I’m a firm believer that true health, vibrancy, and the best quality of life in general begins with what goes on your plate. The thing about eating is that it’s necessary, and ideally, it’s happening three times a day. In my opinion, it’s the ultimate freedom. We’re granted with an obligation to make choices that shape the rest of our day – our entire life, essentially – three times a day! What better way to take control? It’s also pretty intimidating. It’s a lot of responsibility to take on. As far as stress goes, it’s comparable to getting a puppy. It’s fun, exciting, and cute (food can be cute), but it’s exhausting. You stick with it because you know it will be rewarding.
I’m going to attempt to detail my own journey with food, but I’ll say that first and foremost, my lifestyle is comprised of simple disciplines. They didn’t all come into play at once. In fact, it happened quite conversely. Here’s what I ask myself daily: “What can I do to improve today?” Note the use of the word “today.” I set my goals both short-term and long-term, sure, but we often overlook that “just for today” mentality when we’re dialing in on a bad habit. Those “todays” add up. They turn into weeks, months, and years.
When I first began to embark on a mission to live a healthy lifestyle, I was not in good shape. I weighed in at a number that translated to obese. There’s no sugar-coating it (although I probably attempted to). I was carrying a whole lot of extra weight. I was also carrying around a whole lot of extra stress. As you might suspect, I wasn’t carrying it very far. I spent most of my time sitting in place.
I don’t know when I said, “Enough is enough.” Probably around the time I went to prom quite literally squeezed into the dress I’m pictured in above. Everyday life left me incredibly discouraged, and not only because I was carrying extra baggage. It was all of the bad habits that lead me to such an unhealthy body in the first place; processed foods, emotional eating, substance abuse, unsupportive friends, and a serious lack of discipline.
This was a long time ago. I’m five years (nearly six) removed from this body and this mind. Growth is an understatement. While I’ve physically shrunken, my little brain has swelled, or rather, it has blossomed. I can’t help but think, “If I knew then what I knew now,” but I’m wiser than that. Discipline, reform, and results often form in response to a “rock bottom,” and that was mine.
Since then, it’s been a long road. It hasn’t been easy. My journey towards health has been the most difficult thing I’ve ever taken on. To say I backtracked at certain points would be an understatement to say the least. I lost weight and put it back on. I’ve been diagnosed with anorexia and bulimia, but more importantly, I’ve recovered. I’ve been on diets and I’ve put in hours a day at the gym in an effort to gain control only to lose it again. I say this all for one reason in particular, and that is to extend to you the feeling that I know where you’re coming from. I also want to say that it doesn’t always have to be that way.
Today, I am living an optimally healthy life as far as I’m concerned. My weight is normal and stable, I am physically and emotionally stronger than I ever dreamed that I would be, and I have a wealth of knowledge and skills at my disposal that allows me to maintain this lifestyle. However, I am still a work in progress, and I always will be. Since day one, my mission has evolved, but my core values have always stayed the same. Since then, I have learned a lot.
I remember when my interest piqued in the source of my food. I was searching for a new style of eating that was more than healthy, but also sustainable. In the natural progression of my research, I discovered Michael Pollan. His most famous quote, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants” spoke to me immediately. It was simple, but it seemed effective. It seemed gentle. Since then, it stuck with me. I try to inject those “food rules” into every meal I make. Moreover, it inspired me to write a few of my own food rules.
It’s difficult to sum it all up, but I think it essentially boils down to those everyday practices of simple discipline. Eventually, those disciplines advanced from hard-to-follow habits to things I did without a second thought. Everyone’s journey is highly individual, but I’m here to drop my wisdom on the day-to-day things that seem small yet make a huge impact.
Think of what you can add rather than subtract
When I began eating better, it seemed so intimidating because of what I had to eliminate. Initially, I focused on small things. Nowadays, I follow a fairly restrictive paleo diet. The thing that finally made any elimination diet click for me? Focusing on what I could have and forgetting about what I couldn’t have. Outta sight, outta mind. I didn’t keep those foods around the house, so it was inherently more difficult for me to consume them anyways. Instead, I found joy perusing the produce aisles for new veggies I’d never tried. I would search for recipes that I could transform into healthier versions of what they once were. Since I took on a more positive outlook, this mentality exists for me everyday.
