Living a healthy life saved me. I struggled with an eating disorder for a long time and as it drew closer to the “end” of it (quotations because there will always be moments that I will struggle with) I changed my relationship with food to focus on what I felt like on the inside rather than what I looked like on the outside. Now I want to start by saying, I love that health and wellness has broken into mainstream society and media. I love that this means people are more aware of what they are putting in their bodies. I also love that so many incredible people are spreading the word about healthy living and how it saved them too.
I also want to acknowledge the flip side of this shiny coin. That flip side is balance – but more importantly, how to achieve balance in a world that often tells us it is impossible to. How many Instagram posts have we all seen that look like this:
“Kinda want pizza, kinda want abs…Kinda pissed that I have to choose one.”
“I want to be the kind of girl who wakes up and does yoga but instead I wake up with a chicken nugget in my hand after a night of drinking”
“9am: Egg whites and avocado
1pm: Kale salad
6pm: Chicken and veggies
11pm: 23 Oreos + tub of ice cream”
All of these suggest that there is a perfect way to be, and everyone who isn’t that way should feel terribly about themselves. We glorify the divide between living a healthy life and the desire to “treat yo self” on a daily basis. This divide tells us that we cannot have both – you must choose one. You are either a green-juice sipping yogi or a couch potato who binge drinks. There is no in between in the world of social media.
One of the main complaints I hear is directly related to that last Instagram quotation. The idea that once you’ve had one cookie, the day is “gone” and you should just give up. You have already crossed over from being a green goddess into a potato chip slamming sloth so there is no point in fighting it, right? Well what happens after that? Oh, then the fun part starts. The guilt sets in. The horrible, horrible, self-deprecating guilt. Guilt that you ruined any progress you made, guilt that you binged, guilt that you didn’t work out, guilt that you had a setback – and slowly we sink deeper and deeper into this hole.
As a nutritionist, I am obviously an advocate for health. But above all, I am an advocate for self-love. When did we get so hard on ourselves? I have watched so many strong women that I really admire be reduced to tears over one day of eating what they deem as, “bad food”. When did we start putting so much pressure on ourselves to be perfect all the damn time?
I know during those moments it is easy to let the divide between the more motivated version of yourself and the more insecure version of yourself become larger.
The world has trained us to think we can only be one: kale-slamming-warrior or chocolate-craving-monster.
I’m here to let you in on a little secret: They are both you. And that is okay. Because we are trained to think we can only be one of those things, when we stray from the path of kale-slamming-warrior, we deduce that our only option is to become the latter. This harsh divide between two seemingly different YOUs is what leads a lot of people into a state of binge-eating and subsequent guilt.
So how do we cope with this? Unfortunately, this misconception is not going anywhere (fast enough).
Mentally bridging the gap between these two versions of yourself can really help in these moments. When you’re angry at yourself because you strayed from a healthy lifestyle, remind yourself that you are still making progress. I worked very hard to stop seeing myself as these two different people – the confident, healthy one who liked to work out and the insecure one who wanted to curl up alone and eat pizza for comfort. Instead, I look at myself as a collection of both of these women. Everything I have experienced both good and bad makes me who I am. Yes, I have insecure days. I also have days where I feel like I could take over the world if I wanted to. On my insecure days, I remind myself that how I feel that day is not a fair representation of who I am. Health is a JOURNEY not a destination and eating a few cookies along the way does not make you a bad or unhealthy person.
What helped me the most was focusing more on how my body felt after I ate certain foods. What works for one person might not work for all.
That is the beauty of health – it is not one size fits all.
Next time you eat, I urge you to focus on how your body responds to the food you put in it. Do you feel nourished and energized? Or do you feel sluggish and tired? Let your body tell you what it needs and listen to it.
Finally, next time you feel yourself slipping into a cycle of self-hate or guilt over food, remember that you are not perfect – but that no one is. You are allowed to have speed bumps on an otherwise smooth road. Don’t let a little thing like eating some junk food derail the whole train. Or car… I lost the metaphor there but you get it. Remember that you are your harshest critic and although you might feel like you’ve fallen off track, there are people around you that look up to you and your amazingness. Call one of them and ask for some encouragement and I bet you’ll be surprised by just how awesome you really are.