I find it kind of funny that I’m calling myself out on something that I used to believe I knew the ins-and-outs of. Currently, I retain much more knowledge than the average person–who is mildly calorie conscious and knows fruits and vegetables are important–but there is still so much unknown on my end. Heck, I still need to learn more about probiotics, nutrition for muscle growth, foam rolling, stretching, and even certain aspects to weight loss. I mean, there are just so many methods of it, right?
Health and fitness basically became my two most treasured loves, but my relationships were only one-sided. They either had to compose my entire life in such an extreme way, or not at all. There was no sense of balance. I’ve only experienced the ways of a couch potato who’d eat cookie dough and movie theater popcorn all day versus a gym bunny drinking green smoothies and spending hours on a spin-bike. For some reason, marrying “good for the body” and “good for the soul” didn’t make sense to me at the time.
It wasn’t that I thought people who ate Big Macs and went to the gym were not healthy. In my eyes, they just didn’t live the healthiest possible life. I thought that any ounce of unhealthiness–whether in the form of cheesy carbs or more than three rest days in a row–did not signify a completely healthy lifestyle. What I wanted was to live 100% healthily. Anything less wouldn’t suffice.
Once I adopted this “superfitbabe” image, I also adopted it as my real personality. There was no other way for me to be as genuine as possible, both in real life and online. Before I knew it, I was fueled by compliments regarding my dedication rather than my Greek yogurt bowls and cardio exercises. All in all, it led onto me practicing habits that weren’t healthy at all.
Sleep became more restless as I’d continually worry about small details. I overexercised to drain all my fears away. My food pyramid and portions shrunk as did my self-assurance. But I thought this was what healthy was supposed to feel like, so I stopped at nothing. How odd, right? Healthy living was made to feel exhausted, stressed, regimented, and self-conscious all the time?
Cravings and exhaustion never seemed to go away. Day by day, I’d struggle to crawl out of bed to exercise and take vegan donuts off of my mind. Even the stairs were a troublesome feat. I looked forward to classes because I could sit for at least an hour without feeling somewhat antsy. Snacking became binging as what was planned to be two tablespoons of peanut butter became four, then five, and then half an entire jar in one sitting. It was my body begging me for a break from working out and a replenishment of nutrients. Unfortunately, my dogged mind ignored every cue.
I refused to slow down my regimen until I looked like a model that someone could declare as their “#goals”. A six-pack, a thin waist, slender thighs, defined arms, and a perky booty–I wanted them all, and I grew increasingly frustrated because my body wouldn’t mold into my ideal. At least in the moment, I never liked what I saw. Eventually, I convinced myself that I would do anything to accomplish my physical goals.
Eventually, I decided to incorporate more rest days into my schedule once my studies and work load began to take over. For every body positivity post I came across on Instagram, there would be five more fitspiration pictures asking, “Did you get your workout in today?” or suggesting, “Rise and grind!” and “Every day is another opportunity to be closer to your dreams”. Instagram was a personal trainer that made me feel guilty for not working out and eating carbs and fat.
One morning, I stepped on the scale and saw the lowest possible number that I’ve ever weighed since childhood. Something was missing. I originally intended for this moment to call for a celebration. I should have been jumping for joy, clapping for myself, and giving myself a crushing embrace. However, I lacked so much luster in my physical body that I couldn’t. I wanted to crash on the couch and sleep. My energy was lost. I practically felt like a ghost walking in the Earthen world–lifeless and meek. To be fair, I didn’t feel like absolute misery. But I wanted to be a warrior in shining armor while I wasn’t even close.
Meanwhile, I binge-watched videos of my favorite YouTubers–specifically, those of their cheat meals, cheat days, food challenges, and decadent recipe tutorials. Little did I know that I was subconsciously and vicariously living through them. Oh, how I ever so wanted to get a taste of crispy graham crackers stuffed with Oreos, melted chocolate, sticky marshmallows, crushed corn flakes, and thick peanut butter inside! I only longed to take a bite of a gooey cinnamon-sugar donut loaded with gluten, yeast, and oil–nothing baked, nothing reduced–fresh from the fryer. Or, a plate of orange-glazed cauliflower with all the sauces and a flour coating at least half a centimeter thick. How about I start with avocado crunchy sushi rolls? Don’t even mention stuffed-crust pizza with extra red pepper flakes.
You know how I completed the 5,000 Calorie Challenge that was originally meant to be 10,000 calories? That day, I basically allowed myself to eat as much of the planned food as possible. Finish the entire darn cake. Slather all the peanut butter on the sweet potatoes. Eat all the Lenny and Larry’s cookies you can. Things I’d never allow myself to do on a regular basis! As bloated and lethargic as I felt afterwards, my body seemed to let out a cry of joy. Yes. I feel nourished. Thank you.
A few months later, I decided to embark on my first ever cheat day. Originally meant to be a calorie challenge, the day went on spontaneously as did my plans. My focus shifted from hitting a certain number to enjoying all the foods I restricted from my diet for years. I gorged on vegan orange chicken, zucchini bread, coffee cake, deep-fried Brussel sprouts, cornbread, gummy bears, and a ice cream bowl the size of my head without guilt. Yes, I gained a bunch of weight the next day, but it was the first time I didn’t feel a single ounce of insecurity from it. Within a little less than a week, I reached the exact same size I started with, but that wasn’t what mattered. The junk food brought all the physical and mental sense of excitement and healing that I needed for so long. I could eat what I wanted without fear!
Obviously, I did not go on a binge-fest for the preceding weeks, but I regained some clarity that tainted my definition of health. What I made out to be extremism turns out to encompass harmony in reality. Despite saying a blanket statement of “broccoli in one hand and a cookie in the other” in the past, I truly mean it now. It’s not because I lied to you or anything, but it’s because I truly understand it. Healthy living can revolve around both a salad and a pizza. Healthy living does not revolve around constant misery.
It’s time that the depiction of health on social media shift to a sense of balance. I already see it: influencers flexing in one pic and accepting their body rolls in another, or people whipping up a green smoothie one morning and enjoying Chinese takeout in the evening. Am I unhealthy because my rest day is the same as everybody’s leg day? Am I unhealthy because I crave chocolate instead of organic strawberries for breakfast sometimes? Of course not. Everyone’s vision of health is as individual as everyone’s body composition.
Just like diet and exercise, fitting into a healthy lifestyle doesn’t come in concrete sizes like 2, 4, 8, 16, or even 0. Health isn’t an outfit or a number. It’s a state of being in which the mind, body, and spirit are at peace with one another. When you can dig into a cookie without the mind fearing that the body will instantly cling onto the sugar as fat or the spirit shaking its head from caving into the consumption of fake ingredients, then you are at peace. Health and fitness should improve the ties between your mind, body, and spirit, and not tear them apart, anyways.
Has your definition of “healthy” changed over time?