On Saturday morning during spin class, as I was sweating like an obese man dressed in sweats walking through Death Valley, I was thinking about the difference between vacation time and our normal routines—namely, the difference in our fitness/food habits. Obviously when we’re on vacation (specifically around the holidays), it’s natural for us to want to relax and ease into a more indulgent routine. And rightfully so, as vacation is a time for relaxing and partaking in things we wouldn’t do on a regular basis (i.e. sleeping in, having a drink or 4, and actively seeking out 3 different desserts in one night).
Yes, this was me at Christmas.
And it’s fine…because we’re on vacation, and no vacation lasts forever.
However, personally I get a bit stressed out thinking about the lack of discipline that comes with vacations. I know it seems a bit counter-intuitive to the whole idea of a vacation, but because I’m normally very active and eat healthfully, the thought of derailing from that routine worries me. Once I’m on vacation and can loosen up a bit, I’m normally thankful for the break, but I always wish that the thought of taking time off from my regimented schedule wouldn’t be so frightening.
To help describe my point a bit more clearly, this was my brain during spin yesterday:
“This is seriously hard…I’m glad I can still keep up after being gone for so long.”
“Wait, didn’t you have a heart attack that taking time off would ruin every ounce of fitness you have?”
“And weren’t you stressed that all the wonderful holiday goodies you would consume would all of a sudden balloon you up to the point that none of your clothes would fit?”
“Of course it was irrational! You spend 98% of the time trying your hardest to stay in shape, why the hell should a week of fun undo any of that?”
“Ew gross, I think your earlobes are dripping”
Okay, that was a bit unstructured, but here’s my point: If you try your best to stay marginally in shape and healthy, then there’s no reason to worry over the occasional extra drinks and desserts. I am constantly back-and-forth in my own brain with this battle, and I think a lot of people (mainly girls) are susceptible to this exact same mind game. We get down on ourselves before we even indulge for fear that we’ve lost all sense of discipline and are somehow weaker because we’ve “given in.”
Here’s the reality: Life is too short to beat ourselves up over these insignificant things. Our society—namely women’s magazines, commercials, realty shows, etc.—perpetually bombards us with the messages of: “Lose that Last 5!” “Think Skinny!” and “How to Resist Temptation,” all of which might as well say, “You Better Say No to Everything Containing Carbs, Sugar, and Fat if You Ever Want to Feel Pretty!”
To be blunt, I think this is bullshit, and I’m so afraid that this is the understanding of health and beauty that women today are being fed.
I completely understand that this country is facing a severe obesity epidemic, and I completely agree that the U.S.’s understanding of healthy portions and food is seriously distorted. In no way am I undermining the efforts to make our country healthier, but I believe there is a huge difference between promoting balance and promoting deprivation.
Balance is the single most important thing in regards to being happy and healthy, in my opinion. We are human, therefore symmetry is key; too much laziness and not enough exercise will eventually deplete our bodies and spirits—and the exact opposite is also true.
The same thing goes for food—when we concentrate solely on being so healthy that every single thing we put in our mouths is predetermined and allows no room for spontaneity, we lose the joy of treating ourselves and we become a hollow, uptight, and (sorry) boring person who only cares about carrots and calories.
I say these things from a very experienced-based standpoint, as I have been all of these people: I have been so concentrated on exercising that my body gave up on me. I have been so focused on only consuming wholesome things that I couldn’t enjoy ice cream or drinks or Chipotle outings with friends. I have been such a dessert addict that I’d go to bed with a marginal stomach ache every night because I could never just resist the temptation.
These are all versions of myself that at one time or another have overtaken my sense of balance. Each of them tends to creep up every so often, however I have come to a place where I know myself well enough to know that investing all my energy into being the perfect athlete or the perfect eater only sucks away all other passions in my life.
That brings me to the title of this post: Sweating the Sweet Stuff. And I am going highlight why it is important that we don’t sweat the sweet stuff while we do sweat the sweet stuff.
“Say, wha?” You say…
Well, the term “sweat” here is a homonym.
