Updated: Jun 24, 2020
I love food. We all love food. We all need food. But for the early part of our lives, we do not choose what food we need. Our eating habits and lifestyle have been chosen for us by our family, schools and environment. We believe that our body type is hereditary and that we will always look how our parents look. This is wrong.
My negative relationship with food started when I was young and thought that all the food I loved most could be made in the microwave. From early on I was conditioned to believe that I would never be the perfect body type and that this was just how life was. No matter how healthy I tried to eat or how often I went to the gym I would never see the results I really wanted. My own beliefs and domestication created a vicious cycle of self-hate, doubt and uncertainty, that became so normal and comfortable.
As I struggled with my self image in high school, I took the initiative to learn about health and nutrition on my own, and I soon learned that what I’d known my whole life was not the only option. I taught myself how to cook different foods, understand the importance of a plant-based diet and create healthy eating habits. Even at a young age, I knew that diets were not for me. I remember when my dad and younger brother were trying the Atkins (low-carb) diet and they asked me to try it. Immediately my intuition raised a red flag when I found that fruit was not a part of the initial diet. How could fruit not be healthy? I didn’t understand how that could work. Sure enough, it didn’t work. Although I chose not to follow the same diet, I still continued to struggle with losing weight and feeling confident in my skin. Instead of learning to love food for its purpose and benefits for the body, I saw food as a way to control my body type.
Similarly to many middle-class families in America, I grew up with the privilege of always having food available to me. The idea of food insecurity would not make much sense to me as a child. But what is important to also understand is that having access to food is not the same as having access to healthy food. Although my family may have been able to afford the healthy options growing up, we often did not choose that path. Even when we thought we were being healthy, the marketing schemes fooled us once, twice and many more times. Trusting the brands on the shelves rather than the farmers in our community, is how we have separated the American food system.
Income, education and accessibility are all factors that determine your health at a young age. Whether or not you decide to change your habits and have the means to do so can be challenging. We are taught about the importance of food and how we should eat half a plate of veggies, a small amount of fats, and lots of protein, but we forget to mention the roadblocks that stand in the way. Our communities are structured to either help us or hurt us. Without access to healthy food, we are predestined to limited options and not controlling how we take care of our health. But in addition to access, education and awareness are what is necessary to teach families about eating healthy for their own growth. But who do we trust to educate our children about health? The school system that is also structured to either help us or hurt us? However, parents are teachers too, and everything they do and believe will also be reflected onto their family when they are young.
As I began my spiritual transformation and journey to bettering myself, through self-reflection I realized that when I first started to teach myself about health online and from friends, that what I lacked was the stable mental health and positive intentions towards a healthier life. My actions were rooted in my deep subconscious negative relationship with food, not in the prime focus of nurturing and loving my body. And who are we to blame when society is constantly telling us we need to change how we look and lose or gain weight to be accepted.
It’s no surprise that I’m not the only person with these insecurities in this country. Whether you have access to healthy food or not, your relationship with yourself will always control how you treat your body. Studies by the Dove Self Esteem Fund in 2008 found that, “75% of Girls with low self-esteem reported engaging in negative activities like cutting, bullying, smoking, drinking or disordered eating.” Ironically, American culture puts alcohol on a pedestal and that it’s all fun and games. I know we’ve all heard people saying that we should just have a few drinks and modify our drinking habits, but that is much easier said than done. Getting tipsy at 12am and deciding whether or not to get another drink while in a bar with other people who are drunk “having fun” is not always the best place for decision making that affects your health. Especially when after you decide to get that next drink, or two, or three…your body will be screaming for greasy food to absorb all of the alcohol. And the next morning how do we feel? Regret? Tired? Headaches?
This is all too familiar for some of us. The amount of times I’ve heard one of my friends or myself say “I’m never drinking again” the morning after a night out are endless, but yet we still repeat these behaviors. Is it because we love the taste of vodka sodas and feeling dehydrated the next morning? I’d hope not. But still, we continue to live a life of repetition and comfort because it’s what everyone else around us is doing and what is deemed as “normal”.
When my friend from Italy came to visit America for the first time she didn’t understand why people here enjoyed getting super drunk and feeling crappy the next day and it was difficult for me to explain the concept to her. In fact, it was even more difficult to find activities to do with my friends during the summer that didn’t involve drinking or eating. This was a real moment of self-reflection for me, to realize that what I was taught by society may not be as acceptable as I thought it was.
So throughout my college career, I worked to learn about eating healthy, exercise and even organized fitness events with an organization called PRETTY GIRLS SWEAT. I was introduced to this sweat sisterhood by my best friend Maya back in high school. We started a girls workout club in community college and I learned a lot from Maya about how to properly exercise in a weight room. By gaining confidence in and out of the gym, I then went on to receive my certification to teach POUND fitness, a cardio pilates workout jam session with drumsticks.
