Food isn’t punishment, it’s nourishment ?

I write a lot on my blog about fitness but I don’t write very much about food. I’ve had a bad history with food, with disordered eating and general negativity towards food. That said, this post does contain some details about food and diet, so if you find this triggering, please read at your own discretion. This blog post has suggestions but isn’t intended to be a source of advice – it’s mostly a personal reflection.

It took quite a long time for me to see food as fuel and to get to the more positive mindset I’m in today. It took me a while to see through all the bullshit about certain foods being “bad” and “good”. I’m no dietician or nutritionist, but I have found that the best diet for me – mentally and physically – is one that I can maintain and that is sustainable, and that ensures I get all the nutrients I need to fuel and nourish my body so that I can basically live. ? It’s even more important to me now to eat well and eat a sufficient amount of food because of the exercise I do. In a given week, I do four or five weight sessions, one HIIT session, and a lot of walking. I try and get over 10,000 steps every day on top of my gym workouts.

After a long journey of hating my body and starving myself, and finding my way into fitness and weightlifting, I learned the seemingly over-suggested fact that putting healthy and nutritious food and drinks into our bodies is important to fuel ourselves and keep us going through life. The reason I say that this fact is over-suggested is because it is a simple fact. Eat well, live well. It’s simple, but so many of us – myself included – are sucked in by fad diets, impacted by the “perfect” bodies of people on social media, hate ourselves because of what the media shows is an “ideal body”, and are constantly exposed to fake news and misinformation about diets. I feel bad, and will continue to feel bad, for everyone who falls victim to this. For many people, it takes a lot of un-learning to come out of this spiral and see food in a positive light, and I was there once too. Food isn’t punishment, it’s nourishment.

I started practicing mindfulness about five years ago. It really helped me to slow down and mentally take in everything I went through in a given day. It made me appreciate being present, including the people around me and even the mundane things like eating a meal or taking a shower. Since I used to have a bad relationship with food, being mindful while eating helped me find out which foods I really enjoyed. I know it might sound strange if you don’t already do this, but savouring the flavours and feeling the textures of the food I was eating was almost like having a completely new experience. It is a different way of seeing food. It really helps you practice appreciation for something that you might take for granted, and obviously something that is as simple as food.

I’m not really into meal planning or meal preparation. I don’t plan my meals for the entire week and I don’t prepare my food for the entire week. The closest thing I do to meal planning is having some of my meals be predictable, but still flexible. I’ll eat a bagel for lunch on most weekdays, and I can pretty much expect to eat fish about twice a week, and noodles once a week. It’s been a while since I’ve had meat from the butcher downstairs (there are online butchers as well if you don’t have easy access to one), but I eat something like chicken or beef about once a week, and most of the fish and meat I eat are supplemented with some steamed vegetables and boiled white rice or potatoes. There are foods I go to by default – “healthy” options like poke bowls, pho, rice paper rolls, noodle salads; and more dense and calorie-rich foods like pasta, fish and chips, and ramen. All of these foods are prominent in my diet, but the dense and calorie-rich foods less so. I simply try not to eat those foods more than twice a week, if I can help it – and if I happen to eat too much of that in a short period of time, I might take a little break from it before I have it again.

A bowl of spaghetti with chilli, prawn, and parmesan, on a table with some cups of coffee in the background
I had this Silician spaghetti for lunch after I did a workout at the gym ?

I try to leave room for treats like cookies and candy. If I’m planning to eat something that’s high in sugar, I try to pay attention to my portions, and I look at these portions and how they might look over a longer period of time. Sometimes I’ll eat two cookies a day for a whole week. But am I eating half a bag of candy every week? Sometimes I make the decision to stop buying treats so that they’re not available to me in my pantry every time I open it. I think (and many people would agree!) that this is one of the best tips to make sure you eat less junk food – just have less of it available to you. I’ve sone through periods of having lots of junk food at home, and then longer periods where I avoid them completely, and replace all the snacks with healthy snacks.

Even though many of us are not able to travel right now, I think it’s important to prioritise eating right when you are on vacation. I definitely make room for treats and foods high in calories when I’m travelling or on holidays, because I want to enjoy local cuisine and not restrict myself from having great experiences. But not every meal has to be one that’s packed with candy and burgers and large amounts of food. When Nick and I go travelling, we try to eat nutritious foods that will fuel us for the days ahead. Travelling often involves a lot of walking and requires a lot of energy, so we want to make sure there are some healthy meals during our trip. I just don’t think eating well should go completely out of the window when you’re travelling.

As I said, I’m pretty big on mindful eating. Practicing mindful eating can help you avoid having a scarcity complex when it comes to travelling – I know that in the past I’ve wanted to order everything on the menu when travelling because I had no idea when I’d be back. It’s important to love and appreciate the experience you’re having and know that it doesn’t mean you have to try all the food in sight. When it comes to road trips, planning is pretty important in general. You can make sure you get healthy and nutritious cuisine when you are on the road by doing research and planning to stop at certain restaurants or eateries, so you don’t end up just going to McDonald’s or some other fast food.

I think the worst thing for me in recent years – regarding food, that is – was bulking and trying to do a ketogenic diet, and also attempting calorie counting. I want to discuss these experiences because they illustrate that even a fitness an healthy fanatic like me isn’t always perfect with what they eat.

First of all, keto works for some people, but it didn’t for me. I tried it about two years ago, but I was exhausted after attempting it, and I hated it. It was actually the diet change attempt that made me realise that I needed to stop this unsustainable bullshit. I knew that I could not keep that diet long-term, and I decided that I would stop trying fad diets and just focus on eating healthy food, employ mindful eating, and be patient.

Calorie counting was very triggering for me. After tracking calories for the food I ate, it felt incredibly restrictive. The shock factor of adding the calories for a bowl of ramen and a stupid app telling me that I had gone over all my macros for the day and couldn’t eat anything else otherwise I would gain weight? Yeah, that was shit. I’ve since decided that I would educate myself on the nutritional content of healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, protein, and other food I eat regularly like rice and noodles. I also paid attention to the nutritional content of things I purchased. I don’t “count calories”, but having a basic idea of what foods have what nutrients, and their caloric count, was enough for me to be able to understand making swaps for calorie-light options, and to understand when I might be eating too much in one day. This is somewhat important stuff for me to make sure I maintain my muscle mass and can also get stronger in the gym. If my goals change and I want to focus on gaining muscle mass or losing fat, having this knowledge is useful. But I don’t have to count calories and track my meals to a T.

The way Nick and I have been seeing treats recently is accomodating them like you would in a budget. We use our best judgment for when it’s alright to have a handful of cookies or a calorie-dense burger or a pizza, based on what we have eaten that day or that week. It takes a lot of willpower and some practice, obviously. I won’t go into detail about breaking habits, but it took some time for both of us to get here. ? The other important thing about seeing food as fuel is that we see food as something to give us energy for our next workout, or to replenish our body after having torn up our muscles or worked our hearts out.

The best diet, in my opinion, is simply one you can maintain and that is sustainable. That’s going to look different for different people. It could be vegan, gluten-free, it could involve intermittent fasting, it could be high in carbs, it could be low in carbs, it could be goddamn keto, LOL. Go forth and eat those tacos baby.

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