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Note from GGS: We are huge fans of autonomy. We want women to do exactly what makes them feel happy, healthy, and fulfilled. If eating a super strict diet and always following a meal plan is something you enjoy, then by all means, go ahead. However, if you constantly find yourself obsessing about diet perfection, you may find this article helpful. And please, if this obsession starts controlling your life, seek the help of a mental healthcare professional immediately.
“Health and fitness, eh? So, you must be one of those girls who only eats 1,200 calories a day, and it’s all salad.”
I was chatting with a gentleman at the gym, and as soon as I told him I worked in the health and fitness industry he sprang to the erroneous conclusion that I was constantly on a diet, subsisting on rabbit food.
His assumption made me howl with laughter, as I violently shook my head in disagreement. Anyone who knows me can attest to the fact that I eat a lot of whole, unprocessed foods… punctuated by frequent consumption of burgers and fries, and, if I’m feeling particularly wild, a bun, too. Gone are the torturous days of obsessing over my food, and sadly, I had plenty of them.
I competed in Figure, and without re-opening that can of worms, let’s just say that it left me with some pretty intense food issues.
I was irrationally labeling foods—and my behaviors with them—as “good” or “bad”, and it rarely made sense. If I ate an apple that I wasn’t scheduled to eat, I labeled myself as well as the apple “bad”. If I followed my plan like I was supposed to, I deemed myself “good” that day.
This was a slippery slope because, as I’m sure you can understand, there is not one single thing that is bad about eating an apple, nor many of the other foods that I allowed myself to feel badly about eating.
My diet was so strict that I thought about food all the time. I was fixated on my weekly cheat meal, and it was always followed by overwhelming remorse the next day, accompanied by plenty of negative self-talk.
It was a vicious weekly cycle: hunger and restriction Monday through Friday, a Saturday cheat meal in which I’d stuff myself silly, and then a Sunday full of shame and guilt that was iced off with the relentless return of hunger. Rinse, and repeat, for months and months. There was no happy medium.
Packing food to take everywhere was “normal” for me. My food insanity reached an all-time high when I packed my own tupperware meal to the family Christmas dinner a few years ago. This wasn’t due to food sensitivities, or special dietary needs (that would be justified); I did this because I was obsessed, and knew no other way. I was convinced that without my plan, and my food prepared my way, all of my progress would be instantaneously blown to smithereens.
I realized that the thing that was making me the craziest about food was not the actual food itself; it was how the scale reacted to the occasional indulgence. Let me explain.
For example, Saturday night would roll around, and I’d have some pizza and a couple glasses of wine. The next morning, the scale would absolutely show a slight increase, anywhere from two to four pounds.
Commence freakout mode. Did I gain two to four pounds of fat in one meal? Of course I didn’t. It was nothing but water retention that would dissipate in a day or two, but I didn’t care. All I could focus on was a (temporarily) higher number on the scale, which continued to perpetuate my unhealthy thought processes about food.
One Sunday morning a couple of years ago, following my weekly off-plan meal, I emailed my nutrition coach at the time with a Defcon One level of emergency over what the scale said, and he had to set me straight. He told me that unless I could let my fixation with the scale go, he would have to reconsider working with me.
This was a lightbulb moment for me. He was right; things had gotten out of control. If I was going to indulge in something once a week, I could not go berserk over the number on the scale the next day. That simply didn’t make any sense.
I tossed my scale in the garbage the morning after I spoke to my coach, and haven’t weighed myself since. That was over two years ago. There are no words to express the freedom that this has given me. I understand that the scale can be a helpful tool for some people, however it is rarely an accurate indicator of progress, and it never tells the full story.
If you find that the scale is dictating your moods, I encourage you to back down your weigh-ins to once every two weeks, or eliminate them altogether and track physique progress using girth measurements, and progress pictures.
Your sanity is worth a lot more than two to four pounds on the scale.
When you do occasionally indulge, stay off of the scale for a few days. You know it’s going to be up a bit temporarily, so why stress yourself out?
I used to dread being invited to dinner. As soon as the invitation was extended, I began to panic, and I let my anxiety over the food drown out what was most important— sharing a moment with people I cared about.
I finally began to realize that life is about moments and experiences, and many social events are centered around food. That doesn’t mean that you need to veer off track and go crazy, or eat a bunch of food that you know your body is going to revolt against. It just means learning to go with the flow, and enjoy spending time together. If you want to indulge a bit, great, and if not, let go of food perfection and simply do your best with what you have available.
I no longer let my fear of food rob me of these precious moments.
When you think back to your parent’s big anniversary dinner, what do you want to remember? The good times, the laughs, and celebrating an amazing moment? Or do you want to be plagued by memories of worry over whether or not they put too much butter on your vegetables, or if the chicken was salted?
Focus on relishing in the moments, do your best, and realize some things won’t be in your control—and that is okay!
“Is it really worth it?”
Asking myself this has been a complete game-changer, and has not only altered how I view treats, but it has also eliminated any guilt that I might have had in the past for consuming them.
That simple question easily puts things into perspective really quick.
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Not even close to being worth it:
What is on my “Worth It” list will look different than what is on your “Worth It” list, but I think you understand my point. When it comes time for a treat, ask yourself, “Is it worth it?” If the answer is a resounding yes, then proceed—guilt-free—using Neghar Fonooni’s Law of First Bites: every bite we take must be just as good as the very first, because we all know that is the best bite!
In addition, keep in mind that a bump in calories and carbs can also lead to increased physical performance. I like to put my indulgences to good use by getting in a killer squat or dirt-biking session the next day. Remember, this isn’t about “burning off” what you ate, but rather, putting the extra energy to good use. The giant banana and chocolate chip pancakes shown above are a favorite pre-dirtbiking breakfast for my crew and me.
When it comes to trying to lose body fat, it’s easy to get so wrapped up in the process, and in trying to be perfect, that we start to obsess over it all. While our goals are very important, we also have to remember that life happens. Once in awhile, we will have special events to attend, and dinners to share, and it’s okay. It will be okay!
Don’t get me wrong. My diet consists mainly of nutrient-dense foods that enhance my performance and make me feel like a million bucks, however, I do let myself enjoy the things that are really worth it, and I refuse to let my diet darken the time that I get to spend with people that I love.
Enjoy yourself once in awhile, and when you do, make sure it’s absolutely, truly spectacular. No guilt; just a treat.
“Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”
Much to my surprise, my body looks and performs better now than it did when I was super strict. Focusing on changing your lifestyle because you love your body and want to treat it well leads to long-term, sustainable results because it’s enjoyable and it’s something you want to do for yourself; not something you feel like you have to do.
A message from GGS…
At Girls Gone Strong, we want you to feel confident knowing that what you’re doing to look good, feel good, and feel healthy and strong is not only based on tested, reliable, and safe information from trustworthy sources, but also that it is effective and efficient.
That’s why we developed our flagship training system, The Modern Woman’s Guide To Strength Training.