HA recovery diaries #13 Why recover anyway?!

I would be lying if I said that my recovery journey was plain sailing. There were ups and downs, periods of super-human motivation but also moments of doubt. After almost a decade of hypothalamic amenorrhoea, it had become normal to me. I wasn’t thinking about having babies any time soon and in truth, not having my period was actually pretty damn convenient. No hormonal mood swings, no acne, no cramps and saving money on tampons… win!

On top of all of that, recovery is hard. You really have to dig deep and look into all of the old stories and beliefs that kept you stuck for so long.

It is hard to give up exercise when you have believed for so long that you need intense daily workouts to stay healthy and you believe you are lazy when you take a rest day, never mind a rest month.

It is hard to eat more when you have spent years training yourself to eat less and letting yourself be brainwashed into believing this is the right thing to do.

It is hard to gain weight when you have been focused on achieving or maintaining the “perfect body” for so long and you feel like you are letting yourself go by gaining a few pounds.

It is hard when you have made such a strong connection between thinness and beauty that you feel ugly and not good enough when you are actually at a perfectly healthy weight for your body.

If recovery is so hard, is it actually worth it?! I would say 100% yes.

Recovery is not just gaining back your menstrual cycle, although this is an amazing goal to aim for and a clear indicator that you are on the right track! Real recovery means learning to listen to and nourish your body, rather than abusing and manipulating it at every possible opportunity. If you surrender to the process and take the time to relearn how to look after yourself, your body will pay you back in so many ways.

Greater sense of inner peace

With the initial anxiety of eating more and gaining weight, it probably doesn’t seem like this is possible but in time, a deeper sense of peace and calmness will arise. Without the constant mind-chatter about what to eat and when to work out, we get the chance to just be still and enjoy being present in our lives.

Improved bone health

Did you know that the estrogen surge we get as part of our monthly cycle is important for building our bones? Extended periods of amenorrhoea, especially in our teens and early adulthood, can have a huge impact on our bone density and may lead to osteoporosis in later life. We still have the opportunity to build bone until approximately age 30 so the sooner you can recover the better!

Toasty fingers and toes 

Yep, if you have constantly cold hands and feet it is entirely possible that this is your body’s way of trying to conserve energy. If you allow yourself to give your body the calories it needs, especially in the form of carbs and fats, then you might not need that extra pair of socks!

Super strong hair and nails

So many women with HA or have a history of chronic dieting report poor condition of their hair and nails. Beautiful, shiny hair and nails are a luxury that the body will sacrifice if it’s energy needs are not being met. If you have thin, brittle hair or nails that never grow, there is a good chance that recovery will change this. My hair and nails were weak and constantly breaking for years and after a year in recovery they are growing back long and strong!

Better relationships

If you have been stuck in the dieting cycle for years, you might have found your social life taking a turn for the worst. Maybe you don’t feel as connected to your friends and family as you are distracted by thoughts about body and weight. Maybe you don’t go out as much as you are too scared to eat out or miss a workout. Either way, recovery releases so much mental space that you can dedicate to improving your relationships with people in your life.

Reaching your goals

Maybe you have been so distracted with trying to reach your weight loss or fitness goals, you haven’t realised that there is a whole other world out there. Or maybe you have had other goals that have been on the back burner whilst you strive for that ideal body. Recovery gives you the time to consider what is truly important to you and the energy to chase after it. You could have a creative calling or the urge to fight for a cause but whatever it is, I am sure it is more meaningful than “maintaining your weight”.

So those are my top motivators for any of you in recovery without the motherly calling to motivate you. But the biggest motivator of all is simply the idea of freedom. Being free of the rules and limitations that you place on yourself and realising that there is so much more to life!

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Tips for breaking the calorie counting habit

In my most recent post, I spoke about calorie counting and how what might start out as a useful tool for trying to lose weight can end up becoming the chain that hold us back from achieving true health. In this post, I want to share some of the tips that I have used over the last 12 months to move away from calorie counting hell and closer to food freedom. This is not something that happens overnight, neither can I say that I am over it completely, but these few changes have made a huge difference in my life and I hope they can do the same for those of you who are struggling too.

