What are You Doing this For? (Some Thoughts and Advice on Clean Eating)

I’m pretty sure that the last time I ate a doughnut was two years ago.  In fact, I know it was almost exactly two years ago, because I remember that I was given doughnuts against my will at an impromptu birthday celebration.  By my sister, who really should have known better.

I don’t eat doughnuts.

I used to.  I used to love them!  But now I don’t.

And before you can roll your eyes and think, “Ugh, it must be nice to have such willpower” let me tell you why.

Or, actually, let’s start with why not:  it’s not because I’m so concerned with being skinny that I don’t allow myself to eat junk food.  I don’t give a rip about being skinny.

Once upon a time, though, that was the entirety of my weight loss goal.  I wanted to be one of those scrawny girls prancing on the beach, living a carefree life.  Which, of course, one can only have if one weighs as much as a bird.

And in those days of trying to lose weight, before I had a clear understanding of the relationship between what you eat and how you feel, I still ate anything I wanted, but in teeny, tiny portions and only on Fridays.  (You may recall from my journey to clean eating story that I took the long, winding and not entirely healthy road to good health, rather than the straight path.)

You might be surprised by how many months of crap-eating Fridays it took me to draw the connection to feeling-like-crap Saturdays.  A lot.  Like over a year, and maybe even two.

But I did eventually start to realize that maybe, just maybe, I ought to think about what I was eating, rather than how much.

The thing that tipped me over the edge from, “I just want to eat what I want and not think about it” to “I’m going to start limiting my sugar intake” was running.

I started running right about the same time as I started my crazy liquid diet weight loss scheme, and the two of them went well together for a rather long time.  It was nice to lose weight.  Losing weight made running easier, and running was something to do for 30 minutes every day that took my mind off of how freaking hungry I was from the liquid diet.

But the funny thing about human adaptation is that it works:  I got better at running.  I could run farther, I could run faster, I could run with less effort.  So I did.

I started to push my limits.  I signed up for races of such distances that they required actual training, as opposed to my haphazard I-think-I’ll-run-two-miles-today plan.

And the farther and faster and better I got, the more I started paying attention to how I felt while I was running.  Some days, I felt great!  Like I could run forever.  And some days, let’s call them Saturdays, I felt like crap.

I remember one particular Saturday, when I was a tiny bit hungover from the wine and the fried food, that I went for a run and honestly thought I was not going to make it through the miles I had planned.  I felt bloated and sluggish and more than a little nauseated.  And it occurred to me, literally for the very first time, that I didn’t have to feel that way.  That I was the one in control of what I was eating, and that I could decide what I wanted to eat.

And just like that, there was a subtle shift in my thinking.

I started being critical of lots of my long-held “favorite” foods, and holding them to a new standard.  Pretty much my whole life, I had chosen foods to eat based on whether or not they “sounded good.”  You know, like, “What do you want for dinner tonight?”  “Well, Mexican food sounds good.”

But when I got more in tune with my body, I realized that Mexican food didn’t feel good.

You know what else didn’t feel good?  Chee-tos.  Popcorn for dinner.  Pop-Tarts.  Anything with bread.  Fried foods.  Sugary stuff.  And, sadly, doughnuts.

It was weird, though.  Saying good-bye to those foods – my favorite things to eat! – didn’t feel even a tiny bit sad.  I wasn’t depriving myself by not eating them any more.  It wasn’t about willpower, or dieting, or telling myself that “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.”  Which is bullshit, of course, lots of foods taste good.

I stopped eating those things because healthy foods feel better.

And I like feeling better!  I love going for a run and knowing that I’m going to have the energy to get through the whole thing.  I don’t miss that I-ate-too-much-salt-and-grease feeling in my fingers and toes.  It’s good to wake up with a clear head, ready to take on the day.

It’s good to feel good.

For me, running was the reason I changed my mind and changed my habits.  Running was more important to me than my taste buds.

Sometimes I wonder where I would be if I hadn’t started running, and I suspect that I’d still be the girl who is forever trying to lose 20, 30 or 40 pounds.  Eating tiny portions of junk food and calling it a diet.  Frustrated.  Chubby.  “Surprised” by mounting health issues like high blood pressure or Type 2 Diabetes.

The point I’m getting to here is that if you have trouble making healthy decisions, it’s time to ask yourself “What are you doing this for?”

Wishing I was skinny wasn’t enough for me.  And my experience in the fitness industry has taught me that a vague desire like wanting to look good isn’t enough for most people.  You need a compelling reason to eat better, and unfortunately, “because it’s good for you” isn’t good enough.  Your desire to feel good has to be stronger than your desire for  delicious-tasting-but-crappy-feeling food.  And trust me, you will feel good when you eat better.

You just have to figure out why you want it.

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