Over the past few days I’ve let my eating slide a little bit. This has been largely due to my going through a few tough things that have left me feeling a little weak emotionally. Interestingly enough, it is only during these moments when I tend to allow myself to eat certain things. And these certain things include a large amount of sugar!
Now, it’s not uncommon in any way to be an emotional eater. In fact, it’s probably one of the most common issues with how people eat out there. You get very specific attachments to types of food throughout your life, and these become engrained in you forever. Unless you take the time (and incredibly difficult effort) to change them, they’ll only get stronger and stronger. So today, I want to share with you my weaknesses for food, why, and how I formed them, and my thoughts on how I can approach it all.
I have three very distinct memories from childhood in relation to food: first, it was when my grandmother would bring over sour cream latkes (if you don’t know what these are, just think white flour, egg and sour cream, pan fried, with sour cream on top… wowza!) and my brother and I would compete to see who could eat the most. They were about 3-4 inches by 3-4 inches, circular shaped, and I would consume 30+ in one sitting, no matter how much my stomach begged for forgiveness. Second, was when we were sick as very young children. My mother would allow us to have MacDonald’s breakfast after we visited the doctor. I remember loving it so much that I would longingly stare at those magical golden arches every time we drove by. That was the only time we were ever allowed to eat there. Third, was when I was in middle school and would go over to friends’ houses. They would have things like cookies, crackers, candy and other goodies stocked up, while we never had anything even resembling that at our house. I would just lose all control and go to town on their sugary and salty snacks. It was like I was storing it all in my belly for the few days I would have to eat fruit and veggies at home before I could get back to their house to eat more!
Looking back at these three memories, I can see something very interesting: desert food, and highly processed food, was so outlawed to me that it was like a super-gift each and every time I was allowed to have it. So what did this turn into as I grew older? Well, in high school, I found out that with more responsibility in when and what I ate, I seemed to gravitate towards finding these “outlawed” foods because now I had the ability to get them myself. And when I was able to drive, well, holy cow! MacDonald’s and me were inseparable. After baseball games I was known to get 3-4 burgers, super sized fries and soda, and then have an ice cream or apple pie thing. I would have that meal at least 4 times each and every week during the summer. Between games I would enjoy a large sandwich or burger, then wash it down with 8+ free-refilled soda, then pick up another soda, a couple gatorades and some snickers and chips to have during my next game. So yeah. I ate like crap. But I didn’t know any better. I knew my mom wouldn’t be the happiest camper about it all. But she wasn’t around to tell me NO, and I was a big boy who could make my own decisions!
Crap food was my reward for being free to make my own choices. When someone else made choices for me, I wasn’t allowed this stuff. So, of course the floodgates would open later in life. This reward soon expanded to become something that I psychologically needed to feel good. It’s a pretty cut and dry concept: if you reward yourself with something you enjoy, you’ll do more and more to receive said award. The only problem is, food is a necessity in life, and when you get hungry you are faced with a choice: either eat clean, healthy, good food; or, eat fake, unhealthy, crap food. And what happens when you don’t actually understand what the difference is? Well, you eat the food that you learned was the best tasting and gave you instant satisfaction. So, all of a sudden I’m a junior in college, stressed, confused, trying to have fun and allowing my emotions run how and what I ate. When I was happy, or doing good things, I would reward myself with “good” food. When I was sad or depressed, I would make myself feel better with the same “good” food. And that’s how it went until I was a whopping 245 pounds of not so solid, chubby wonderfulness!
Today my habits have changed drastically. The most important thing was learning first what food actually was (if it come directly from nature, it’s probably food). Next it was how to consume it intelligently enough to properly fuel my lifestyle. But the habits that I formed through 21 years of my life still haunt me, less and less each month, but still there nonetheless. Even tonight, as I returned home from training a client to finish up this post, I found myself overcome by my dark food habits. I was at Whole Foods picking up a few odds and ends for my cooking spree tomorrow. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve been going through some emotionally difficult issues, and I could feel that overwhelming urge to calm my sadness and insecurities with what I grew up understanding would do so: sugar. And it didn’t help that one of my favorite bakeries; Sticky Fingers (just check out the site!) was selling cookies and brownies. So, I enjoyed a couple of each as I walked the 3 miles back to my house. Did I feel better? Hell yes I did! Did I help myself, and the growth I desire to be a better person? Not in any possible way. I gave in to something I know I honestly don’t want in my life. My stomach feels bloated and uncomfortable, my throat is clogged up, and my brain feels a little fuzzy. I don’t like that feeling. The few minutes of enjoyment was not worth the way I feel now, or the way I’ll feel in the morning.