     1. Throw out the measurements

This is probably the most obvious tip but can be one that triggers a lot of anxiety for those who have been strictly controlling their food for a long time. The truth is, that although you might feel like the measurements are keeping you “safe” and without them you will go crazy and eat all of the food, chances are you won’t. We all instinctively know approximate portion sizes for different types of food from years of feeding ourselves. Maybe by not measuring we will end up with 40g or 60g of cereal instead of the intended 50g but generally, we will be in the right ballpark and over time the average difference will be minimal.

     2. Ignore the serving size

If you find that you are serving yourself much more than your previous measured allowance, it is most likely because you need it. Often the serving sizes on packages don’t actually relate to how much a typical person would eat, the figures are manipulated to make the food seem more appealing to the buyer. For example, if you look at the label on a 500ml bottle of coke, it will tell you that the drink contains 2 servings. But who feels guilty about drinking the whole bottle when that is how it is sold?! Food manufacturers only do that to make the calorie and sugar content seem more acceptable to us consumers, especially with the introduction of traffic lights on nutrition labels. Anyway, my point here is that experimenting with eating varying amounts of a food can be useful in learning to tune into your inner cues and find the amount needed to satisfy you rather than relying on external rules and guidelines.

3. Try new things

For lots of us, years of dieting has led to a pretty big inventory of the calorie and macro content of different foods. This information is buried deep into our long term memory and as long as we refer to it regularly, we keep it alive. So it can be really useful, especially in the beginning, to try new things. Experiment with new foods and combinations. For example, if you are used to having the same 2 slices of toast with peanut butter for breakfast every day, try cereal or porridge instead or even just change to a different variety of bread that you haven’t tried before. Research new recipe ideas (try to avoid ones that tell you the calorie content!) and experiment to find textures and flavours that you enjoy rather than basing your decisions on the calorie content.

     4. Cook in batches

Batch cooking is amazing in so many ways! Not only will it save you time and money, it also makes it much more difficult to count calories in your meals. Even if you are preparing food only for yourself, cook a larger amount of food than you know you can eat in one sitting (or a family sized portion if you have the facility to freeze leftovers) and serve yourself the amount you feel hungry for, without measuring or weighing the food or dividing it into the recommended portion sizes if you are following a recipe. If you are still hungry afterwards, give yourself permission to eat more then save any leftovers for later or the next day. Over time you will build up intuitive knowledge of how much of different types of foods it takes to satisfy your hunger at different levels.

     5. Add in extras

This might seem like a random tip but I find it really works. When I add toppings to meals such as nuts and dried fruit sprinkled on the top of cereal or seeds and dressings added to a salad or a veggie burger with all of the trimmings, I find that I can increase my calories significantly without finding it too stressful. Adding in a little bit of this and a little bit of that (as long as you follow the previous tip about not weighing or measuring) means that it is too complicated to keep track of calories. Plus you get the bonus of much more variety of tastes, textures and nutrients in your food and you can keep well-known recipes feeling fresh by switching around the toppings. Getting a bit creative with your meals adds a fun element to preparing and eating food and is a good distraction for the calculator mind that can often run away with itself.

     6. Eat out more

When I was deep in my dieting hell, the thought of eating something not prepared by me filled me with horror. I wouldn’t eat food cooked by my family as I didn’t know the ingredients or how much oil it had been cooked in. I would go to restaurants for special occasions but I found it so stressful. I always hoped that I could find the nutrition information online so that I could plan what I would eat before I went or I would try to track the calories using an online tracker once I got home so that I could “make up for it” the next day if the number was too high. This took all of the pleasure out of what should have been an enjoyable time socialising with friends and family. Once I decided to give up calorie counting, eating out at restaurants or friend’s houses was a life saver. Surrendering control and giving myself permission to just eat is a challenge at first for sure, but it is much easier than trying to resist counting calories whilst preparing food at home.

 

So those are my top tips for stopping counting calories. I think the biggest thing to remember is that you are in control – you don’t need to be controlled by anything outside of yourself. Relying on your own hunger and fullness cues will help you to feel connected to your body and you might find it is easier to develop compassion and acceptance for your body once you see it as an ally and not something to be suppressed or tricked.

