You know how some people love to exercise, drink liters of water each day, and crave vegetables? That's not me. I'm content leading an entirely sedentary existence, often forget to drink water for days, and prefer my vegetables fried. G and I try to set up certain guidelines during the week—like watching our sugar intake and keeping alcohol to a minimum (it's so easy to get into the routine of pouring ourselves a glass of wine every evening while making dinner)—but sometimes even that seems too daunting.
Not to mention, summer is a tough time to try and keep things in moderation. I find myself making excuses on a daily basis—"Oh it's just one more little slice of pie..." "What a beautiful day, let's grill up some burgers!"—and get into ruts where I can't remember what it even feels like to make conscious, healthy choices. While I haven't gotten things entirely back on track just yet, I've found that even becoming more aware of some of my biggest hurdles is a step in the right direction. Here are three of the most common obstacles I face in maintaining a healthy diet.
1. Unconscious eating. I'm not someone who has an issue with portion sizes. For the most part, if we're having something for dinner, I'll serve myself one plate and feel satisfied once I finish. But I do struggle with mindless snacking throughout the day. I operate under the assumption that if you consume something by rapidly shoving it in your mouth or while you're standing up hovering over the kitchen counter, it doesn't really count.
That kind of impulsivity makes it hard to come up with a plan and stick to it. A couple of weeks ago, we arrived in the office on a Monday morning after an indulgent weekend. I'd decided to focus on healthy foods—lots of vegetables, lean proteins, and complex carbs. But as soon as I got to my desk and saw an open box of donuts, (they were the really cute, way-too-easy-to-pop-in-your-mouth variety), I literally started throwing 'em back without a second thought. It wasn't until I looked down at the nearly-empty box a few minutes later that I was reminded of my abandoned plan.
The one thing I've found to be helpful when I'm needing to exercise a little self control (my mom insists it's like any other muscle you need to flex), is to keep track of what I'm eating. It's not even with the goal of restricting calories or losing weight—I never weigh myself—but to simply take a step back and make more conscious decisions knowing that I'm going to need to log every little pretzel/cookie/donut that I consume. I use the app, MyFitnessPal, and after just a few days of recording what I eat, I find myself much less willing to be in denial, and instead, focusing on foods that give me energy and make me feel my best.
2. An emotional relationship with food. I have what you'd call a healthy, albeit very emotional relationship with food. After a great day, there's nothing that sounds more celebratory than popping open a bottle of champagne and ordering in my favorite pizza. Alternatively, if the day has taken a bad turn, my go-to Chinese take-out order followed by gummies can lift my spirits instantly. It's this attitude, however, that makes it difficult to not feel punished if G and I opt for a healthier (I'm looking at you, grilled fish with broccoli) meal.
Recently, G decided he was going to do an intensive, eight-week eating program in order to get in fantastic physical shape for several fall cycling events. He warned me that things would be different for a bit—but I just thought that meant he'd be hitting the gym more regularly. And while he certainly has been doing his fair share of cardio and weight lifting, he's made the biggest changes in the kitchen. All of a sudden, my fun, indulgent-seeking partner in crime traded in breakfast burritos for egg white scrambles. At first, I found myself actually rebelling against his new diet—overcompensating by filling myself with all of the packaged, bad-for-me stuff he was trying to avoid. But that soon felt both unhealthy (I sure showed him!) and terribly unsupportive.
We've settled on a middle ground, of sorts. While I don't need to down mac and cheese as he has his grilled chicken, I'm also using the opportunity to reevaluate my relationship with food. I'm slowwwwly beginning to learn that no matter the kind of day I've had (good or bad), food doesn't always need to be the thing I rely on to dictate or moderate my mood.
3. Not paying attention to what I want. I've always prided myself on being a girl who's down to indulge. I've never had any off-limit foods—I eat bread, love full-fat dairy, and believe whole-heartedly in the power of a cupcake (duh). But that being said, it's almost as though somewhere along the lines, too much of my identity became wrapped up in being "that girl." If we were out to dinner with friends and I was uncomfortably full, I felt lame refraining from dessert. So I'd order something anyway only to feel over-stuffed and underwhelmed by my lack of discipline.
I now try to do a much better job at actually paying attention to how I'm feeling and what I'm craving. The other day we went to take Sloan out for ice cream and the whole ride there I strategized which flavors I was going to get. But once we were in line, I realized I didn't even need one of my own. It was one of probably half a dozen times in my life when I've declined dessert, and though I thought I'd feel deprived, being in control of that choice felt empowering. And for those times when I simply can't imagine not having a pain au chocolat and Flat White, even if it's a random Tuesday, I order it for myself, and then take the time to enjoy it (without any guilt).
Ultimately my goal in adhering to a healthy diet isn't about consuming a certain amount of leafy greens or avoiding entire food groups. I want to make conscious decisions that make me feel my best, give me energy, and not as though I'm being deprived (of fun or food). The balancing act is a tough one—which ebbs and flows often—but if I'm able to acknowledge some of the pitfalls I'm susceptible to, I can at least make a mindful effort to avoid them moving forward.