A personal story:
Mindful Eating and Building Your Strength
The seemingly easy, but incredibly challenging part of most people’s lives – balance. How do we find it? How do we find peace in our eating, exercise, and sleep habits? How do we work out and maintain a “good figure”, go to work, raise good children, and feel sexy with our partners?
It seems all too overwhelming at times, but it’s mostly because we’re so fixed on an outcome that is driven by suck-y boyfriends, unsupportive family/friends, and society. We end up trying to control our lives and damage ourselves when we don’t have to.
I was raised in an environment where a holistic approach to eating was encouraged. “Eat superfoods, drink water, exercise, eat garlic when you’re sick and don’t forget to enjoy drinking and junk food when the occasion suits.”
It was explained to me that as long as you eat healthy majority of the time, you’ll be ok to indulge occasionally. This worked for me for a long time as I always had the basics of nutrition in the back of my head.
The beginning of my struggle with food started with an ex-boyfriend. The subtle comments about my figure, what his ideal body type was, and comparing me to other women started to slowly erode my confidence in myself, and damaged my outlook on eating. My mentality shifted from looking after myself to ‘if I eat less, he’ll comment on how much better I look, and if I maintain that I’ll be fine.’
Looking back on it, I feel sorry for myself. I was sacrificing the one thing that lets me experience and enjoy life, my body. After I broke it off with him, I finally had free rein to have whatever I desired, and snacked whenever I wanted. I wasn’t so much eating unhealthily, I was just plain eating too much. I’d eat until I felt physically ill.
I eventually tried meal prepping and waiting until certain times in the day to eat but this only led me to eat too early, then I would have to eat again. This was because I was still trying to control my eating. This part of my journey resulted in me gaining 6 kilos. This weight gain wouldn’t be a big deal to most, but it’s all relative, and for me it was heart-breaking. It’s what finally signalled to me that something needed to change and I couldn’t keep up this battle with food anymore.
The first step for me finding peace was practicing fuelling my body. I focused on getting my body the micronutrients it needed in the day. You must ensure you are getting enough fibre, exercising, and minimising your unnatural sugar and saturated fat intake. Try to avoid processed foods, or foods with low fibre, low protein and high sugar ratios. Look after your body first, and it will look after you.
Step two. Retraining my brain.
Every time I wanted something, i.e. a loaded burger (yum), I had to eat it. Then, after I ate it, I made myself actively acknowledge that it was ok and that it was not going to make me gain weight. This reflection was key. Because it’s true, your body’s job in life is maintain homeostasis (balance). It’s not going to make you gain weight if you have treats when you need them. So, I was reminding myself to relax, have what you want, enjoy it, and then move on. Naturally you’ll stop wanting it as much because you’ll realise you CAN have it. It’s all about losing the attachment. The initial phase of retraining was hard for me as I struggled with moderation and I would still occasionally binge, but I had to go through this process. I had to let go.
Eventually, over a few months, with many relapses, I became better. I became better at moderation because I was losing the attachment. I became better at loving myself, because I wasn’t hating myself every time I ate. It’s intimidating in the beginning but that’s when the third step comes in; Exercise.
This is the key to having more of the things you crave, and still maintaining/losing weight. You must build your strength!! I really can’t stress this enough. Don’t be intimidated by lifting weights, just do it well. Don’t be worried about getting “bulky”, because let’s face it, it’s really not that easy. If it was that easy to build muscle I don’t think men would whinge about it as much as they do. Incorporate cardio in your sessions too, get that heart pumping. A stronger heart means more oxygen to your muscles and brain during the day, meaning more energy! Lifting also increases your testosterone so your libido goes up! Big plus. Exercising will also help to regulate your hormones and tire you out leading to better sleep.
Training is what shifted my focus. I saw myself trying to increase my weight every week, and beat my PBs. It became a way for me to watch and track my growth. You feel your mood change, and you see yourself become more toned. It also meant I was burning more calories in the day, even when I didn’t have time to get into the gym because my metabolism was higher from the increase in muscle mass. I started to prioritise my sessions during the day, just as you would for your hair/nail or doctor’s appointment. I went from “let’s go do this body pump class to make sure I’ve burned enough calories for the day”, to “let’s make sure I get enough sleep and eat right so I can beat a personal best today”. Not only did it give me a more sustainable outlook on exercise, it also taught me that some weeks you’ll perform worse than others. Some days you’ll be feeling run down, you’re on your period, or you’re having a bad day. And that’s just how life is. You will get better and feel better, just stay consistent.
I want to briefly touch on food myths, which we all fall prey to at some point. Fruit won’t make you fat, carbohydrates won’t make you fat, fat won’t make you fat. Only a calorie surplus will make you put on weight, but it must be consistent.
Put it this way, if you were to eat McDonald’s for breakfast, a burrito for lunch, a healthy stir fry for dinner, and cake for dessert would you call yourself healthy and expect to lose weight because you had a healthy stir fry for dinner? No. So don’t think that you’ll gain weight or lose control of yourself when you have treats. Try and think basic in-and-out calories for the week. Calories in, calories out.
After you get your nutrition right and practice mindful eating, it’s important to manage your intake of treats. As common sense as it sounds, only get a serving of what you want. Go and buy your favourite chocolate but get a single serving size, or if you want ice-cream don’t eat it from the tub, measure it out and add healthy toppings like frozen berries. Or, if you’re craving fast food, get the burger but skip having a whole meal, and have water with it. All this is important for supporting your mental and physical health. It’s all about sustainability.
I also want to mention fad diets. Please get the basics down before you try to switch it up. For example, learn to listen to your body; eat whole and nutritious foods, get enough sleep, and exercise regularly. Then you can consult a dietitian to see if you’d be suited to try a short-term diet such as the ketogenic diet to shred some fat. Never, ever, try these as a last result to get a short-term result “I want to lose 8kgs before I go to Hawaii in the New Year!”. This will only set you back further. If you can’t be bothered to go to a dietitian and tailor a plan to lose fat, then don’t do it! You’re either committed to doing it right and sustainably, or you don’t try it at all. If you fail to address the psychology underlying your unhealthy eating habits, you will simply gain the weight back.
Finally, remember that the road to balance is never going to be linear. You’ll be making progress – craving treats less often, working out, feeling great, doing well in your relationships – then some days you’ll get frustrated because results aren’t coming quick enough, or something at work is making you stressed, or you just lost someone. This may make you revert to indulging a little too much. And that’s ok. Understand you can have moments like this. Let it happen. You just have to make yourself aware it’s happening, manage it as best as you can, accept it, then move on. It isn’t any different to letting yourself cry as hard as you need sometimes to let it out. Remember, it’s about balance, physically and emotionally. Let it out, love yourself, move on.
Although my story may be different to yours, the lessons are the same. The more you try to control things in life to receive a specific outcome, your attachment to that thing will only get grow and the less you’ll be able to enjoy everything else in life. Put yourself first, but put your whole self first.