I have been practicing these in my life for the last year or so and my relationship to food is a million times better than what it was. Sometimes I do still fall back into old habits but I am only human. For now I am so happy and grateful for how far I have come and I know I will let go for good when I am ready. Hopefully this post can help you too wherever you are on this journey 🙂

Why it is so hard to stop counting calories

Calories.. since when did they become such an integrated part of modern life?!

We are so used to seeing detailed nutritional profiles on every item of food we buy that it is hard to believe that less than thirty years ago, this information was hardly available. Ingredients and additives, along with allergen and health advice have been included for a long time but, until recently, it was rare for packaging to show the exact number of calories or grams of fat the food contains.

That isn’t to say people didn’t count calories for weight loss – this has been a thing since the early 20th century – but it was something they had to go out of their way to do. Nowadays, calories fill our media world from websites, diet books and government recommendations for how many calories we should consume to magazines covering celebrity diets, hinting at how many calories we need to eat in order to achieve that A list body.

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With the rise of intuitive eating, we can see just how addicted to calorie counting we have become. We now have a name for simply eating according to our natural cues and have to relearn how to do it. For those coming to intuitive eating from a history of chronic dieting, a big part of making this shift is learning how to stop calorie counting and start listening to our bodies. Sounds easy right???

Wrong!

Giving up counting calories is one of the hardest things to do. In part, this is because lots of us have become reliant on this external tool to determine how much to eat each day we have forgotten how to listen to our bodies. Without this life jacket, we feel like we will drown in a sea of chocolate milkshake or disappear into a refined sugar quicksand, never to be seen again. We have heard or seen or read that in order to be healthy or lose weight we should eat X amount of calories per day and we cling onto this for dear life.

In doing this, we discard the inner knowledge that we were born with. We hand our power over to health gurus, scientists or government organisations and let ourselves forget that no one knows our bodies better than we do. That intuitive wisdom of how much and when to eat is never lost but we allow it to shrink further and further away from our conscious mind until it blends into the white noise in the background. Compared to the bright colours and bold text of the media, its no wonder that this faint whisper often goes unheard.

As humans, it is only natural to desire a feeling of control. Following calorie guidelines gives us a sense of being in control but in reality, it is an illusion. If we are following external rules rather than our own inner guide, are we really in control?! But for many of us (and I include myself in this) it is a habit that is extremely difficult to let go of. We might see ourselves as fully functioning, independent adults, but in this area of our lives we feel totally incapable of looking after ourselves. Counting calories allows us to feel safe and grounded, especially when things in the world around us get crazy.

Once we do accept that calorie counting is futile, and even harmful, it is not easy to actually stop doing it! We don’t wake up one day and decide we want to stop and that’s it – we never think of calories again, we eat what we want and live happily ever after. Well, maybe some people can but for the majority it is a much longer process. It is sad to say but many women (and some men too) have spent so long thinking about calories, diets and macros that the neural pathways in our brains which are involved in thinking about these things have become so well worn that the counting happens on autopilot. It happens without us thinking about it and actually takes more effort not to!

Even when we want to stop counting, we can’t help looking at a chocolate bar and automatically thinking 200 calories or silently adding up the calories in the items when we buy a lunch time meal deal. We can’t help looking at the calories on food packages that we buy and comparing similar items. Even restaurants often show the calories in the meals these days and for those of us coming from a background of dieting and restricting food, it is difficult to order a burger and fries when the menu tells us it contains 1500 calories which was probably our “daily allowance” at some point.

I am not saying by any means that it is wrong for this information to be available. I do think that it is useful in making healthy choices but we are all individuals with different needs when it comes to our health and well being so it can be difficult to find a one-size-fits-all solution. In this case, for those of us trying to undo years of dieting habits, having these numbers glaring us in the face does not make it an easy process!

So if you are trying to give up counting calories and finding it hard, please know that you are not alone. The media and your human brain make up are both against you on this one. It is a challenging process but so worthwhile so stick with it and you will get there 🙂 this post is getting quite long already so I will save my tips for giving up calories and finding food freedom for next time!

Is veganism just a diet fad?

One thing that really frustrates me in the media is the association of veganism with “clean eating”. There has been a lot of media coverage in the last few months about the diet fad clean eating and somewhere along the line this has been confused with veganism. Celebrity health coaches such as Ella Woodward from Deliciously Ella have brought whole foods vegan diets into the mainstream to be met with a crazy concoction of aspiration and contempt.

