If you have been following my blog and social media you will know I’m getting involved in a few healthy eating and fitness programs over the next few months. In the lead up, I’ve also been reflecting on how to maintain balance during this period. Quite a few years ago, I was not in a space where I could safely have considered experimenting with any kind of program. I was severely underweight, addicted to exercise and scared of eating many foods. Any “excuse” to restrict myself I would have jumped on.
I want to give you some tips for staying vibrant during any kind of program you might be considering – I know they’re popular this time of year. And it’s not an inherently bad thing to want to try one! It’s about checking in with yourself and making sure it’s truly serving you.
Someone who is inspirational and super helpful on this topic is Madelyn Moon, a former fitness model who overcame a sabotaging, restrictive diet and exercise regime, and now works as a coach. I first came across Madelyn after she appeared in Healing Hypothalamic Amenorrhea, an e-book by another awesome girl, The Holistic Nutritionist. Cue me binge-listening to all of Maddy’s amazing podcasts.
Maddy was kind enough to let me interview her recently and I want to share some advice she gave on embarking on a health or fitness challenge.
Stay in touch with your intuition. Most programs include some degree of mapped-out eating and/or exercise regime. While these are beneficial for planning groceries and when to bring your gym bag, Maddy advises not to pursue something that eliminates your intuition entirely. “Your intuition is what saves you, it’s what guides you in your entire life.” You might be suffering exhaustion from overtime at work, or perhaps you ate the suggested breakfast and are still ravenously hungry. You know what? It’s okay to get a good night’s sleep before exercising, or to have a bit more to eat.
During any program, listen to your mind and body. Keep a diary not only to document meals or workouts, but to track how you’re feeling. Says Maddy: “Some days you’re not going to feel like working out and that’s fine, it doesn’t mean you’re a bad person…We don’t exercise to work out more! And the reason we eat healthy in the first place is so that we can have energy to do other things that have nothing to do with the kitchen or the gym.”
Prioritise individual benefits, not comparison and competition. In signing up to any kind of program, there’s often lots of related social media. Limit the time you spend wading through these channels and don’t adopt a ‘me vs. them’ mentality. “Any kind of challenge is only beneficial when it gives you noticeable side effects like more energy, more happiness, more clarity, more focus in your work. How does that challenge pour over into other areas of your life and help you in other places?”
I think this is a great tip. In whatever program you want to do, think about what you’d personally like to gain. Would you like to feel more alert in the office in the afternoon, so you’re doing a walk at lunch time to pep yourself up? It’s more rewarding to remain inwardly focused than constantly compare yourself.
Maddy and I discussed her turning point; when she turned her back on fitness competitions, excessive dieting and shame. It particularly resonated with me when she said: “I realised that I would never be enough if I kept letting other people tell me when I was.” Keep in mind; you’re fabulous already, and whatever program you’re doing, do it for reasons that make you feel good inside.
Be aware of the warning signs that what you’re doing might not be serving you. Not all programs suit all people. Some people start a program, have a slice of birthday cake and they just think, ‘whoopsie – but heck I’ve been awesome this week!’ and for dinner they make salmon with sweet potato and just continue on. Is this “failure” if that person also managed to have a huge green salad every day and did four gym classes that week? Of course not. It’s when you can’t just move on past a slice of cake or a missed workout that is a worry. Over-anxiety about when, where, what and how you’re going to eat and/or exercise is not the goal of any program; but unfortunately some of us tend toward this mindset.
“If you start focusing only on what you should put out of your life, instead of what you should put in, [it’s] probably not a good thing for you, because you’re obsessing about taking out things.” Maddy is spot on. Crowd in new cool stuff you can do, not the other way around. Punishment, shame and deprivation will drive you to a position where you hate, and intuitively want to resist, the changes you’re trying to make; and if the changes drive those feelings in you then perhaps they’re not the right ones for you. If you experience feelings of unhappiness, isolation and low self-worth, then re-think your behaviours, and talk to a close friend or a professional if you prefer.
Remind yourself that food and exercise do not make you “good” or “bad” , better or worse, as a human being. I asked Maddy what she’d like to tell people who are considering taking up a new fitness/eating program:
“I would remind people to take time every morning to remind themselves not to identify with their bodies. No matter how much weight they lose, how much food they eat in a particular day, how many calories they eat, that doesn’t mean that they’re a good or bad person because food isn’t related to morality. If you want to lose some weight so that you can make more memories with your family, do more things, maybe have more success in your business…and if you get endorphins going, eat better so you feel more nourished, and have better sleep, all those things tie in really nicely. So do those things, but don’t become all high-and-mighty because you’re ‘eating cleaner’ or this and that, because that’s not true.”
I can’t say it any better than that. You can love experimenting with healthy food and moving your body, being fit. But the best results from any program are a smile on your dial and mental and physical freedom and energy to enjoy other aspects of your life.
Are you embarking on a health, eating and/or fitness program this year? What are you hoping to achieve?
Work with Maddy Moon: Maddy has information about her coaching services, Body Freedom Course and books online here.