It is hard to recognize a toxic relationship when you are in one. This holds true for romantic relationships and for fitness. Not happy with the results you from your diet and exercise program? There are many reasons why this may be, but one very important reason may be that you do not have a healthy relationship with diet and exercise.
I feel very lucky that I grew up in a home where we were taught to eat whole and nutritious foods, and that I truly love to exercise. I started in sports before I even went to school. Probably the biggest lesson that competitive sports taught me was to focus on function above all else. My goal would always be to run faster, or jump higher, or perfect my skills, never to look a certain way. Aesthetics was not even on my radar.
One of the most common issues that I see today is that people often view exercise as a punishment for eating something "bad" or a means to try and shrink their bodies into their ideal beauty standards. I see food viewed as black or white (healthy or junk) with diets focusing on restriction and deprivation.
It is no wonder people have a hard time sticking to a diet or exercise program when we use this mindset! If we approach something from a place of punishment, deprivation, and inadequacy it is not inherently rewarding....it feels bad! When learning animal behaviour in veterinary school it was drilled in our heads that positive reinforcement would always be more effective than negative reinforcement. I think this holds true for animals, children, and even us adults. We can also only deprive, restrict, or punish ourselves for so long before we will try to avoid the activity that makes us feel so bad.
If we flip that script and approach fitness and diet from a positive mindset, everything you currently know about dieting and exercise could change! If your diet makes you feel satisfied, fueled, and energetic you are more likely to be able to continue that long term. And if your exercise routine makes you feel strong, energetic, and proud of yourself, you will also want to continue that long term! When something makes us feel good, we will keep repeating that behaviour!
What does a toxic relationship look like?
Listen to the way you talk to yourself! It is normal to have negative self talk, we all do it! We all struggle with body image and self esteem. The key is to identify it when it is happening, and to make the choice to call our own selves out! If you wouldn't let someone else talk to you that way, don't let yourself do it either.
Here are some examples of what toxic beliefs when it comes to diet and exercise:
Belief that you have to exercise every day to see results
Belief that you have to earn your food through exercise
Belief that you have to burn off an overindulgence with more exercise
Belief that you have to eat an extremely restricted diet to lose weight
Belief that you need to "shrink" your body in order to make it beautiful
Belief that if you are skinny you will be happy
Belief that if you stray at all from your plan that you have failed and will never reach your goals
Questions you need to ask yourself!
How does this make me feel?
If you feel strong and accomplished after your workout, then you are on the right track!
If you feel like your workouts are never good enough, you need to check yo-self!
If you feel proud of your body for what it can do, then you are on the right track!
If you only measure progress based on how your body looks, you need to check yo-self!
If you feel nourished and satisfied after a meal, then you are on the right track!
If you feel guilty for eating "something your shouldn't have" or if you feel deprived and still hungry 20 minutes after eating, you need to check yo-self!
Things to try to switch to a positive mindset
Focus on functional goals not weight loss (for example set a goal to be able to do 10 pushups) and be proud of yourself when you reach that goal!
Focus on nutritionally dense, unprocessed foods, portion control and learning to read your body's hunger and fullness cues (educate yourself on what your food contains in terms of calories but also nutrients)
Focus on a sustainable, realistic commitments and goals (look at your life schedule and only commit to what you know you will be able to keep up long term)
Never compare your progress to someone else's (just because someone has abs and a low body fat percentage does't mean they are happy and healthy)
What does a healthy relationship look like?
Food is fuel. Period. It is not good or evil. There are choices that help to nourish us and there are choices that don't. Exercise is movement. It is the celebration of what our bodies were designed to do! It is a blessing and when we become stronger, more fit, and more mobile our day to day life becomes easier!
Personally I have never dieted. I love to eat and I do not consider anything off limits. However, I take the time to listen to how a certain food makes my body feel. If I feel sluggish, bloated and gross after eating something (a greasy meal for example) I will think twice before I eat it again. Healthy food tends to make me feel good so I am more likely to choose them. I also believe in moderation. I allow myself at least 1 dessert a day. I tend to keep that portion fairly small but allowing myself this on a regular basis keeps cravings at bay. If I have a stretch of eating less healthy food I simply make an effort to pay closer attention, and move forward guilt free.
With exercise I schedule in at least 1 rest day a week. I let my life's schedule determine the length of my workouts. If I am rushed, I may only do 30 mins and I am very happy with that! My goal is simply to get a workout in each day that I choose, so even if it is small. Afterwards I feel accomplished and proud of myself for making it work!
In conclusion: Make small changes slowly
The biggest mistake people make when setting health and fitness goals is trying to change too many things at once, and going too extreme. Small changes over time are the key. Set small attainable goals and you will start to feel better about yourself because you are actually able to hit them (remember positive reinforcement). And after those become a habit, add 1 or 2 new goals on at a time.
Challenge yourself to really reflect and evaluate your current relationship and attitude to fitness to see if you have areas you need to improve.
I promise you, if you stay consistent, set long term sustainable goals that you can stick to, you will start to the chances you so desperately wish for.
How have you improved your relationship with food and fitness? What things really helped you to do this?