Reparenting: How Cultivating a Healthy Diet is Important to Understanding Our Unhealthy Boundaries With Food

A healthy diet is tough to maintain. Food is at the center of most of our celebrations and holidays. We share recipes we love while we find new favorites and old standbys to garnish our plates. We eat every day and we have different dishes representing a plethora of cultures to choose from. It’s also a way we pass time and to cheer ourselves up. We binge on it while we binge on T.V. and there are other ways we use food to be sure. But for most of us food is always in the back of our minds.

Getting Intentional

I usually start a cooking week with the best of intentions. To cook lots of different meals for a quick and easy lunch or dinner during to reheat so I won’t have to stand in front of the fridge or cabinets wondering, “what will I eat for dinner tonight?” But it inevitably happens. My days off come around and something’s come up, or I don’t have the energy to muster the ambitious meal plan I have in mind. So I default to something easy while the food I bought for the recipes I chose slowly waste away in the fridge or on the counter tops.

This happens more often than I’d like to admit. I know I’m not alone and I feel guilty tossing a bunch of produce that’s turned. Not only do I feel bad about the waste but also because meals are so important to our self-care and how we feel about, view and fuel our bodies. The more we take care with the foods that we prepare for ourselves, the more it feels like we are respecting ourselves. And in turn the better we feel about ourselves. But there’s also the voice that beats us up when an unhealthy habit we’ve been taught along the way creeps in.

When Habits Take A Turn For The Worse

And my habits were just that. In my teens and early twenties, I ate a lot of takeout while drinking four to five beers or mixed drinks a night. I had always been overweight, until fairly recently and ate the fattiest, most unhealthy of takeout foods. One of my weaknesses was for pork pot stickers with general Goa’s chicken and chow fun following right behind them. I would probably eat my daily caloric intake in one meal if I got Chinese food for take-out!

My takeout habit started when I was a teenager. I would spend my paper-route money at a sub-shop down the street from where I lived. My mother was always working and was a server so she wasn’t home most nights. She didn’t always have time to make dinner for us or I was tired of eating the same pot of spaghetti sauce, for what felt like a month. So I defaulted to greasy subs and pizzas, while loading up on chips and Slush Puppies at the local convenience store.

It wasn’t until recently, the last few years, that I’ve decided to take a more mindful look at the ways I’ve related to how I’ve nourished myself in the past. And I’ve set some goals for how I want my diet to look going forward in the future. Here are some of the conclusions I’ve come to.

Healthier Food Habits A Turn For The Better

My more recent food journey began when a friend of mine asked me to go to the Boston Vegfest with her five years ago. She also gave me a book titled, “The China Study” by Dr. T. Colin Campbell. Dr. Campbell’s book is about the long term health benefits of a vegan or vegetarian diet on weight loss as well as nutritional values. He champions a whole foods, vegetarian diet. Vegfest was an incredible experience. There were speakers like Dr. Michael Greger, author and founder of the website, Nutritional Facts. He also focused on the nutritional benefits and values of eating a vegan or vegetarian diet. But there were also venders with loads of tasty treats and samples to try as well.

So after those two positive experiences, naturally I jumped in with both feet and became vegan right away. I didn’t try incorporating tofu and more greens into my diet and then slowly fading out meat. Having dairy only on occasion. Nope. Over time my diet has come to resemble something more of a vegetarian diet. Where I mostly still cook vegan for myself and will sometimes eat vegetarian while I’m out. This is due to it not always being easy to find vegan restaurants or restaurants that cater to vegan ways of eating. But I haven’t, nor will I ever eat meat again.

For me it has a lot to do with the environmental impact and the health benefits a plant based diet brings. But I also understand and respect that it’s not a lifestyle for everybody. Vegan’s have gotten a bad rap for being pushy about their beliefs and I don’t want to rest in that camp.

But what is more important for me than the “right” way to eat is, that I needed to set healthier boundaries with the food I was eating. I was drinking close to half my calories for the day in beer alone. Then eating probably my full caloric intake at dinner if I went out to eat! And that was just in one meal! The rest of the day wasn’t stellar either. All said, I would probably eat 4.5k calories in a day with a very sedentary lifestyle. Lots of video games and TV watching without any exercise. Long story short, I had zero boundaries when it came to food.

Are My Intentions Really That Healthy?

When I started eating vegan, it was for weight loss. The health benefits were appealing, but as I’ve said in my post “Search for a Blog“, my family’s values were definitely based in image centric beliefs. My mom would often call me a human garbage disposal with regards to my eating habits. And being overweight pretty much my entire life, I never felt like I belonged to my family. Not that my family members were models for healthy eating habits. But I wanted to belong and I wanted to do it by looking good naked.

I still want to look good. And yes, look good naked. I feel like a large part of self care is about liking who you are in that you enjoy your self projected image. BUT, it’s sometimes difficult to draw the line on what’s healthy versus unhealthy self image, thanks largely to advertising, cultural tendencies and trends. But that’s another post for another time, maybe for somebody with a masters or doctorate in social anthropology or psychology.

