Blogging Fitness

#BodyGoals, #IIFYM and the eternal search for a little something called balance

November 22, 2016
food salad healthy eating balance

It was something photographer Rachel Doyle said on Snapchat that got me thinking about this whole concept of balance. She was talking about the #fitfam folk who talk about leading balanced lives, but totally freak out if they eat a slice of pizza.

It’s something we can’t help but see a lot: photographs of slim, healthy young women in crop tops, talking about how far they are from their ideal bodies; or snaps from a weekend of debauchery, followed by four weeks of living abstemiously, surviving solely on fish and vegetables, and ignoring all things “bad” or “tempting”.

We know how to #eatclean, but what does that mean?

To set out my stall: I’m not going to come to any real conclusions here, because I don’t know the answer to any of the questions I’m about to pose. What I do know is that we’re at a really weird point – we’re bombarded with #eatclean imagery (some of which from me, so I’m guilty of that much at least) but we’re no more balanced about our eating than we were 10 years ago, when the food pyramid had bread, rather than fruit and vegetables, at the bottom of it.

And sure, all of the information we’re being given is a pretty clear road map of what we should be doing… but there’s just so damn much of it. We’re told to eat more vegetables than fruit; then we’re told that fruit is pure sugar; next up, there’s no real benefit to eating gluten; then, well gluten isn’t “bad”; and how about the idea that no foods are “good” or “bad”; except, of course, refined sugar, which is definitely bad… I’m exhausted just thinking about it all.

Eating disorders vs disordered eating

Of course, a decade ago, when we heard the term “eating disorder”, we thought of two words: anorexia and bulimia. Today, we have another one to add to the list: orthorexia, or “an unhealthy obsession with eating healthy food”. And honestly? I think very few of us will go through our lives without exhibiting some symptoms of, if not an eating disorder then, at the very least, disordered eating.

Take my current journey, for example. I lost weight by “eating clean” (although I hate the term, honestly, and don’t think that food should be categorised as “clean” or “dirty” or “good” or “bad” because those words are emotionally charged, and when you mix food with emotions, well, that’s where the trouble lies).

Then I went on a weightloss bootcamp, where the instructor kept saying to us, “you’re here to lose fat!” which, y’know, we were. But it was about calorie counting, rather than healthy eating, and the focus was very much on the scales, rather than the measuring tape. Honestly, it set me back mentally, so that I stopped thinking about food as fuel, and about how it made me feel, and instead, rebelled against the feeling I’d had for the whole week in Spain – that of extreme hunger.

I came back and binged in a way I’d never binged before; I ate all around me for about three weeks, and even then I wasn’t done – I was rewarding myself for enduring something I found incredibly difficult, and there seemed to be no end in sight.

So, what kind of balance am I looking for?

Honestly, I’d love to somehow let go of the constant thirst for control. What do I mean by that? Well, I’m an all or nothing kinda gal when it comes to food. I can go weeks eating super healthily, chowing down mince for breakfast and kale for lunch, and I honestly enjoy it. My body feels strong, my mind feels clear, my skin looks healthy and the feeling of smug can’t be underestimated. Check out my recent go on the elimination diet; I felt amazing.

But then I flip so easily to the other side – once things have loosened up a little, I’m going hell for leather with the French toast (Herbstreet’s is my favourite) and salted caramel donuts from Fallon & Byrne, and having six treats a week when I wish I could be happy with just one.

So where’s the balance?

In an ideal world, I’d love to stop thinking of food in terms of punishment and reward. Right now, if I eat healthily for a week, I think I deserve a massive blow-out – and if I do get something “bad” or “dirty”, I make sure I eat it way past the point of feeling full! I’m like, if I’m ordering this massive pizza, I am eating every single teeny tiny bit!

But I’m not looking for an 80/20 approach, or a life governed by dieting and bingeing. I just want to want to eat healthily, because it makes me feel better, and to enjoy my occasional treats when I have them, without feeling like they’re some huge diversion off the healthy road.

