Oh January – the time of year that ourtimelines are flooded with motivational quotes to set us up for the next 365days. I won’t lie; I definitely feel a surge of inspiration in the first weekof January, if not all month long! But if you’re anything like me, you’ve alsobeen exposed to a lot of marketing this time of year about improving your dietand fitness levels. And, if you’reanything like me, you may have committed to doing these things – over and over again.
I’m not arguing that there is somethingwrong with eating or wanting to eat healthy foods and participate in exercise. I’m a dietitian and I know that it’s quite the opposite. This post isn’t about that.
This post is for anyone who feels like they’re at a constant battle with food and exercise. Those who feel like they need to commit to cutting out sugar or hitting the gym 6 days per week on January 1st. Then,the first time you break your commitment you feel guilty, like you’ve failed,and decide you may as well continue on eating sugar or pizza or whatever it is you’ve cut out to the point of physical discomfort because come Monday you’re starting fresh. Sound familiar? It does to me, too.
We aim to cut out certain foods in the name of health and weight loss, but we end up ruining our relationship with food.
I recently polled my followers on Instagramabout their interest in my journey with disordered eating, exercise, and food restriction and 95% showed interest. Consider this a start. While I’m not going into all of the details today (I need to put aside hours and write multipleposts for that), this is a little [short] glimpse into one way that I healed my poor relationship with food and exercise. Even dietitians and those studying nutrition develop poor relationships with food; in fact it’s more common than you might think.
In early 2017 I had once again set resolutions along the lines of eating clean and exercising so many days per week – a number that was just setting me up for exhaustion as a dietetic intern. My digestion was also pretty out of whack. Like clockwork, I’d experience bloating and abdominal pain every afternoon.
Half way through 2017 I grew so tired of mypoor digestion and feeling unsatisfied with food that I discovered IntuitiveEating. I eased my way into it, beginning to allow myself pizza on weekdays ora brownie from Starbucks when the desire struck. The more I tuned into my body and pushed away all of the dietary rules I thought I should follow, the better I felt.
Come New Years Eve 2017, my relationship with food, exercise, and my body was getting better and better. When I sat down to brainstorm my goals/intentions/resolutions for 2018, it clicked for me. I was feeling so good. I was fueling my body and enjoying fun foods without guilt while really enjoying exercise because I had no strict regimen to stick to. I wasn’t only allowed a brownie on the weekends and I didn’t have to go for a run one day if I wasn’t feeling it. So I decided to roll with it. Why not set non-diet and exercise related resolutions?It was something I’d never really given myself the opportunity to do.
So I set out to read more books – one per month. I intended to take more photos. To build better relationships and make new friends. I spent a year doing these things. And yes, I still exercised and ate vegetables, but the difference is that they weren’t my only focus.
In 2018, when I was busy not obsessing about my diet and exercise, here’s what happened:
- My relationship with food got better
2018 was thefirst year in a long time (like, almost a decade) that I ate according to my cravings, my hunger and fullness cues, and associated no feelings of guilt,failure or morality to food choices. I no longer felt like I was being “bad” by eating birthday cake and the “binge then start over on Monday” mentality was gone. In 2018 I ate salads and pizza. I ate yogurt bowls and ice cream cones.Protein pancakes and buttermilk pancakes with whipped cream. I ate all of these things in previous years too, but in 2018 my mentality was so, SO muchbetter.
- I enjoyed exercising more than ever
You would think that refraining from setting a goal to exercise so many days per week would result in less exercise. To be honest, that wasn’t my experience at all. What I did experience less was low motivation, exhaustion, and feeling bad if I missed a day or more. Everyone is going to have those weeks, months or seasons of life where movement happens less. I experienced those times even when I had set goals to do intense exercise an unrealistic amount of times per week. What I avoided in 2018 was feeling guilty or like I needed to make up for it somehow. And to be honest, my attitude shifted from exercise being something I had to do to look a certain way to something I loved to do to feelreally good.
- I thought about my body size less
When I stepped away from setting goals that were directly associated with my weight, body size or looks, I stopped thinking so much about those things. I had so much more brainspace for my new books, learning how to build a website, getting out and connecting with people, and more. I read a quote the other day by Kylie, a non-diet dietitian over at Imma Eat That. It said “Positive body image isn’t loving your body, it’s thinking of your body less because you’re too busy living or working on creating a vibrant life”. I feel like that totally describes 2018 for me.
- My digestion improved
It’s funny; when my digestion was out of whack I thought at the time that in order to improve it I needed to eat less commercially made products and “fun” foods and aim to eat more “clean” foods and more fibre. In reality, I really needed to just stop stressing the heck out about food and exercise. It’s impossible to pinpoint a root cause of my digestive issues. That said, I know that by reducing the amount of high-intensity exercise I was doing (too much), increasing the balance in my diet (fun foods included), and reducing my concerns around my food/exercise/body, the uncomfortable symptoms that’d I’d experienced for several years soon resolved.
- I made new friends
When I chose not to “resolve” my diet and exercise habits, not only did that leave me with other goals to set – like making new friends – it also freed up my time and energy to do so. For years when I was consumed with having the perfect diet, exercise regimen, and body weight/size, I skipped out on so many opportunities to create or build friendships. I was so regimented in my diet/sleep/exercise routine that I’d pass on so many fun outings or trips that involved late nights, “unhealthy” food or missed workouts. While I still love a routine and and early bedtime, I realize how important my social relationships, laughter, and a little spontaneity are for my overall health, too. Because I’ve this, I’ve learned to balance all of these things a little better.
- I found new hobbies
Or should I say, I reclaimed my hobbies. As I mentioned, when I allowed myself to branch out and set non-diet related resolutions, this freed up time and energy for other things. Like reading and photography. I’ve always known that I enjoyed these things, but never really made time for them. In 2018 I instead set goals to read one book per month (check!) and to take more photos – and not just of food (not very specific, but check!). I put my new camera to good use and rekindled my love for books. Now you can’t get me to put one down!
For me, 2018 was a huge year of growth and learning. A lot of that is due to the changes I made in regards to what I put my time and energy in to. Nourishing myself through food and feeling fit will always be important to me, but for years they we’re so important that other aspects of my life and my health suffered.
I want to stress that by writing and sharing this post I am in no way claiming that diet and fitness related New Years goals are bad and that you shouldn’t set them. No. What I aim to do by writing and sharing this post is empower you to take that step and say no to the continuous cycle of dieting, “failing” and dieting again if this is something that you’ve struggled with in your life. I know there are so many individuals out like me there who face or have faced disordered relationships with food, exercise, and their bodies and I want to show you that if I can break the cycle and live my healthiest, happiest life without rules, rigidity and restriction, you can too.