I am still in the process of learning to overcome these emotional attachments that I’ve created in myself. I don’t have any definitive answers for you, and for that I am sorry. I am merely sharing this all with you to cause some form of thought within yourself. How do YOU see food? What are YOUR attachments and weaknesses? In my being able to be open and honest about my problems, I know I can pursue the things I want with a clearer mind. If I can share my struggles, and openly share the process I have for overcoming those struggles, I believe I can genuinely fix them from their absolute core. If you have a process, share it. If you don’t, be honest with yourself and learn to create and use one. If I didn’t have one I would still be an unhealthy fitness wannabe, right on the cusp on “getting it”.
True change can never happen if you don’t start from deep within.
I hope my ramblings inspire a little thought. And as always, I am here to bounce ideas off of, to discuss (even argue if need be), to answer questions, to help and to support.
Never Stop, GET FIT.
The other day I was asked a question that has been asked of me many times before, yet I have never openly talked about for some reason. I was asked if I ever just feel like NOT working out, like NOT eating cleanly and just hanging out and just being. This arose from the idea that maybe living this intense, fit lifestyle was just too much work sometimes, and maybe one can get burned out along the way. What do you do? How do you handle the strong, sometimes overwhelming desire to just sit on your ass, skip my next five workouts or more, and DO NOTHING?
Well, this is in no way an easy thing to deal with. Sometimes my first reaction to this, whether it be in myself or a client, is to just say toughen up, stop being such a pansy, put the cookie down and get to work! But then I realize the actual effects of forcing yourself or others into doing something that, honestly, at the time, you/they really do not want to take part in. There is a place for standing up to those lazy thoughts, hell, I'm sure that most CrossFitters and non-CrossFitters alike face those feelings almost every single day. And when you feel the urge to just go lay down in front of the TV, or sleep in an extra hour or two, you have to give yourself a little kick in the butt and just get after it. But, that being said, there is also a place to understand that you actually might be burned-out, over-trained, and in desperate need of a little break. This is all a part of your process, how you choose to approach your journey into the fit life. However, there is a good and bad process; and from my experience (yes, I do struggle with this as much as the next fitness nut) most people choose the bad process.
The Bad Process
"Damn it, I feel so tired, lethargic, I don't want to go to the gym today, I want to crack open a drink, watch some crap TV and eat a couple hamburgers and a huge serving of fries!" Well, there are a few directions your mind can go after that thought, and one that is all wrong is: "god I suck", "I am so weak", "I'll toughen up tomorrow", "this is going to make me so fat", "why do I have to cheat like this!" So on, so on. Do you see what's going on here? Your desire to "cheat" is making you depressed. It's a double edged sword of sorts. First off, you are taking a step back from all the progress you are making; second off, you are punishing yourself for having feelings you feel you "should not be having". Man, this is a crappy situation to be in. I mean, if you're going to have a cookie, you might as well enjoy the hell out of it, right? What's the point of taking a day or two off of exercise if you are going to mope around while you SHOULD be relaxing and recovering, and wallowing in self pity about how lazy you are? Feeling bad about doing things you know are not perfectly in line with your fitness goals will do nothing but make things worse.
Don't Trick Yourself
Everybody knows the age-old concept of giving yourself a cheat day. Well I don't believe in this idea one bit. You are fooling yourself if you think your process deserves scheduled indulgence, you are forcing yourself into your process to hard. Isn't the whole idea of you changing the way you eat, increasing your activity level and leading a healthier life supposed to be to CHANGE YOUR LIFE? Choosing to make changes in your life so that they become a part of your life is the general idea here. So, if the idea is to change your life, and you schedule a cheat day, what you are really doing is convincing yourself that you are powerless to your own decisions. You are showing that sure, you can commit to something, but only six days a week. Allowing this of yourself is defeating the purpose people. Cheating is impossible if you are looking to make a legit change in your life. You should only have things that push you forward and things that set you back. Don't fall into a mind set of your process being something you need to "stick to or else". Don't force yourself into a restrictive, single-track lifestyle that limits your ability to actually enjoy the process. If you give yourself a cheat day, you are telling yourself that the process is something too hard for you to handle. Shoot, in a way, you are setting yourself up to fail because you are consciously predicting that you will be working so hard that you need/deserve a day of indulging in something different. We are smarter than this. Give yourself a little more credit than that and know that if you venture down the path of health and fitness, you are doing so to change your body AND your mind. If you commit to the process, you may have set backs, you may need to tweak things, but you will never stray from getting better and better.
