If you are interested in your health you probably have some ideas about health and fitness. Have you ever asked yourself where those ideas came from or why you believe them? Maybe you have even tried acting on those ideas but didn’t get the results you were hoping for? I had some common ideas about health and fitness. Here’s what I learned when I decided to challenge them.
In 2009 I began my journey into the fitness world. I started with walking, eating more vegetables, and began reading fitness magazines, blogs, and following fitness gurus. When 2011 came along I was powerlifting and eating a restricted diet. I had developed the belief that I had to have a certain body shape and size, that there was only one correct way to workout and that food was my enemy. By 2014 I was doing two workouts per day (powerlifting and CrossFit) and had restricted my diet even further. My identity had become dependent on my ability to change my body, to exert willpower, and to restrict my diet. I found myself in the best physical shape I had ever been in yet it never seemed to be enough. I disliked my body more than ever and I no longer trusted myself to make decisions about food. As I failed to reach the unattainable goals I set for myself my confidence fell apart and I found myself sitting outside my apartment binge eating “bad foods” and then throwing the wrappers in the dumpster so my boyfriend wouldn’t know how much I had eaten.
At this time, I was in my junior year of my undergraduate degree studying nutrition and exercise physiology. My health and fitness ideas were starting to be challenged by the information I was learning in school and through conversations with classmates. I was learning the pros and cons of all different types of exercise. I was being taught that there are not good foods and bad foods. Health was presented as so much more than just physical, but emotional, spiritual, and social as well. One afternoon a friend of mine very gently suggested that maybe I wasn’t a bad person for wanting to eat trail mix after I proudly explained my exercise routine and food rules to her. This was my first exposure to intuitive/mindful eating. I remember feeling defensive of my beliefs and superior because I had the willpower to follow my food rules. However, the next time I sat in my car, binge eating trail mix, trying to stuff down the disappointment of falling short in my workout and the guilt about eating the trail mix I started to question if my food and exercise ideas were serving me.
I finally decided to give intuitive eating a try and I started to focus on all the aspects of my health instead of just the physical. As I went through grad school and my dietetic internships I practiced eating intuitively, developed a daily spiritual practice, explored what type of exercise made my body feel good, practiced body positivity and started challenging unrealistic beauty standards. Here are the new Ideas I developed about health and fitness.
You can be healthy no matter your weight.
When we make healthful lifestyle changes such as becoming physically active and eating more nutrient dense foods our health markers such as blood pressure and cholesterol levels improve and we begin to feel better and have more energy regardless of whether we have lost weight or not. Not only is weight loss not necessary but Long-term weight loss is not usually successful. Sadly we blame ourselves when our diet doesn’t lead to long-term sustained weight loss. But have you ever stopped to wonder if it’s the diet and weight loss goal that has failed us? Health is achieved by building sustainable habits that aren’t built on restrictive diets or militant exercise. The body will settle at whatever size and weight it is supposed to be. Focusing on a weight loss as a goal is not necessary to improve health and it is a great way to become discouraged quickly.
There are no good or bad foods
There are foods that are more nutrient dense than others and there are foods that may benefit our bodies more than others. However it’s important to remember that food is not only about nourishment for the body, it can also be about nourishing the soul. Sometimes we choose foods because they remind us of our childhood, or because we simply love the way they taste. We can find balance in our food choices by practicing mindful/intuitive eating, where all foods have a place. As we explore how different foods make us feel through intuitive eating we may decide to generally avoid certain foods as we don’t like the way we feel when we eat them. However, these foods are still permissible if we decide they are worth the discomfort and there should be no guilt associated with eating them. Labeling foods as good or bad brings guilt and condemnation to the table and nobody wants that!
You can trust your intuition to tell you when what and how to eat
When we take a mindful approach to eating we don’t blame poor willpower to explain why someone is eating when they are not hungry or overeating certain foods. Instead, we ask deeper questions from a place of grace, leaving out guilt and fault, about what is leading to their eating habits. Through practicing mindful/intuitive eating we can get back in touch with our hunger and fullness cues and begin eating based on what our body is telling us instead of eating based on a diet plan. It is important that we honor our hunger and eat the foods that are appealing to us. If we don’t allow ourselves to eat the food we are craving we often end up trying to satisfy the craving by eating a bunch of other foods and then eating the food causing the craving in the end anyway. This leads to overeating and the guilt associated with feeling like we have no self-control. We are better off to eat the foods we desire. When all foods are permissible we tend to eat less and our diet becomes pretty well balanced.
The best type of exercise is the exercise that feels good
I can tell you that swimming is fantastic cardiovascular exercise while being gentle on your joints but that means nothing to you if you are afraid of water. If you try and force yourself to exercise in a way that you don’t enjoy you likely will not continue with it. Now, I am not saying that you love every minute of it, or that it isn’t hard sometimes, just that it needs to be something that you generally enjoy. There is no one-size-fits-all-perfect-will-solve-all-your-problems exercise plan. If your goal is health and general fitness your priority is to simply move your body. It’s important to recognize that the exercise you choose might change over time or even day-to-day and that’s 100% okay. Your exercise preference may also change with the weather or your season of life. Go ahead and honor your desire to move in the way you please.
Your worth is not in your dress size
Your value as a human being has nothing to do with the size or shape of your body. Your worth is not wrapped up in whether or not you are successful with your diet or your workout regimen. It also has nothing to do with how much money you make, what job you have, where you live, or what anyone else thinks of you. You are valuable and deserving of respect and love simply because you are alive. The fitness industry would have you believe that you have to work hard for a specific type of body to earn your worth, but I am here to tell you that there is nothing that you need to do or anyone you need to be to earn your worth.
Health and fitness changes have to come from a place of respecting yourself and your body
The easiest way to explain this is an example. So, let’s say you are at work and as the workday is getting closer to its end you start thinking about your plans to go to a yoga class. Do you start to feel fear and dread or excitement and motivation? This depends on how you feel about yourself and your body. If you made the plans to go to yoga because you feel good when you do yoga and it helps you relax you’re probably excited and motivated to go. However, if you made the plans to go to yoga because you hate your thighs and have to do it to change your stupid ugly body you probably start to dread and fear the class. Afterall, it is hard to take care of something we dislike. When we love and respect ourselves and our bodies we naturally want to take care of ourselves and our bodies.
Health is not only physical but is also mindful, emotional, social and spiritual
Speaking of taking care of ourselves, we are so much more than just bodies. We are a people with thoughts, feelings, and emotions. we have a past, the day we’re living in and a future. We have relationships with our families, friends, and coworkers. We also have thoughts, feelings, and emotions about all of these things. Our health is wrapped up in how we manage all of the above not just in how often we move and what we eat. It is so important to build a spiritual practice, learn to navigate our thoughts, feelings, and emotions, build healthy relationships, challenge our minds and take good care of our physical bodies.
What ideas do you have about health and fitness? Are those ideas serving you? I’d love to hear your comments below!
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