*Trigger Warning: This post contains numbers and terms that may be triggering for those with eating disorders or disordered eating behaviors.
The Fall of 2014 may be the healthiest I’ve ever been. Today, I’m probably not as physically healthy, but I’m just as fulfilled.
In 2014, I was a college athlete and my performance was everything to me. I was working out 2-3 times per day, but not because I was worried about my weight or being in shape for softball, but because I lived in Western Kansas and I had nothing better to do. I was taking a heavy load of science classes, so three classes made me a full time student. This meant that I had a lot of free time. I would wake up in the morning, eat breakfast, do some work, go for a bike ride, have a snack, go to practice, stay and go for a run, eat dinner. My friends were active too, we would go on walks or hang out at the park if we needed something to do. I also worked as a CNA at a nursing home, so I was active for that plus I made enough money to buy what ever I wanted from the grocery store. I didn’t have a dorm meal plan because I was starting to have GI issues after my freshman year. I was also doing an elimination diet, for the GI issues, which I could sustain due to my minimal expenses and I had the time to prepare meals. (Which I do not recommend doing without the guidance of a medical professional, I lost about 1.5 pounds of muscle mass which is less than ideal).
My RD friends are going to read this and think I was orthorexic or having an obsession with eating food that one considers healthy. But the truth is, I have never had anxiety around eating any sort of food. I would also eat as much as my body needed, never restricting portion sizes or times I could eat. Plus, I grew up eating a lot of fruits and vegetables. My parents have always spoiled me and made sure I had a nutrient dense meal to eat a sports games and tournaments, so it really wasn’t anything new. It's a way I grew up eating, so I really enjoyed the food I was eating, even after the elimination diet.
On the movement side, I love being active. Working hard and pushing myself to accomplish a lower mile time, a few extra miles on my bike, or just going on walks to connect with my friends was so much fun for me! For me, exercise is more a way to explore the world and finding ways to challenge myself. It's also important to know that I had very little stress and life was good.
Today, I’m missing two things I had in 2014; what seemed like endless money compared to what I needed and the perception of infinite time. It’s been about a month since I’ve had a decent workout, I don’t eat as many vegetables and fruits as I used to. Sometimes I choose to sleep instead of getting up in time to pack a lunch, so I opt for buying it. A lot of times I’m up late doing assignments and I forget to eat a real dinner, so I eat tuna salad and crackers. But I still love to push myself in the gym. I always focus on what I can do, and never what I look like. There are a lot of times where I would love to go work hard in the gym, but I'm exhausted from the day.
Despite grad school taking me for all I’m worth, I know that I am doing much more meaningful things right now than I was back then. In 2014, all I could think about was traveling and seeing the world, and although those thoughts still occasionally weigh heavy on me, I feel like I have a much clearer purpose in the world.
My day to day is filled with meaning and work where I prioritize what I can provide to other’s instead of myself. I have worked at a gym for the last year, and I get to work with and inspire others to reach their health and fitness goals. I volunteer in a free clinic, where I do nutrition counseling for pregnant women. I’m participating in a traineeship to better understand the needs of people with disabilities and their families in healthcare and community settings. I regularly go to church and meet with a group of people who I can grow in faith with. I volunteer for an organization where I get to help influence nutrition policy at federal, state, and local levels. So sometimes I go for a 10 minute run, do an online dance class, or just go to the gym and mess around without pushing myself.
I’m learning what my physical and mental health looks like in the context of graduate school and completing tasks that may seem arbitrary to please professors. I've learned a lot about showing myself grace when my behaviors may not be as "healthy" as I would like, because I know the effect that restricting foods and overdoing it with exercise in an undernourished body has on your long term health. So now sometimes a workout is my form of self-care, sometimes it's watching Netflix.
Show yourself grace and ask yourself if you enjoy what you're eating and where you can fit in joyful movement. Mental health is just as important as physical health. In fact, you mental health and/or negative perceptions of your body can attribute to long-term health effects, regardless of your weight.
What's your favorite form of self-care and how do you practice gentle nutrition and joyful movement?
*Note: if you do find yourself feeling anxious around food or struggle with body image issues, please reach out to a trained professional.