6 Rules for a Healthy Lifestyle

It has occurred to me… or really, it slowly crept on me, that by logging my food every day and striving for the perfect calorie goal, I am simply trading one obsession for another. I either compulsively over-eat or I obsessively diet, accepting nothing but black and white. Logging works great for most people. Logging worked well for me initially.. I just wonder if maybe logging my food has caused a mental rift in my mind between “good” and “bad” foods and “good” or “bad” days.

It’s like I believe that my nature is inherently always gravitating to the “bad.” My knee jerk reaction is to make the days I don’t log the ones where I frantically, excitedly, guiltily scramble to fit in every “bad” food I have been missing over the past few weeks of meticulous calculating and logging everything I ingest.

I made the decision to learn to eat better without logging during this past week. I was having a conversation with my roommates at the dinner table about my habits, my likes, my dislikes, and my overeating issues. One of my roommates, who has always been able to think of just about anything objectively, suggested that I attempt to wean off of logging and look at food as just food. The suggestion was appalling at first; “Logging works,” I thought, “There’s no reason to fix what isn’t broken.”

His suggestion planted itself like a seed in my mind and grew until I realized that my goal was never to be so obsessed with losing weight. My goal was to learn healthy habits, to get to my goal weight, and to look the way I wanted. It occurred to me that my logging obsession is just as mentally unhealthy for me as overeating is for my body. An unhealthy mind cannot make a healthy body. My solution was to utilize something I learned from a class for adoptive and foster parents that I had to take for my job. In order to run an orderly household, parents need to make clear, concise, simple rules that govern the household, such as “be kind,” “be respectful,” and “be honest.” I needed to make rules like these for my lifestyle so that I could simplify it rather than over-complicating it with numbers and figures.

1.) Only eat when hungry. This is a habit that logging completely broke me of doing. I got into a groove with logging that led me to believe that I should eat every 2-3 hours on the dot and that I should eat only what fit into my macros. While this is effective for some, I lost some of my ability to recognize hunger signals and deal with hankerings for random food items by replacing them with healthier options. The result is that on days when I didn’t log, I ate whatever I damn well pleased because that’s what I felt like having. This does not lend to a healthy lifestyle throughout. I can’t only be healthy when I log; I need to be making healthier choices all the time. I’m trying to create a lifestyle, not a cage.

2.) Try to keep each meal under 500 calories (estimated). Eating smaller meals as a guideline helps with portion control and allows me to spread my calories out over a long day at work. Since I’ve been logging for so long, I know what most of the foods I have been eating lately contain as far as protein and calories. This also keeps me from trying to meet a calorie goal for each day and gives me some flexibility. I may only feel like eating 1,000 calories one day but feel like eating 2,300 the next day and have all the energy for a workout.

3.) Eliminate as much sugar as possible. I know that sugar is the enemy, you know that sugar is the enemy, but we still eat a lot of sugar in our coffee, in snacks, and in sauces because it’s freaking delicious. It also causes cravings and helps our bodies to retain fat, so it has to go. As I let go of the logging process, I want to try to replace sweet food items that I normally would have eaten, especially at the end of the day, with something just a bit less sweet but still satisfying. I’ve also been trying to steadily drink my coffee just a little bit darker each day so that I can eliminate the daily use of sugar in my coffee as well. Sugar is a trigger for me, and I have avoided eliminating its evil from my life for too long.

4.) Get a fruit or vegetable on every plate. This rule follows my sugar rule because fruits and veggies have fiber that help break down sugar more slowly and help with digestion. Not only that, but a fruit or veggie with each meal can help me feel full longer, give me essential nutrients, and gives me a reason to try new things. Whether I slap spinach on a turkey burger, avocado on my scrambled eggs, or replace pretzels with carrots, getting something colorful on each plate encourages healthier habits and a healthier body.

5.) Drink a lot of water. I carry a 32oz bottle of water with me all day long, drink about two of those, and then have another couple of glasses of water at dinner. Some days I drink more than others, especially if I’ve been sweating a lot in the gym. Water is the magical elixir of life. Just drink it.

6.) Forgive yourself and move on. If I had a particularly rough day with food choices, no one is going to know it but me, regardless of how fat, sluggish, and gross I feel. No one can tell that you just ate a pint of Ben & Jerry’s in 5 seconds flat just by looking at you. Put it behind you, make your next meal a healthy one, drink lots of water, and just get over it. Move on.

Maybe it’s just my recent interest in yoga talking, my nervous anticipation about being ridiculously busy with graduate school beginning this summer, or maybe I’m just having a moment of clarity, but this is what I have always wanted. I have always wanted to forget that food is the enemy and realize that food is power. Food is fuel, but food is not an emotional dam for my anxiety or disappointment. For the next couple of months, I expect to be more aware of my body and its signals. I don’t expect to lose a lot of weight. If I do, that’s great, but I think that the most important makeover that needs to happen for me is in my mind.

I am hoping that by forming a more friendly relationship with food and with my body that the rest will fall into line later. Here’s to hoping.

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