While I do consider myself still in the Paleo category of living, I very much despise diets and labels and any over-moralization of the way we eat. Why?
I think Americans (mostly women, but men are also affected by this as well) suffer from chronic disordered eating. Maybe it doesn’t look exactly like anorexia, bulimia, or body dysmorphic disorder, but it certainly isn’t healthy or normal. We are in a constant pendulum swing of dieting and indulging, loving and hating, restricting and overeating, overexercising and vegetating…and even though the “right” side of the swing may appear healthy, it’s extremity is doing us no favors in the long run.
What we need to find is our happy place in health that allows us to be content with who we are. How do we do that?
1. Avoid “Challenges”
You know that saying It takes 21 days to make something a habit? No? Maybe six weeks? Whatever you’ve heard, it’s probably inaccurate. A recent new study shows that it can take at least two months to build a habit, and for some people it can take several months.
So what does that study have to do with challenges? Diet-based challenges are meant to “reset” or “detox” your body so you can jump start your perfect new lifestyle. But here’s what actually happens: you over restrict, under eat, over exercise, and then punish yourself when you slip up. (Am I projecting? Sounds like my old self!) That restrictive, punishing mentality is setting us up for failure.
2. Enjoy and Move On
Stop thinking of slip ups as slip ups. I do still consider myself Paleo, but when I go out to eat with my husband or go to New Orleans and eat all of the holiday food I can manage, I am not at all concerned with the outcome. (Okay…the goal is to not be concerned with the outcome.)
Will that meal or extra beer change the fact that I can go to Body Pump tomorrow? Does it mean I’m a bad person? Does it mean I have no willpower? Nope. It means that food is delicious and life’s too short to deny yourself a good meal. Savor it, and move on. The lettuce is still in the fridge waiting for you, and it won’t be any less nutritious because you had ice cream yesterday.
Of course we can’t have special meals everyday, but once a week won’t cause you fall off the wagon.
3. Realize That There is no Wagon
(I’m only referring to dieting, here.) Those individuals who claim to have all of the willpower required to successfully eat restrictively are winning no awards. And those little treats they avoid here and there will add no significant time to their lives when compared to a person who eats moderately healthy. And is it really worth it to constantly fight with your “willpower” over whether or not you can have that piece of chocolate?
There is no diet “wagon” that we are on or off…and you don’t need more willpower to win all of the diet wars. Eat well, move frequently, and enjoy that bowl of Ben & Jerry’s on Saturday.
4. Emotionally Eat
I want to be careful with this one because I do think extreme emotional eating is a part of the chronic disordered eating I mentioned earlier. But if you are a relatively healthy and active person, indulging after a long day can be good for your mental health.
Do be sure that it’s what you really want. Would it be more helpful to enjoy a few chocolate chip cookies or would you rather binge watch Orange is the New Black? (Or both!) That’s not a rhetorical question, and each individual will have a different answer. Sometimes, I want a drink to feel like an adult after a day of working with 8th graders. Other times I just want to zone out in front of the television because my nerves are shot from the day’s tasks.
You need to decide which action will be most helpful to you, and then make that decision with no consequences. Do not force yourself to skip a meal or wake up extra early just because you gave yourself a break the night before. Our bodies are always fighting to get back to equilibrium, so that once-in-a-while emotional decision will not have long term effects. No punishment required.
If you’re like me and are always searching for ways to 1) be more effortlessly healthy and 2) be happy with who you are, then I suggest some of these wonderful ladies to follow:
Summer Innanen: nutritionist and body coach who wants to make you feel fearless!
Maddy Moon: “reformed” fitness model who learned to be healthy by letting go of restriction
Paleo for Women: Stefani Ruper is an incredible advocate for women’s health, and it’s so refreshing to learn about the Paleo lifestyle from someone who has taken the time to learn what it means for women. Obviously, this link has a Paleo spin, but Stefani focuses on a whole health approach that will help you boost your health and confidence :)
I’ve also written my fair share of blog posts on the issue. Check these out!
Question for readers: What do you do to keep yourself happy and healthy?