It’s the new year and instagram has nineteen million posts with the hashtag #cleaneating and 5 million more for #paleo. January always makes me want to slip from my moderate, happy, healthy lifestyle and spiral into a slippery slope of restriction and food obsession.
In fact, having an eating disorder today would be incredibly easy. 15 years ago I got quizzical looks when I refused to eat bread, sugar, salad dressing, cheese or butter, and ordered chicken or fish and steamed vegetables without any seasonings. Now, you can just tell the entire table you are sensitive to certain foods or are following a Paleo diet and people revere you instead of resent you.
Please don’t assume that I think healthful changes are bad. That is not at all what I am saying. For the most part, they are incredible. Millions of people have lost weight, healed their bodies, found energy, and conquered harmful habits through special diet and exercise programs. Those with food allergies can find great relief in the proper diet. Health is an amazing blessing and a goal worth sacrificing for.
My problem is, I spent 15 years trying to feel okay about putting butter on my bread and dressing on my salad. I spent 15 years thinking of only what I was or was not going to eat and how I could burn an excessive amount of calories. My life and all conversations revolved around food, exercise, my pant size, and the numbers on the scale. There was very little room in my mind or heart for anything but me…the way I looked, the way I wanted to look and how I could achieve those unattainable goals.
About 5 years ago I broke free from that obsessive cycle (you can read the long version HERE) and adopted what FOR ME, is a much healthier lifestyle, both mentally and physically. Could I severely restrict my eating, follow a rigid plan, join a weight loss challenge or spend hours at the gym and perhaps have a much skinnier, cut, toned, or hotter physique? Yes, but for me, the mental toll is not worth it. I look fine and feel great; chasing some physical mirage is not worth my time or energy.
All that being said, I still slip up on both ends of the spectrum. There are days when I eat gummy bears and chips for the majority of my calories or eat more chocolate chips than I care to admit and other days when I become extreme in the opposite way and a little crazily regimented, but those days and weeks are much less often now, and when they happen, I know I can pull myself out.
My relationship with food and exercise boils down to the list below. It is not nutritionist approved or what a trainer would suggest and is more for maintenance (of body and mind) than for weight loss, but it keeps me healthy, happy and consistent, so I thought it was worth sharing…worth letting you know that thinner isn’t always better, that a hot body is not more important than a healthy mind, and that moderation is a beautiful thing.
- I eat when I am hungry. If I am not hungry for breakfast, I don’t eat it. If I am starving at 11am, I eat a big lunch. I listen to my body…it knows. I don’t need a clock to tell me when to eat.
- I eat mostly real food. When I eat, I go first for fresh vegetables and fruits. I also eat a lot of whole grains, some meat (it is not my favorite), nuts, beans, and a little dairy (also, not my favorite). In addition to that, I eat some white stuff, at least one treat every day, put dressing on salad and think caramelized onions belong on just about everything.
- I eat almost every meal at home. I am a pretty good cook, so for the most part I would prefer to eat food out of my own kitchen. It saves a lot of money, and I know exactly what is goes into my food. When we go out, I like to make it worth it, so we usually go somewhere I can order something great.
- I never carry snacks. I know it’s all the rage to eat every couple of hours, but my body just doesn’t need it. I figure it doesn’t hurt me to actually feel hungry, even if it is for an hour or so. I haven’t passed out yet :).
- I don’t eat fast food or drink soda. It’s just not worth it to me any more. However, I will make an exception for In-N-Out, Chick-Fil-A, and a sip of soda every now and then. And good pizza always…I love it.
- I eat dinner with my family. Feeling mentally healthy means I eat dinner with my family. Sometimes I am not overly hungry because I ate a big lunch, or sometimes I have made something more hearty for my family of boys than I really need to consume, so I always make a big salad or roast veggies and cut up fruit. I fill my plate with the healthier alternatives, then have a small helping of lasagna or enchiladas or whatever else we are having.
- Nothing is off limits. I don’t have any “bad” foods. I usually make healthy choices, so on the occasion I want to eat nacho cheese Doritos, Alfredo, or dessert at a restaurant, I do, without guilt or remorse.
- I don’t stuff myself. When I had an eating disorder, I turned off all of my natural regulators. I couldn’t tell when I was hungry or full or when I had had too much. When I did let myself eat, I would eat until I was sick. Now that my regulators are back, I eat until I have “had sufficient”(phrase credit to Grandma Sue Romney). It never feels like the last time I might eat that week, so I can be sane about my consumption. Of course, I still overeat at times, but when I do, I shake it off and balance it out with a little more vigilance in my future meals.
- I enjoy food. Luckily, I have a pretty healthy palate. I have loved veggies for as long as I can remember and salads are often my favorite menu item. I try to cook healthy, nourishing things and I enjoy eating them. I also love cooking not so healthy things and enjoy eating them too. I love finding a great new restaurant or frequenting an old hole in the wall. I don’t waste calories on food that is not good. Life is too short to eat frozen burritos or only chicken and broccoli.
- I feed those I love and love to eat with friends. Food is a beautiful way to share your story with someone new. We love having people to dinner to open doors of friendship, and we love experiencing the food and culture of those around us. It makes me incredibly happy that I no longer have to feel anxious about eating with people and no longer have restrictions…I am open and grateful for their willingness to share their food and kindness with me. Life is about so much more than what I am eating.
- I weigh myself. This might seem opposite of what you would imagine, but I do step on the scale regularly. It doesn’t rule my life, but it does give me a reality check when I need one. The numbers no longer dictate my day or change how I feel about myself, but they are a good reminder to stay moderate.
- I exercise because I love it. I used to pound the pavement in a desperate attempt to burn calories, but severe asthma has made me rethink exercise. I now do exercise that I don’t want to miss…dance classes, Zumba, yoga, walks with friends, and hikes with my family. No fitbit logging calories, no stress about missing a day, no insanely trying to fit in when it won’t, just enjoyment.
- I choose to be active. I now say yes to movement..shoveling snow, racing my 4 year old, taking the stairs, learning something new, being outside. Moving is good for the body and soul.
- I do yoga. Before, yoga seemed like such a waste of time, now, I can’t imagine life without it. It centers me, stretches me, and strengthens me. I see progression every week and look forward to the 5 minutes of stillness at the end of every class.
- I don’t care about sizes. Clothing is so irrational. I wear what feels and looks good on me, period. A different size from a different store does not make me feel worthless or exceptional.
- I’ve made peace with my less than perfect parts. I’m not an actress and I don’t model for a living, so looking the way I do is just fine. I’ve had 4 babies so, for my shape, a flat stomach is a pipe dream. I choose to continue to enjoy my strength and health. I am grateful every day for my body.
So, every year, my new year’s resolutions regarding health are to eat more fruits and veggies, keep sugar at a minimum, and stay active. Simple, doable, and moderate.