Dissatisfied Health

Guess what, folks. I’m about to blow your mind with what you already may know or at the very least suspect somewhere down deep, but what I think is important to talk about. Especiallllyyy in the blog world, especiallllyyy in college, especiallllyyy in today’s culture.

We, as people, are masters of self deception. MASTERS, I say. At least up to a point. (At which point you say, get to the point Michaela. Patience, dear grasshopper.)

I want to talk to you about dieting. About exercise. About “lifestyle changes,” because we all know that dieting and exercise are out of vogue. Diets don’t work, the experts say, and rather than force ourselves to exercise we are encouraged to find fun physical activity and delicious healthy food so we don’t have to diet. And around this new trend, dozens and hundreds of blogs (and a whole web and non-web based health culture) have popped up, including my own. It’s called Pilgrimage of Health, for goodness sake. Health. With Healthy recipes and Healthy lifestyle tips and Healthy thought processes and Healthy healthy healthy. 

And I’m not out to bash any of that. We do need lifestyle changes. We do need to forego dieting, and find activities that we enjoy doing that make us feel good, because we’re facing a crisis situation. In my country of the United States and increasingly around the world, we’re facing an epidemic of unhealth in mind, body, and soul. We’re spending more and more time and money and energy on health, and yet collectively we’re still pretty sick. In response, we’re inundated with lifestyles and ideas and tips intended to transform us into healthy, happy, carefree health goddesses (and gods).

But I think, underneath a lot of the healthy language and healthy blog culture, we sometimes use health as a cover-up. As an excuse, to try and change ourselves into what we think we should be rather than accepting ourselves for who we are. Now, rather than esteeming thinness for thinness sake and dieting and weight loss, we’re instead consumed by this image of health that can lead us into unhealthy behaviors.

You following me here?

An obsession with health can be unhealthy. Part of the problem lies within the motivation behind strict workout plans and eating regimes, but part of the problem can come after. After we’re following the cleanest diet, practicing yoga six times a week, training for a marathon. We become dependent on these as something to define us. We become human doers instead of human beings, fixated on the high of pushing ourselves further and defined by what we don’t do, that is, consume ‘bad’ foods (which in our society can mean a million different foods). And if we’re embracing a “healthier lifestyle” out of a deep dissatisfaction with who we are, I think that’s problematic.

Because our bodies know, right? Our self knows. It knows when we act out of insecurity instead of satisfaction. We know, deep down, what actions come from abundance and deprivation. And that doesn’t come without consequences. Lying to ourselves and saying that we’re “just following this eating plan because I feel tired (or want to be healthier or save the planet or I think I’m allergic to . . .)” when we really are trying to follow a diet without calling it so because we are deeply dissatisfied with ourselves and desperately want change, our bodies and souls know. Don’t try to trick them.

I know this to be true, because I do it. Have done it. Mastered it, for the past five years. I’ve been vegetarian, vegan, dairy-free, nut-free. I’ve followed strict running plans and done juice cleansing. I’ve committed to abstaining from this or that because of that and this. And every time I eat a certain way or exercise out of a dissatisfaction, it backfires. Badly.

This is not to say that running or vegetarianism or veganism (or yoga or paleo or grain free or . . . you get the idea) are inherently bad within themselves. Nope, because those things can come from a place of true health. They can come from a place of wholeness, a clarity in communication with our deeper selves that says that running makes our bodies feel good or a certain type of food makes our bodies feel bad.

Check yourself before you wreck yourself. If you’re eagerly about to jump into another trend in the name of health, step back.  Why are you about to embark upon this plan? Is it from abundance, or deprivation? Joy, or insecurity?

 

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Summer Strength Strategy

Since school ended, I have not been intentional about exercise. Being on the farm, I’m  usually pretty apathetic about working out when I get back, and end up simply snacking, reading, resting, and lazing around. All of which are great things, since this is summer and I am working, and rest is very needed.

I was recently inspired by two of my favorite bloggers, both of which are named Angela! (Funny coincidence, they’re both Canadian too 😉 ) Angela over at Eat, Spin, Run, Repeat sets monthly goals for herself, and checks in near the end of the month to see how she’s done. She also has workout plans that she follows, something that I need to be much more intentional about. I typically just go to our Physical Activities Center and do whatever I feel like. Some days, this results in a great workout where nearly every muscle’s been used. Other days, I get there and am unsure of what to do, or what I need to rest from a previous day’s workout.