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Clean eating is generally defined as eating foods with minimal process steps between farm and plate. Processing a food involves taking the original ingredients and modifying them in some way, usually by adding (e.g. sugar or preservatives), taking away (e.g. removing the bran from wholewheat bread) or manufacturing chemical foodstuffs from scratch in a lab. Fruits, vegetables and pulses are considered “clean” foods. Meat, eggs and bone broth are also considered “clean” foods. A clean eater could be vegan, vegetarian or omnivorous – it doesn’t matter!

A vegan diet is a diet which avoids all animal products. This means no meat, fish, dairy, eggs or honey. I know vegans following all sorts of diets with all sorts of reasons for their choices. Ranging from raw vegans who eat nothing but fruits and vegetables to self-proclaimed junk food vegans living off of the fantastic array vegan donuts and takeaways that are now widely available. Veganism is about more than health, it is about making choices that lead to the least amount of cruelty to our planet and the creatures we share it with.

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It is true that a following a plant-based diet can be one of the best things you can do for your health. Eating a wide variety of plant foods on a daily basis and minimizing consumption of meat and dairy will boost your nutrient intake and reduce your risk of serious health conditions such as heart disease and stroke. But your diet alone by no means defines your health status. There are so many other factors involved that you simply cannot tell how healthy a person is by looking only at what they eat.

You can be healthy without being vegan and you can definitely be vegan and unhealthy.

I have been predominantly vegan for almost two years now and throughout that time my diet has evolved and changed, just like I have. In the beginning I did get swept up by the wave of “clean vegan eating”, although I didn’t call it that at the time. For a long time I avoided processed foods as much as possible and tried to follow a low fat diet too as I was struggling with some health issues and I thought this was the answer. As time went on, I started to feel restricted by my diet, I was feeling tired a lot of the time, I had a lot of anxiety around my food choices and most importantly, I still didn’t have my period (see my journey with Hypothalamic Amenorrhoea here).

When I decided that things needed to change, I had to take a long hard look at my diet and make some drastic changes. The anti-diet communities that I was active in at the time were also very anti-clean eating and promoted documentaries such as BBC’s Clean Eating – The Dirty Truth. This made me question everything that I was doing and wonder if I needed to give up veganism for the sake of restoring my health and relationship to food. I knew deep down that I couldn’t go back to eating animals but I was surrounded by messages that veganism was restrictive and that recovering from disordered eating required surrendering and accepting that all foods are equal.

The messages were so strong that it did take me while to figure out that clean eating and veganism are not the same thing. And to me, all foods were not equal any more. Maybe I could accept that letting go of food rules would have a positive impact on my physical health but mentally, eating animal products filled me with so much guilt and negative emotion that it couldn’t possibly be healthy psychologically.

Eventually I realised that I could learn to relax around my food choices and still be vegan. I found this list of “accidentally vegan” snack foods to be so useful in breaking the connection between veganism and health. Hobnobs, Oreos and Greene & Black’s dark chocolate became my saviours. I ate cake in the morning and pancakes at the weekend. I explored all of the tasty vegan restaurants in my city and enjoyed being able to pick whatever vegan delight I wanted off the menu without worrying about the calorie content or the health destroying chemicals it might contain.

I still follow a mostly whole food plant based diet now because it makes me feel good. I love cooking meals from scratch and nourishing my body with lots of healthy plant foods. But when these foods aren’t available I eat whatever vegan option I can get my veggie hands on. And if the option was a vegan burger or a non-vegan superfood salad, I would go with the burger any day. I treat myself whenever I feel like it (hello, vegan pizza..!) and never restrict food groups.

I love how veganism has reached the mainstream but I really hope that it doesn’t end up being viewed next year as just another diet fad, put in the same boat as gluten-free and low-carb and going down with the sinking ship of the Atkin’s diet. There really is so much more to veganism and I am praying that the positive messages don’t get lost amongst the backlash. I hope that the vegan movement is here to stay and will continue to grow for the sake of our planet and all that live on it. And that includes us!

