You are what you eat

A few weeks ago I was at a friend’s place and noticed a set of bathroom scales. I haven’t owned scales for years – I gauge my weight by the pants-fitting method. I’ve been feeling a little plump lately so, just for a bit of fun, I hopped on. To my genuine surprise, the scales showed that – despite an extended period of little exercise and lots of wine – I was only about 2kg heavier than when I had felt great about my body, about eighteen months earlier. And I was only about 4kg heavier than when, in the post-partum, breastfeeding, sleep deprived stage of weight loss, I felt like a wraith. 4 kilos from stick insect to hippo?! Ridiculous! But the freaky thing was, when I stepped off the scales and saw myself in the mirror, I looked thinner. Substantially thinner. I had one of those moments of epiphany where you realise something really obvious, but in a visceral way: my perception of my body is All. In. My. Mind.

Since then I have been reflecting on the power of self-talk: how I literally see myself is shaped by how I talk about myself to myself. This explains the futility of telling someone they’re thin when they feel fat – it’s not comforting because it sounds like you’re ‘just saying that’. We’ve all had the conversations:

‘Ugh, my thighs are so big’

‘No they’re not! But I really need to do something about the flab on my arms’

‘What? They’re fine!’

You know how it goes. You walk away still feeling like you have thunder thighs, and your friend walks away still concerned about their batwings, and nothing changes for either of you.

I had a different conversation with a friend, J, the other day. We were talking about our attitudes towards our bodies, and how that changes after having a child, and with age generally. I had to eat some words I had spoken previously: that my body shape didn’t really bother me. I confessed to J that, at the moment, it does. Not hugely, but enough to make me feel self-conscious more often than I like. J told me that her new goal is to view herself with acceptance, and to aim for a healthy body, whatever that may look like. I really like that idea, and it’s what I’m now aiming for as well. My body has certain bulgy bits and certain floppy bits, but they bear witness to my motherhood, and my enjoyment of life. I have given up aiming to be thin and toned (I doubt I will ever feel like those words apply to me!) and have started exercising with a view to being fit and healthy. If I feel comfortable and strong, that’s enough. I don’t yet, but I’m confident that I will. Eventually. I have already noticed a change, though – I actually look forward to exercising now. Those who know me well will realise what a big deal this is! The fact that exercise is no longer something I ‘should’ do, but something I look forward to is a huge shift. Making time to exercise regularly is the next challenge… I’m working on getting better at ignoring my own excuses!

 

Next time you catch yourself being negative about your body, try to notice the words you are using, and remind yourself how awesome your body is. It gets you through the day, doing all this weird, gross stuff that you don’t even notice. It carries you all around the place and, even though it isn’t perfect, it does a pretty awesome job. Look after it – feed it well and take it for walks, and give it treats and let it rest so it doesn’t wear out too soon. And be kind to it. Try talking to yourself as you would to a friend – acknowledge insecurities, rather than dismissing them – and be mindful of all the things that work, as well as the things you want to work on.

 

Actually, look… speaking of eating your words, some of the above is overly simplified and optimistic. It’s really difficult to change the way you speak to yourself, because you might not even be aware of it. You might just get a certain feeling when you catch sight of yourself from a particular angle, or when you eat or drink something you told yourself you wouldn’t, or whatever. It’s tricky business, and damn hard work, to notice that – let alone change it. But it’s all just part of a process and we’re all doing the best we can.

People say you are what you eat. I figure if you’re going to eat your words, you might as well eat healthy.

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Pizza: one of my one true loves; or Diets can go die

I saw a post on a certain social media site this morning. It was a photograph of a delicious looking breakfast – egg, hollandaise, avocado, toast. Probably bacon. The caption was something along the lines of “Cheat’s breakfast before diet week”.

That got me thinking.

About a year ago, one of my besties and I were cuddled up on an outdoor couch at a party. We were toasting our toes, having a giggle and talking about how we’d been making a series of unhealthy and irresponsible life decisions. We happened to be tipsy and mildly stoned at the time, which explains the ridiculous idea we came up with: we would ditch our heady, wild lifestyles and start training for a marathon. After the hangover, we spoke again and both decided that, actually, it wasn’t such a bad idea to have that goal to work towards. We looked at routes and distances and motivational training apps. Well, I did. My friend just started jogging regularly.

12 or so months later, that wonderful and inspiring human has just signed up to run a marathon. I have not. This has also got me thinking.

I have had a few minor health issues lately. Nothing serious, just the odd twinge in my back, lower energy levels, increased susceptibility to colds – all things that come from not caring for my body. I’ve become pretty good at mental and emotional health management over the last couple of years, but I have allowed my corporeal health to fall a little by the wayside. Until very recently. I had an epiphany of sorts a few months ago: I am never going to be a health freak. I like food and alcohol too much, and I lack the discipline to exercise every day. However, I realised, I don’t have to become Jane Fonda in order to improve my overall health and fitness (although, I admit, my hair is showing some eagerness to take that path…). The real lightening bolt came when the thought occurred to me that the tiniest change – going for a run once a fortnight – would be an improvement. It would be manageable, realistic, and maintainable. And it would be difficult to not find time for. So I went home and downloaded Zombies, Run! and then faffed around for a few more weeks, and THEN… went for a run. It was awful. I thought I was going to have an actual heart attack – and I hadn’t even run the whole way, I had walked substantial chunks of it. I was horrified at how hard it was, and how shit I felt after. And that’s what made me realise I had to keep doing it. I’ve kept at it, running the same 3km loop a few times a fortnight, and it’s slowly getting easier. I actually ran the whole way last time. My goal at the moment is to run on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday on the weeks my daughter is at her dad’s house.

Today is Saturday. My daughter is at her dad’s house. I did not go for a run.

I slept in this morning and woke around 11. I stayed in bed for another hour, just being comfy and thinking about things. I thought about going for a run. I thought about stuff that’s been going on at work. I thought about uni. I thought about the leftover pizza in my fridge. I decided to make the healthy choice – by not going for a run, and staying home to eat cold pizza instead.

Now, this is not the obviously healthy choice. But I like to see health holistically. Today I chose to stay home and treat myself – to eat and do whatever I felt like eating and doing. Totally guilt-free. Totally wonderful. Totally good for me. So when I saw the post about a “cheat’s breakfast”, I felt really sad for that person. It’s not cheating to enjoy yourself. It’s not cheating to indulge in ‘unhealthy’ stuff now and again. Healthy living is about making choices that give your life balance, and that fill you with joy. Jogging does not fill me with joy – but you know what does? The knowledge that I will soon be able to keep up with my daughter as she races along on her scooter; the feeling that I am finally caring for this poor old body that (for the most part) uncomplainingly carries me through life; and the understanding that I don’t have to feel bad when I take the unhealthy option. But the thing that brought me the most joy today was noticing that my marathon-running friend spent her Saturday at home baking choc-chip cookies. Now THAT’s what I call balance.