When I first began eliminating foods, I mainly focused on pre-packaged foods and soda. I took a “real food” approach with the idea in mind that cooking from scratch is almost always better than heating up my dinner in a box, even if I was making pizza. Soda was a tough habit to kick, but I started getting excited to try new teas and infused water creations in its place. I brew my own kombucha now, and I don’t give Diet Coke a second thought. Eliminating grains made me feel good enough to not miss them at all, so I could look forward to all that energy instead of bread everyday. There’s always a bright side – look for it! Give it a hug. Invite it inside. Offer it coffee. You get the gist.
Make each meal sacred
I can’t express the power of this tiny habit enough. It took years of discipline to even consider this a good “diet” strategy let alone put it into play. Considering my spotty history with food, this approach has been vital. Food stands for something beyond nourishment in most people’s lives, but removing those associations from both cooking and eating can help feeling satisfied with our choices both physically and emotionally. It can be difficult to achieve that mindfulness while eating considering our on-the-go culture, but one meal per day is better than none.
This has been most helpful in regards to emotional eating or eating out of boredom. We all reach for a snack when we aren’t actually hungry from time to time. Be mindful. Dedicate yourself to cooking your food and become engrossed by the sights and the aroma. Focus on the most mundane cooking tasks like chopping onions. Take it for what it’s worth. Embrace the onion tears. Sit down to an uninterrupted meal as often as possible. Pack a picnic and eat outside. Cook for a friend and share a meal together. Whatever makes eating special and sacred again, just do it. Taking your time to appreciate your food can help you get in tune with your physical hunger and suppress any emotional hunger you’re attempting to feed.
Find your tribe
The most profound changes in my lifestyle have taken place while being immersed in a supportive community. These days, I make sure to check in with those folks daily. I receive support, accountability, and an expanded network of knowledge when I surround myself with people who have similar goals. Since I coach nutrition groups everyday, it’s sort of built in for me. I love having an online community to check in with. I am able to offer them help as it is my job, but it truly helps me just as much.
Over time, I’ve influenced friends and family to take on changing their diet and lifestyle as well. Spending time with people who’ve faced both the same struggles and triumphs offers up some invaluable cameraderie. Find the people in your life who you’re able to connect with or seek them out. Positivity is contagious. Besides, we all need a workout buddy and someone to throw it down in the kitchen with. Join a gym with a group of awesome people. Check out food festivals and connect with local chefs. Make friends at the farmer’s market. There are tons of people who you can share a passion of wellness with.
Keep a journal
In the way of being mindful, keeping a journal can be extremely helpful. If you’re getting into making better food choices, write them down. If you’re attempting to go from 0-100, your first step should be to take inventory. Before you even begin to analyze your habits and refine them, you should have a clear idea of what you’re working with. It’s helpful to understand exactly what your weaknesses are, especially when it comes to eating.
I am especially conscious of snacking. I write down what I’ve eaten, why I might be hungry in between meals, and if my snacking is a result of true hunger or something else. If I’m feeling stressed, I try to write it down because it correlates so much with my eating habits and food choices. I take photos of all my meals to post to an online community which keeps me accountable and gets me excited to share my creations while receiving positive feedback. At this point, it’s a habit – one that’s taken me far!
Be patient, be gentle, be kind
All of my success can be attributed to these acts of self-love. Truth be told, I haven’t experienced an abundance of it over the years. That doesn’t take away from the times that I was able to harness that positive energy from within and turn it into something good.
Good habits, positive lifestyle changes, and success are born of a deep, unconditional love for yourself. Big changes don’t happen overnight, so patience is key. We can only take so much tough love until there is no other option but to tone it down which is where being gentle comes into play. Treat yourself the way that you’d like to be treated – kindness radiates. Let these acts show on your plate and in the gym. If you don’t have this foundation, you are setting up to sabotage yourself.
I’m no expert on this stuff, but I know what continues to work for me. My diet and my exercise routines in and of themselves change with time as expected. The rhyme and reason to my dedication seldom fluctuate. These are my food rules, and they are not limited to