For a long time I felt thankful I had a neutral attitude towards all foods. I was pleased that I could eat whatever I felt like without the added ‘weight’ of feeling guilty or stressed about it.
My actual weight only ever really fluctuated both up and down whenever I was under or overeating due to work or study-related stress. Which for a long time I never felt too fussed about it as it would bounce back naturally to my preferred set level during the holidays anyway. It wasn’t until my last year of study, where I felt the effects of my second-year eating habits start to really negatively effect me. And waiting till the holidays or a “better time” to re-prioritize my health and wellbeing was no longer an option.
Again, as it hadn’t negatively effected me so much immediately, I’d developed poor eating habits or rather, hadn’t developed good ones and later when I had more on my plate between two jobs and study I was soon mentally and physically suffering. And while I know everything has it’s time, I was experiencing an internal struggle not being able to dedicate myself to things that were important to me both fully and enthusiastically. I was forced to take a really hard look at how I was treating myself.
My energy for training was suffering and my passion for study was steadily dipping. My old perfectionist fears that had held me back in the past reared their ugly head again and I started getting “analysis paralysis” and procrastinating due to the fear that I wasn’t going to be good enough. I’d done really, really well the first two years and I couldn’t understand why I had all of a sudden done a complete 180 and I was now stumbling to get over the very last hurdle. In taking study and work (that at that point was very closely linked with one of my papers) so seriously, I’d get tunnel vision. I would work and study through meal times or resort to the convenient punnet of hot chips from the school cafe, or gummi bears, or another coffee to get me through exam study or an assignment. But, my grades were dropping, my attitude was dismal and I knew I was no longer making the most of my learning opportunity.
As someone who, for a very long time, had closely associated my grades with my self worth the fact I was so burnt out I had all but stopped caring about my grades, genuinely scared me. My fear of failure had pushed me through these phases in the past, but what did I have to drive me now? Despite my bad attitude I knew deep down I still cared about about what I was learning and wanted to do well not just for the sake of a good grade anymore but because I knew I had found my passion and I wanted to know how to help others to the best of my abilities. It was around this time that I took a proper moment to stop and reflect honestly, and found that the mental resistance and fatigue was due to not caring enough about my basic bodily needs, especially in relation to the food I ate (or didn’t eat). I was adding to the stress and strain on my body, by not better considering and being more aware of what I was choosing to eat and whether I was actually fueling myself sufficiently.
So, I didn’t tell myself I wasn’t allowed hot chips or gummi bears, I simply asked myself would they actually fuel me sufficiently? How do I usually feel afterwards? And the truth was I still felt hungry and the comfort they supplied was fleeting. So I resisted every nerdy, over-achieving, fear-of-failing bone in my body and started actually leaving the library and going home to make something, telling myself I deserved to feel better than this and for the love of all things, eat. something. green. I love veges but I have always been impatient when it came to cooking so microwave veges (dont @ me) and french toast or scrambled eggs (hello carbs and protein ❤❤) and maybe some bacon, and a little maple syrup to satisfy that sweet tooth, all became my new best friends. They were fast to make, enjoyable but all together actually fueled me.
It was a start, and it was encouraging and I felt better for it. Repriotitising myself with the simple act of making even one proper meal a day was enough to establish some momentum mentally and physically. Did I still enjoy hot chips and gummi bears too on more than one occasion throughout the week? Yes, yes I did. Did I feel guilty about it, no. I won’t lie, changing my eating habits at that point didn’t improve things entirely for me over night, and I knew that it wouldn’t. But I couldn’t let that stop me trying to improve things where I could otherwise risking my situation deteriorating further.
Because I’d dawdled through the first half of the semester I didn’t have enough time left to actually rest and recover properly, the last semester was still an absolute grind and my eating still wasn’t “perfect” but it was “perfect” for where I was at, at the time. I still slip back into old habits, but I now have the awareness, tools and tactics to curve those tendencies faster, long before I risk re-entering that danger zone.
Once lunch-times were sorted, with the momentum I’d gathered I started re-priotitising breakfast. I had also been struggling to get out of bed in the morning (another red flag I’d overlooked). I’d well given up having breakfast at home in the morning due to a lack of time by that point, but I’d previously put a bag of oats in the work office to try to encourage me to eat breakfast later in the morning in-between clients. But it had sat unopened for weeks (had I known about how to properly utilise the “cue” and behaviour method back then this may have been more successful earlier!) So, I didn’t berate myself I just moved them into my line of sight in my locker so I wouldn’t forget and then actually made an effort to eat them when I’d usually be scrolling instagram, mindlessly attempting to escape the stress I was under in the 15-30 minutes before I had to get to class or had another client. I asked myself which of the two options would serve me better.
Find where you’re at NOW, be honest with yourself about how you’re feeling, develop an awareness of what you’re actually consuming, identify the strengths and weaknesses, pick one aspect to tackle at a time and find small ways to ADD to your diet, focus on improving the QUALITY of “most” your food because you DESERVE it rather than being hyper-fixated on avoiding the “bad”. Restriction has been shown time and time again to lead to more struggle and not necessarily success, further down the line. Often “willpower” is really only needed when it comes to being more patient with yourself and the process.
Don’t try creating the “perfect” eating habits immediately, just focus on doing something one tiny bit better or differently than you did yesterday. Come up with easy, realistic behaviour-related goals you can implement daily or weekly and build on them slowly over time. You’re never “too busy” to risk not taking better care of yourself.
Strive for progress not perfection.