Angela from Oh She Glows  recently posted about her yoga routine. She’s a runner, but because of an injury has been focusing more on yoga to give her body time to heal. She’s been doing a variety of yoga classes (hot yoga, yoga with weights, spin yoga) about four times a week!

In high school, I practiced yoga regularly, about 1-2x a week. I loved how flexible I was, and how strong I felt in my own body. I haven’t done yoga with any routine for about a year, but I’d like to start again.

For the summer, I’m going to outline a plan to continue improving my physical fitness: my endurance, strength, and flexibility. Last semester, I was running about 25 miles a week and I felt fantastic–strong, full of energy, and very de-stressed. When it got cold out, I cut back on running and increased my time in the weight room. I haven’t really returned to running with any regularity, and my weight routine lacks substance and measurable progress.

To improve/maintain my fitness, I’ve made a loose plan with enough structure to keep me accountable but enough flexibility  for allowances.

Weekly Fitness Plan: 
Running/Cycling 15 miles
Practicing Yoga 3x a week, for at least 20 minutes each time
Lift weights 2x a week, with a record of the exercises I do to track my progress

I have two goals to be completed before school starts up again:
1) Train for and Run a Race (5K or half marathon)
2)Do a pull-up (without assistance!)

I think my fitness plan will definitely help me in completing these two goals!

Do you plan out your workouts? 

Are you planning any changes for the summer? 

Facebook and . . . Bacon?

Tomorrow, as you all may be aware, is Monday. Which means another project on my journey to health and a suspension of my current undertaking: a week without Facebook, Hulu, or checking my WordPress stats.

And it’s ridiculous how relieved I am. I’ve held strong, no slips in that vein–but I still simply want to get on Facebook. A bit revolting how much it’s pervaded our lives, eh? Because Facebook is not equivalent to real life, interactions on the site are easier and therefore perhaps a bit cheapened, and we’re all very cognizant that a friend on Facebook may not be a friend in actuality.

But part of my desire to get on is purely practical. There are several people for which I lack phone numbers or email addresses that I’ve wanted to slip a note, and at times when someone wants to see a picture of a member of my family or someone else it seems so useful. Maybe that’s how it gets us–by convincing us it’s all good.

A few times this week, friends have approached me with quizzical looks and a note of concern. There’s something I want to ask you . .  . about bacon? Apparently, one of my joking male friends thought it would be simply hilarious to use my computer  (with its easy access to my Facebook) and post some tidbit about bacon on my page. Since I’ve been abstaining from the site, there was no universal denial nor way to clear my vegetarian name. The audacity!

(source)

The irony is, if I was ever to be tempted by meat it wouldn’t be bacon. As a child, I loved pigs. Adored them, really, and had an embarrassingly large collection of porcine treasures ranging from small figurines, fuzzy slippers, and piggy banks nearly as large as I was. For those who knew me, a pig token became an easy gift, thus growing my already large collection. From the age of about four until a year before I became a vegetarian, a morsel of bacon, ham, or pork chops never crossed my lips.

Sausage, however, was a different story. Somehow I mentally excluded it from the pork family after an event that transpired about a year after I’d sworn off any meat from my beloved animal. The family was at breakfast at Denny’s, and as my father and mother recount the tale, I ordered a pancake breakfast that included sausage links. My parents looked at each other dubiously, asking with their eyes does she know? Does she know that it comes with sausage, and what that means? The meal came. I stared at my plate in silence, and after a moment my papa leaned over and inquired gently, do you know what’s in them, Michaela? My chubby little face nodded and my eyes betrayed my conflict . . .  I choked out, “I’m sorry little piggies!” right before I hurriedly shoved the links into my mouth.

The week away has been a good and refreshing break from those places of the internet that steal my time and tempt me to acknowledge them as more than they are. Look forward to tomorrow’s Pit Stop Monday, my friends!

Now tell me–any similar childhood stories 🙂 ? 

Have any of you sworn off Facebook for good? 

A Resolution to Vegan Doubts

Fellow travelers,

I’m sorry for the lack of posting; I was traveling due to the passing of my grandfather.

Which brings up a slightly beaten, re-occuring topic: my struggles following a vegan eating regime.  While up north, I had plenty of time to contemplate my food choices. My dear, sweet grandmother has always loved on our family with food. The moment you finish eating one meal, she brings out another. The first morning I went to the old farmhouse, she was slicing every roll on the premises, buttering them, and placing them back in their bags. Her hands needed something to occupy her mind. The day before I’d turned in a paper entitled “Ethical Eating: Should Christians Consume Meat?”* based upon Romans 14 that made the claim Christians should abstain from [factory farmed] meat out of love. But, watching my precious Grandma, I realized that it can also be loving to eat something I wouldn’t otherwise choose, regardless of my reasons.

