I’m not going to lie–up until a few years ago, I kind of sort of hated the term “healthy.” It felt so … blah. Like, vague and boring and like something your grandmother would care about.
For me, throughout my 20’s, it was very simple: Lean = good, worthy. Not lean = fat, worthless, insignificant and weak. “Healthy” didn’t even enter into the equation.
Of course, it’s all relative, right? At my “not lean”-est I was probably 20% body fat. But all I could see was that my abs weren’t popping and I had some cellulite, my size 6 jeans were getting snug and it all boiled down to the fact that I was “not good enough,” weak, undisciplined, and my favorite–not reaching my full potential.
THIS WAS A TRAP THAT KEPT ME STRUGGLING.
It kept me in a position where I had to be a certain body fat or a specific pair of pants needed to fit or else I was no good … at anything! Fuck healthy, I just wanted to have striations in my shoulders and rock hard glutes! And some of the tactics I used in my 20s to acquire that insane leanness were not at all, what I now consider healthy. Things like:
- Eating the equivalent of about 20 packets of Splenda daily
- Chewing 1-2 packs of sugar-free gum every day
- Doing upwards of 3 hours of cardio every day
- Going for WEEKS without a day off of exercise
- Running myself into the ground to the point that my toes were actually BLEEDING in my stripper heels on stage and that I suffered a stress fracture that wouldn’t heal
- Using things like guilt, shame and remorse to “keep me in line” with my eating, only to completely binge come the weekend, then rinse and repeat
- Eating such a low vitamin and mineral diet that my hair was falling out
- Messing up my GI system with tons of fake sweeteners to the point that I had the worst acne of my life at 26 and was farting around the clock (seriously, WTF??)
- Obsessing to the point of insanity about what food I was going to eat, when and what cheat meal I’d have, how much time was there left before my next meal, would there be enough, how many grams of protein have I had today, what’s the sodium count in egg whites and an unnatural obsession with all nut butters :)
It this “healthy??”
I don’t think so. I was a maniac! And though I’ll never regret my experiences because they have brought me to the place I am today, and while I still think physique competitors have incredible bodies that they basically give up their life for (and I can respect that!), I have to say, for me, BALANCE has become “my healthy.”
Now, well into my 30s, I think about things differently. It’s not so much about looking good, as it is about feeling good.
Of course, I still want to like what I see when I look in the mirror (this is a choice, by the way), but more than anything, I want to feel awesome. I want to wake up excited to exercise and love how I eat. Not dread my meals and marathon workouts. I want to be able to drink a glass of wine and not berate myself for the next 24 hours. I want to not get stressed out by social events and I want to be able to go to any place any time and TRUST that I can make a healthy choice with whatever’s available.
Now, I don’t stress so much about a few dimples on my ass. I don’t stress that my stomach comes over the top of my jeans when I am in a sitting position. I don’t care that my veins aren’t as prominent in my arms as they used to be, and I definitely don’t care about my photo being posted online looking less than “show shape.” No tanning, sucking in, good lighting, filtering needed. I want 100% authenticity so that when people see me in person, they are not surprised. I represent my moderate lifestyle all day errday.
In fact, my practice over the last 2 years has been: “Yep, post that shit.” :) You know when you have someone takes your photo and then they say, “Do you want to check it?” I’m like, “Nope, post it!” For me, I’ve come to a point in my life where I see a bigger picture now. Life is too short to sweat the small stuff and being healthy IN ALL AREAS of my life is paramount.
So, I want to define “my healthy” for you (and I want you to do the same!). I use 3 parameters: physical, mental and spiritual.
My physical healthy:
I used to think getting as lean as possible meant I was healthy. Well, lo and behold sitting at 12% body fat with my hair falling out, I obviously wasn’t optimally healthy. I was depleted of certain vitamins and minerals and my gut was all messed up. While it is generally true that losing weight and getting to an optimal body fat percentage makes you healthier automatically (as in, at less risk for chronic diseases), it’s possible to be lean and unhealthy. So for me now, it’s a balance. I’ve never felt better in my skin, I am now the Goldilocks of weight loss. Here’s what I mean:
On the left, I’m in college, obv. In the middle, at 140 lbs., I was at my leanest ever and this is the result of 2 hours of cardio a day for months, eating up to 24 egg whites in a day, lots of sugar-free gum and splenda, fighting hunger and cravings every second of every day, and basically no life, goals or purpose outside myself and my abs. NOW (right), I’ve been ~155 lbs (at 5’7″) for the last 3 years and I feel great. No problems with digestion, very little alternative sweeteners and never feel deprived at all with my eating.
