Eating healthier and finding balance: what I’ve learned from my relationship with food

screen-shot-2017-01-25-at-8-34-08-pmHighly restrictive, quick fix dieting is not sustainable. A lifestyle built on conscious, informed choices and healthy habits is.

I see so many posts on Instagram promoting weight loss teas and magic wraps that’ll shrink your tummy, and it makes me sad because I, too, for a brief and unhappy time, tried restricting my calories to unrealistic levels that left me drained of energy and deprived of my favorite foods. If I slipped up and had a slice of pizza, I’d feel like a failure, and punish myself with extra cardio.

Fitness should not be a punishment, and eating should not be a cause of great internal strife and anguish. Love food, love the nourishment it can give you, love your body, and love working out rather than viewing it as a punishment for being human and needing to eat food. I truly believe that changes — big, small, physical, emotional — begin with changes in the mindset. A diet is a temporary fix. A balanced, healthy lifestyle is forever (if you want it to be).

I’ve discussed before on this blog that I used to be the unrivaled champ of picky eating. I wouldn’t touch a vegetable unless it was pizza sauce, and pretty much the only things I would eat were plain pizza, plain chicken fingers, candy, and sugary snacks. Enacting changes, for me, was a gradual process involving a lot of trial and error. And I’m still learning! Note that I’m not a doctor or nutritionist, and every body is different, so I can only offer these helpful tips I’ve learned from my own personal and ongoing journey towards eating well!

Educate yourself, use your resources

To me, the most crucial step in building and maintaining healthy habits is educating yourself. I’m still learning every day. I’m still working on creating healthier eating habits for myself, so I come to you not as a guru but as a fellow student/layperson/eater of food, but here are some resources that I’ve found extremely helpful (even life-changing) in my quest:

Keep A Food Journal

I personally don’t really believe in obsessively counting/restricting calories, however, it does really, really help to track what you eat, take a look at the breakdown of the nutrients you’re putting into your body, where your calories are coming from, etc. Apps like Lifesum and My Plate are great for easy and on the go tracking and make it as easy as scanning a label with your phone!

Grocery store choices

If you are trying to eat healthier, consider this: what do you eat at home during the week? Probably whatever you picked up at your local supermarket. So much begins with the choices that you make in the aisles of the grocery store. Plan your meals for the week and head to the grocery store armed with a list and a plan. Stick to your list and avoid impulse purchases. Read labels. Shop the outer aisles. Small, healthy choices go a long way — for instance, choosing between two snacks and opting for the lower calorie option containing less sugar and saturated fat, or choosing between fresh over processed foods. Be an informed consumer and remember that the packaging isn’t what makes something healthy.

This is how I used to shop: I would head to the grocery store without a list or a plan and wander around aimlessly looking at all the pretty foods and appealing packaging and pick whatever I thought looked good without reading labels, informing myself about what was in the food I purchased for the express purpose of putting into my body, or even thinking about what I wanted to cook that week at home (mostly because I didn’t have to – I used to eat out almost every day and fill the gaps with frozen pizzas). This is something I still struggle with sometimes, but I’m currently working on trying new recipes every week and buying fresh foods to prepare them, and purchasing minimal snack items so that my meals are the focus and I don’t graze when I’m bored.

Be realistic

Be realistic about your goals, why you want to eat healthy, what changes and sacrifices you are willing to make. Everybody and every body is different. A huuuuuuuuuuuuge lesson I learned in the last couple of months that really led me to adjust my goals was the realization that I shouldn’t strive to be like these super lean, slim girls I see when I scroll through my fitness insta feed every day. It’s so hard not to make comparisons and, yes, sometimes I still find myself comparing my own, unique body and feeling inadequate. However, one thing that’s SO SOSO SOOOOOO important is striving to be the best version of you, not anybody else.

For me, I feel like my whole identity is built around pizza. Everyone who knows me knows I love pizza. In fact, I like pizza more than I like most people. When you think “health food”, pizza probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind because, no, it’s not the healthiest thing you can opt to eat. Believe it or not, at one point I tried to cut it out of my diet. Me, the person who has probably not gone a week without eating some form of pizza since I exited the womb (jk I probably ate baby food when I was a baby but after that it was ALL PIZZA ALL THE TIME). I tried to push away something that I genuinely enjoy, that brings me a sense of purpose (lol) and genuine happiness. I love carbs. I love bread. I love eating at restaurants. I don’t like vegetables all that much, and I’m learning to, but I am not someone who can eat tons of veggies and stay super lean and also stay sane.