The extended family did not know I was a vegan until my sweet papa, trying to provide for my needs, told an uncle who was purchasing dinner to make sure there was something “Michaela could eat, because she’s vegan.” At the hotel, and at the house with my family, there wasn’t a lot I could eat, but it was ok. I’ve realized, though, that for me, being strictly vegan might not be healthy.

Physically, a vegan diet works for me. I always feel nourished, bright, clear, and energetic. But as I’ve mentioned before, health isn’t a simple equation of diet and exercise–it is comprised of many aspects, be they social, spiritual, mental, and emotional as well as the physical. The social exclusion I experienced as a vegan was not healthy for me, and has led to feelings of isolation, deprivation, and discomfort when someone else was providing my food for me. I never wanted to be a burden to people, nor did I want others to feel regretful or uncomfortable because there was no vegan food present.

Here’s my plan, folks. For the most part, the food I consume. Lots of wonderful, healthy food: veggies, fruits, grains, nuts . . .everything I eat now, with very few animal products. Even though I’m going to allow flexibility in regards to some dairy or eggs, I probably still won’t eat meat.** When I can provide the food for myself, I’m going to follow what is known as a ‘vegan’ diet without worrying about labels or restricting myself to that.

*If you’d like a copy of the paper, let me know in the comments.

**Until I intern at a farm this summer, when I’m open to the possibility.

Eating Well and Exercising . . .On Vacation

Fellow pilgrims, I journeyed this past extended weekend to a friend’s home in North Carolina for Easter Break.

And unfortunately for me, this post . . . isn’t about how I ate well and exercised on vacation. Because I didn’t. I grazed mindlessly throughout the day, ate when I wasn’t hungry, and didn’t do anything physically active. Not once! And it’s ok to have weekends like that. It’s ok to take a break, and eat foods you don’t usually eat, and lay around like a slob relax on breaks. It is especially ok to take a break from exercising, as I’ve mentioned before. But what isn’t ok is to feel bad about it, or feel unsettled because you’re not controlling your meal times or meal components.

What I didn’t do but could have done better: thought about the weekend ahead with a plan in mind. In my excitement to spend the time on break with friends, I didn’t think there’d be any challenges. If you’re breaking routine or going somewhere new, I encourage you to pause beforehand and come up with a game plan. Write it down, if need be! Will exercise make you feel better and give you a break from the family? Bring clothes, and make that a priority (preferably in the morning). Are you wanting to take a break from physical activity, but wanting to spend time catching up on a book? Do you want time away from the internet, or from television? Think of pitfalls that could come up and waylay these goals, and devise a few creative solutions to fall back on if you encounter an obstacle en route.

On a check in for this week’s Pit Stop Monday:

Every time I get on my computer, I want to get on Facebook. It’s habit–my fingers automatically go to open another tab while something is loading to check it. Same thing for my WordPress stats–it’s a default action to get on my account, and if there are no comments or replies to click over to see how many of you viewed my blog today. That fixation is definitely not constructive, so I’m glad this is my special focus this week.

How do you stay happy, healthy, and relaxed when away from your routine?

Do you ever take a break from the Internet, or specific sites? 

Doubting What I’ve Dubbed ‘Veganism’

This is another hard one. Being honest on here is crucial, but boy is it HARD sometimes. I’m taking encouragement from one of my favorite bloggers, Glennon, on this one. She is honest and open, and it’s wonderful and vulnerable and scary all at once.  I think I’ve avoided delving in enough. Shall we?

Lately, following a vegan diet has been very, very difficult for me. Not necessarily the food, but social occasions revolving around food. Especially when I don’t have control over my food, such as when I’m traveling or at other’s homes. I don’t want to be a burden to anyone, nor do I want to be defined by what I eat.

It’s interesting. Not eating animal products makes sense to me, both for the feel-good body benefits, the environmental benefits, and because I have a skin condition that seems to be exacerbated when I consume dairy. I was vegetarian for a long time before I went vegan, and choosing to eat vegan stemmed from not having as much control over the origin of my food while at college. It’s just a part of what I do, not who I am. Yet, people identify me as a vegan, as if my whole self was tied into the eating choices I make. I’ve been introduced as, “This is Michaela. She’s a vegan.” But, I am so much more than that–aren’t I?

