After years of disordered eating, whether you have dealt with a diagnosed eating disorder or simply yo-yo dieted for years, fluctuating in size, trying every diet plan on the shelves of Barnes and Noble and the Amazon Bestseller list, only to end up exactly where you started (or feeling worse and weighing more), finding true balance in your eating is a beautiful thing. It's not only freeing for you, but as a mother, knowing that you are setting a good example of balance for your family.
Growing up with family members who were constantly dieting no doubt played a role in my desire to constantly get smaller, feeling inadequate unless I was consistently shrinking in size, only to end up dangerously small. This isn't the case for everyone. Many people simply go back to their old, unhealthy habits. Neither is worse than the other- they're both disordered in their own right, and both are dangerous habits to be displaying to young, impressionable children (not to mention putting ourselves at risk for chronic disease).
Our bodies are not designed to be constantly jumping from extreme to extreme. Our bodies CRAVE homeostasis- the tendency toward a relatively stable equilibrium between interdependent elements. In lament's terms? Balance. The problem is, many of us who set out to find balance (typically using a plan written by someone well-meaning) end up in one of those extremes- too small, too big, too much too soon. That's because following a plan created for the everyperson will never lead you to a place of personal balance.
The only way to find balance is by taking your health into your own hands. Balance is about changing your habits for the better and finding the best place for your unique body, your health and your family. This doesn't mean you go about it alone. I have seen nearly a dozen practitioners in my journey to finding my balance (that doesn't mean you need to, too- I've had quite a few steps along my journey), read dozens of books, listened to hundreds of podcasts and tried many, many different things to find the place where I can absolutely say with certainty, I have found my balance.
For the first time in my life, I have freedom in food. Food no longer controls me. I no longer feel the need to diet. I can confidently buy the expensive staple pieces I love, knowing my size will not change drastically like it has in the past. I don't ever weigh myself or feel the need to know the number on the scale. I have energy to run around with my 4-year old and tote my 4-month old around in the front carrier. I eat whatever I want- because I make choices based on both what sounds good and what feels good. I never feel like I can't or shouldn't eat certain foods, because I know certain foods work for me and certain foods don't (and still eat those foods, sometimes). I eat when I'm hungry and stop when I'm full. I never get hangry or feel the need to over-eat. When I do overeat, it's usually simply because I loved what I was eating- and I don't sweat it or restrict later-- I move on. When I accidentally under-eat, I eat more. (Yes, more!). I allow my daughter to make her own choices when it comes to food and she almost always chooses the healthy option, naturally. And so do I.
I don't want to delude you- if you didn't gather from my statements above, I didn't get to this place overnight. I don't want you to expect you will, either. It's going to take a lot of trial and error. What I don't want you to do is pick up the first diet that sounds appealing and try it, figuring you need to start someone to find your perfect fit. I'm also not going to give you the perfect plan for balance. That's dieting, too. Your goal is to ditch the diet, once and for all. What I can do is share with you the things I have learned along my journey to finding my beautiful balance, so you don't have to go through as many missteps, as I did along my way. So you don't feel restricted and held back by a diet mindset while you are attempting to find your balance. It's not always going to be easy. You will get it wrong. You will get frustrated thinking you'll never get there. But I promise, you will. If I can, you can too. Here my best tips for finding your beautiful balance, without restricting.
1. Start simply and ditch the diets.
The first step to finding your balance? Simply committing to ditching diets, once and for all. If it tells you what to eat (or not) and when, it's a diet. If it has a specific time frame attached to it, it's a diet. If it walks like a diet and talks like a diet, yep- it's a diet. (That includes cleanses, resets and detoxes- diet). Remember: restricting will never lead to balance.
2. Focus on real. I am all about eating intuitively. But nourishing ourselves is important, too. I believe EVERYONE can benefit from eating more real food. This doesn't mean restricting foods that might not be whole foods- it means putting the spotlight on real food, and front-loading whole foods in your diet by creating your meal plan based on real, whole foods -- and the processed foods will start to take a backseat.
3. Take note of your symptoms and your unique physiology.
Are you experiencing symptoms like digestive symptoms, hormonal dis-regulation, blood sugar imbalance, unexplained blood test results, fatigue or have a diagnosed syndrome or condition like PCOS, high triglycerides or metabolic syndrome? These can all be strong indicators that what you are doing isn't working for you.
4. Work with a practitioner if needed.
Having symptoms that you can't pinpoint as being digestive, hormonal, blood sugar or haven't looked at your blood tests to see what's up? Time to work with a practitioner to determine what's going on in your body. This is the best first step to finding out what is right for YOUR unique physiology. Your GP is usually a good place to start for general testing, a nutritionist is a great second step to determine how nutrition can make a difference in your symptoms. I'm always here to help or direct you to the right practitioner for you- contact me here.
These are the foundational steps of finding your balance. You will never find that optimal state if you continue to have health conditions plaguing you on a daily basis. We each have a unique physiology and this needs to be taken into consideration, above all. Which brings me to...
5. Take your body size and type into consideration. Those diet plans that give you a specific number of calories (usually around 1200) to shoot for or macronurients to hit? I've got a reality check for you: toddlers need about 1200 calories a day. TODDLERS. I don't know about you, but if I ate as much as my daughter did when she was two, I would be starving (case and point). And macronutrient ratios are unique not just for how many calories you consume, but for your body type. Forget counting and focus on your body. Some of us need more carbs than others, more fat, more protein-- and we don't need an 'expert', a book, or an app to tell us what works for us! I go into how to work on this this in much more detail in REAL, but the best way to determine this is to EAT and notice what foods make you feel good.
6. Eliminate minimally.
Ditch the dogma that everyone needs to be gluten-free, dairy-free, etc. Consider YOUR body and what works for you. This is why working with a practitioner is key if you are experiencing health symptoms. There is no reason to eliminate whole foods groups if it is unnecessary. Determining true food sensitivities is invaluable in finding your balance without restriction. If you do feel like a food is affecting you, eliminate ONE item at a time rather than going on a restrictive cleanse. Notice how you feel. Add it back, or keep it out. Try again in a few months and see if things have changed. Rinse and repeat.
7. Try it, and adjust.
So you're focusing on whole foods, taken stock of your symptoms and worked with a healthcare practitioner if you think you might have [true] food sensitivities or a health condition (especially a digestive, like IBS or hormonal condition, like PCOS). Take their advice and work it into your life the best you can. Notice how you feel. Adjust if you're feeling hungry more often (EAT!), your symptoms don't go away (time to re-evaluate or perhaps add/eliminate something else). Notice how you feel depending on the time of the month (Women work on a 28-day hormonal cycle- how our bodies react to food and lifestyle changes daily! Woman Code is a great book for this). This is the hardest part, the most important part and the most valuable part of the process. Trial and Error. If it ain't broke... but if it is, don't be afraid to adjust. 8. Practice Mindfulness. This is where the rubber meets the road. You've spend however many days, weeks and months figuring out what foods work best for you- now it's time to determine how often you can eat certain foods that might not work all the time (For instance, I don't do great with a ton of dairy. But I find I do ok if I eat it a few times a week. If I have it multiple times a day my digestive issues starts to flare up). A journal can be immensely helpful in this- as long as it doesn't drive you crazy. Remember, the goal is adding- not restricting. It's finding YOUR balance, where food makes you feel good, inside and out. It's time to notice how specific meals make you feel, what energizes you, what drains you, what keeps you full and what makes you hungry soon after- and start to tweak your daily routine accordingly. This happens both at the same time as the adjustment phase and slightly after. And honestly, this is going to continue throughout your life. Our bodies change as we age, and mindfulness is key to continuing to feel good.
9. Don't be afraid to pivot. This goes along with what I just said- don't be afraid to make changes if what you're doing isn't working. I was a vegetarian for nearly five years before I realized how crucial animal proteins were in healing my gut and PCOS symptoms. Now, I am incredibly conscious about the animal proteins we source, but I can't imagine them not being a part of my diet. You might be the opposite. You are as unique as I am. Remember: We do what we can with the information we have, and when we know better, we do better. Never be afraid to pivot slightly from what you're doing to find what works better (or pivot back, if that doesn't work, either). You are not a failure for changing things up. 10. Trust. Last, but certainly not least- trust in your body. Trust in God's beautiful, intelligent design. Trust in how you were made and trust in your body above what anyone else tells you. Science is important and it is foundational to every change we make nutritionally, but nothing beats your body and how YOU feel. No research study will ever prove the perfect balance, for YOU.
The place where choosing what to eat is no longer a chore, where science meets intuition, and trust in your body is imperative- that is your beautiful balance. I know it's a lot, to do the work to find what works best for you. But it's the most important work you'll ever do for your body and your family. I'm right here beside you, mama.