A long time ago, someone told me that the only way to truly make any legitimate physical changes was to look down at myself and be so disgusted that I can’t go on anymore. And that has been the main motivation for most of the exercise and diets I’ve chased for the last several years.
I’ll get on some kick and only eat leafy greens for two weeks, or hop on the latest Insanity kick (and ruin my knees), or do nothing BUT work out on as little food as possible until my body or my motivation gives out and I fall face-first into a steaming hot pile of pizza and chocolate chip cookies.
ugh. it doesn’t even look that appetizing from this point of view
But the thing is….I genuinely like living a healthy life. It’s important to me to know where my food is coming from, and what exactly is in it. I enjoy giving my body the foods it needs to use as fuel throughout the day. I feel SO GREAT about my body, my life, and the world, when I am regularly exercising. When I’m consuming enough water and getting enough sleep (which is infinitely easier, deeper, and shorter when I’m taking care of myself), I walk around every day feeling like the world is on my side and I can conquer anything.
So why do I keep falling into the same old pit of despair and fast food?
What is it in me that thinks convenience is a better alternative than health?
I’ve been batting this question around internally for the last few months. Having come home from the Race with a parasite, I had to be even more cautious about food and, while it required more effort and concentration than I was used to, the way I physically responded was remarkable. No more digestive issues, no more stomach cramps, headaches were gone, and both insomnia and hypersomnnia became non-issues. Further bonuses- I was losing weight and my skin was clearing up!
I felt incredible!
this girl does, too
Which led me to say things like, “I guess I could have a piece of that cake that everyone’s enjoying” or “I haven’t had fast food in ages, and I’m actually running really behind so I guess it couldn’t hurt to pop in somewhere for a burger and fries” or really any alternate version of any of these things. It was a sloooooow process of falling back into poor eating habits, but here I find myself. And along with that, I noticed that the more terrible foods I ate, the less I exercised. And the less I exercised, the less energy I had, the worse I felt in general, and the more I wanted to sleep. Just, all the time.
It’s a freakin’ snowball effect.
Seriously. Once that ball starts rollin’ it’s a fast downhill slide.
And so here I am, once again, stuck at the bottom of the Hill of Health, looking up, and being pretty intimidated by the climb. I’m at a place where I look at myself with just enough revulsion that I roll my eyes, mutter something rude about my body under my breath, and start clambering up once more. And immediately start to sweat.
But the thing is, I’m going to fail.
Yep. Again and again and again.
Why? Because I’m approaching the idea of a healthy lifestyle from a place of self-hatred. Who succeeds when that’s the motivation?!
I have to start approaching my lifestyle from a place of LOVE and RESPECT.
We just get the one life, y’all. The one body. That’s it. And whatever comes with it- acne, thin hair, bad genes, a predisposition to this or to that. Guess what? That’s never going to change. We can take acne medication and use rogaine, but we will never, ever, ever be able to change our genetics. What we have is what we have. So it’s not going to help anything by spending time and energy hating on ourselves.
I loooooove the way I feel when I choose healthy foods and when I spend time every day listening to my body and asking it to work a little harder. Maybe that’s a yoga class, maybe it’s a barre workout, maybe I’ll go on a nice run and enjoy a different view. I love it. I love all those things. Seriously life just feels better when my body feels better.
I’m sure it’s that way for you, too.
But we need to approach those hard choices (like should I eat this delicious salad with all these life-giving vegetables and that mouth-watering homemade Italian vinaigrette dressing or should I stop by McDonald’s and stuff a Big Mac down my face?) with the forethought of how our bodies will feel later. When we approach choices such as these from a place of love and affirmation, I really think we’ll be able to hit a home run. Because, honestly, those french fries NEVER taste as good as we remember they did. It’s all a mental game. I told myself just this weekend that YES, I neeeeed Chick-fil-a chicken nuggets and a chocolate chip cookie. First and last, they really really were not as good as I remember them being, and I also spend the entire night nauseated. Bleh. Not a fun way to spend a Saturday night.
But this morning, when I chose cheerios and fruit with a side of tons and tons of water, not only did I feel great about the choice I made, but I felt great physically, too. No gross chemicals or oil or grease, no hydrogenated this or treated that. And while cheerios still aren’t the best option, it was the better option when I compared it to my preference of a bagel with butter or cream cheese. So that’s like….a quintuple bonus! Feeling great about and because of small choices throughout the day. That one small choice led to a decision to head out for a run before work which I also felt totally jazzed about! (Even if it was a million degrees outside).
My problem (and I’ll wager yours, too) is that I have to stop approaching food and exercise as a punishment for poor lifestyle choices. I have to stop approaching them as a way of penance after I get to the place where I can’t stand my own body anymore. I’m never going to succeed that way. Believe me, I’ve tried! I’m sure you have, too.
So let’s all just take a deep breath and realize that our bodies are lovely. They were created to be exactly as they are, whatever shape they are. A mother’s stretched belly, a teen’s knobby knees, a little girl’s wispy hair, a grandfather’s wrinkled face. All so, so beautiful. Short, tall, fat, skinny, average, toned…. these are beautiful places to be. And once we start appreciating our bodies for what they are and what they allow us to do every day, we can start giving them the things they need to continue doing so. Bodies are amazing, you know. They will give and give and give even past the point of exhaustion, no matter what you ask, because that’s what they were designed to do. It’s time to start giving them the fuel to do the things we ask, rather than demanding things on empty.
I’m really just preaching to myself here.
this is our bossy face
My body has allowed me to travel to places, to endure pain, to grow tall, to lift heavy loads, to perform miraculous feats. I need to start treating it like the miracle it is, and embracing it for the wonder it was always meant to be. And from that place, I will be able to make wiser and healthier and better decisions, for a longer, healthier, happier life. Because as well all know, Healthy does, indeed, equal Happy. Happy bodies, happy minds, happy hearts.
I’ll share a favorite end-of-class mantra I teach in some of my yoga classes:
I’ll ask you to sit in easy, cross-legged position, with your eyes closed and your palms pressed together in a prayer position at the center of your heart. Sitting nice and tall to give your lungs room to breath, all your muscles are relaxed after a long class of hard work. I’ll ask you to sit in silence and be fully present, listening to your body tell you all the wonderful things it feels: that tension in the left side of your neck from typing at a computer all day is gone; your shoulders feel a little lower and heavier, slipping a little further from your ears, much more relaxed than at the beginning of class; even the spaces between your toes are sighing in relief, having soaked up all that intentional movement from today’s class. I ask you to take a moment and silently express gratitude- gratitude for your breath which comes and goes providing life without thought, and gratitude for your body, for allowing you to do all the things you do each and every day without question, without hesitation. Feel that gratitude deep down in your gut, in a place that can’t be torn from you. Embrace your body in all its flaws, its imperfections, all its less-than-beautiful areas. Appreciate your body for the things it does for you, whether you acknowledge it or not. Love your body from a place that wants to see it grow and live a long, healthy life. Remember what this day, what this moment feels like- what it means to truly have a love for yourself.