It’s not that I was thinking: “Wow, I am at such a great place with food and body image I should really write a post about that.”
It’s the opposite. I haven’t thought about my relationship to food or my body very much at all the past year, that’s how I know I’m at a pretty good place with it all.
There was no single, magic, suddenly-it’s-easy button, but recent conversations with a few different friends (especially this lady) on the topic inspired me to reflect and share. So these are some of the things that have helped most for me…
No diets, no labels, no rules. I’m not vegan or paleo or vegetarian or flexitarian or anything-itarian. I just eat foods I like and skip ones that make me feel not so awesome.
Because I still exist in the world of food blogging, people frequently ask me what my diet is like and I don’t really have a good answer. Sometimes I’ll say it’s paleo-ish…but then I remember I eat grains…and sugar…and processed things. Or it’s plant-based because I do still have a lot of veggies and fruits in my life…but then there’s the meat and fish and collagen and occasional eggs. So I can’t put it in a pretty box, and I like it that way.
It’s been a few years now since I’ve followed a diet of any kind (vegan), and at this point I don’t know how I ever did it. Or better question: WHY?
And I know I’ll probably get some pushback for this one, because if you follow my blog chances are high that you are vegan (and I completely respect that choice!) But having to get I.V. iron infusions because my levels are so low my hair is falling out is no joke, and being vegan for seven years was not unrelated.
I feel great eating high fat/protein with lots of (cooked) veggies and berries and coconut and some grains and plenty of chocolate in there too. But I figured that out through trial and error and listening to my own body, not following any books or programs.
I’m already high maintenance enough as it is, I don’t also want to have so many food restrictions I can’t out eat anywhere socially – that’s no fun. So at home I feel best not eating gluten and dairy, and that feels easy to do. But if I’m out and sharing wings or fried pickles with friends that are definitely breaded in some gluten, you better believe half that basket is mine.
Working With a Nutritionist
And not just any nutritionist but the right nutritionist too. One that knows it’s not really about the food but about self worth and social pressure and upbringing and habits and fears. One that knows meal plans and macros aren’t going to heal anything. One that is happy to hear I’m working out less and eating dessert more.
For me that was this lady, who I respect and admire in so many ways and who made me feel incredibly supported. Struggling with food and body image can feel really isolating, so being able to give up control and trust someone else to GET IT and guide me was huge.
It took me a long time to ask for external help besides friends and family, but I wish I’d done it sooner. It wasn’t until months after I worked with her that I truly recognized the impact of it.
In the past few years, travel has become one of my favorite things and a big priority in my life. I learn more about myself spending two weeks in another country than I ever could at home. It’s quite literally hopping on a plane, destination: outside my comfort zone. Which is where all the good/challenging/fun/growth stuff happens.
Other countries aren’t America with nutrition labels in English, or ingredient lists and calorie counts on menus, or grocery stores with familiar “clean” brands. And at first that was hard for me, but now I love it. It’s empowering and freeing, and I always try to bottle up and bring back as much of that worry-less-enjoy-more mindset as possible.
Gelato shop in Australia with no dairy free options? Yep, I’m probably gonna go for it. My stomach may hate me later, but double scoop please.
First sip of a matcha latte and I can instantly tell it’s 80% sugar because matcha is barely a thing in small town north Florida, much less unsweetened matcha? Not a big deal – it’s one drink, it’s more milkshake than matcha, but it will be finished.
Unidentified starchy fry-like things served to me on a beach in Fiji? I don’t really care what they are, yes I do want more. (Breadfruit! It was fried breadfruit and it was delicious.)
Raw salmon in a poke bowl in South Africa? Okay that actually was a mistake…but not for food restriction reasons
It’s easy to control every food choice when I’m at home by myself with my own car to go grocery shopping and kitchen to cook in. But a forced lack of control is good for me.
This one may sound counterintuitive, but hear me out.
The mirror? Not my objectivity friend. It’s too real time, too easy to let my eyes zip to my flaws and insecurities and overlook the fact that my hair looks damn good today or that I have the worlds most perfectly proportioned feet. Actually the smaller my bathroom mirror, the better. And I consciously only engage with that full length one on the back of my bedroom door on days I’m already feeling good about myself.