Finding Resources

When I started eating a healthy diet, I found that I had to make a lot of sacrifices and find new ways and habits of eating that would allow me to achieve my desired relationship with my food. Protein and iron were now on my radar, as I searched for food’s caloric and nutritional values. Also scanning for proper ratios of carbs to fats to proteins were on my mind as well. It wasn’t easy at first but I found loads of recipes on many different sites that were helpful. A big shout out to The Minimalist Baker for helping me get started with vegan friendly recipes. She also has nutritional breakdowns of her recipes as well. Otherwise I would have been eating a lot of stir-fried tofu and veggies, which probably would have gotten old before long.

But there are so many resources online now, making it so easy to find recipes and inspiration. This Rawesome Vegan Life is another great source for recipe inspiration. But you could find yourself in the same trap if you make and eat whatever you feel like eating, without regards to how much and what you are consuming. And I was headed in that direction yet again.

Addressing An Unhealthy Relationship To Food

By not watching my portion sizes and making a lot of sweets and and other high fat, low nutritionally dense recipes, my eating habits turned into something that resembled what I was doing before going vegan. Only I replaced meat and dairy with more nuts and seeds. As well as loads of chocolate and sweeteners. They were all natural for the most part but I was consuming without regard to how much. And eating for big flavor instead of nutritional value.

Questionable Intentions

One of the reasons I went vegan was because I read somewhere, I’m not entirely sure where and please don’t quote me on this information, that if you eat a vegan, plant based diet your body naturally maintains a low ratio of body fat to muscle. But this only pertains to a healthy plant based diet high in whole, nutrient dense foods. Also one low in sweeteners and highly fatty processed foods. This was something I was disregarding.

My health goals now are to get to a certain body fat percentage. Mostly because I want to see if I’m able. But with my lifestyle changes being so drastically different from the ways I used to be, not only my eating habits but also my exercising habits, I think it’d be nice for at least once in my lifetime, to see the best version of myself in regards to fitness levels and healthy diet.

I’m sure some of the drive to achieve my health goals stems from being called a human garbage disposal when I was young. But regardless of the past I believe that there’s a part in all of us that wants to see the best versions of ourselves. This brings me to the other side of the boundaries coin, the need to achieve beyond what might be healthy.

Over Doing It, When Boundaries Are Too Rigid

I was once married to a woman who told me that I became obsessed with things. Hobbies or ideas that I would find interesting. And she was right. I would follow my interests almost to the point of obsession. If I started brewing beer, I had to grow my own hops, brew three batches at a time and know as much as I could about every aspect of the process. If corralled this could be a useful trait. But left unchecked it can become, well unhealthy obsession.

This could be dangerous when applied to a healthy diet or exercise and detrimental to your health as well. If we become too obsessed with cutting calories, then something like pursuing a healthy diet can lead to malnutrition. Which can lead to loss of bone density and lower immune system function in drastic cases. And exercise done to the point of exhaustion can lead to injury. And if our habit is to push ourselves to persist through exhaustion, we run the risk of doing serious damage to our bodies.

Examples Of Overdoing It

This happened to me once while I was running in the upper milage, while training for a half marathon. I was running three times a week. I had two short days, about three miles and one long day, about eight to ten miles. I kept this schedule while also working full time and restricting my caloric intake. This did not bode well for my future self. One day, after I worked a full day and only ate maybe a small breakfast, I went for a long run. When I got home I jumped in the shower to clean up. When I got out and was drying myself off, I bent over and stood up too quickly, which caused me to pass out on my bathroom floor.

I’m not sure how long I was out, but that was a sobering experience to say the least. I don’t think I really understood what happened to me until much after it happened. This is an example of pushing yourself to the point of it being unhealthy. So take it from me, make sure you’re taking good care with a healthy diet and only pushing yourself when you know you won’t do yourself some serious damage to yourself.

So regardless of our healthy diet goals, it’s important to not only reign in over consumption, but to check aggressive fitness goals as well. Because finding the right balance of how you take care of yourself by way of your personal needs such as a healthy diet and exercise and how you respond to your body’s limits is important.

Also, don’t forget about your expectations and how you get there, which are so important for the intentions we set on how we want to live our lives and be the healthiest versions of ourselves. And as a good friend of mine says, Jay Foss, host of a weekly radio show on North Shore 104.9fm, Raising your Inner Voice, “being the best version of myself helps you to be the best version of yourself”.

I hope you find this perspective useful to some degree. As I said in the beginning of this post, finding a healthy relationship to your diet is difficult. Just know that you are not alone. And remember you don’t have to be so hard on yourself. Be well, peace : ) and thanks for reading.

Image Credits: Adam Sergott, Haymarket, Boston, MA

Edited: 5/26/22

Author: nolabelsliving

Social worker by day, blogger by night. I have a lot of lived experience which is why I started my blog. I was not given any direction when I started out on my journey, but have been blessed with some amazing support and guidance along the way. Just want to give back a little of what I've received : )

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: