Back in March, when I committed myself to a clean eating and regular exercise lifestyle, I knew it was going to be just that: a lifestyle. This was not going to be something I did for a few weeks or a few months and then gave up to return to my old ways of living. This was not something I was going to do to prepare myself to get into a wedding dress and then toss away when the day was over. This was not going to be a diet. There were going to be days when I ate cake or drank wine; this was all part of the plan. This was about changing my habits. This was about reclaiming my health. This was about eating healthy foods and feeling better for doing it.
I've come too far in my intuitive eating journey to participate in, support, or advocate the idea of a diet. Diets tend to be restrictive. They often cut out an entire food group or type of food (think carbs, fats, sugars). Diets make people feel crazy. A person on her diet may tell herself she's not allowed to have chocolate cake and consequently spend all the waking hours of her day thinking of nothing but chocolate cake. Deprivation does not work. Self-hatred does not work. Eating "diet foods" -- foods low in calories but equally low in nutrients and often pumped with artificial chemicals -- does not work. Telling yourself you just need to have more willpower does not work. Telling yourself it's okay to eat an entire pizza tonight because you're starting your diet tomorrow does not work. Diets do physical and mental damage to the people who participate in them. Diets do not work and there's no part of me that wants to be associated with them.
And yet it comes up over and over again: "How's that diet going?" "What was your wedding diet?" "When do you get to eat yummy food again?" "You must eat a lot of salad." "Does your diet let you have beer?" "What's your diet goal?" "How much weight are you losing for the wedding?" "I bet you really want a piece of pie right now."
Our society is obsessed with diets, but I refuse at this point in my life to give into it. Making healthy food choices is about empowerment, not restriction. I make the choices I do because a.) I know I'll feel better, b.) I enjoy the taste of real, fresh food, and c.) nothing is off limits -- of course I'm occasionally going to have a dessert or glass of wine, and of course that's okay. I'm seeking balance. I'm seeking a body that's healthy and a mind that's clear. I'm not going to order a wimpy salad unless it's literally the only thing on the menu that works for me. Most of the time, I'll opt for something hearty. Something that fills me up. I believe in eating. I believe in fueling my body. I believe in nourishing myself. I believe in burning off calories through exercise and then eating again. I spent too many years caught up in a deprivation/ overindulgence cycle to ever want to go back that way. Balance is possible, but you'll never find it in a diet.
Then there's this term "sweating for the wedding" and other similar phrases. Yes, I wanted to look and feel my best on my wedding day and that was certainly a big motivator for me. It doesn't stop there, though. As a woman, I think I'm worth so much more than wanting to look good on a single day of my life. If that was my only motivation, I would have quit months before the wedding took place. I want to be healthy. I want to be happy. I want to push and challenge my body without punishing or restricting it. I didn't want to have a certain body on my wedding day. I wanted to have a certain air of confidence -- the kind of confidence that's only found through self-love, and never through putting yourself or your body through the ringer.
Don't ask me how my diet is going. Don't ask me -- although of course nobody asks this anymore -- if I'm sweating for the wedding. Don't ask me what I "can" and "can't" eat. Don't ask me what you "have" to do lose weight or get healthier. And while we're at it, don't ever use the phrase "anti-aging" around me. We're all aging -- every one of us -- and the pressure to stop the process and make ourselves look like plastic instead of people is too much for any of us, women especially. Let us get our wrinkles. Let us show you that we've lived real lives and had real experiences. Stop telling us we need to cover up the things that make us human.
People often complicate things. We like to think that eating healthy foods is not easy and that it only works if we use a certain algorithm of these foods versus those foods combined with those foods consumed only at these times. It's simply not that complicated, though as someone with years of food-related struggles under my belt I certainly understand the impulse to think it is. It can be simple, though. Eating regular meals satisfies me. (Many people go hours upon hours without eating and then complain about how hungry they are.) Eating food as close to its natural source as possible satisfies me. (I will never be satisfied at one slice of pizza or one slice of pie but I will always be satisfied at one apple or banana. Eating something indulgent every now and then satisfies me. No, this is not "cheating." (There's another word I hate.) This is living.
You are not "good" when you eat certain foods and "bad" when you eat others. That chocolate cake is not "naughty." Having a few cocktails should not make you feel "guilty." These are all words and terms we hear all the time but there's really no need for them to be part of the language we use when discussing our bodies and our choices and our fuel. Food is food. An ice cream cone on a hot summer day is heaven. A big salad loaded with veggies is divine. A carb-heavy snack that fuels you for a race is perfect. A berry cobbler while celebrating an accomplishment is great. What's not great is telling yourself you can't eat and then binging when your body gets tired of starving. What's not great is telling yourself you can't enjoy those huevos rancheros and still be "good." What's not great is calculating the number of miles you'll have to run if you "let" yourself eat that blueberry muffin.
Food is not complicated and it also is complicated. It's something that can take a long time to get the hang of (in my case, it took years). But I'll say what I always say and I'll keep saying it a million times: It starts with loving yourself. Food is not a punishment. Food is not a reward. Food is fuel. Food that's healthy can still taste very good. Food that's unhealthy still has its place in any lifestyle. Food is food and nothing more and nothing less, so let's change the way we talk about and the way we look at it. No more diets, cheating, good, bad, naughty. No more reducing women who are about to get married to a single day of their lives and no more reducing women who are about to or have recently given birth to an expectation for weight loss within a certain timeline. Let's eat real food, let's live our lives, and let's be super kind to each other for the sole reason that it feels good to eat real food, live our lives, and be super kind to each other.
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