 

HA recovery diaries #12 Building positive habits

One thing that has been on my mind lately is how to navigate the world of food and exercise now that my period has returned (number 5 and still celebrating!). Going “all in” for recovery was not easy by any means but at least it was clear what to do. No exercise means no exercise. Food means FOOD. The slightest hunger or craving and I would eat. I didn’t want to deprive my body in any way. Looking back I can see that in a way it was still within the safety of my black and white thinking.

Now I am 5 months into recovery, I am starting to build some healthy habits back into my life. I have recently starting working out again and I am being more conscious of my food choices. But this time around it is coming from such a different place. I am making choices to look after my body, not to punish it. I am doing exercise that I love and I am not pushing myself too hard. I am trying to nourish my body as best I can but I am still enjoying treats when I want them. But I do still worry about where the line is. Finding balance is a constant challenge!

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Looking back at my journey with food and exercise, it is hard to see the exact point where things started to go wrong. I am pretty sure that most of us started off this journey with the best intentions. Maybe we wanted to get healthier, feel fitter or look better. Maybe we started out by making a few tweaks to what we are eating, cutting out a few snacks here and there, eating less takeaways or “junk foods” and starting to move our bodies more often. At one time these were probably good habits.

Habit – an acquired, automatic behaviour developed through repetition

Habits can be either positive or negative and voluntary or involuntary. By that I mean they can be actions that we do subconsciously, for example nail biting. Or it can be a behaviour we choose to adopt because of the perceived benefits to us, such as drinking more water. Either way, the mechanism is the same – we repeat the behaviour and eventually the pathways in our brain become so established that we continue to do it without awareness. But there is a point when habits become compulsions and this is when we enter the danger zone.

Compulsion – an irresistible urge to behave in a certain way

I know after a while my healthy food choices became strict diet rules. There were allowed and not-allowed foods, set times and amounts to eat, workouts that had to be done no matter what. I became so rigid in my thinking that any slight deviation from my routine would send me into a tailspin of anxiety. For me, this was definitely a gradual change which happened so slowly that I hardly noticed my free will disappearing and my life becoming smaller and smaller.

Even now the tendency to create rules is there. I think it is only human to want to put things into boxes, set things into order and follow a routine. It makes it easier on our brains to not have to make decisions and to operate on autopilot. Intuitive eating involves tuning into our bodies signals at any given moment and believe me they are constantly changing! It definitely gets easier but in the beginning it takes a lot of thought to tune in to what you actually want when there are no rules to follow.

When it comes to recovery, there are three key challenges relating to habits:

  1. Undoing old, unhelpful habits and compulsions

The first one definitely takes a radical change in the way you think. There is a quote by Einstein that I think is so relevant here:

“We can’t solve problems with the same level of thinking that got us here.”

For most of us, we accidentally ended up in this mess by taking a detour from rational thinking. Somewhere along the line, something happened in our life which set us off down the path of believing that we are not good enough as we are. The thing is, we were doing what we believed to be the right thing. And it was, with the information we had available to us at the time. The difficult part is learning to let go of old habits and beliefs now that we have new information that proves otherwise.

It took me a few months of hardcore brain reprogramming to undo beliefs that I had held for years. Doing a social media revamp definitely helps – unfollowing fitspo and clean eating accounts filling your feed with body positive and anti-diet messages instead. Also, listening to podcasts (I found Meret Boxler’s Life Unrestricted soooo helpful) and connecting with other healing women online will help to change your thinking.

         2. Setting up new, positive habits

The second challenge is deciding what you want to do, now that you know what you don’t want to do. Or more likely who you want to be, now that you know who you don’t want to be. Once the unhelpful thoughts about weight loss are fading, you have a lot of mental space freed up. If you want to be successful you have to find something new to fill that space with, otherwise your life will start to feel empty without dieting and working out to focus on and you might be tempted to go back.

Journalling is a really helpful tool for this. Allowing your true values come to the surface then taking action to prioritise them in your life. Maybe its spending more time with friends and family, getting back into old hobbies or dedicating yourself to a cause. Whatever it is, find something meaningful to focus on instead of focusing on what is missing. I definitely made healing my focus in the beginning and this can be helpful in the reprogramming stage but after a while I think it can be too stressful and we end up going round in circles wondering what we are doing wrong, when maybe all our bodies need is time.

