Have you ever struggled with finding balance? I don’t know about you… but I’ve always been an “all or nothing” kind of person. If I set my sights on a goal, I become obsessed. A lot of people do this when it comes to getting in shape. They completely turn their life upside down in order to lose weight or “tone up.” They cut out all “bad” foods, exercise an hour or more every day, avoid socializing or happy hours to avoid eating and drinking… Then after a week or two of this, they burn out and go back to their old lifestyle. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this story. And honestly… I’ve been in the same exact boat!
It took me years to find balance and I’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way. Patterns developed. Some may sound familiar to you. I’d eat the so-called “wrong” thing, or a whole lot of so-called “wrong” things and I’d think, “Well, I just blew it, so why stop now?” Slipping up often meant giving up. I’d gain a little weight, not like the way I looked (or more importantly, felt), and I’d beat myself up over it. Then I’d get back to my strict way of eating and working out, until I lost the weight. But I’d invariably mess up again. That’s how I saw it, too. As messing up — a cycle of indulging and then punishing myself.
Left: College, Middle: Senior Year, Right: Now
I know a lot of you might look at the picture on the left and think I looked fine, even good…But it doesn’t matter what I looked like…because my health was not fine or good. In college, I lived primarily on Ramen, Easy Mac and Dr. Pepper. I never exercised and rarely got enough sleep. I drank heavily several days a week (I would literally pre-party in my 9:00pm bio class with a sneaky water bottle full of wine… good grief). I was constantly having to go to the health center because I was always sick. I gained weight and hid behind baggy clothes. I didn’t take care of myself at all and couldn’t figure out why I felt so bad all the time. I never stopped to consider that perhaps it was my lifestyle. I was “all in” when it came to partying and fun in college. I started out on the Dean’s list my first two quarters, and then slipped into party mode the rest of that year and the following two, which made my GPA take a nose dive.
It wasn’t until my Senior year of college that I had an “ah ha!” moment. I realized I couldn’t keep doing what I was doing or I would continue to be sick, unhealthy and struggling through school. I finally made my health a priority. I cleaned up my diet, I started going to the gym, I improved my time management so I could get more sleep. I stopped partying all the time and actually stopped drinking altogether for years. While that may sound good on the outside, I took it too far (as usual). The picture in the middle was around that time. I struggled to find balance. I would go a week eating super clean, but if I gave in and had a cookie, my mindset was that I might as well eat the whole box, the rest of the kitchen and the entire neighbor family too. I developed an overall unhealthy relationship with food and found myself obsessing constantly. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t blame “clean eating” for that. I would have been like that no matter what style of eating I chose, because it was the restrictions I placed on myself that made it unhealthy.
Fast forward to now (the picture on the right). I’ve had plenty of bumps in the road. It was anything but smooth sailing. But I finally found that “balance” that I’d been trying so hard for. My mindset is so much healthier when it comes to food, working out and just overall wellness. Just like most people, I have my insecurities. But I no longer allow them to consume me. I focus on the positive. I eat “clean” the majority of the time, but I can go out and have some pizza and not feel guilty. I know that denying myself something I enjoy is not something I can do permanently. I also know I’ll have a healthy breakfast the next day and hit the gym (because I want to, not because I feel the need to work off the pizza calories). I enjoy nights out with friends where I have several cocktails, (because I know the next day I’ll drink my water and get a run in). I found what works for me… And what works for me, won’t work for everyone. We’re all unique… and in order to stick to an exercise program or a nutrition plan, you have to find something you enjoy so you will stick with it too!
It wasn’t one particular thing or one particular moment that this all changed for me. It was through months and years of trial and error. I made an effort to be more introspective…. which helped me realize my emotional and mental “triggers.” I actively worked to change the way I thought about food and exercise. It all starts in the mind. If you find that you always lose motivation after a certain amount of time, or you always tend to overeat when you’re faced with too much stress, you can reflect on it and dig deeper to find out the root of it. Some people are able to do this on their own, while others turn to professionals. A lot of people tend to have a negative reaction the the idea of “shrinks”, but in my opinion, there is nothing wrong with seeking help, especially if what you’re going through is interfering with your everyday life. Keeping a journal also helped me analyze the links between my emotions/thoughts and my actions.
Finding balance doesn’t always come easily. It didn’t for me… it took a lot of mistakes and struggles. But I’ve learned so much about myself throughout this journey. I can’t imagine where I would be right now in life if I’d given up… If I had thrown in the towel instead of pressing on and trying new things. If you’re struggling right now to find the motivation to keep going or you’re still fighting for balance, take it from me…. you’re worth the effort. Don’t give up on you. Reflect on your thoughts, your emotions and your actions. Actively work on developing yourself not just physically, but mentally and emotionally as well.