Keeping with my series this week on unhealthy mindsets, I wanted to touch upon something I realized about myself a few years ago. For a long time I would work out a lot and search for what diets runners followed. You know what I found? Nothing. There was no magical diet a runner was eating that kept them fast and lean. In fact, there isn’t a magical diet for anything really.
When I work with athletes and clients who are trying to get healthy and fit, I always tell them that I don’t do diets. The notion of a diet is that you are eating a certain way to lose weight. But then what happens when you lose the weight and go back to your old ways? It is a vicious cycle and something that I think the food and diet industry has preys upon. If you “diet” you will never find a path to health that is long term and lasting. A healthy lifestyle full of balance, on the other hand, will keep you fit and healthy for the long run.
Several years ago I had a bout of plantar fasciitis that I let get pretty bad before I sought out help. I was in denial. I didn’t want to stop running. And when I received the diagnosis I was told I had to stop running for a least 2-4 weeks. Let me tell you, I freaked out! How could I not run?! I panicked about gaining weight and then guess what happened? I started to slowly gain weight, even though I was going to the gym every day and riding a bike for an hour at a time.
I couldn’t figure it out. Something wasn’t adding up. I was working out a lot, but not running. Certainly running wasn’t the magical potion that kept me fit, right?
Then one day I was at the gym getting a workout in. I was excited because we were leaving the following day to fly out and cheer on someone at a marathon. As I planned out packing and getting to the airport I began thinking that since I wasn’t running I shouldn’t go there hungry and order a breakfast sandwich. That lead to thinking, “What if I want a donut?” and then, “But what if I’m hungry and I want something else?”
It was then that I had an epiphany. All along, as I was eating healthy I was still having these freak out moments about what I could not eat. I started obsessing about what I couldn’t eat and then I would put all of my focus into that. Soon I was packing lunches and throwing in extras because I was so worried about being hungry and because I thought I couldn’t have certain things. This put my focus on having all of the things.
Now if that sounds like a Cartesian Circle to you, it should. It really makes no sense. In the process of trying to eat less, or eat healthy, or not gain weight, I became obsessed with what I wasn’t supposed to have (and no one, including myself ever said anything was off limits in the first place).
A healthy life is not about what you can’t have. Sure, if you have dietary restrictions or health issues that keep you from eating certain things, then yes you shouldn’t eat those things. But a healthy person doesn’t obsess about what they can or cannot have. And in fact, as soon as I stopped thinking things were off limits or that there were magical foods that would keep me fit, everything became much easier.
The truth is, if you exercise and eat a well rounded diet, you can honestly have just about anything. But you can’t have everything and you can’t have it all at once. If you make something like cookies, fries, or pizza off limits, you will start to dearly miss those things and eventually break down and eat them. And when things are considered off limits and we eat them, we feel like a failure. What an awful thing to feel over food!
So what is one to do? I changed my mindset and decided that while it is important to focus on eating a well rounded and healthy diet, some splurge foods mixed in there is the perfect combo for me. Typically I prefer to eat a salad or other veggie centric meals. I am by no means a vegetarian and I love meat like a true Midwesterner. But I follow my doctor’s advice that the meat should be the side of a meal and the veggies are the focus.
I pay attention to how much I eat and try not to stuff myself to the point of feeling sick. It isn’t easy, because I love food. But when I leave the table satisfied but not stuffed, I feel better about myself. And that leaves room for an occasional dessert.
And when I do eat my splurge foods, I make sure to pay attention to how delicious it really is. I love french fries. They are one of my favorite treats But I have discovered over the years that some places make awesome fries and others, not so much. If I have a plate full of awesome, crispy fries, I go to town and enjoy. But if they arrive and they are soggy or just not like I had hoped, I might have a few and put them aside. Know when a treat is worth it and enjoy. And if it falls short, don’t eat it for the sake of eating.
As I said earlier this week, life is about balance. You really can have your cake and eat it too. You just have to plan it out and make room for healthy choices and exercise too. The idea is to remember that there is no magical key, no secret diet that will make it all perfect. You really do have to work to be healthy.
Yikes! There are a lot of pics of me eating dessert. That last pic is from the day we announced we were pregnant and we tried all the paczkis!