And while I love following #fitfammers on Instagram for food and body inspiration, I find it really worrying when they talk about not being able to put up selfies because of how bloated they are, or how they’ve to cut calories for the whole day because of some food-related indiscretion (which is usually really minor, by anybody’s standards). That being said, I guess that’s my own issue – like I’m always telling people, if you have an issue with someone you follow, stop following them. I guess I should take my own advice!

What do you think? Does any of my #fitfam-related rambling strike a chord, or am I totally off balance (ahem) with this one?

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  • Reply Covey Down Under November 23, 2016 at 3:05 am

    Love this post Rosemary. I think you’ve totally hit the nail on the head with your observations and like yourself I’m still looking for “the answer”. Personally, I lost about 6 stone over the course of a few years through Weight Watchers and totally credited the weekly weigh-ins and encouragement from a really good leader for my success. However since then (4+ years ago), trying to maintain my weight is honestly just never ending. Nothing has magically clicked that makes it effortless. I haven’t gone to Weight Watchers in years and can see the flaws in focusing on the scales so much. So now I track my food on MFP and do my favourite exercise, spinning 3/4 times per week when I’m “being good”… I hate that I even say that! When does the cycle of perfection – reward for said perfection – back on it but not quite – ugh I’ve let it slide a bit too much – back on the saintly wagon – is it time for a treat yet, end?! To me it feels like it doesn’t! Like you, I’m definitely an all or nothing girl, so trying to find this elusive “balance” is tough. I just keep going, and try to be happy with where I am. But I still find it’s hard not to either think of myself as being great (eating and tracking everything) or going too wild (night on the wine and all the food that goes with). I’m just so sick of this taking up so much of my thoughts EVERY day! I know there are people out there that couldn’t even tell you what they ate for breakfast or dinner yesterday – that will just never be me! As you said above, I wish I just naturally wanted to eat healthily all the time, but well, that hasn’t happened yet!

  • Reply Marian November 23, 2016 at 11:10 am

    Great post Rosemary. I’m the same, it’s all or nothing with me but that’s a habit I’m really working on breaking right now. I think self compassion and mindful eating might be the keys for me anyway. Remembering that you’re not a bad person because you are a “bad” food item. And acknowledging that no food group is endangered. Like having and enjoying one slice of pizza without worrying “I’ll never be allowed to eat pizza again so I’d better eat all the pizza”.

  • Reply Sinead November 23, 2016 at 11:13 am

    Great post Rosemary and something I identify with a lot. I have been through every facet of this myself – some years ago my diet was woeful and my exercise nil, something I attribute now as a response to a sudden family death that I let it spiral. I was unhappy with how I looked and, most importantly, felt and decided to completely overhaul my lifestyle.

    For me, it was an all-or-nothing approach initially. I started counting macros but, not in the IIFYM way – it was only healthy, unprocessed food – I rediscovered my love of training and began to do it regularly. Knowing my personality, I think I had to do this in order to yield results – if I gave myself a free meal or a treat once a week, I knew I didn’t have the self-control to stop.

    I see now how unhealthy this was in its own way – fast forward a year and I tried to assimilate back into normal eating patterns/socialising etc but, I had developed the kind of disordered, unbalanced approach to food whereby I felt one bad meal meant I had undone the whole 12 months of work. It took a lot of mental reasoning with myself to get to the point I’m at now; where I still count macros (it gives me the structure I need not to go batshit with treats) and eat as unprocessed as possible 5-6 days a week and loosen up at the weekends for a meal or two.

    I still struggle with the mental side of free meals but, I *think* I am getting there and this is the kind of balance that works for me; 80% accountability to MFP and 20% giving myself a little of what I want/need in conjunction with 5 days solid weightlifting before work.