Although I was on the cheerleading team in high school, I would not have seen myself standing in front of a group of my college peers teaching fitness classes by myself. Being self-conscious about my body and weight from a young age has been a hurdle I have begun to overcome through teaching fitness classes and telling myself to forget about being the perfect size for a typical fitness instructor. The community and role models of POUND promote the motto Any Age, Any Stage to show that the workout is fun and accessible for everyone. Although my first class was extremely difficult, I learned that I was able to modify or push myself easily depending on my energy that class, without any self-judgment.
I am extremely grateful to have such positive influences in my life which enabled me to take control of my health. However, because I was not aware of my domestication and my habits, it was sometimes difficult to get past the roadblocks in my fitness journey. The excuses were endless and even as a fitness instructor I still struggled with consistently cooking my meals, staying active and avoiding self-harming addictions, especially food.
Growing up in a town with 5 pizzerias and working in the food service industry, my cravings for food were constant. I believed that when I was hungry I needed to eat and that my eating schedule had to follow the same patterns day in and day out, rather than based on my needs and what my body required for energy. When I began to analyze my eating habits and caring more about my overall health, I took pride in the independence I developed from buying my own groceries and learning to prepare healthy college-budget meals. From learning about meal prepping and budgeting, I managed to save money, reduce food waste, and overall feel better.
Let me assure you, it is not always as easy as it seems to live a healthy lifestyle when you have multiple responsibilities and bills to pay. Time management really helped me stay on top of my schedule during college so that I wouldn’t be tempted to order take out as often and continuously spend money I needed to save. The college environment makes this even harder, our culture around socialization almost always includes food or alcohol. A great way to avoid unnecessary spending on food is to cook with your friends at home rather than going out to eat. You can also take on a part-time job at a health food store or restaurant and get discounts on healthier food options. After college while searching for a start to my career, I decided to work at an Italian restaurant to pay rent. Although I was fairly satisfied with the pay, I did not align with the values of the restaurant and it was getting more difficult to stay positive and avoid old familiar habits to creep back in. I decided to quit that restaurant to try working at a local vegan cafe. Even though I didn’t work there long before moving out to Cali for a full-time position, I was much happier being surrounded by healthier and happier coworkers and customers.
Now, I’ve carried these new healthier habits into my everyday life as best as I can to care and love my body that I call home. Living with other people can be difficult at times, but also an advantage. Yes, you may feel more inclined to go out and get food or drinks, but you can also choose to stay home and make guac and chips as a cheaper alternative. (RIP Morrell) But the difficulty for me was having other food in the house as a constant temptation to eat unhealthily. Personally, I try not to buy anything considered “junk food” or anything high in sugar, sodium, fat, etc. By doing this, I know I won’t be able to choose that option when I’m feeling lazy or having a rough day. If I want to eat poorly I need to go out of my way and go to the store or restaurant to get something I don’t need and spend more money. So when I’m very busy, I’m less likely to do so, then (usually) my cravings go away once I eat something healthy that gives me the energy I needed.
However, no one is perfect. I chose not to buy unhealthy groceries, but that doesn’t mean I won’t treat myself to a cookie or greasy food every once in a while when offered to me at an event, at a friends house, or 3am at Taco Bell. Putting a strict limitation on food can sometimes have a negative effect and make you crave those foods even more. For myself, any time I tried to cut sugar, alcohol or unhealthy carbs out of my diet completely, I failed within a few days. I used to beat myself up about it and then give up. But instead, what I learned to do was slowly remove them from my diet and if I did eat them on occasion I didn’t feel bad or overthink my choice. Once you start eating healthy more than unhealthy, the cravings for bad food will become fewer and you will be surprised when you would rather have a healthy home-cooked meal than BBQ wings (this one may take longer than others cuz bbq is life).
Still to this day, I am at war with food. But now, I am learning to be a warrior and learn how to defend myself from the many distractions that our society creates. So yes, at 2am when options are limited, I’m asking myself “Can I find a healthy option so I don’t have to trigger unhealthy eating habits for myself?” And there is nothing wrong with that. I am becoming stronger every day and will continue to love my body as it is and continue giving it the proper nutrients needed for me to grow and learn from my old habits.
Becoming conscious is extremely scary and difficult. Your old habits jump in your face to continuously remind you of your past and possible future. It can be very easy to think that you have mastered yourself. When you feel a change in your life for the better you can either grow or retract. Going back to consistency will seem safe but it will not help you grow. Finding discomfort and staying there will be the only way to truly master your habits and create a new plan for yourself. So before your next meal, instead of saying to yourself “Wow I’m getting really fat maybe I should eat a salad one of these days” you can say “Wow! I love myself just the way I am and I love fueling my body with loving energy!” (with all your enthusiasm)