Little by Little: I am Becoming a Mindful Eater.
I don’t remember the first time I became interested in my own personal wellness. I really don’t…but I do remember, when I went off to college, telling myself that I was in charge of myself: what I do, what I eat, who I hang out with, what I feel, and how I do it. When it came down to my food choices, it always about, “what is the healthiest option?” Though this seems like a good thing to ask yourself, it can really mess with you. Because what defines healthy? Is it only eating one certain way? Or is it what makes you feel best? Healthy is a term we throw around a lot to define something as nourishing or “the best”. But, the most nourishing and best thing for our bodies is discovering what foods, movements, and lifestyle changes can make you feel your 100%. Maybe that should be the definition of healthy.
I learned to cook for myself in college. I really enjoyed cooking for myself. I got in the routine of going to the grocery store each week and finding new things that I liked. I would cook recipes from when I was growing up, new recipes I made up, recipes from Pinterest, friends’ recipes. I did anything I could to be in the kitchen. It became a safe place for me. However, it quickly turned into a place of question. I started entering the kitchen and asking myself, “What’s the healthiest thing I can make for dinner tonight?” or “What is the least healthy item I have? I need to throw it away.” or “If I don’t eat breakfast, I can have a big dinner tonight!” or “If I have a small dinner, I can have frozen yogurt!” or "If I don't eat dinner at all, I can have a big frozen yogurt!" or "I cannot have any carbs." or "Should I just eat raw foods?" My definition of healthy was detrimental to my health.
I was in this constant battle with myself to give up some food item for another food item. I was never satisfied with anything I ate or cooked. I always needed something more but did not allow myself to get that. I didn’t starve myself, no. But, I didn’t allow myself to have food freedom. I felt like I was stuck. I had people asking me, “Maggie, how are you so healthy? I’m so jealous!” and in my heart and soul, I knew I was struggling. Because little did they know, I was not feeding myself what I truly needed and wanted, and this was not easy to recognize.
It was not until the middle of my senior year of college of that I realized I need change. I was missing out on so much. Little by little, I changed my mindset:
1. I started eating meals.
Yes, I know this sounds like an obvious one, but I did not eat full meals. I told myself “it was too much” or "I couldn't eat that much throughout the day". The only real meal I used to eat was dinner. Instead of having a meal, I would have a snack. Which then turned into another snack, which turned into another snack. I was always snacking because I was never satisfied. (There is nothing wrong with snacking. I was using snacks as a way to omit meals.) But I thought that if I ate meals, it would be too much.
I started with breakfast. Every morning, I had a real breakfast consisting of oatmeal mixed with some fruit, nut butter, or whatever I was feeling. (note: Now, I am at a point where I eat whatever I am craving in the morning.) It kept me full! It was like magic! I started looking forward to breakfast rather than being afraid of eating a big one. Then, when I started eating a full lunch, I noticed a major difference in my eating habits. Lunch is important for my body. It’s important for most bodies! When I sat down and ate a lunch packed with veggies and protein, I was satisfied! It took very small steps to get to a point where I had 3 meals (with snacks in between) a day. But, I did it. I forced myself to suppress my mindset that meals were too much food.
2. I found a workout routine that suited me.
As I have shared before, Orange Theory Fitness taught me a lot about my physical abilities. I have truly found an exercise routine that works for my body. But, it was a journey. I no longer do high intensity exercise every single day because it was way too much for me; I learned that high intensity workouts do not work with my body. Recognizing this has made me a stronger person inside and out. Through slowing down and really tuning into my mind and soul, I have found what makes me feel my best. I have fallen in love with vinyasa yoga, restorative yoga, pilates, long walks, short walks, meditation, and rest. It is key to experiment with all types of physical and nonphysical activity until you find something you enjoy doing. When you force yourself to do something you genuinely do not like, you will never stick to it. Find something that suits you!
3. I slowed down. (Like, way down.)
After college graduation (June 2017), I went to visit my boyfriend in a small town in the midwest. To this day, I thank that small town because I was forced to slow down. There were no OTFs. There were no Whole Foods Markets. There were no gyms I could drop-in to. I did not have my own kitchen to cook all my meals in. My crazy routine (at the time) was put on a major pause. I mean, MAJOR PAUSE. I involuntarily dedicated my days to doing nothing. I thought I was going insane; I used to be the type of person who could never just do nothing.
The only thing I could find to keep myself active, if it wasn't raining, was a local high school track. Mind you, I couldn't remember the last time I stepped foot on a track because in my mind (at the time), a track wasn't enough for a workout. I got so down on myself that I wasn't working out hard. Why? I have no idea. What even defines a hard workout? I was so used to elevating my heart rate, pushing myself too far, that I convinced myself jogging or walking around a track just wasn't enough. I remember the day in that small town when I took two days off in a row for the first time in months. That was the moment it clicked: my body felt good and I wasn't exhausted. Instead of beating myself up about taking two days off in a row, I began to embrace it.
While I was there, I didn't have access to a personal kitchen; I got take-out almost every day. Since I was afraid of eating anything from Applebee's, the nicest restaurant in town, or Buffalo Wild Wings, I would shove my face with raw almonds and call it a night. I was afraid to eat from those restaurants because I did not know the ingredients they were using. This is not okay. Not okay for me. It was not until one of my last night's there that I finally realized: What am I doing? Why am I controlling my food intake this much? I realized that I could eat something I may not be used to and it was okay. Nothing bad was going to happen. It was okay to eat at a restaurant I, at the time, did not define as "healthy". Because what is healthy? It's definitely not shoving as many raw almonds down your throat as possible rather than eating a meal at your not so favorite restaurant.
4. I gave up all diets.
Although I didn’t necessarily diet, I experimented with a variety of eating habits that did not work for me. And, I had enough. I finally learned to stop counting calories and start reading ingredients. I learned to stop looking at the fat content and look at where my food is coming from. It is so important to recognize the difference between calories and ingredients; something I struggled with for a long time. I slowly realized that one person's diet could be another person's poison; every single body is different. I learned that people's genes make up their bodies, not necessarily what they eat and how they move. I realized that I needed to feel my best in order to do my best. I learned that I needed to eat more to nourish my body. I needed to listen to what my body was telling me. Instead of being afraid of meals, meals changed my eating habits. Instead of ignoring my cravings, I needed the chicken. Instead of having frozen yogurt for dinner (which I did A LOT), I needed the tacos, or the salad; a real meal.
My life is an everlasting wellness journey. I am not perfect. I do not strive for perfection. I strive for comfort. I want to be comfortable in my own skin, making my own decisions, and in choosing a lifestyle that works for me. Because at the end of the day, your lifestyle will forever be a part of you. A part of you that is so key to living a happy life. And a happy life is a good life. It was not easy for me to get a point where I felt comfortable with all food. But little by little, I got there. And I’m still getting there.