Healthy Lifestyle Journey
Inspiration comes when I’m jogging around a track whilst discussing fitness goals with friends. Yesterday seemed to be a day full of discussing surrounding healthy eating habits, binge eating, calorie restriction and over-exercising. I thought I would write a thing or two about this since I allowed myself to get stuck in this obsessive restriction phase that caused me to have a bad relationship with food. I can write about this now because I have been able to move past those times. I learned a lot about myself, about the human body, hormones, macronutrients, micronutrients and most importantly – the impact of restrictive mindsets.
I began my journey to a healthy lifestyle in January 2012. This was after years of not caring about what I ate or how I looked or the weight that I gained during my college years. I never exercised once between the ages of 18 to 24. That’s about 6 years of sedentary living. Add to that the unhealthy eating habits I developed in college too. A recipe for weight gain, sickness, fatigue and general disinterest.
Growing up my parents raised us on a healthy Mediterranean diet. Dinners usually had a lot of healthy proteins, rice, veggies and salad. Of course we had our fair share of desserts, candy and chips but those were not staples in our house. If anything my parents would only allow those things in the house once a week. We had an idea about what healthy eating is, we were educated at an early age about this, and I’m so grateful for that. The problems started when I moved out and started a new life in Montreal. Everything was now accessible, no codes, no guidelines, no one pointing out what is good or bad. I had McDonald’s, Burger King and Taco Bell for the first time in my life at the age of 19. I actually wasn’t a huge fan of those, but I was definitely a huge fan of Domino’s Pizza. My days would look something like this:
I would wake up, get dressed, head downstairs to the shopping area underneath my apartment building and buy a large cafe latte and a pain du chocolat on a daily. Lunch would be a pita wrap or a foot-long vegetarian or turkey sub and dinners would be pizza, Indian curries, fries and burgers and basically anything that I would now cringe at the thought of eating. I would buy fruits and veggies to feel better about myself but I would never actually eat them. I would bake a chocolate cake on a weekly basis. Bags of cheetos, candy and jelly beans were huge at my place. It’s like I pigged out because I felt like “I could”. I put on about 20 kilos in a matter of 3 years.
When I came back home every summer, I would lose weight because I would eat what my mom and dad prepared, and I would walk a lot more. I knew what the recipe to weight loss was but I just didn’t care then, I wanted to eat bad and I was fine with it. Then I met Krispy Kreme. This was actually when I started working in Saudi in 2010. I had lost a few kilos at that point without even making major changes except for not ordering in crap food. I would walk around the malls quite a bit, which was great…except I started making trips to the food courts and buying Krispy Kreme donuts in excess. I would basically have donuts for dinner twice or three times a week. I would consume around 3 donuts per sitting.
The moment I decided it was time for a change was when I looked at photos of myself in high school and my first year of college and realized how much damage I have done to my body. Not just that, I also started reading health books. Recognizing my journey down a dark path came as I read these words…”what you eat in your 20’s will determine your health in your 50’s“. And other such phrases such as “you need to respect your body”. Yes, yes I do. Our body is what keeps us going, we do so much to it and it keeps fighting with every ounce of energy to keep us alive and strong…and how do repay it? By torturing it with terrible food choices and unhealthy habits.
The transition in to where I am now took years. I started slowly. I would keep track of my body’s transformation. I started walking more, and relaxing more. I completely quit junk food. If anything that was the biggest change I made. I stopped buying food from fast-food places. It was actually easy for me to do that because I grew up living like that for 18 years of my life. It was only natural to return to that way of living. I cut down on refined sugars. I still ate the things I wanted but I became more aware of the nutritional benefits in the things I ate. Vegetables, lean meats and healthier sources of dairy products replaced the sugar/fat-laden processed junk foods I ate. Chips, soda, chocolate treats were now an occasional thing.
I lost weight without restriction or obsessive behaviors, I was actually surprised with the progress. I never quite understood those women who ‘diet’ and are supremely strict with how much they eat and removing entire food groups because they saw them as ‘fattening’. And calorie counting….I didn’t think that was the healthiest way to do things, but I guess it works for a lot of people. I was more of an intuitive eater at this point, but with limited access to processed foods. If I wanted chocolate, I ate it in moderate amounts and in the dark chocolate variety. That’s what made the difference for me.
A year or two later, I was at a very happy moment in my life, and that, coupled with an even more active lifestyle, led to even more weight loss. I actually became almost too skinny. When I look at photos of those months, I noticed how unintentionally skinny I was. There really was no muscle on my body, I was just literally almost skin and bones. It’s not that I didn’t eat or anything like that. Thank God I never got to a point in my life where I had to suffer through an eating disorder. I guess that’s one pro of being a psychology major. I just portion controlled without realizing that I had shrunk my stomach and only ate when I felt hungry. And at that point I just didn’t feel hungry often because I was excited about a lot of things in my life. This right here explains why people gain weight when they’re stressed out or depressed…I was doing the exact opposite.
Anyways, I acknowledged the fact that I need to start putting on lean muscle mass. That’s when I started hitting the gym and making some gains. It took a few months to gain some weight. I started eating more because I felt hungrier. Then I got scared. Why am I so hungry all the time? What is happening to my body? Why did I never feel these sensations before and why do I feel like I have no control over my eating? Because I wasn’t listening to my body’s needs anymore. I just had this idea that you are supposed to eat a certain way, at specific times of the day and anything outside of that is wrong.
Honestly, I think nutritionists and dietitians can seriously spew some of the worst health-nutrition related advice. The poor lay people of the world just gobble it up and wonder why it’s not working. The strict regimens, calorie restriction and meal time planning is legit poop. How can someone literally tell a client to eat 800 calories a day to lose weight? Are you insane? It’s called starvation and it’s called binge eating..the effects of calorie restrictive diets. I know this because I was clearly eating too little for the amount of calories I was burning and I would binge out on sweet treats at least once a week with zero control over my food consumption. It’s like my body was telling me to feed it and I refused to notice the subtle signs until a massive craving came on and I ate everything in sight.
Thankfully that only lasted a few months and I was able to break the cycle. I put on a few pounds, worked out less and just focused on giving my body what it wants and needs. I learned to balance eating whole foods with occasional ‘cheat’ treats.
Fast forward to where I am now: I’m all about whole foods, plants, veggies, fruits, starches and overt fats. I never crave dairy, chicken or beef. I do miss eating things like cakes or chocolate bars but I find the vegan alternatives to these things. I like to bake vegan desserts twice a month and I consume a lot of fruit which helps in curbing sugar cravings. Coming from someone who would have 5 chocolate bars for dinner to not consuming chocolate…I actually need to pat myself on the back for that 🙂