For decades I focused on a number on the scale and a clothing size as a benchmark for my health, well-being, and self-worth. I exercised obsessively, constantly raising the bar of what I would do to challenge my body and to achieve an ideal physique. I tried nearly every diet and weight loss technique under the sun – fat free, slim fast, Weight Watchers, raw food, and starvation to name a few - hoping that one of these was the perfect way for me to reach and maintain the weight that I thought was acceptable and attractive. Once I achieved that magic number on the scale or on the desired clothing size, I would then feel good, be confident, and love myself…or so I hoped.
Unfortunately, that was not the case. No matter what I weighed, there was always a sense that I had to do more, lose more, be more. The goal wasn’t the perfect dress size, it was the pursuit of perfection.
My obsession with food and dieting evolved into a love for food and nutrition through the study of nutrition science, through the study of naturopathy and embracing the theory that the body’s natural state is in balance and it is constantly seeking to achieve that, and through life lessons in self-compassion and soul nourishment.
For me, health has 3 fundamental facets:
1) Whole foods and herbs
This is not a weight loss fad. Eating whole foods is eating foods that are in their natural state – whole grains, fruit and vegetables, organic meats and free range eggs. A whole foods rich diet focuses on nourishment and not calories. It means you connect with the pleasure of cooking and use foods that are in season. Whole foods also means that you listen to what your body needs whether it’s having a hearty salad for lunch or needing to enjoy, without shame or guilt, a slice of cake at your friend’s birthday celebration. It is about balance, variety, and moderation. Whole foods are the foundation for health. Herbs are incorporated as seasoning to bring out the flavor and healing properties of your food. Herbs also support healing as teas and tinctures.
2) Self-Compassion and Body Love
Self-compassion is necessary for finding true health. This became very true for me when I was training for a half marathon a few years ago. In the middle of a long run, I was stopped in my tracks by intense back pain that shot down my legs. This pain went on for months. I couldn’t sit at work. I couldn’t walk to the subway without pain and I stopped exercising. I went from chiropractor to osteopath trying to find a solution. The chronic pain, the inability to exercise, the feeling of being let down by my body left me feeling depressed and hopeless. These feelings also magnified my body image issues and I felt at odds with my body. Finally, an osteopath recommended that I get an MRI. This was when a large ovarian cyst was discovered. Once the cyst was removed, I was able to begin recovery and healing.
Through this experience, I learned to be more compassionate towards my body and listen to the messages my body whispers or screams to me. There were signs and symptoms of hormonal imbalances that were presenting themselves for years before the back pain manifested. However, I chose to ignore them and push through. Ultimately, my body, not so subtly, drew my attention to the need to slow down and to start taking proper care of myself. After the surgery, I re-evaluated what a healthy life looked like for me. I stopped punishing my body with exercise and impossible expectations about my weight. I connected with what movement felt good and made me feel strong. I stopped criticizing ever flaw in my figure and I thanked my body for its ability to heal and to endure what I put it through. I connected to my menstrual cycle and my hormones and I found ways to improve my PMS and PCOS naturally with nutrition and herbs.
The image that comes to mind when speaking of mindfulness is a person sitting in the lotus position meditating. However, mindfulness can also mean being fully aware of your current feelings and thoughts and how they impact your present state or activity. Mindfulness allows you to be present and engaged in what you are doing whether it is working on a project, spending time with a loved one, or doing the dishes. When it comes to health, mindful eating is important to improve digestion, encourage moderation, and heal disordered eating. Being mindful of emotions is another way in which mindfulness relates to health. When we are mindful and aware of our emotions, we can sit with them and process them in a healthy way, rather than repress or internalize them. Repression and internalization of emotions contribute to eating disorders, stress related illness, hormone imbalances, fatigue, anxiety, and struggles with self-worth. When I start to feel anxious about something, I use a practice that begins with a pause. I close my eyes and I ask myself, “What is it that I am really feeling? What am I upset about or worrying about?” When I take this time to pause and explore my feelings, rather than trying to ignore them and push through, I permit myself to feel the emotion in the moment and I look for a healthy way of processing at that time.
These three facets of health – wholefoods and herbs, self-compassion and body love, and mindfulness - are the keys to balanced health and a way for you to explore what works for you as a unique, whole person. Each is a daily practice, not a protocol for perfection.
Over to you: What are ways you have transformed your relationship with food and your body? What are mindfulness practices that you use in your day? Leave your comments below.
Peace and Body Love,