Since my early teen years, when I began seriously thinking about a healthy lifestyle I have ebbed and flowed with my convictions and ideas about diet, exercise, and my body. There were many factors that contributed to my thoughts on how to maintain perfect health and a lot of them did not include wholesome ideals or what I would now consider a holistic approach.
Up until the age of twelve I had very positive influences within my family life that fostered a healthy attitude towards food, exercise, and my body. Strict ideas about food and body image were not something in my conscious awareness in the early years of life. I was always a child who loved to be outside engaging in some type of sporting activity, having a father and siblings who were very active, and as my mum reminds me at every family gathering I owe my healthy eating habits to my brother Bruce. As she joyfully recounts my brother coming home from school, placing me in my high chair and sharing a big bowl of salad with me, my mum always reminds me that this is what set the pace for my love of healthy food in the years to come, that and her’s and my grandmother’s homemade meals. There was however, a very significant event that changed the course of my life and they way I viewed food, exercise, and health.
Diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of twelve, a tail spin of emotion around food and health set in. Suddenly I had to ignore my intuition about what was good for my body and replace it with a stringent set of ‘rules’ about what, when, and how I would eat and exercise, combine that with daily finger pokes and insulin injections and my world was turned upside down, life as I knew had changed. This was all very foreign to me to say the least. Never before had I eaten artificial sweeteners and ‘fat free’ food but then found myself drinking diet pop, sugar-free this, that, and the other thing, and lots of packaged products because these were ‘allowed’ in my meal plan and encouraged by my entourage of medical specialists. Suddenly having such a rigid meal plan when before I simply listened to what my body wanted, created a pattern of eating when I wasn’t hungry and not being ‘allowed’ to eat when my body was signaling it was time for food. I distinctly remember the incident that set these wheels in motion at warp speed. I had just come home from school, my grandmother sitting in the living room watching her favorite soap opera, and an otherwise empty house. The other thing I remember vividly was being so hungry I could cry. All I wanted was a piece of toast but I knew that my scheduled meal time was not for another 2 hours and would consist of fruit and yogurt, as outlined but the colorful chart that hung prominently on the kitchen pantry door. Anxious and frantically hungry, I decided I would have a piece of bread. I couldn’t let my grandmother observe this blatant breaking of the ‘rules’ and God forbid someone came home and saw me eating ‘off schedule’ so I quietly snuck a slice of whole wheat bread into the bathroom and ate it. Filled with fear that someone would catch me, I began the cycle of what would be a continual process of food becoming my number one enemy. I should make it perfectly clear that I was never scolded by family members for eating or not eating but rather had conjured up these thoughts based on wanting to follow the rules set out by the medical authorities.
This disconnect between my mind and body resulted in years of weight loss and weight gain, disordered eating, over exercising or not exercising at all, and generally not feeling good about food, my body, or my health. Although this was a significant struggle throughout my teens and twenties it was a journey I had to take and made me who I am today, not to mention has lead me to the best career ever! Having had such distorted thinking about health I can often see the same patterns repeated time and time again with my clients. Although the thought processes are generated for a variety of different reasons the result is still the same, people struggle with health, weight, and body image based on a picture they have created from a set of beliefs. While our general health routines are extremely important what is more crucial to our longevity and joy in life is the way we think about our own personal habits.
In the infant stages of my career as a nutritionist my motto was along the lines of “you are what you eat” but as I evolve and continue to grow it is very clear to me that this is just a small portion of the equation. Yes, your food choices can positively or negatively affect the way your body feels there is no question about that however, this is not the only factor in optimal creation of health. My perspective now is most definitely “you are what you think about what you eat”. This may be an eye opening or somewhat revolutionary statement for most, so let me illustrate it to you this way. If you are eating a 100% clean diet but always anxious about every little slip up in your self imposed or socially accepted regime or exercising come hell or high water to the point where you have to get that morning run in no matter what otherwise your day falls apart then how healthy are you really?
An overabundance of stress whether it is about external factors or feeling badly about breaking rules you have created about behaviors, will never create a joyful body or mind. Yes, you may achieve the ‘look’ you believe is optimal or the stamina needed to meet athletic goals but if you are constantly creating an impenetrable armor of unreasonable standards needed to maintain your ideals is this truly a state of health? To me health is about feeling joyful at every moment in your body, mind, and spirit no matter where you are at a given time. After much soul searching, which I continue to expand upon daily, I came to understand that any energy put towards the achievement of health is lost when actions become effortful. There is a distinct difference between striving for greater health and forcing yourself to do something that feels unnatural. If you dig deep within yourself you will intuitively know the difference, but I must admit it does take practice to hear your true inner voice. The best way I have found to do this is create awareness. Listen to the thoughts you think, hear the voice of rote repetition in your head, and create stillness so that the real voice can shine through. Negative thoughts are only detrimental when they are unconscious and repetitive, if you can acknowledge and release them, thoughts do not have the same power.
While my case illustrates the extreme, I feel that many people hold themselves inside similar cages of belief which can only result in a feeling of failure. If nothing else, I hope to impart some wisdom from what I have learned on my journey, it is always about the process and learning to trust your own innate knowledge. When you have very strict rules about diet, exercise, and health and your behavior falls outside these guidelines you create a sense of failure whether it is in your conscious awareness or held deep at the subconscious level. I encourage you to seek the best health, learn about nutrition and exercise, I wouldn’t be in this business if I didn’t believe that however, the fastest road to health is understanding the perceptions you have created about your routine. Take a moment to examine what you believe about your health regime, the food you eat, and how you see your body. Be at peace with where ever you are now and create stillness to cultivate your intuition, it will never stere you in the wrong direction.
Wishing you a fresh, nutritious, and delicious day…enjoy your life, eat great food, and be joyful in every moment!
Michelle Waithe, Holistic Nutritionist at Fuel