If you don’t need pizza or tons of cheese in your life like I do and that’s what makes you happy, then that’s awesome, make realistic goals for yourself, but something I’ve learned is that life is a balancing act, and completely cutting yourself off from foods you love will only make you unhappy and set a negative precedent for how you interact with food. When I tried to stop eating pizza, I would break down and binge, and then punish myself, starting a cycle of negativity and unhealthy attitudes towards food. Restricting, bingeing, guilt, shame, punishment… not things that should be associated with food, something we need to keep us alive and fuel or daily actions (and our progress towards our goals!). Food is not your enemy; you shouldn’t punish yourself or feel like a failure for treating yourself sometimes or eating things that you love. Focus not on restriction and punishment, but moderation, education, and loving and caring about yourself, your body, and health. Life is too short to be anything less than as happy as you can possibly be, so what’s the point of never allowing yourself to eat pizza if it brings you joy? I strive to regularly make healthy choices, even if they’re small ones (small choices really do add up!) and to be an informed consumer, but I also balance that with my love of restaurants, cheese, and bread, because I know that I wouldn’t be happy otherwise.

That’s not to say that people who don’t eat pizza, don’t eat occasional treats, and have a more restrictive diet than me are unhappy. To each their own! It’s all about focusing on what is realistic for you. For me, because fine dining and eating pizza are two of my most beloved pastimes, it wouldn’t be realistic or sustainable to cut myself off completely from things I love. It is realistic to not eat pizza or go out to eat every single day. It’s all about balance. 

Snacking

I love snacks. But, as with everything else, there is a balance to be found when it comes to snacking. This begins in the grocery store and ends with conscious choices. I used to sit parked in front of Netflix with a family-sized box of Cheez Its and eat and eat and eat, far surpassing my original intent of staving off hunger. I’m a chronic grazer. Something I’ve found really helpful is making healthier snack choices in the grocery store (my current favorite healthy snack is rice cakes! I also love bananas), and individually packaged snacks rather than family-sized boxes of crackers that I don’t have enough self-control to just stop eating because Cheez Its are lit. I also NEED a dose of sweetness every once and awhile, so I always buy a snack that I know will satisfy those cravings, otherwise I would probably run out to the nearest convenience store and pick up a king sized candy bar. My favorite sweet snack right now is CLIF bar’s Nut Butter filled bars in Chocolate Peanut Butter because you can’t beat that classic peanut butter and chocolate combo.

Drink water!

This is so easy to forget if you’re like me and never really thought of drinks as part of your diet. Until I was in college, I literally used to only drink Diet Coke, lemonade, sugary juices, and, very rarely, water. Now, I drink a ridiculous amount of water. Pretty much only water unless I’m in desperate need of caffeine. Check the labels of the dranks you’re dranking and, more importantly, DRINK WATER!!!!! Despite the illusion that soft drinks like Coke (or Diet Coke if you’re like me and you’re a certifiable addict) are cool and refreshing, nothing is actually as satisfying and refreshing as a nice, cool glass of water.

Food is fuel 

When I eat better, I feel better. I don’t think that’s a coincidence. When I have too many heavy, greasy, or fried foods, I feel heavy and greasy. And fried. Remember that food is fuel for you to do all the awesome, amazing things that you do. Don’t let food weigh you down! Make healthy, conscious choices not only to reach whatever your goals are, but to feel better.

Food is social

Food is a communal ritual — the breaking of the bread and whatnot. Don’t let a negative relationship with food isolate you or keep you from sharing a meal with the wonderful people in your life! You will be faced with scenarios where you are eating with other people or out to dinner at a restaurant with family/friends/a date/your dogs/whomever. Don’t pass up opportunities to go out and enjoy a meal with people you care about just for the sake of your diet! Again, not realistic or sustainable unless you’re cool with never going out to eat again in your life. For me, this would 100% not be realistic because I love going out to eat and my boyfriend and I are avid foodies who spend a lot of time going to restaurants. This is so important to me that, when I’m out to dinner, I order whatever I think sounds the best and choose not to count calories. If you aren’t crazy like me, it’s still just as easy to pick healthier options. For instance, you can choose to not be like me and my boyfriend and not order three appetizers along with your entrees and dessert. But don’t deprive yourself of a social experience because you are worried about calories!

Find your balance, and be the happiest and healthiest but also sanest you you can be ❤️

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