Dieting didn’t work for me but I’m also at a place in my relationship with food where I feel grateful for my years of dieting. Why? Because I learned so much about myself. I needed to go through those years to get to a place where I was ready to define “health” in my own way.
I don’t think people who diet are bad, I don’t think they are wrong, and I don’t even necessarily think they “should stop right now.” We are all doing the best that we can with what we know and believe right now. Someone who is on a diet is learning things about herself that she might need to know. She might not be ready for intuitive eating. I certainly wasn’t ready for it for many many years. And, that’s ok. Because we aren’t all in the same place in our lives or in our relationship with food right now. It’s ok to be in different places.
I will always be 100% open and honest about my personal experiences and struggles with dieting. And, if someone is struggling with food, feels like dieting / restricting isn’t working for her, and she is ready to discover how intuitive eating can, then I am so excited to have that conversation. But, not everyone is at a place where they want to have that conversation. And I am also 100% ok with that, too.
I hope we can all practice kindness and compassion with each other, wherever we are at. And openness to each other especially when we are in different places.
With that said, one of the best things I discovered (thanks to years of struggling with my relationship with food and then finding intuitive eating) is how I want to practice “health” in my life.
To me, practicing “health” means that I am able to show up for my life with joy, gratitude, and presence. This includes showing up in tough moments, in challenging moments, in exciting / crazy moments, in peaceful moments. It includes showing up for myself. It also includes showing up for others, for projects / work, and for commitments.
I like to think about my health as a bell curve.
A line that is down, then rises up, then slopes back down like the outline of a mountain. I consider the top portion of the bell curve (a little down, a little up, then a little down — so room for fluctuation) as where I experience my definition of “health.” With each area of life (socializing, relationships, rest, movement, food, work, travel, etc.), I think of the left side of the bell curve as “way too little for me” and I think of the right side as “way too much for me.”
The one question I ask myself when I am about to make a decision is “will this help me to show up more fully in my life or less fully in my life?” If the answer is “more fully” then I believe it helps me to hang out in the top part of the bell curve. If the answer is “less fully” then I know it will shift me to the left or the right.
Here are a few examples of what this looks like practically for me:
- If I am incredibly sedentary for an extended period of time, without stretching or moving my body in ways that feel good, well it’s “way too little for me.” No movement means I feel disconnected from my body, sore, and stiff. Likewise, if I am overdoing it on exercise, working out multiple hours a day without any regard for how it feels, if I’m having fun, or what else I might be missing because of it, it’s “way too much for me.” I also feel disconnected when I am overdoing it — from my body and the other areas in my life. Both ends of the spectrum keep me from feeling present in my life.
- If I am in my house alone all the time, never going out to meet friends, never getting fresh air, never traveling, well it’s “way too little for me.” I feel disconnected from people, lonely, and bored. Likewise, if I have plans every single night, back to back things scheduled for days on end, and multiple weekends of travel in a row, it feels like “way too much.” I feel overwhelmed, exhausted, and anxious. Both ends of the spectrum keep me from feeling present in my life.
- If I go days without eating vegetables, it feels like “way too little for me.” I feel sluggish and my digestion feels off. Likewise, if I force myself to only eat vegetables for days, it feels like “way too much for me.” I feel bored, weak, and preoccupied by cravings for everything but a vegetable. Both ends of the spectrum keep me from feeling present in my life.
I used to live my life all on the left or all on the right, now I hang out most of the time in the middle (notice I said “most of the time” — not “all the time, 100%, foreverandever”). If it’s one of those times where I lean to the left or lean to the right, I don’t beat myself up. I don’t call myself a failure. I don’t guilt myself. I just ask, “what would help you feel a little more present today?” And I try to make that happen.
Remember that you get to define how you practice “health” for yourself. But, if the bell curve image and idea of feeling more present in your life resonates with you, I encourage you to start with one simple question: “will this help me to show up more fully in my life?”