Paving a New Path towards Health and Wellness

Balance. That word we hear constantly. The supposed answer to learning how to navigate being a functioning adult in the world. So what is it? We believe it’s an appropriate amount of time spent towards connection, creative pursuits, having a deep sense of meaning in life, exercise, movement, sleep, work, hobbies, relationships and eating well. It’s something that many men and women try to achieve within their lifestyles. We have noticed that through the process of balancing it all, an over-reliance on exercise and eating “clean” has taken over. It is not hard to search through social media sites such as Instagram and notice accounts dedicated to this lifestyle. And although we see no issue in wanting to share your process with friends, we have noticed a pattern of negative self-talk when a workout is missed or when indulging in a “cheat meal.” For some, this may lead to a cycle of restriction and disordered eating patterns. We want to challenge the narrative around the role of diet and exercise and move it towards a place of actual balance and bodily acceptance. 

We are not implying that you have an eating disorder if you become upset or irritated when a workout is missed or when you overindulge in certain foods while avoiding others. In fact, only a minority of the population fit the specific criteria as listed in the DSM-5 for an eating disorder with the prevalence of anorexia nervosa at 0.4%, bulimia nervosa at 1-1.5% and binge eating disorder at 1.6% for women and 0.8% for men (APA, 2013). However, much of the population experience a problematic relationship with food and exercise which aren’t listed in these criteria. Some may perceive their bodies as being separate from themselves and treat it as a project to fix, in part because of social comparison and cultural pressure. They may attach success or happiness with a certain size and may tirelessly seek the next best diet, detox, juice cleanse, a new fitness regimen in hopes of finally achieving their dream body. Losing just 5, 10, 15, 25 pounds might help them feel better about themselves and maybe even gain more external attention or validation. 

Perhaps they have a very strict and rigid list of good versus bad foods which they cannot deviate from (not to be confused with food allergies/food sensitivities). Such women or men believe that this is simply life, surely this is inevitable, they reason. It can be difficult to think otherwise when social media, diet culture, and fitness models obsess over achieving a healthy body which tends to yield a very specific look. Being in this state can cause a great deal of suffering such as appearance anxiety, perfectionism, depression, body shame, body dissatisfaction, disordered eating and more. It is when this happens that the intention behind exercise and lifestyle choices has become someone else’s intention rather than your own. Each of our wellness plans ought to be individualized and unique to our preferences and lifestyles.   

In a culture which prizes and rewards outward aesthetic, success, power, achievement, and doing more than being, it is no wonder that many can feel insufficient. Social comparison often gives rise to our own self-critical voice and puts us in a frantic state of striving and wanting from a place of fear and anxiety. Surely, we can all attest to the strong forces at work to make us feel incomplete and lacking, yet, to be aware of this is one thing. We believe that such a lifestyle stands in the way of us creating a meaningful connection with ourselves, others, living out our values, and creating a life of our choosing. Regardless of the state of your health and your approach to bringing wellness to yourself, please be kind to yourself and your distinctive path to wellness which is lifelong and not a fixed state.

We believe it is important to be critical of our culture rather than passive recipients who lack choice. Is it a woman’s fate to be preoccupied with diet and exercise for the rest of her existence? We think not. We believe that women can lead healthy lifestyles without over-identifying with their shape, rumination of appearance/diet, constant mirror-checking, & fantasizing about futuristic versions of their bodies. We believe in becoming increasingly self-aware about the intention behind the exercise or food choice. Intentionality is crucial in determining whether your balance has been offset. What is the reasoning behind wanting to workout at this moment? Is it done for punishment for something you ate, what you look like, or to numb out from thoughts and emotions? Why are you choosing this meal? Do your exercise and food choices bring you joy and vitality? Are you not allowing yourself rest or listening to your natural hunger cues and cravings? Begin to challenge the beliefs about what you think size will give you. Check and change your language; how are you speaking to yourself? It can be helpful to begin by identifying negative self-talk and reframing with statements of gratitude. What does your body do for you? What does it allow you to do? 

Today, if you find yourself stuck in a destructive cycle of dieting or over-exercising, you can check in with yourself: How have you been experiencing your body lately? Perhaps you are feeling disconnected from your body and your emotions. What do you think you’re needing at that moment? Support? Comfort? Connection? What are some ways you can meet these needs that do not damage or destroy your authentic self? Maybe you are needing to feel a greater connection with yourself and or loved ones? You might want to thank your body for all the amazing blessings it has granted you and the world. To have a day of stretching or stillness rather than more strenuous activity? Jot down or brainstorm some ways your whole self brings you meaning and joy outside of physical wellness.  

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Semhar and JoanneComment