Don’t Sweat the Sweet Stuff…
Guess what? You live in an age where cookies, beer, chips & guac, etc. are going to pop up—and that’s because these things go hand-in-hand with celebrations and a festive atmosphere. With that said, it is okay to eat these things. Instead of spending the before, during, and after of a party hating yourself for considering, indulging, and then regretting the choices to eat these things—how about trying to push aside the berating qualms of society for just one night, and enjoy yourself. I am willing to bet that not only will you have a much more enjoyable time, but you will also find you are more likely to quit while you’re ahead. Deprivation activates an animalistic/binge mentality: If you chronically deprive yourself from certain foods, they then become so coveted and idealistic that they hold a certain power over you.
I am, again, speaking from experience…when I get too absorbed in staying 100% healthy, the thought of every possible bad-for-me food starts to take over my brain: Note: dreaming about donuts.
And this is ridiculous. Food should never, ever be a primary focus for your life.
Fact of the matter: Humans need to eat, point blank. It’s not something you can shy away from if you want to survive, and because it’s necessary—why should you let all your energy be consumed by it? Would you spend all your time focusing on when you need to blink or breath? No…and that’s because it’s something you can’t get around.
You can, however, focus your energy on how to achieve balance. You cannot survive without fruits and vegetables, and your body will revolt without them, but you will also go crazy if you are the person at every party who says “No” to everything offered, sips lemon water, and watches everyone else eat chocolate and drink wine without you. Also, you might notice your invitations to such events starts to decline…
Please note: I am in no way advocating a free pass for consistently binging without rhyme or reason. Remember, this is about balance. Wholesome foods are essential to our well-being, and above all else I believe that everyone should be educated on what we need to eat to stay healthy.
I am simply trying to speak against the notion that we should feel guilty about every time we “slip” from our healthy regimes. If you spend 80% of the time focusing on eating well, then I personally give you permission to indulge the other 20% of the time. The healthiest, happiest people I have ever known are the people that say yes to both apples and apple pie, running and rest days, spinach and Sirah, I think you get…
Do Sweat the Sweet Stuff
One of the best parts about staying active is the allowance of treats it provides. No, an extra mile every day doesn’t equal an extra cookie, but….kinda. Excess exercise equates additional calorie burn, therefore necessitating excess calorie consumption. Ideally, this will come in the form of additional nutrient dense foods. However, as athletes, we have the advantage of needed extra food. This is two-fold; while training, we need more food, and because we are inevitably going to sweat everything out, there is less pressure on us when we do have chocolate for dinner.
With this said, finding a balance in terms of health is much more attainable when you incorporate exercise. You will have more energy, and your body will help you know exactly what it needs to stay happy. One of the reasons that I love training is because I become very in tune with what my body needs in terms of nutrients. Frequent activity not only boosts physical health in every way possible, but it will also help in tweaking your guilty mindset about “bad foods.”
That said, I would like state that I absolutely despise when people use the words “bad” and “good” when it comes to health and food. For the most part, we all know which foods are better for us than others, and we’ve been taught which foods are supposed to evoke a feeling of guilt within us. When we declare that we have been “bad” or “good,” we are immediately allowing our propaganda-filled brains to decide our self-worth for us.
Instead, congratulate yourself for making a healthy choice, remember how good your body felt, and establish a way to maintain a regular routine of it. Similarly, if you happen to have had one-too-many licks of cookie dough, forgive yourself, know that they were delicious, and recognize that they will not make you immediately gain 5 pounds. And if you really feel that bad about it, go for a half-hour run. I can almost guarantee that your guilt will evaporate—not because you know you burned it all off, but because running evaporates all negative thoughts and makes you feel awesome.
Admittedly, I am far from mastering the mentality of being in a completely happy balance. It is a daily battle for me, and there are times when I feel completely consumed by the negative thoughts that I have admonished in this post. And that’s because I’m human—and I simply can’t help it sometimes.
But I’m trying. And because I have been through so many different phases of figuring out the whole “healthy” thing, I believe I have established a basic methodology of how to be my happiest. I do not always obey my own beliefs, and I have to be very conscientious about not slipping into the grips of societal gimmicks, but these are the truths that I believe to wholly encompass the secrets of happiness.
So don’t sweat the sweet stuff, and I think you’ll realize that once you rid yourself of the guilt of eating the occasional treat, you will regain control over your confidence and ultimately strike a happy balance.