Now there is a very fine line between what I just said and what I am about to say, and I want to make clear that what I refer to here is what goes on in your mind as you live out your process. A "cheat" day is pre-meditatively, allowing yourself to stray from your process. It also is a matter of semantics. To cheat literally means to be deceitful; and, if you are setting up a cheat day within your process, you are being deceitful to yourself, tricking yourself.
The Good Process
Think about this: when you decide on a goal, you proclaim a starting point, and that starting point can be considered Zero ("I will run a marathon", "I will power clean 250#", I will eat strict paleo for 30 days", etc). Once you've reached your goal (or goals), that can be considered 100. From 0 to 100 you must hit every number along the way, this is your process. I can assure you that it will not be a perfect progression, you will not hit 1, then 2, then 3, then 4, then 5, all the way to 100 without a mishap. There will be injuries, unexpected breaks, travel, family issues, holidays, stresses and so many other things that will get in the way of the process. All that matters is that from that starting point, to the day you achieve your goal, it stays in an upward projection. So, you might stay on 35 for a few days, you may even get pushed back to 34 or 33, but the process always stays in your mind as moving forward. If you can accept this concept, then you are already at a huge advantage. You already know that negative things are bound to happen, and you are accepting of that risk. So, when something DOES actually happen, when something stops you in your tracks, you are ready and OK with it.
This honesty with yourself and your process allows you to do one of two things: you will either be able to side-step the issue and keep driving forward (think: turning down that invite to happy hour, and accepting challenge to get to the 6am CrossFit class), or, you can accept that certain situations are inevitable and fully enjoy them (think: Moms awesome stuffing for Thanksgiving, and that unreal smelling pumpkin pie). You must consider the mindset that taking an extra day off, or having seconds at dinner is NOT going to destroy your process, it is PART of the process. Look at everything you choose to do, and make the best out if it, whether it be hoisting a heavy barbell over your head, cooking the perfect fish and vegetable dinner, or watching a movie with a bag of chips. If YOU make the choice to do something, accept, understand, and enjoy it.
This is where the "good process" and "tricking yourself" become very closely interpreted. But you must remember that it is about accepting the inevitable mishap, rather than actually planning it out.
Look At Your Process, I Mean, Really Look At It
So, what do you actually DO when you hit that potential road-block as you train and eat your way to perfect health? Shoot, make the best of it! You grab a seat for a day or two, enjoy in the calm of having some time off. Take that extra time you have to assess whether or not your process is the most effective one. Perhaps, if you are burned out, your programming is too demanding. Perhaps you are being way too strict, or restrictive with your nutrition. Perhaps you need to just run for a couple weeks, or just play pick-up basketball. Think of it this way: the closer you get to having health and fitness truly be a part of your life, the less often you'll get burned out. This seems pretty obvious when I write it, but honestly people, how often do we put too much pressure on ourselves to do, and be something we are not yet? What's the point in change if we are not aware of the process as we change? What's the point in becoming healthy and fit if we do not enjoy becoming healthy and fit? In fact, ARE we healthy and fit if we are not enjoying our healthy foods and active lifestyles? The people who are the most successful are not the ones who work the hardest; they are the ones who work the most passionately. Having a sub-3 minute "Fran", a 450# deadlift and 7% body fat mean nothing if you are stressed, have no friends, and can't sleep at night. If you do not enjoy your process, if fitness is not truly PART of your life, you are just forcing it, and you will never be as healthy as you could be.
Remember to take a step back every now and then to assess what you are doing and where you are heading. If you need to take a week off, take it. If you need to do a week of yoga and easy hiking, try it out. And maybe you are craving some complex carbs, shoot, have some bread. Stop being so damn hard on yourself and you will be amazed at how quickly you will change for the better. Nobody likes a jerk, and your body and mind are the same way. If you are nice and honest to them, they will reward you indefinitely.
Don't avoid challenges, and by no means am I saying give in to every little craving you have. What I am saying is that the more naturally you allow health and fitness become a part of your life, the more effective your efforts will be. You can not force change, that will almost always fail at some point or another. You got to want it, understand it, believe in it, then, just take a step forward every day.
Never Stop, GET FIT.
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