It’s taken a long, loooooong time to find balance with my physical self but now I am happy and healthy in my skin, and I’ve created a eating and training routine that takes zero effort and that I actually enjoy.
My mental healthy:
I no longer hate myself :)
No, I don’t know that I ever hated myself but man, I beat myself up pretty darn good! I was mired in the all-or-nothing mentality where I’d take teams: “Good Jill” was the person who was super strict and able to eat clean as a whistle. And when I was Good Jill, life was good! Take my picture please! But when I was not able to stay on the strictest plan, out came “Bad Jill” who deserved to be berated, shamed and who “knew better.” You call yourself a fitness professional and you can’t go more than a week without a treat?!! Shame on you!
The reality is that talking to myself in a scathing way neither motivated me to get better not served me to feel accomplished and happy (and definitely not lean long term!). Giving myself the benefit of the doubt felt like giving up and giving in. It was letting myself off the hook, and I can’t possibly do that because look at me! I need to lose 100 lbs ASAP!
HOW IS THIS HEALTHY?
I started slowly asking myself: “What really motivates me to stay on track?” and “How can I work to find something I can actually stay on?” and the answers lied with MY MINDSET. I had to change how I thought about the dieting process, and I had to find a way to talk to myself as if I were talking to a friend. I learned that sustainable inspiration and tenacity (and therefore, consistency) came from self-compassion and finding ways to move on faster after mess-ups. Or even embracing mess-ups as opportunities to LEARN, not opportunities to tell myself how much I suck again.
For me now, my mental healthy is all about giving myself the benefit of the doubt, period. I recognize my humanity and I also recognize that deprivation leads to binging, so I throw myself a bone. Negative self-talk only keeps me struggling for longer. Self-acceptance and compassion put me back on track way faster so consistent actions and outcomes are possible. No more mental volleying. I have much more perspective now and a mindset that I can maintain.
My spiritual healthy:
I’m not religious, but I do believe that there’s a kind of organizing force in the world, orchestrated by our intentions and powered by our ability to introspect and create the life we want. This applies to how we interact in our relationships (including the relationship we have with ourselves!), how in touch we are with our wants, desires, purpose, meaning and passion, how we *think* about our lives and whether or not we are awake at the wheel or asleep.
My spiritual healthy is all about intention and then action, both of which put me in my power as a woman, a friend, a partner, a coach, a daughter, a business owner, a human being. It’s through intention and action that I manifest exactly what I need.
And the things I need are not always conscious, by the way. For example, I might want to have a smooth-sailing relationship with my partner. But what life might give me (because I trust that on some level I need this) is challenges and obstacles and uncomfortable situations to navigate and work through. On some spiritual level, that’s precisely what I need to get better. My struggles serve me. They help me grow, they challenge me to overcome obstacles, they help me learn the lessons needed to become a more empathic, aware, understanding, resilient, tenacious person who can TRUST THEMSELVES regardless of what life throws at me. My struggles are my greatest teachers and spiritually, I believe, I actually create them (whether conscious or not) because I need them to grow.
I know this stuff is heavy :) But I think it’s kind of the same thing as someone with a strong religious faith saying, “I trust God’s plan for me.” Great, I love that. But for me, I trust my plan for me. And I trust that I am the creator of my reality 100% of the time. This is my spiritual healthy, and it helps me make sense of my world and helps me “be okay” (i.e. trust) in those moments of pain, discomfort, fear, etc. I TRUST that my struggles serve me. And you know what, my successes serve me too! They’re just a lot more fun! And for them, I have the utmost gratitude!
So, now it’s your turn!
I want you to think about your belief systems, and where you are now and where you want to get to in these 3 realms. I want you to define your healthy in the spaces of physical, mental and spiritual.
Start with this: “I believe that I am healthy when … ” and then fill in the blanks in all 3 realms.
Then evaluate where you are with them. How close are you? Are you living them, or do you still have some work to do on yourself? What will be your next steps?
You don’t find a diet, you create one based on taking YOU into consideration. Remember you? :)
Some tweetables for you: