Food, it’s neither good nor bad, but that’s not how it’s seen in our society. Whether it’s one of those ads, an article about good carbs or bad carbs or an Instagram #healthyeating or #cleaneating post that told you about how to “get back on track with your diet,” we’ve all seen them. All of these messages can be overwhelming and unhelpful in our quest to find what healthy is for each of us, as individuals.
It can be so hard not to feel like you should follow these trends or try the new latest thing that will help you achieve your health or body composition goals. I get it.
Misinformation is everywhere and sadly some of it is even perpetuated by the fitness industry, which isn’t very helpful, maybe even detrimental.
So, in my role as a fitness and nutrition professional, I want to share a little about my relationship with food and how my re-thinking of that relationship has helped me to find an even healthier view of eating.
Let’s start at the beginning.
Back in 2000, shortly after the New Year, I decided to “get healthier“. I didn’t really know what that meant or looked like, except I knew I should exercise more and “eat better” than I was, because at the time there were some “food groups” I was missing.
I decided that I would do some exercise videos I had for an hour every day and, at the same time, I started to eat according to the the USDA’s food pyramid at each meal.
This meant at every meal, I made sure I had some carbs (like bread, pasta or rice), veggies or a fruit, some protein, some dairy and some fats.
At breakfast this might have looked like, a couple of eggs (protein) with some cheese (dairy and fat), with some spinach (veggie), 2 pieces of toast (carbs) with butter or PB (fat).
So that’s where I started.
Over the years, my approach to workouts and meals has evolved. I no longer do an intense workout every day–you need a rest day or two. And while there have been times when I’ve been super-strict with myself about eating, I have generally eased up in a way that is more open to life as a human with birthday parties and celebrations where one should eat cake if one feels inclined to eat cake.
But this doesn’t mean that I don’t feel pressured by these constant messages in the (social) media. It’s been a hard struggle for a long time not to feel guilty when I eat certain foods or if I miss a workout for some reason.
It took a long time to see these feelings and ways of thinking as unhelpful and probably even unhealthy. And it took a long time to feel good if I ate something that the “fitness” world or mass media would deem ‘bad’.
How did I do it? It took a lot of self-reflection and paying attention to how I felt when eating. I took a hard look at my goals: were they what I really wanted or what I thought I should want, based on what society says I should want or because I am a fitness professional and think I should look and act a certain way?
Re-Thinking and Re-Framing
No food is good or bad. Humans put that label on it. Some foods provide more vitamins and nutrients than others, but this doesn’t make them good or bad, just more or less nutrient-dense.
To help myself view this differently and maybe assist you in doing the same, I offer things I did to re-frame my relationship with food.
Shedding the label of “good” or “bad” food. This took some time and a fair bit of practice. Instead of good foods and bad foods, I’ve re-framed it this way:
I know that depending on my fitness goals and body composition goals (I like my muscles!!) that there are foods I can eat that are more or less helpful in terms of meeting those those goals, but I have chosen to stop labelling the foods as good or bad because it’s a slippery slope from judging and labelling my food to judging and labelling myself in that moment.
And none of us needs our food to be passing judgement on us.
Removing words or phrases that moralizes the situation. In a similar vein to above, gone are phrases such as “I had a cheat day”, “cheating on my eating plan” or “falling off the wagon”. The thing is, when you are trying to make changes to your nutrition plan, what matters most is the overall pattern or trend. Not every day is going to go as planned and life is never really going to be perfect and I needed to let go of that need for perfection (which is easier said than done, I know!). Everything is a spectrum. Plus I needed to remove these sayings to help me not feel bad about myself, which circles us back to the above point.
Eating Mindfully. What I mean by this is eating and really enjoying my food. Now, of course not every meal is a sit-down-and-savor, 60-minute, yum fest, but trying to make the space to savor even my routine lunchtime salad has helped me a lot when it came to things I saw as off-limits. I was able to notice when I had had my fill of them and felt comfortably satisfied with the flavor without inadvertently pushing myself into the ick when I had had too much.
Removing certain media publication/social media accounts from my viewing and replacing them with more positive influences. When I started noticing how certain messages were making me feel, I decided to stop receiving their messages. When I stopped seeing the very typical way that the media talks about food and exercise anymore, it felt so liberating. Seeing more positive and encouraging messaging and imagery has really helped me to feel good about my relationship with food.
This is not an exhaustive list, but here are some body-positive accounts I like:
But I know there are more out there and would love to hear from any of you if you have some. Please share!!
I did find this video that I thought was a good (and funny) look at some of the buzzwords out there and talks about looking at them differently.
Re-thinking my fitness and body composition goals. As I suggested earlier, I needed to reflect to make sure the goals I had were for me and not something I had taken on board in order to meet someone else’s expectations or standards. Ultimately, I came to the conclusion that my food intake and my exercise are an extended part of my self-care routine. I knew the benefits that eating and moving had on my emotional well-being, I just had to dig deeper into that and let go of the thoughts that I had to look a certain way since I was a fitness professional.
I came to a place where I decided that my muscles are for me and for doing things I love to do. I decided that I wanted bigger, stronger muscles to do even more things and not because I wanted to try to look a certain way to please someone else. It took some time, but I found the balance of what I like, feel good being and a feeling of being strong.
Of course, none of this means that I don’t have some days that maybe I feel a bit off–I am human after all–but it’s worlds better than it was.
I hope that you found this article helpful. I’d love to hear from you and how things are going, and what re-thinking and re-framing processes worked for you. If you have any other media, social or otherwise, that you like and find helpful, please share!