I've just returned from an awesome, super-fun vacation during which I didn't give as much thought to the food I ate. I noticed that while the specific foods I ate were less "healthy," my eating
were far healthier, almost as if being less concerned about how "healthy" something was granted me a freedom that translated into a better sense of wellbeing. This trip provided me a window into "how things could be" with respect to eating patterns. I would like to take what I can from that to improve my habits. Details inside.
Me: early twenties female medical student at a healthy weight. I work out for 30-60 minutes almost every day. I eat plenty of vegetables, nuts, and fish, avoid sugar, and don't drink alcohol or caffeine. I have a therapist, I volunteer, read, journal, draw, talk to my friends and parents. I smile a lot, and my sleep and energy are good.
Being diligent about my health has enabled me to better deal with other difficulties
in my life, and I am glad I was proactive. However, I feel like one takeaway point from my trip was the possibility that being more... relaxed... about eating would be better for me. After all, I can understand that eating habits in particular represent a sliver of my life that I feel I have the ability to more directly control, and that has the potential to spiral out of hand when it becomes a coping mechanism.
The habits that I would like to change are:
- I think I eat with a restrictive mindset-- almost a wish or intent to restrict-- even though I ultimately don't and eat a normal amount and variety of food every day. (I don't count calories specifically, but can easily ballpark things. I have not cut out any food groups, but there are certain foods that I feel I "should not" eat, like cookies or muffins. During the trip I cast all that aside to try new food and to also be polite if someone offered me food.)
- This is another control thing: I have this "need" to eat until I am very full or finish the entire bag. I have tried putting out individual servings of food instead of eating straight from the bag, but it doesn't always work, especially when I am stressed. I spend long hours studying at home (I prefer to study at home, so studying elsewhere is something I would do only very reluctantly if you were to suggest it) which means easy fridge access. Most foods I enjoy are not calorically dense (for example, it'll be like half a bag of carrots or half a watermelon) and my caloric intake by the end of the day is always in a normal range, so this doesn't have much consequence on my weight or anything, but it's not psychologically good for me.
- When I am stressed, I will simply throw away food or pick it apart and then throw it away. Sometimes I hoard food from free-food events, only to dissect it and then throw it away.
During the trip, these patterns and symptoms disappeared entirely, and it felt amazing
. Liberating. I am not entirely sure what it was-- perhaps the lower stress environment? Perhaps it was the fact that I had things beyond food and medical trivia to occupy my mind with? Perhaps it was the fact that I walked for 9+ hours each day during this trip, so I felt like I could eat whatever and not worry too much, and that made everything better? I wouldn't call my school an unhealthy environment per se, but it certainly isn't low-pressure. Everyone's positive and friendly, but the fact is, they are also so doggedly driven and hardworking that even while relaxing, they invariably end up talking about school-related things. I engage myself with outside hobbies and activities, but it's hard to make a clear separation from work and play when I have class for anywhere from four to nine hours a day and have to study outside of class to keep up with the material.
Things that have somewhat helped me in the past are:
- Thinking about how food nourishes me, and about the effort it took to produce and prepare the food.
- Spending more time outside is helpful to me, although the winters are very, very long and bitterly cold where I am, so it's not exactly an option for about half the year.
- Food is a social event-- at least, this was how it was when I was living at home with my family. Now that I'm on my own, I eat when my (irregular-ish) schedule permits. I used to think that eating with people would make things more stressful because in my family it can be considered rude to not clear your plate, but now I would strongly prefer happily clearing my plate at mealtime and not compulsively snacking at other times.
- I like the "breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper" pattern of eating. This doesn't work great with school, because I am occupied during the times that I would prefer to eat.
What has worked for you? Do you have any suggestions for me? Thanks!