“Your body is a temple, but only if you treat it as one.” ~Astrid Alauda
Have you ever guiltily reached for second helpings of a tempting dish or dessert while justifying it with something along the lines of, “It’s okay, I’m going on a diet/detox after this”?
Or, do you ever find yourself eating really healthy one week, then the minute you cave in and eat something unhealthy, your eating habits suddenly take a turn for the worst?
Are you really hard on yourself when you don’t feel comfortable in clothes you want to wear and suddenly regret all the unhealthy food choices you’ve made the past few months?
I’ve experienced all of these scenarios. I used to yo-yo diet for years, and I would cycle through super healthy or restrictive eating plans one week, to eat-whatever-you-like the next week.
I was always fighting to be a particular weight or to look a certain way. My eating habits were inconsistent, and so were my weight, my energy levels, and the way I felt about my body.
After years of unhealthy eating habits (that may have appeared healthy on the outside), my body didn’t take it so well anymore. I got to a stage where I would feel sick after most meals and suffered stomach cramps due to a digestive disorder.
It was frustrating and a daily inconvenience, however it was irritating enough for me to stop and do something about it.
After years of not looking after my body, the messages became louder and clearer until I made the choice to pay attention and listen to my body.
I started to re-educate myself about my health from a more holistic perspective. I moved away from using food as a way to control how my body looked and moved toward using food as a way to heal my body of illness.
By embracing mindfulness with my eating I began to notice which foods my body rejected and which foods fueled my body.
I also noticed how my eating habits affected my mindset and how I feel much more confident about my body now that I look after it and eat well.
I redefined what healthy means for me and it no longer means choosing fat-free options or tiny portion sizes.
On reflection, these are the steps I took to redefine my health and finally be free of yo-yo dieting and controlling eating behavior.
1. Make it your diet, not a diet.
The word diet simply refers to the food that a living being eats day-to-day. (Like, the diet of a koala consists of eucalyptus leaves.) However, in modern times, the word diet is more commonly associated with a temporary eating plan that has an end goal of losing weight.
But, what happens after the weight is lost? Do you go back to eating take-out and chocolate and whatever you can get your hands on? Being healthy is not a temporary thing that is to be attained in the future; it is a way of life that is to experienced now.
View your health as a permanent thing in your life and see it as something in the present rather than in the future.
2. Tune into your highest level of motivation.
For many people the initial incentive to diet is to be thinner; however, this motivation is not always enough when more important things take priority in life, such as passing exams, building a career, and raising children.
When I developed digestive problems, my motivation shifted and accelerated because attention was now drawn to one of my highest values: my health. I realized that striving to be healthy just so I could be thin was not helping me in the long run if my body was suffering.
To be truly committed to creating a healthy lifestyle, you need to be driven by something of high value to you, across all areas of your life, such as your health and vitality (what keeps you alive and thriving so you have the energy to play with your kids, excel in your career, travel the world, or do whatever it is that makes you happiest).
Use this to remind yourself why you need to be healthy to live a fulfilling life now; don’t wait till you’re burnt out and sick to value your health.
3. Change your beliefs about healthy eating.
When I started changing my perspective on health, I also realized some of my old beliefs about health were not helping me—i.e.: being healthy means only eat foods with fat-free labels; eat just under daily calorie requirements; never eat avocados, nuts, or any foods naturally high in fat.
I had to let go of beliefs that held me back and create new ones that brought me toward a lifestyle where I felt energy and vitality to do the things I loved. My new beliefs include: eat whole foods as much as possible, make healthy snacks using nuts and seeds for energy boosts throughout the day, and listen to my body to judge food intake rather than counting calories.
If you find your current beliefs for optimal health are a little skewed or unattainable, it is time to re-educate and recreate your beliefs about health. Then, visualize yourself living as your healthiest self, and draw on this daily to remind yourself of what is most important to you.
4. Discover what’s holding you back.
When we continue with unhealthy habits, even ones we want to change, we become stuck in it, because staying there is fulfilling a need (albeit it in an unhealthy way). Usually, we don’t know what that need is until we look within and be completely honest with ourselves.
For me, this need was self-acceptance. I was striving to create a perfect body idolized and accepted by society, but the person I really wanted acceptance from was myself.
Dieting fulfilled that need because when I lost weight I would like my body; however, when I gained weight I’d dislike myself. Once I started to accept my natural body type and embrace the body I have rather than change it to look like a photoshopped celebrity, I began feeling good about my body all the time, regardless of how much I weighed or what I ate that day.
Once you dig deeper and understand your why, you can work toward meeting your need for something like self-acceptance in a healthier way too.
To do this, start with the behavior you see on the surface (such as restricting calories), and ask yourself why you do this. Get your answer and then ask yourself why or what is the purpose of this? Keep asking why until you get to the core of the issue.
5. Listen to your body.
Once you have tuned in to what motivates you and what holds you back, you have also tuned into the values that are unique to you. These values have been shaped by who you are and what you need to function as your best self. Therefore, it doesn’t make sense for you to follow a healthy lifestyle carved out by someone else; however, it does help to gain advice and inspiration from other people’s experiences.
You need to listen to your body and make your food choices intuitively. The easiest way to start this is to keep a food diary. Record what you eat and how you feel after each meal so that you can choose to eat more of the foods that make you feel good and less of the foods that don’t make you feel so good.
6. Implement your new perspective of health.
The last step is to take action. In my opinion, the best way to do this is by taking baby steps. Set achievable goals so that you can comfortably introduce healthier behavior into your lifestyle.
If you decide you’re going to give up all processed food, refined sugars, and gluten, and you’re going to start tomorrow, there’s a good chance you will be overwhelmed and disappointed and quickly return to old ways.
You need to be realistic and set goals you can start now, that are achievable in a specific time frame. Be honest with your self. Ask, “Is this something I can do in that space of time, and do I believe the outcome will create the healthier lifestyle I envision?” If not, then re-adjust so it does.
Accept what works for you and move away from what doesn’t. When you work from within you will naturally take action that feels best for you.
Once you follow these steps and mindfully create a healthier lifestyle that is unique to you, being healthy will become a part of who you are, and not just something you strive for. This is what happened to me.
I am now very passionate about my health and I love cooking and preparing healthy foods. I have learned how to listen to my body and honor and respect what I need to be at my optimal health. I now have a healthy relationship with food and diets are something of my past.