In the early stages of recovery, I definitely recommend that exercise and thoughts about nutrition take a back seat. Later on , you might start to feel like adding some healthier habits back into your life. When it comes to food and exercise, figure out what you actually like. Eat your favourite foods and some healthy foods too (maybe you will find some things fall into both categories! Ahem, sweet potatoes…) and exercise in whatever way is fun for you. Tune into your bodies’ needs instead of intellectualising your choices. Hint – if your mind is saying yes and your body is saying no then it is probably not right for you in that moment.

         3. Maintaining habits with them becoming compulsive

Once you have set up some positive habits that help you to feel great, the challenge is to maintain balance and avoid becoming obsessed. We all want to look after ourselves but in reality, stress is one of the most damaging things for our bodies so if our “healthy habits” become stressful or we feel deprived, we are actually doing ourselves a disservice. It is much better to have some key foundational habits and from there remain flexible and have fun.

One thing that definitely helps is to keep mixing things up. Trying to keep experimenting with food instead of eating the same thing every day. Working out at different times on different days and trying new things. Yoga was my rock during recovery and I am keeping that up but I have recently got into Zumba and I am loving it! During HA I did a lot of endurance exercise like running and cycling as well as weight lifting. I have been out on my bike a few times this summer and I do miss lifting but I think for now I need to be careful. I am so happy that my body is functioning again and I don’t want to jeopardise that!

Also, if I ever have a thought that comes up that I shouldn’t do something, I make sure to do the opposite right away. If I have a craving for chocolate and my mind tells me I have snacked too much already today or that I should wait till after dinner then I go and get myself some chocolate ASAP. If my mind is planning a workout and my body tells me it is tired and needs to rest, I listen to it and give myself at least an hour of true relaxation time and maybe workout later if I feel like it. Doing this shows our bodies that things are different now and their needs will get met.

So those are my tips to create healthier habits in recovery. I hope this is helpful, where ever you are in your journey. I would love to hear from you as I have no idea who reads my posts at the moment! If you want to connect please comment below with where you are in your journey and a positive habit you are adopting 🙂

Amy x

HA recovery diaries #11 It is ok to take a break

Just a quick update to let you know that I haven’t disappeared off the face of the earth. I am simply taking a break, easing off social media and the internet in general..

I know I am not alone in taking on too much. It is a common theme amongst women suffering from HA and disordered eating. That type A, constantly busy, doing everything for everyone and doing it PERFECTLY persona. This last year I have been working full time as an engineer plus studying part time at the College of Naturopathic Medicine and doing a foundation teacher training course with the British Wheel of Yoga. AND healing from HA along the way. So I have been very busy!

But right now I am at a point in my life where the opportunity to take a break has presented itself to me and I would be stupid not to take it. I recently left my job, moved house and my next adventure begins in September. I am coming to the end of my course at CNM so I have a few things to finish off for that but otherwise I am free to relax for a few weeks.

Recovery is hard. It sounds like the easiest thing in the world to stop exercising and eat food but it takes so. much. energy to do that. The constant mental battle is exhausting. But I am now at a point where the hardest work is done and I want to take some time to recharge.

So it might be a few weeks till my next post but I will be back 🙂

Remember that we are not machines. It is ok to be tired. It is ok to take a break. It is ok to rest and allow yourself some time out. In fact it is necessary every once in a while to destress, reevaluate and reprioritise.

Here is a great blog if you want to read some more

http://bewellplace.com/its-okay-to-take-a-break-when-youre-overwhelmed-and-reprioritize-whats-important/

HA recovery diaries #10 Liberation not limitation

A huge part of recovery from HA or any form of restrictive disorder is letting go of the rules.  It seems like it should be easy once we learn that our habits are responsible for our poor health to just stop exercising and start eating but it is very rarely so.  Often we have spent years beating ourselves into submission that it becomes almost impossible to disentangle ourselves.

So why do we place these rules on ourselves?

Almost always we begin with the best intentions in mind.  We want to get healthier, to be fitter, to look better, to create “the best version of ourselves”.  And how are we told to do this?  Eat less, move more, lose weight.  We are surrounded by these messages in society to the point that they become embedded into our psyche.  Almost everyone is living in the mindset of either trying to lose weight or not wanting to gain weight.  Dieting and exercise have become the social norms.

