Disclaimer: I don’t have any dietary expertise. This article is primarily based on my own experience and beliefs. Take it or bin it — it is up to you to decide.
What you eat matters — but it doesn’t matter as much as HOW you eat it.
Ok, so you want to eat healthy — I get it. But do you even realise what is your motivation to do so?
For many years I was trying to eat healthy and exercise just because I wished to change my body. I never seemed to be satisfied with the shape of it. The belly in particular — I would always be looking for ways to reduce its size. To make it flatter. More toned. Closer to the look of the “girls from the magazines”.
To me, a healthy diet was the most widely propagated weapon against my body as it looked at the time. It was a weapon in “fighting the fat” (literal expression used by many “health and fitness” magazines — in case you didn’t notice). It was supposed to be an excellent means to change what I didn’t like about myself.
Just to make it clear, I was never really fat. I just wasn’t as skinny as — I believed — I should have been.
Is “healthy food” a weapon against your body?
I am writing this to make you more aware of the reasons why you are trying to eat healthy, clean, organic — or however else you call it. Why do you believe that your diet is not good as it is now? Why are you striving to change something about it? What is your motivation behind all of this — reading fitness articles, restricting portions of your meals or banning yourself from eating after 6pm?
I cannot possibly know your motivations — that’s why I am asking. But, to be honest, I am also asking because I have a strong suspicion that you might be fighting your body. That all the efforts towards “eating better” (and/or “exercising more”, for that matter), might be a manifestation of you not accepting your body as it is and forcing it to change for you.
And because I really don’t believe this to be a beneficial approach, I will go even further and say that you may want to stop pushing yourself to eat healthier. At least for some time. Try to transform a different aspect of your life first — which I believe to be more causal, more potent in terms of inviting positive change in lifestyle.
This aspect is — have you guessed it by now? — the approach of self-love and acceptance. Unconditional. The feeling of being good enough.
Any improvement made from this point of awareness is a real added value.
Any external effort to “live healthier” made before you at least have a taste of what it means to “love yourself as you are” is like trying to swim against the current. You try to use your willpower and discipline in order to achieve something. You put a lot of unnecessary effort into an endeavour that could be carried out way more easily — if only you were willing to let go and allow yourself to flow with the current, rather than fight it.
Why not try a new approach?
Healthy eating vs. your mindset
Let’s take a look at two different scenarios of going about eating more healthy. Illustrating the first one, I will put myself in a position of someone who is pushing themselves to change their dietary habits. They believe this will allow them to transform their body and finally accept, or even love themselves.
In the second scenario, I will follow the logic of someone who decided to love themselves first — unconditionally — and adapted their diet as an organic consequence of that decision.
I was both of these characters at some point of my life. So what you really read below are my own thought patterns and beliefs I held at the time.
Scenario 1: Fighting the current
Good morning world! I am getting out of bed to take you on once again. Today I am going to really be good about what I eat — I believe it will give me more energy, make me feel lighter, and I should also notice my body changing within weeks. How exciting!
I will eat my morning bowl of muesli with fruit, knowing that it is good for me. Before going out to work, I will discretely peak in the mirror to check on my belly — is it small enough to wear this skinny dress? Unfortunately, I don’t feel like I am slim enough for that. I’d better change into something looser, so I can feel comfortable — at least to some extent.
At work, I would be careful about what I eat, how much and how often. If a colleague brings strawberries to share — I am happy. I don’t have to refuse their offer and explain to them that I am “dieting”. This would make them immediately aware that I am not confident enough in my body and I am trying to change something about it so desperately. Worse if they bring chocolates — I will need to, first of all, make a decision about whether I take one or not. This already takes plenty of energy, to fight an internal battle about that. Then, whatever I decide, I will also have to act the decision out in real life — and that’s going to feel like either giving up, or standing up for a confrontation.
Even if I manage to eat “healthy” during the whole day — there is always something I could have done “better”. I could have ate more salad instead of that piece of bread, or skipped that one chocolate. Eating healthy becomes a constant challenge and struggle in daily life — but so it has to be if you want to achieve a nice body, right?