I chose to identify myself as vegan because I figured that was easier for people to understand. Rather than be more of a conscientious omnivore/vegetarian that said “I eat some animal products when I know where they are from, but mostly I’m vegan, but even though I’m flexible I’m choosing not to eat what you’re preparing for me. . . ” seems so pretentious, unsociable, ungrateful. While I obviously would never say that to anyone, I was afraid that my choices would say that to some people. I do eat eggs when I’m at home, because we get them from a neighbor. I’ve also had a bite of fish that my uncle caught. That is the type of flexibility I desire.

Social situations are very difficult. Early on, I didn’t struggle as much with that, because I was typically eating meals in our dining hall where I had plenty of options and could share the moment with everyone. But in certain situations that food is provided, not being able to share those moments has made me feel sad, emotional, tearful, and un-included. And not because of those hosting the events–it is a self imposed exclusion, based upon what I feel is right for my body and the environment.

I suppose it is ok for that definition to change. I will be working on a farm this May with practices I can laud, and I am open to trying some of their meat. No definitive statements at this time . . . the thought of eating meat is still very weird, even though I choose to eat vegetarian for environmental reasons and this meat wouldn’t have those complications. At this point, I think I will choose vegan foods when I have control over what I am eating and when I am organizing social organizations, but be open to being flexible meals including dairy and eggs when someone else is feeding me.

Maybe this makes me a sellout to the vegan community, or means that I’m not being a good “vegan role model”  to the meat eating community. And I think both of those things will somehow have to be ok. I think I’ll wait, though. I realize some people will be confused about the shift back, and I’m uneasy thinking that it could invalidate my eating choices now. Though basing my choices on the reactions of those around me seems superficial, it might be easier for me to stick out this school year. I don’t know.

Have you ever struggled with your food choices? 

How do you deal with social situations when you are eating differently than other people? 

No Shame: Let’s Talk About Counseling

I go to such a beautiful school!

A wonderful Wednesday to you all!

Guess what I did yesterday? Shouldn’t be too challenging of an assumption, considering my title. After having to change my appointment because of school related busyness, I finally went to the nutritional counselor at our school.

It was scary. The half hour before I went, I was very anxious–heart pounding, slightly nauseated, wanting to run away anxious. But I went, was greeted kindly, and talked to her for over an hour. She affirmed me in many ways, listened, and offered hope. She encouraged me greatly, and told me I was brave, and in the process of healing. I didn’t feel very brave, but I did feel hopeful, and slightly regretful that I hadn’t gone earlier.

Sometimes, we can’t get through things on our own. Seeking help doesn’t mean that we are weak–it means that we are strong, and brave, and willing to do hard things to help ourselves. Seeing a counselor should not be a source of embarrassment, but I’ll admit that I was a little worried. What if someone sees me go in? What if they assume I’m crazy? I responded, Really, self, it sounds like a very sane thing indeed to do anything and everything to make us all better. And if someone does see you, then maybe that will be an encouragement to them to get help if they need it. 

So, let this be an encouragement if you need to get help. I know it took the encouragement of some of my friends to go see our nutritional counselor. Maybe your struggle is very different than mine, or maybe it isn’t. We all have our different obstacles and trials. Maybe your help won’t be in the form of a counselor–maybe it will be finally opening up to friends and loved ones. That’s what I had to do first, a little over a year ago. And if you do go see a counselor and it doesn’t feel right, don’t assume that it’s counseling that’s wrong. Maybe you and your counselor aren’t a good fit–they’ll understand. In high school, I saw a counselor twice before I stopped going. It wasn’t that I disliked her, something about our sessions just felt off. Unfortunately, it’s taken me this long to go again.

On a check in for my focus on flexibility this week…let’s just say I haven’t been as intentional as I should be. Good thing it’s early in the week!

The Exercise Compulsion

Quick check in, day 2, week 2 of Pit Stop Mondays.

I’ve been stretching, but half hearted motions. What I really want to talk about today is a revelation from this weekend. Here’s something I wrote on Sunday that I wanted to share:

Today, I was planning on going on a run and going to the gym despite my protesting body (my knees hurt going up stairs . . . I’m guessing because I was very very active the day before) After reading this post, I decided to plan on a walk, and to run if I felt like it, followed up by some elliptical action at our gym. I headed towards my usual route, and walked at a very leisurely pace to our amphitheater.