When we first set out on a health or weight loss journey, we do our research and arm ourselves with knowledge.  Which foods are low in calories or have the most nutrients? How many calories should we eat?  Which foods are more fattening?  How much exercise a day is needed for weight loss?  Which exercises burn the most fat?  All of this information is too much to carry around in our heads so we develop rules to follow to save hours of deliberation every time we need to eat or move our bodies.  Following a plan is so much easier as it takes the pressure of decision making away.   But this is not necessarily a good thing!

For example, take some common food rules:

I can only eat X calories a day

I shouldn’t eat chocolate

I can’t have dessert

If I go to a restaurant I have to have a salad

I am only allowed to eat X times a day

I must leave X hours between meals

Notice any similarities?

The words only, can’t, shouldn’t, must, allowed..  How do these words make you feel?  Ask most people to choose between oppression and liberation and I can almost guarantee they will choose freedom.  But living with words like this, we cannot be totally free.  For some reason we seem to enjoy creating a cage for ourselves to live in, placing restrictions and limitations on our own lives.

Why do we do this?

I don’t have the answer to that.  Maybe it is because we are scared.  So scared of our own power that we feel we have to reign ourselves in.  Scared that without the rules we will be totally out of control.  And ironically enough, rules create exactly the kind of environment for this kind of rebelling to occur.  If you are the kind of person that tends to spiral into chaos the minute you break a rule, think back to before you ever had any rules.  I am guessing that you were doing just fine.   As soon as we place restrictions on ourselves we ignite the deep desire to rebel and it becomes a viscous cycle.

In creating rules, we hand over our power to adapt and change.  Life is not constant – in fact its common to hear that the only constant thing about it is change.  And rules don’t account for this.  We are constantly evolving as humans and the world is in a state of continuous flux.  Just because something works for us today does not mean it will work tomorrow.  But often we cling to the rules we make, far beyond the point where they no longer serve us.  The habits and beliefs we have built become so deeply embedded that it is difficult to consider any other option.

This is why going “all in” works can be so challenging.  Although the fundamentals are non-negotiable there is a lot of room for individualisation.

We know that we need to exercise less but how much is too much?  Can we carry on with what we usually do but less frequently?  How about lifting weights?  Is walking ok?  If so for how long?  What about yoga?

We know we need to nourish our bodies but how much do we need?  Is 2000 calories enough?  3000?  Should we be eating junk foods or focus on nutrition?  Is eating a lot at night ok or should we be spacing things out throughout the day?

These are all questions that come up frequently and there simply is no answer.  Everybody is different and it is up to you to find what works best for your body.  And this can be scary if we are coming from a place where we had a set rule book to help us make our decisions.  We knew what was ok and not ok.  We had external guides to tell us what to do.  And now we are supposed to just let ourselves loose in the world?!

Again, most people want to live a life where they feel free.  In the western world, we are lucky to have abundance available to us every day and yet we choose to turn away from it.  Partly this is because we are made to believe that we can only have certain things if we do as we are told.  If we deprive ourselves in the short term we will receive the rewards of health, beauty and happiness in the long term.  No pain, no gain.  But this simply isn’t true.  We can have all of these things without punishing or depriving ourselves.

What we aren’t told is that there is a shortcut.  Welcoming the abundance in our lives with gratitude will bring us all of these things.  Getting in touch with our needs on both a physical and emotional level and focusing on the things that mean the most to us will bring a deep, sustainable joy which no health or fitness plan can ever promise.  You are the most powerful person in your own life and unlocking this power and using it is so rewarding.  And by power I don’t mean will-power, the ability to stick to external or self-imposed rules but the power to live your life the way you want to.  The power to go against the grain, to make mistakes, to change your mind.. what ever you need to do.

When it comes to food, give yourself the freedom to choose what, when, how much.  If you feel compelled to exercise, give yourself permission to rest.  If your body wants to move then explore that gently.  Take away all numbers, measurements, times and go with whatever feels right.  It might be scary at first but once you get to know your body and your intuition, this will become your safe place.  And when you are stuck or unsure about a decision in your healing journey, maybe try approaching it with a question.

Will this bring me closer to liberation or limitation?