A Long-Winded Note on – Ending Anxiety around the Holidays, My Relationship with Food & Fitness, and Finding Acceptance
I don’t know about you, but family holidays always seem to spark my anxiety around food, which if you think about it, this seems counterintuitive to the point of Thanksgiving in the first place. I can’t pinpoint exactly when and where this anxiety around food during the holidays started, but if I had to guess, I’d say back in high school during my, where we were just beginning to be introduced to social media and the “diet culture”. Leading up to and following the holidays, you’d see “shedding for the holidays”, or “stay skinny this thanksgiving”, or “how to shed 10 pounds before and after the holidays”. It’s everywhere and nearly impossible to avoid. It’s no wonder high-schoolers’ (and probably even middle schoolers’) get roped into this mindset so early. They’re still young, impressionable, and heavily influenced by social media. I’m sure I’m not alone here, regardless of whether you’ve had an on and off relationship with food. This frame of thinking is basically engraved into everyone at one point or another.
Each year, I make it an effort to enjoy the time with my family and be PRESENT rather than feeling overwhelmed by thoughts around food, working out, looking good in my holiday outfit, and so on. Some years are successful and some years I find myself still consumed by these thoughts. The difference between past years and now is that I’m in a much better place mentally. Being a food blogger, it’s easy to feel consumed by food all the time. Constantly thinking about your next meal whether it’s for lunch that day or what you’ll be eating for breakfast on the weekend. Finding that balance between feeling controlled by food vs. just cooking and photographing out of pure joy/passion can be difficult, but it IS possible. I think the biggest challenge for me was eating to feel satiated. As I’ve discussed in the past, I’ve tried so many different diet and health-food trends, hoping that one would be the right fit for me. Unfortunately, none of them left me feeling satisfied and only had me craving more since I wasn’t getting the RIGHT food and nourishment for what my body needed.
I’d try to mimic the pretty food I saw on Instagram, which sometimes meant giant smoothie bowls loaded with fruit, almond butter, and granola. Sure, this tasted REALLY good and it was super filling at the time (I still think it should be enjoyed every now and then, the difference being that I’m now AWARE of how these ingredients will affect my cravings. I can still make a smoothie bowl, but the ingredients I choose to use may be different than what I would throw in, in the past). But was it really giving me the proper nutrition that I needed? Even after starting my morning with giant smoothie bowls, I couldn’t stop eating at night. None of it made sense to me. It wasn’t until recently where I started to really think about each plate at every meal. Was I getting proper protein, healthy fats, veggies, superfoods, fiber, etc? How much FRUIT (and additional sugar) was I consuming throughout the day? Was I eating enough calories? Did I need to adjust based on my workouts?
What I found was that a) I was running A LOT. Being a runner my whole life, I was used to logging a lot of miles and I “used” to be able to eat a lot of food to replenish. However, just like anything else that you do day in and day out, it can get mundane and your body starts to adapt. And b) though I was running anywhere from 5-8 miles about 4-5 times a week, I wasn’t burning as many calories as I used to. Yet I came home STARVING all the time and would likely overeat because that’s what I thought my hunger signs were telling me.
Fast forward to January 2017, post 200hr yoga teacher training. After 17 intensive days of pure yoga and little to no running, my body changed, but in a good way. I hadn’t seen results like this in SO LONG. I LOVED yoga and sadly, running became something I started to resent because it usually meant me hammering miles (and breaking down my body) to make up for all of the food I would consume. It became a vicious cycle and this small realization opened up a new way of looking at fitness. At the end of the day, I think that running is still a great way of getting some cardio in, but I’m not as tied to it as I used to be. Honestly, I probably run 1x a week now, if that. I’ve finally found a workout routine that makes me feel amazing, challenges my body (and mind), and the best part, I actually LOOK FORWARD to it! I share this bit because I feel for me, my relationship to fitness and food go hand-in-hand. The second I started to embrace working out as something that made me feel good, instead of looking at it as a way to punish my body, more positive thoughts around food started to fall in place.
I started craving foods that would truly nourish my body. I started understanding the science behind food & fitness. I became interested in the research. I invested time into listening to podcasts and reading; anything from body positivity, to spirituality, to nutritionists that covered everything from paleo, to plant-based, to keto, to grain-free / gluten-free, and everything in between. I started looking at everything with an open mind, ditched the “food labels”, and began to understand how different lifestyles worked for different people. I found it significantly helpful to understand the science & research behind all of these “health trends” so that I could pull bits of each to find what works well for me. It’s funny too because I’ve always been into following different health trends out there, but what happened, was that I would get too consumed by that particular one and closed off to the idea that maybe that lifestyle wasn’t the best for ME, even though it appeared that so and so on Instagram seemed to be incredibly happy following that lifestyle.
My point to all of this is that this whole “wellness” thing is a journey. It’s trial and error. It’s accepting that we’re ALL different and have different needs. It means being open minded and accepting that health trends come and go for a reason. At the end of the day, it always seems to come back to eating wholesome, unprocessed food and finding a healthy, balanced workout routine that makes you feel good from the inside, out. Though I’ve found a more “balanced” way of living, this doesn’t mean that I’m throwing all concepts of healthy eating out the door when it comes to the holidays. If I REALLY want that dessert full of butter, I’ll eat it. BUT, I know that after I go for that, my body feels like shit. And I truly hate feeling like SHIT. This is the same reason why I choose to rarely drink alcohol. It makes me feel awful and for me, it’s not worth getting drunk to feel like crap the entire next day. Personally, it comes down to this: do I REALLY want that dessert or is it knowing that I’m allowing myself the option to grab it, that makes me deny it all together?
Here’s the other thing. I feel JUST as satisfied making my own dessert that I know tastes just as good, if not better, and is full of real ingredients and no refined sugars. Sometimes I get asked the question, “do you REALLY think that healthy dessert of yours tastes just as good as this store-bought cheesecake?” and my answer is always yes. This type of question used to drive me crazy. Why can’t others just accept that I actually enjoy healthy food? At the end of the day, you’re not going to please everyone. You need to do what makes you feel good. I still have balance and a healthy relationship with food, even if I still choose to go for my healthier dessert option. The difference in all of this is where my head and mental state is at. I can honestly say I’m truly in a better place. Not every day is perfect, but it’s a hell of a lot better than where it used to be. It’s all about progress, not perfection!
I hope you all have a fabulous Thanksgiving!
I’m absolutely so grateful for all of you!