    I know this is long but, in final response to one of your points above, this whole “I look fluffy” trend coming from the #fitfam when they are showing their clearly defined obliques is eye-rollingly annoying and a dangerous messageto put out there. We all *feel* fat when we don’t actually look fat but, if you actually thought you looked fluffy, you’d be wearing the biggest, baggiest clothes possible and not twisting and flexing yourself for a selfie.

  • Reply Ciara November 23, 2016 at 8:59 pm

    I love this piece! I’m definitely an all or nothing type too, although I do believe (hope) I can strike some kind of grey-area-type balance over time. It sickens me to see how the people we hold up as the ideal, or the Fitfam type, are really just as imbalanced as the rest of us, just in reverse? I hate to see how one small treat is seen as this massive excess, as if anyone would be satisfied with that? It just perpetuates food guilt. It’s indulging in excess restraint, and to me that’s just as negative (if not worse) than someone who can’t stop after two (or 4) biscuits (ie. Me)

  • Reply Eve November 24, 2016 at 12:30 am

    So much sense in this post Rosemary! From watching your snaps for a few months I sympathise, you sound like you’re really struggling since that bootcamp. You are so hard on yourself though. I totally see my old self in you. I can honestly say I didn’t eat a thing in my twenties that afterwards I didn’t feel guilty about or want to throw the towel in on another crazy regime and plan my new attack for the following Monday….madness! Now, after going through hell (a car accident) and getting a smack of perspective I feel incredibly lucky to be able to eat whatever I want and not feel guilty. I no longer think about foods as good or bad, I think about them as fuel. Yes, I want to enjoy them but I am no longer willing to give over a significant portion of my day to worrying about their calorific content. Your post has actually made me sit and think about how I came round to thinking like this. It’s hard to explain.

    All I do now that I didn’t ever do before is (sounds too easy I know) listen to what my body wants and eat that. If I feel like some pizza I have it but I rarely want it because I feel like crap afterwards. I can hand on heart say I have never eaten a Dominoes pizza and really enjoyed it or felt good afterwards, they make me feel awful & why would I want to ‘treat’ myself in that way? That is not treating your body. What I consider a treat is my own homemade pizza for eg. Not everyday of course but I have it when I feel like it! I still want to eat greasy crap when I am hormonal or having a really crappy day, but because I so rarely eat sugary or fatty things my body doesn’t really crave them that much. Instead i might have a big bowl of pasta with butter or cheese. But I don’t beat myself up about it. I enjoyed every bite and my body doesn’t protest like it would have if I had eaten rubbish.

    Perspective is key (easy for me to say I know but I went through hell to think like this) for me. I am constantly amazed at how my body has repaired itself. Why would I then want to hurt it by feeding it bad food? And because I think like this I no longer have the pressure of always watching what I put in my mouth and eating is now a real pleasure. Ironically I am now obsessed with cooking and baking, neither of which I would ever do before because baking was so many carbs/fat…blah blah blah. I look back now and think what a fool I was for all those years to be wasting my time and energy worrying about food. Sorry I am rambling here!

    What I would love you to take from my non expert but gained from my own experience waffling here is that food is fuel for your very precious body so treat it well. If you find yourself wanting to binge and eat every carb available then the problem is 100% in your head and you’ll never find this balance everyone seeks. Balance will only come if you sort out why you want to eat badly all the time and lets be honest the concept ‘treating’ yourself with a croissant may be treating your emotions but it is not treating your body. Anyway I’m totally waffling now but this subject is such a complex one. Fascinating though! Good luck with it. I enjoy the posts!

  • Reply Nora Fennell November 25, 2016 at 7:38 pm

    Great post and as a former all or nothing dieter I can totally relate. I did an online nutrition plan with the Nut Coach (Karen Coghlan) and it really repaired my relationship with food.

    I dont know her personally & I’m not on a refer a friend scheme but she’s well worth checking out if you want to try & find balance. I even get to still eat chocolate & carbs and keep the weight off.

  • Reply Lucy November 27, 2016 at 2:03 pm

    Completely agree with all the questions raised above and feel really similar. Balance is key but oh so hard.

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