes time to reprogram in our daily lives.
10. I'm aiming for 20 minutes of meditation per day.
There are lots of times as a busy New Yorker, when the subway inexplicably just skips my stop or the line for Trader Joe's wraps around the block, that I have to take a breath and ask myself: "What would my calm twin do right now?" Stress is one of the most corrosive things on the body. And being complicated emotional beings, alleviating it is a deeply individual and complex process. I'm going to begin by meditating for 20 minutes everyday.
11. I'd going to prioritize getting 8 hours of sleep.
Like drinking more water, getting a full night's sleep is one of those common sense health practices that we know we should embrace as a non-negotiable, but rarely do in practice. Being a busy professional, sleep can often feel like a waste of time. Part of making it a priority means reorganizing the day to ensure an early bedtime, which is easier said than done.
12. I'm going to practice gratitude.
Gratitude practices are among the trendiest things in the wellness world right now. Putting things on paper gives your feelings a whole added weight. So as a new nighttime ritual, I'm going to end the day by writing down 5 things I'm grateful for.
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Phoebe Lapine is a food and health writer, gluten-free chef, wellness personality, culinary instructor, and speaker based in New York. She has a B.A. from Brown University, but but was born and raised in New York City. On her award-winning blog, Feed Me Phoebe, she shares recipes for healthy comfort food and insights about balanced lifestyle choices beyond what’s on your plate. Lapine's forthcoming memoir, The Wellness Project, chronicles her journey with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis and how she finally found the middle ground between health and hedonism by making one lifestyle change, one month at a time. Connect with her on Instagram and Facebook for more creative clean recipes and inspiration.