I know, I know … I don’t need to tell you that a healthy diet and regular exercise are extremely beneficial for both your physical and mental wellbeing.
You’re most likely familiar with the research that reads something along the lines of, “exercising 30 minutes, three times per week releases ALLLL the endorphins and decreases stress, symptoms of depression and anxiety, etc.” (OK, so maybe it doesn’t say exactly that, but you get the point!)
You’ve seen the before-and-after #transformationtuesday posts on Instagram (and yes, I’ve posted a couple #guilty). You’ve seen the ads promoting weight-loss products popping up in your Facebook feed. You’ve heard the “New Year, New You!” resolutions that revolve around dropping a few pounds to kick-start that healthy lifestyle.
Look, I’m all about supporting those who reach their goals, but what if I told you that the years I followed a strict diet and exercise routine were the most anxious and panic-attack prone times of my life?
It’s true. In my early 20s, my appearance and how others perceived me was the main thing I cared about, which somehow translated to “I must be fit to be worthy!” in my brain. I was not only an employee at the local gym, but I worked out at least five times per week. I’m serious when I tell you that even if I was bedridden with bronchitis, I still made myself believe that getting a workout in was the best choice (I won’t even begin to elaborate on the germs I spread. Ick!).
During those years, I counted my macros. I planned my workouts weeks in advance. I made sure to take plenty of group fitness classes to “get in more cardio.” I did all of it, ALL OF THE TIME. And that was not necessarily the issue … The issue was that for years, I made that the priority in my life.
The thing is, even though physical activity and wholesome, nutrient-dense foods are beneficial for those dealing with depressive disorders, forcing workouts and depriving myself of the foods I love when I was SO FREAKING HUNGRY was not good for me. In fact, it was only making my anxiety worse. Like, way worse.
To dig a little deeper, let’s recap daily occurrences during this chapter of my life and my feelings associated with them:
I didn’t hit/I went over on my macros. Anxiety.
I ate too many sweets. Guilt.
I skipped my workout. Shame.
And god forbid my pants were a little bit tight … PURE PANIC.
This lifestyle consumed me. No matter what diet I was on, no matter how many miles I ran a week (spoiler alert: not many), it never seemed to be enough. And that in itself pushed my anxiety and panic to the next level. So, after years of living it, I finally decided to step away to focus on what’s really important: self-care and genuine happiness.
Now, don’t get me wrong – healthy foods and regular sweat sessions are still a significant part of my life and they play a big role in progressing in my mental health journey, I just look at them a little bit differently now.
Instead of calorie-counting and dwelling on how s l o w minutes seem to move on the Stairmaster, I make it a point to focus on these three things:
- Eat the foods that make me feel good. I elaborate more on my relationship with food here. I highly recommend aiming for a balanced diet including protein, fat, fiber and yes, carbs! … And dessert. Don’t forget the dessert!
- Exercise for enjoyment. I like lifting weights, but not every single day. Yoga for longer than 20 minutes bores the hell out of me. I’ve recently discovered boxing and not only is it fun, it’s seriously therapeutic. Basically, I make the time for the exercise that I enjoy and I’ve noticed that I get A LOT more out of it.
- Stop comparing myself and my body to others. It’s hard to ignore the fitness models and the overall perfection on Instagram. I find myself making comparisons to others all too often and I’m working on that daily. But, there is no other YOU in this world, so own it! You are enough just as you are.
My approach to diet and exercise is not perfect by any means, and I am definitely still a work in progress. There are some days when I emotionally eat and days when I judge myself for not being “active enough.”
I am fully aware that everyone, every body and every mind is different. Even though a simple mention of Whole30 gives me anxiety, it may work well for you!
Regardless of what you choose to do or if you agree with me, I do recommend taking a step back and asking yourself, “is this making me happy?”
Friendly reminder: ultimately, it’s not about looking a certain way, but about feeling a certain way … And that starts with your mindset (not in the gym!).
Do you follow a certain diet or exercise routine? Or maybe you’re into intuitive eating? Please do share!
Please note that I am not a professional in mental health, fitness or nutrition. Always seek the advice of your qualified health provider with any questions or concerns you may have.