While I consider Tasty Eats At Home a healthier food blog, I don’t often venture outside of gluten-free, dairy-free recipes and topics related to that. I love to talk about cooking (both healthy recipes and indulgent ones!), and I love to talk about navigating gluten and dairy-free living. But rarely do I address other aspects of healthy living. Lately, however, I’ve been struggling with one hot topic.
Having a healthy relationship – with food, with exercise, and with your body.
Sure, you hear that all the time – that we should all strive for balance, eat a healthier diet (but enjoying treats in moderation), maintain a healthy self-image, blah blah blah. But what does that really mean?
It seems that everywhere, people looking to lose weight count calories. While I’ve never been deemed overweight, I’ve fussed and fretted over the same 5-10 lbs lost and regained a countless number of times. If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you’ll know I generally eat a healthy, balanced diet. But I’ve also counted calories and weighed myself like it was my job. I’ve tracked every morsel that goes into my mouth, and I’ve even calculated calories burned doing various exercises. Back in the day, before I went gluten-free, I even did Weight Watchers for a time.
And you know what, folks? It’s gotten me nowhere.
In fact, I think that those activities have driven me further away from a healthy relationship with food, exercise, and body image. Sure, I’d buckle down and decide I would really eat clean. I love veggies, and of course, I love cooking, so I can always create delicious meals that are nourishing without feeling it was a burden. I would exercise as well, and I’d track what I was doing, using an online calorie counting site and the good ol’ trusty scale. As I’ve grown older, it’s become more and more difficult for me to lose weight, even with an extremely strict diet and regular exercise. But for a while, I could manage to be disciplined enough to drop 5 or so pounds in the course of a few months, and I’d be proud of myself.
Then I’d allow myself to bake or make treats. Of course, when I bake, I nibble. A lot. I’d then go down that spiral of excess, where even though many times I would bake “healthier” treats, I’d enjoy too much of them. I had been “good” for so long that it would seem I’d lose some control over my eating when it came to those sweets. And I’d gain. I would still weigh myself religiously, and that scale would determine my mood. Over time, I created a guilt association with overindulgence, and that scale was the punishment. I’d weigh myself, scorn myself for overindulging, and resolve to “do better”. Only this cycle of “doing better” and “overindulging” and all the scorn in the world didn’t make that number on the scale stay in one place. And even if I did feel like I’d been eating well, felt lighter/smaller, and felt more positive about my body, if I weighed myself and the scale suggested otherwise, it would ruin that positive mood.
I thought I had a healthy relationship with food. My diet consists of nourishing, whole foods. Back in the day, I bought into the whole “diet” food, low-fat regimen, but I’ve long since trashed that idea in favor of real food. I exercise regularly, mixing cardio with strength training, and even taking time to try to center myself with yoga. But this cycle of “good” versus “bad” and the constant measuring of calories and my weight was undermining all of that. I no longer was in touch with what my body needed. If I saw I had a surplus of calories available on a given day, I’d indulge (or even over-indulge), even if I wasn’t hungry. If I was at my limit of calories, I would immediately feel deprived, even if I wasn’t hungry, causing me to cave and snack on something. My sugar “binges” would make the cycle even worse, giving me cravings that just couldn’t be satisfied with any sweet treat. It was a struggle. The fact that I run a “healthy food” blog seemed to make this worse – I, of all people, should have a healthy relationship with food, right? Furthermore, I have a teenage step-daughter that is already more than self-conscious about her weight, as many teen girls are. The last thing I want to do is pass on these negative mental battles I have with food, weight, and body image to her.
So I’ve made a decision. I’ve had enough.
About a week and a half ago, I embarked on a decision to follow the Whole30 Program, in an effort to reign in those sugar cravings, as well as get back to feeling my best. I was diagnosed with PCOS a few months back (which helps to explain the struggle with losing even 5 lbs, as well as so many other unsexy symptoms such as acne), and so in addition to my delicate digestive “balance” (or lack thereof, especially when I’m ignoring my body’s signals), I’ve been struggling with out-of-whack hormones as my doctor works to find the best solution for me. Whole30, which is very much like the paleo diet, seemed like a great way to move towards improving my health and wellness. (Others have talked about success with Whole30 and PCOS.) I have been eating mostly “paleo” for the past 5-6 months (with some excessive baking/treats – not-so-paleo), so this wasn’t too much of a stretch for me. With that program, I did two monumental (at least, for me) things:
Number One: I ditched the scale.
Number Two: I ditched the calorie counting.
There will be no measurements.
This isn’t about weight loss; it’s about reconnecting with my body and its needs.
About a week in, (after the sugar monster stopped growling outside my door) I came to some realizations. One, since I stopped counting calories, I don’t think I’m actually eating any more than I was. (which was part of my fear – that I’d eat too much and not be aware of it.) I’m listening more to actual hunger cues. I’m stopping to think before I decide I need a snack about whether I’m hungry, or if it’s just a conditioned response – I’m bored, I’m tired, I’m stressed, or it’s just “time to eat.” I’m finding I’m not hungry as often. It’s not totally natural yet, of course, but I feel good about the progress made already.
As for the scale, I still think about it. I think it will take a while to retrain my brain. Ultimately, though, my weight is just a number. I would rather feel good about my body and feel fit and healthy than weigh a certain number. But my brain still tells me it wants that “validation” that I’m doing a good job. While I’m working to change that, I have to remind myself that my “validation” is that I have more energy and feel more in touch with my body. What’s even better? Yesterday, I was feeling particularly good. My skin seemed more vibrant (read – less acne, less dryness, less angry-hormonal-craziness), I didn’t feel sluggish and bloated, and I was no longer fighting sugar cravings. I was in the bathroom and the thought popped into my head, “I wonder if I’ve lost any weight? I feel good.” But rather than being told how to feel by that number on the scale, instead, I allowed myself to continue to feel good and did not weigh myself. That’s a freeing concept for me. I look forward to more of it.
Most importantly, I am working on changing my thoughts about my body. After all, I am more than a number on a scale. AndreAnna over at Life As A Plate talked a while back about true health vs. what’s right “on paper,” and I was inspired by her writing. My husband tells me I am beautiful all the time. I hear it, but I don’t always let it truly sink in. But I know I feel vibrant. I am feeling healthier as each day passes. I am motivated to work out in the morning, and when I do, I feel stronger. I’m not preoccupying myself with calories or my weight. I am feeling more balanced and free. I recently read a post over at Ancestralize Me that really spoke to me – that maybe women aren’t all supposed to be super-lean when they are at optimum health. It was a good refresher that I needed to keep perspective. I am beautiful, but not because of what the scale, the mirror, or even those wretched BMI charts say. I am beautiful because I choose to be beautiful – through my actions, with my heart, and my health. These are the things I need to focus on, and what I need to pass on to my step-daughter. When I change my thoughts, I can change my behavior, which in turn will change my health. My body will do what it’s destined to do.
And I’m learning to be fine with that.