NOTE: Before I begin this post I want to stress that I am not a registered nutritionist or a doctor. This post is not meant to give advice but more to offer you something to think about, especially as we move into the new year, that I’ve really begun to think about the past few months.
It feels weird to say but growing up I never thought about food or fitness. Truthfully it wasn’t until I got to college that I even considered thinking about either. Now there are two reasons why both of these things never really crossed my mind. One, I had the privilege to grow up in a family that was fortunate enough where food was not an source of anxiety; there was no wonder of where our next meal would come from. And two, I started competitively swimming when I was nine years old. My parents were fairly relaxed when it came to the number of rules we had growing up, however, there were few rules that they made sure both my sister and I followed. One of those was “you can do anything you want but you have to do something“. The only thing it seemed like we weren’t allowed to do — was nothing.
My parents didn’t force us to succeed, or continue to do anything once we no longer really wanted too (evident by the fact that my childhood consisted of: dance, soccer, violin, and at one point even a woodworking camp) but we were not going to be allowed to sit inside all day and weekend watching TV or playing on the computer. What does this have to do with food and fitness? Well as a result, until I got to college as a Freshman I truly ate whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. Yes, I was aware that certain foods were “good for you” and others were “bad for you” but truthfully I didn’t pay much mind to how often, or what I was eating. This all changed when I stopped swimming after entering college.
Going into college I knew I no longer wanted to keep swimming, at least, competitively. I wanted the freedom that came with not having both 6am practices spending 15-20 hours per week in the water. I didn’t really think about other ripple effects that this would have, to make an already long story short, having to figure out my relationship with food and fitness ended up being one of these ripple effects.
Throughout college, I tried different diets (counting calories, vegetarian, pescatarian, even briefly keto) and exercise regimens but nothing really stuck. I would start and stop and start and stop, never really finding something that worked. I’d say the summer after my freshman year I was probably my thinnest, something I truly didn’t notice until I saw a particularly flattering picture of myself from my sister’s birthday evening, but I still didn’t feel like what I was doing was working. At that time, I was following tons of fitness and nutrition accounts fully kept my fridge stocked with fruits to have in smoothies for breakfast and was going to the gym about 5x/week for no less than an hour and half each time. Which, would not be sustainable when the semester started up again. And I was right, I continued to ebb and flow through different levels of gym commitment and rules about eating until about 4 months ago.
From June to July this past year I, yet again, tried to do things like cut out all added sugar, follow a carb cycle calendar, and workout for at least 45 minutes to an hour each day — I was successful in doing so, and did lose a little weight in the process, but I was pretty neurotic during the process. And predictably, by the beginning of August I had pretty much gained the weight I lost back and was back to not going to the gym with any kind of regularity. It was around that time that one of my best friends sent me a post on Instagram from the account @unfattening, which, I’m sure she did because she was very tired of me telling her which diet I was going to try next and I think when I mentioned a curiosity about juice cleanses she couldn’t take it anymore. She disguised it well though, sending me the account saying, “I think you’ll enjoy his posts, he’s a British doctor (yes, that means the accent) who talks about food/nutrition, and he’s pretty cute.”
Over the next few days I saw posts from the account frequently, and started to realize that I didn’t need a new diet or fitness regime. I need to change my mindset around food. I starting thinking back to when I was competing and I realized, I thought that I had permission to eat whatever I wanted because I swam so much. When really I had full permission to eat whatever I wanted whenever I wanted because I’m human. And yes, there are foods that have more nutrients in them than others but that doesn’t mean I had to put them in categories for good and bad thereby feel guilty when I indulged in something that I “shouldn’t” have.
Around this time of year, there’s a lot of time spent around food and as I’ve read more and more posts by Dr. Joshua, (the human behind the @unfattening account), I’ve noticed more and more how much toxic information is out there about food. But mostly, I’m more aware of how much we don’t talk about disordered eating waiting only until we get to the much more harmful eating disorders to talk about our relationships with food. This year, is probably the first year since I’ve stopped swimming that none of my resolutions will have to do with food or fitness. My current method of eating when I’m hungry, not eating when I’m not, and not restricting myself to any foods is doing just fine. I haven’t become a complete regular at the gym but more often than not I’m getting there twice per week, and more importantly working out feels like a reward not an obligation. It’s definitely a process of making this mental switch and some days it’s easier than others but overall it’s been a much happier process than anything else I’ve tried to date.
I put this all out there to say, if you know that your New Years resolution includes starting a new food/fitness lifestyle, or you’re thinking about making a NYR about food/fitness — make sure it’s not going to harm your relationship with either in the process. Just because you don’t have an eating disorder doesn’t mean your relationship with food healthy or positive. Over the past few years the biggest thing I’ve learned is not bad does not equate good.
Lastly, if you want to follow a great account that talks about food and nutrition ( in a honest, fact-based, positive way) but importantly the relationship we have with those things I’d highly recommend Dr. Joshua (@unfattening). He’s smart, funny, and when he doesn’t know something he seemingly either looks into it or (since smart people flock together) points out some other great accounts. A new year is definitely a chance to make some changes and while it might not be the new year just yet, I’m hoping to keep this change going, for once I can say I did something early.