The weather was beautiful: warm, breezy, and sunny yet slightly overcast, and the sloping grass in the amphitheater was absolutely alluring. I contemplated a nap,  but instead went to the far corner and, hidden by trees, stripped down to my sports bra and did a few sun salutations on soft, springy growth.

Here, I again considered a run. It’s hard for me to break out of the idea that I should be active when I have time, and that walking “isn’t exercise” because it isn’t hard or rigorous. But I simply kept walking—and I am so glad I did. Walking outside on the trails in the woods, I was able to talk out loud (which is important for me) to God, and continually be amazed at what I saw.

My usual running route looks so different when I actually stop and look at it. I had no idea how diverse and beautiful the plants were—if someone had seen me, they probably would have been confused at my antics. I stopped to rub soft tree leaves on my cheek, to marvel at shapes, to gape at trees I’d never noticed before. I saw a toad, several caterpillars, and even helped a lost baby turtle back to the lake. I’d never have seen it if I had been jogging.

Allow yourself breaks. Marvel at nature, breathe in the scent of spring.

I’m going to take my camera out on that route, and show you all what I saw! I’ll add them in soon.

 

Loose and Limber: Focus on Flexibility!

For my second week of Pit Stop Mondays, I’m focusing on flexibility.

 Source

Growing up, my dad would always joke that he was the most flexible member of the family…with four daughters, this was problematic. None of us were naturally limber–I distinctly remember physical fitness assessments when I was in elementary school that involved me straining (unsuccessfully) to touch my toes.

In high school, I started stretching more routinely and got interested in yoga. I’d attend classes 1-3x a week, and my flexibility drastically increased. I went from barely being able to touch my toes to being able to fold myself in half. Forget touching my toes–my head could touch my knees! I still never attained the splits (my hips struggle to open that way), but I was loose and fit.

Now, I fall somewhere in between the rigid ten year old and the elastic sixteen year old. I still enjoy stretching, but I tend to only do it after exercising. One of my goals for this semester is to be able to achieve a front split , and I’m so close! (Depending on how warm my muscles are…)

Rather than only stretch when I work out, I’m going to stretch, at a minimum, twice a day: in the mornings and evenings.

Why stretch? According to the Mayo Clinic, stretching improves athletic performance and reduces the risk of injury. It increases blood flow to your muscles, and for me, it makes me feel great.

What is your favorite stretch? 

Dare to (Not Compare) Check in Day 6

Good Morning! Happy Sunday!

I am so grateful that this is how I started off Pit Stop Mondays–I think it has definitely set the tone for the rest of the challenges. Now, one week after intentionally not comparing myself to others, I can see that it has definitely made an impact. Since I’m not constantly looking to others to see how I measure up, I’m better able to assess my own abilities and appreciate myself.

Because of this week, I’ve noticed a few patterns that were probably very apparent but that I hadn’t connected before. First, comparison–> a more negative body image, whereas refusing to compare–>more appreciation of my body. When I appreciate my body, I treat it better and listen to its needs–whether it needs food, rest, exercise, etc. I’ve also noticed this week that there has been a drastic decrease in my temptation to binge. Because I’ve been encouraging rather than disparaging myself, I’ve been happier and have had a more realistic (and optimistic) view of myself, and I think that is what has lessened the impact of what has historically been triggering.

One of my close friends with who I have dialogued constructively about these issues shared a parenting practice a mother she knows uses. When her daughter was a baby and toddler, every time she bathed her she would say “beautiful, beautiful, beautiful” as she moved the washcloth over her body. Now that the little girl is starting to bathe herself, she too echoes that she is “beautiful, beautiful, beautiful” as she washes herself. What would happen if we adopted this practice–affirming every part of ourselves as beautiful, beautiful, beautiful?

Another realization: in my quest to avoid comparison, I’ve been focusing primarily on bodies. After going on a run with a guy friend of mine and getting discouraged that he was seemingly fitter than me (after months of only sporadic exercise and running because of an  injury, whereas I’ve been exercising consistently), I realized that I also can’t compare myself to others in terms of performance. I can do my best and no one else’s.

This is a pit stop Monday week practice that I’m going to continue. Many of the others will last only a week, but I’m keeping this around for the long haul.

Have a great week! See you tomorrow for Pit Stop Monday, Week 2!

Have you noticed a subsequent increase in happiness because of a decrease in comparisons? 
What is one challenge you could practice for a week to increase your overall health?