I have been thinking about writing this post for awhile because it’s something I think about and struggle with literally every day. I haven’t had the chance to actually sit down and write for awhile but was inspired by something a personal training client said to me yesterday. For the past few years, she had been really focused on changing her body composition and was almost obsessively working out without achieving the results she was hoping for. Finally, she made a shift in her diet and immediately felt better and reached her goals. We talked for awhile about how important it is to not only focus on fitness but nutrition as well, and also how important it is to listen to your body and understand how its’ needs can change with time.
I was still thinking about this conversation when I got home after a long day of work last night and had to stay up late folding sourdough bread, making homemade yogurt, granola and cashew milk. Once all those tasks were done, I had trouble getting to sleep because I was stressing out about how to fit everything I needed to do into my day today while somehow fitting in my bread baking schedule. I then reached an epiphany when I realized all of this stress was self-inflicted and totally unnecessary. Why did I think I needed to be a homesteader and make every single thing from scratch? Most importantly, why had I taken tasks that I used to find pleasure and joy in and turn them into stressors and obligations? What was really important here?
I have seen this behavior in many of my nutrition clients; people who juice and sprout and dehydrate and preserve but then binge on their kids’ Cheetos at the end of their day. It’s as though the healthy behaviors are so extreme that they become stress inducing and overwhelming. I hate to admit it, but this reminds me of myself, when I was a nutrition student/bartender some 10 years ago and I found myself so hungover in a class that I had to leave. In some aspects I was so focused on health but on too many occasions I was just willing to throw all my hard work out the window. That was a wake up call to me. Although I made serious changes since then, the social/drinking culture aspect of our society is something I still struggle with, with a husband and a best friend in the beer industry. Since my life and work are completely encompassed with fitness and nutrition, the food choices I like to make and the early mornings I like to spend exercising have maybe too often caused me to say no to certain social situations. While I used to feel great about my dedication to health, I now wonder if it is isolating me a little too much from people I care about. We all know exercise and eating well are healthy. I do believe those things should be on your mind to some extent most days. But when is it too much? When does it become unhealthy? Wellness is so much more than those two factors. Wellness involves good sleep, stress reduction, personal relationships and overall happiness. If you are pigeon holing your wellness approach to only two factors, you are missing out on a lot.
As I work through these issues on my own, I have asked myself some questions that I feel have been helpful. These are some things to think through as you consider your own life choices. What are your priorities in the big picture? Sure this can change daily, but overall what’s most important? Work? Family? Health? Fun? Hopefully all of these things, but for you at this moment, which order do they fall into? The amount of time and energy you put into certain aspects of your life should align with those priorities. Check back regularly to see if you are doing this. If health is most important right now but you are working too much to get to the gym, what can you do about it? Can you squeeze it in anywhere? Or maybe you really can’t right now. Then the key is not feeling guilty about it, focusing on your work and figuring out how you can fit it in in the very near future. Is fun most important but you feel like you can’t be social because of the way of eating? You can still go out and make healthy choices. Going out doesn’t mean you have to drink or order chicken wings.
What if health is not a value of yours at all? Well here is where I have to argue that it needs to be. Your food choices, moving your body, reducing your stress etc. are so important to not only making sure your body functions properly and is protected against disease but to increasing feelings of well being. My goal is to help you figure out how to make health become a value, thus to make being healthy become enjoyable. Movement shouldn’t be a total chore. To me, running on the treadmill is but hiking in nature is just about the most enjoyable thing I could do. There are so many ways to move and be active and I hope that there is one for you that can lead to finding pleasure in moving. The same goes for eating; my number one passion as a dietitian is showing my clients how amazing healthy food can taste. Ideally, you are enjoying a healthy diet because it feels good to your body, is nourishing and delicious, not because you feel like you are supposed to be “on a diet.”
Once you have figured out your priorities try and surround yourself with people who have the same values. Love to work out but want to spend time with your friends? Which of your friends can you go hiking with? Know someone else who wants to eat healthy but feels like they have no time to cook? Set up a system where you get together and batch cook for the week.
Most importantly, cut yourself some slack. Being too strict with yourself on anything is not only unsustainable but it is unhealthy. It causes stress and feelings of guilt when you aren’t able to keep up to your high standard of perfection. Working towards whatever your idea of optimal health is is a lifelong process. It’s not necessarily supposed to be easy and the purpose of this post it to show you that a professional nutritionist and personal trainer struggles with finding balance, as well.