By Michelle Buglas
“Being on a diet is AWESOME!”
– Said no one – ever
A couple of months ago I was sitting, head down in my lunch kit, when someone at work asked me, “Are you still doing that nutrition thing?” (I had been tracking macros – weighing and measuring mostly whole foods to hit a certain amount of protein, carbs, and fat every day for about 6 months.)
I looked up at her a bit puzzled but replied, “Yep, still doing it.”
She asked, “How long do you have to do that for?”
I stared blankly at her, and then looked back down into my lunch of steaming chicken and veggies in a yummy stir fry sauce with rice, “Forever I guess”.
In the middle of the lunch room at work sits four large tables pushed together. Staff cram around this area every day to share stories and eat. It was here that I learned the difference between a diet and nutrition as a lifestyle.
The content of people’s lunch bags reveals a multitude of secrets which get laid out for everyone to see (almost like putting your journal on display for everyone to read). We are judged on who’s not eating carbs, who’s gluten free, dairy free, vegetarian, high protein, low fat, no night shades, lots of night shades, the list goes on. Diets and eating habits vary as much as the owners of these lunch kits.
Most often these diets focus on what you “can’t” have. No carbs, no sugar, no starch, preservatives and especially no fat. There’s almost always some sort of external goal attached:
- “Heading to Cabo in February. Gotta drop 5 pounds!”
- “Wedding in July. Have a dress I need to fit into!”
- “Biggest loser contest at work. Great prizes this year!”
You get the idea.
It was then that I realized: the difference between a diet and a healthy lifestyle is the difference between a way of eating feeling like a “have to” and feeling like a “want to.” Between feeling like an obligation vs an opportunity.
A diet can feel like another “have to” with external restrictions and unnatural limitations:
- “I have to go to work”
- “I have to clean the house”
- “I have to lose 10 pounds”
- “I have to stop eating carbs”
And usually attached to a have to is an “or else” – some kind of internal consequence if you don’t do it.
- “I have to lose 10 pounds or else I won’t look good”
- “I have to go to the gym or else I’ll get fat”
Every time you tell yourself you “have to” do something, you’re telling yourself that you are not your own person. That you are a victim, or helpless, and being coerced against your own will. When we think of something as a “have to” we often push back, manipulate, find ways to get around it – we begin to resent it.
No wonder nobody sticks with diets!
A healthy lifestyle on the other hand is a matter of choice that is personal and self-directed; it’s about how you want to be. The goal to good nutrition is for it to become habit. To be able to instinctively crave the things that fuel your body and feels good; To balance the need for proteins, fats and yes, carbohydrates within your own unique needs.
Unfortunately, most of us were not conditioned to eat this way and we need to learn it and practice for it to become habit. If you have to continuously weigh it, measure it or put it into an app it’s not likely a lifestyle change, however, this process is necessary as you begin to learn how to eat for your own body and for it to become innate. Once it becomes a habit or a “lifestyle,” you begin to intuitively know what your body needs, when it needs it, and why.
I don’t avoid foods because I am not “allowed” to eat them, I choose the foods that let me move jump and run. I know what foods help me think and sleep and carry myself in a way that feels great. I choose to eat nutritious foods that fuel my body because I love the way it makes me feel and the things that my body can do because of it. I also don’t deny myself those yummy moments of carrot cake with cream cheese icing, or a hot dog roast around the fire (in a bun, of course)!
I love food and I love to eat so to deny myself those moments is a mind game that I would lose (nor do I want to play). When I go into a grocery store I get excited about all the foods that I get to pick from. I can choose to eat anything I want from that grocery store which I am aware is incredibly fortunate for me. Many people cannot afford such luxury.
So when I choose the foods that land in my cart, I choose the foods that:
- Give me energy to not just get through each day, but to LOVE each day
- Keep my skin clear and my clothes comfortable
- Allow me, at my age, to still squat swing and kick at the gym
- Fuel me to be able to run with my daughter, to shoot hoops on the driveway, or to try a new sport.
I choose the foods that allows me to say, “Yep, I’m in!”
The lunch room struggles laid out on the table every noon hour for all to see tell a very similar story. Despite being unique in process and purpose, the goal for dieting is ultimately the same: to lose weight, to fit in or into something, and sadly, most diets end up at the bottom of the garbage can along with the lunch kit scraps.
Diet’s feel like “have to’s” and because of this, it’s only natural that our bodies and our minds resist them. Eventually this leads to the yo-yo effect; sooner or later we destroy any positive effect they may have had on us.
A healthy lifestyle, however, is a matter of choice – an “I can” of opportunity. With practice and learning it becomes a habit and way of life that feeds your body and mind from the inside out. It gives you the fuel and inspiration to be the best that you can, every day.
The contents of your lunch bag tell you how you want your day to be for you. It will tell you how you feel about yourself. What’s YOUR lunch bag telling you about yourself?