Have you ever looked up the definition for healthy?
Well, the first result is, “in good health.”
In case you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m not a nutritionist. I’m not a dietitian. I’m not a health coach. I’m not even NASM-certified yet (dragging my feet reaaaal hard on that one). But one thing I AM? A young woman who has found her footing in the wayward world of “What does it mean to live a healthy life?”
Thinking about food and working out has been on my brain since I stumbled upon an easy exercise regimen outlined in Seventeen magazine when I was, you guessed it, 17. Seven years later and I’ve done it all: the calorie counting, the workout calendar, the restriction, the binges, the insecurity, the meal planning. And now here I am, at 24, and I feel like I’ve got a good handle on things. I don’t yell at myself (well, hardly ever) over eating the wrong thing and I actually love my body. So what happened in those seven years?
Lots of mistakes.
A year of two daily supersize Diet Cokes from McDonald’s to curb my appetite. A bowl of broccoli the size of my head for dinner so that I could get ice cream with friends for dessert. Giving up all meat. No cream in my coffee. Sugar-free everything. No simple carbohydrates. SlimQuick and Green Tea pills. Every few months it was a new idea. And every time I tried something I just knew I was on my way to being healthy.
During that time I had no idea about healthy living blogs. And I know that if I had stumbled upon them when I was in my late teens I probably would have been confused. So many people have different eating styles, different fitness regimens, different rules/diets, different stories that have lead them to where they are today. How can all these different people be healthy?
I hope that when people read healthy living blogs, they know that everyone’s version of healthy is different. Even more than that, everyone discovers their version of healthy living in different ways. For some, there is an “a-ha” moment. Some people have fast metabolisms until college and then gain the Freshman 15 and have to learn healthier habits after their metabolisms slow with age. Some people battle extensive disordered eating and are forced to take a hard look at their habits when it becomes evident to the people around them that they need help. Others discover food allergies or sensitivities that allow them to eliminate certain things in order to feel better and lead more comfortable lives.
But not everyone has a moment that shifts their thinking on healthy living. I know I didn’t.
For me, it was and is a slowwwww process and then one day (one I can’t even pinpoint), I was just happy with my routine. It took seven years of reading, experimenting, getting to know my body, and making TONS of mistakes before I stumbled into the routine that works for me. My story is pretty boring, but I bet you it’s just as relateable to some of you as those “a-ha” moment stories are to others.
My success came from a slow, progressive shift in the way I thought about food and exercise– that’s what finally helped me settle into a healthy routine.
I can’t eat a cupcake became “Look how many different colored vegetables I can fit on my plate!” (And cupcakes/veggies stopped being mutually exclusive)
I need to run five miles a day became “How freaking incredible is it that my legs can run five whole miles? Let’s do it!”
Food became art, not anxiety, and fitness became a blessing, not a chore.
I started celebrating everything I’m able to do. I started lifting because I love the way it feels to work hard and add muscle onto my body. I can’t pinpoint it for sure, but I think it’s safe to say that when I started adding muscle to my body I started to love it unconditionally. I started respecting it for what it could do, not just what it looked like.
I slowly stopped focusing on what I couldn’t eat and started seeing what I could. Vegetables are beautiful, versatile, simple, homegrown, and delicious. So is pizza. I found that the more whole foods I added to my diet, the healthier I felt, without doing any kind of dieting or restriction. So even when I do eat too many slices of pizza, I don’t think twice about it because the next morning I know I’ve got a giant veggie omelette coming my way. Regretting food isn’t a mental and emotional experience anymore — it’s physical. My body will feel sick if I eat too many processed foods. That’s why most days you’ll find me in bed with semisweet chocolate chips, not Cadbury eggs (but of course you know M&Ms are one of my favorite foods — can’t give ’em up!)
My routine today includes tons of vegetables, running until my legs can’t take it anymore, a love affair with cheese, cheating on said cheese with chocolate, lifting heavy things, adding cream and sugar to my coffee, never skipping dessert, eating three meals a day plus protein-filled snacks, making my bread whole grain (but letting white pasta slide), sneaking spinach into everything, making sure my cabinet is stocked with chia seeds at all times, going to yoga, drinking almond milk, always having roasted sweet potatoes on hand, and never turning down an invitation for margaritas. Never.
It makes no sense. But it makes sense for me.
I don’t have answers for you. And you shouldn’t look for answers from anyone else. It’s all about trying things, making mistakes, and not being afraid to fall flat on your face a few times.
One day, with no warning, you’ll feel like you struck the balance too. The balance between eating well and exercising to boost your health.
Like everything else, it’s a journey. And just how most journeys are frustrating along the path, there’s nothing people can do or say to make your journey easier. You just have to keep pushing and one day you’ll “find healthy,” whatever that means to you.
(**I feel the need to add that I don’t mean to diminish anyone else’s journey with healthy living, especially the ones that are particularly painful. Everyone’s experiences are different, and I am just sharing my own).