Scenario 2: Embracing the flow
Good morning world! I wake up in a good or bad mood — but regardless of that I am able to smile at myself in the mirror just before I brush my teeth. I start the day with a few minutes of stretching or yoga — but not because I have to “boost my metabolism” right from the beginning. I spend a few minutes exercising just because I know it will make me feel better and help my body take on the challenges of the day. And indeed, after five minutes or so, I feel invigorated and much more ready to proceed with everyday activities.
I dress and appreciate the look of my physical self in the mirror. Sure, I could be a little slimmer and by breast could be larger — but who cares? I can see a strong, capable body, willing to take me whenever I am planning to go today. I know my legs are trained and resilient, my arms able to lift and reach, and I take a moment to appreciate that. Then, I go to the kitchen to prepare some breakfast for myself.
I prepare whatever feels good today — it may be cereal or a fruit salad, but also some scrambled eggs if I really feel like it. I learned already that there is no one correct way of eating for everyone — and even for myself, the perfect way to nourish my body changes from day to day. Another thing I noticed is that whenever I refuse myself a food I really want, just because I believe it to be “unhealthy” — the craving will come back at me five times stronger later in the day or in the week.
If I, say, refused myself to eat some cheese, just because it is “too fatty” and “not good for digestion” — I will eventually end up binging on it (or something else that contains fat and salt — like crisps) later on. That’s why I allow myself, as much as possible, to satisfy cravings before they grow huge.
However, because I put a lot of effort and attention into appreciating my body (and my whole being, for that matter) — I don’t usually experience crazy food cravings that often. Because I pay attention, I know how my body reacts to certain foods and drinks. And because I love my body — I want to supply the most beneficial nutrients to support it. Most of the times, it means eating healthy foods not out of “discipline”, but because I really want to eat them. And even if I happen to eat too much chocolate, I usually recognise that I did it to suppress some difficult emotions — which, apparently, were beyond my current capacity to process them.
This last thing is what I also consider a certain way of self-support. I am becoming less and less fond of the idea that I ALWAYS have to sit with my challenging feelings and give them unconditional attention. Sure, I try to do it as much as I can. But I also realise that some moments are just not right for emotional processing, as there is some bigger cause to be taken care of.
Eat healthy BECAUSE you love yourself — not TO love yourself
Coming back to motivations in eating healthy — can you see the substantial difference between the two approaches?
By trying to eat healthy so that you lose weight/feel better about yourself, you are automatically placing conditions on your self-love. I will only accept myself if… I will only be able to put on a bikini if… I can only feel comfortable among my pretty friends if… . That’s nothing short of crazy.
Without you realizing, healthy diet becomes a way of sabotaging your self-love. It is a fight against yourself in disguise. In disguise — because on the surface it seems like you are doing something good for yourself, right?
Watching your food is supposed to mean you are aware that what you put in your body influences your whole being. And this is certainly true, on some level. But, as my mindfulness teacher says:
What you eat matters — but it doesn’t matter as much as HOW you eat it.
I believe that when you consume a superfood-kyle-and-quinoa smoothie, but you are constantly stressing about how you look (or about anything else) — the smoothie might not benefit you that much. That’s why I am a big fan of coming to terms with my body in the first place.
Learn to appreciate that you have a body — and that IT WORKS. Even if you eat one slice of pizza too much — it works. Even if you get drunk — it (usually) continues to work. It has many amazing ways of coping with whatever shit we put in it, of detoxifying itself, of regenerating tissues. It is an extraordinary machine — regardless of how it looks. I honestly think that you should recognize it.
That is not to encourage you to keep putting shit in your body. Once you realize all the things your body does for you and feel grateful for it, even if just for a brief moment — your attitude will not be the same again. You will want to feed your body the best things in the world. Not because you feel the need to change it — but because you love it so much that you want to support it in the best way possible.
When you choose your foods from the point of love, your body knows it — and it rewards you with a glowing, healthy and well-nourished look. A much better one than what you could have achieved by dieting and forcing yourself to eat healthy — without loving your body first.