But photos can often be a more objective and honest perspective for me. I usually only turn on the iPhone camera in moments where I’m feeling good (also whoever invented portrait mode, you are my favorite person), and I know my angles. Snap them, put them away, and come back tomorrow with those VSCO filters – time can do a lot for how I see myself.
We are all our own worst critics, so realize that other people see your beauty where you are laser-focused on flaws in a photo and in real life. Don’t doubt or deny every compliment, accept them with gratitude and give them freely as well.
You could say this is overly focused on physical appearance, but we all have eyes and appearance does matter in this world – I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Being proud of my appearance isn’t about vanity, it’s about confidence and taking the time to take care of myself both inside and out. When I choose to wear a strappy sundress it isn’t for attention, it isn’t becuase I have the world’s most toned shoulders or perfect tan. It’s because I’m feeling good and it makes me happy.
Dudes are difficult in a lot of ways, but food is not one of them.
If you feel experience emotions even half as deeply as I do, this is the best distraction from, well, EVERYTHING else in life. The fun of flirting and falling, all the overthinking, the sadness when my heart is hurting – these emotions are crazy strong and completely override any bad body image thoughts for me.
Did I just eat ice cream for dinner? Yes. Was it the most healthful decision? No. But with the tornado of emotions currently tearing a path through my brain, that’s the least of my worries.
Really this has just given me perspective. It has made me realize that life is about so much more then what I choose to eat or not to eat. Connections and relationships (friend, family, or romantic) are the most important thing in life in my opinion, and make food choices seem inconsequential in the big picture.
Also eating around men and seeing the minimal amount of thought that goes into what they choose to eat…it’s honestly beautiful. They decide so much more based on WANT not SHOULD than women. This is the dietary energy I need in my life. Observe, absorb, mimic as much as possible.
I would never have eaten a big breakfast and then brunch one hour and a stroll through IKEA later, or Taco Bell at 12:30 AM because nothing else is open, or nearly as many drive-through burgers with my girlfriends. Shoutout to men for all those experiences and realizing “imperfect” food choices can be nourishing too.
I feel very fortunate to work for myself and never have to worry about dressing professionally. But I have found when I shower and do my hair/make-up and wear something I feel good in, I’m a happier human even if I don’t leave the house all day. As fun as working in your pajamas may sound, it’s really not the key to success.
I’ve learned that high waisted jeans make me feel like a grandma. And crop tops make me unnecessarily self-conscious about my stomach. And short shorts are my favorite because I love my legs. And dresses make me feel light and free in a way that usually leads to dancing around my apartment.
I’ve also learned that every outfit looks better when I’m not stick thin. And I feel more feminine at a higher weight (not that I weigh myself, but you get me) too.
So I wear what makes me feel attractive for myself, even if it’s not always trendy or age-appropriate. Even if it gets repetitive sometimes (what can I say, I love a black tank and denim shorts). Even if some days it’s a T-shirt and yoga pants because that feels like the outfit equivalent of self-care and some days that’s what I need.
For years it was nothing but yoga for me because that felt like the most gentle and nourishing way to move. But damn was I burnt out. For a while that manifested as doing nothing but walking because I was afraid going to a gym would be bad for my mental progress around body image. But about 6 months ago I walked into L.A. Fitness, signed up for a membership on the spot (in typical impulsive Nat fashion), and discovered I love strength training.
I also discovered that 1) I don’t love cardio, so the ellipticals and treadmills are not my people 2) sometimes I won’t feel like going, maybe for weeks even, and that’s okay 3) I can be in a gym and be okay going at my pace, not killing myself, not comparing myself to everyone around me. And feeling strong feels SO much better than looking skinny.
I don’t know a woman (especially living in the US and raised with some amount of privilege) who hasn’t struggled with these things to some extent in her life. And while I don’t think these thoughts will ever be completely gone, especially with social media seemingly here to stay, I have learned how to protect myself from them and love myself through them in a way that feels more solid than it has in years.
Thanks for reading ♡