Lately I’ve been starting to question how structured my approach to nutrition and training is. Everything from meal frequency to training ‘musts’ to stringently avoiding or eliminating anything that could throw me off track. But off track from what? I sometimes wonder whether it’s really all worth it. This anal, overly rigid approach to healthy living. And there are definitely days when I really just can’t be bothered. With supplements, or 6 small meals, or preparing protein-snacks in advance so that I’m not tempted to give in to something else, or with doing the ‘right’ sort of training.
It’s not as though I’d ever wander too far off track. For example, I love working out. It’s just I don’t always love following a pre-planned regime. And I love eating healthy. But sometimes I just want to have a piece of toast and not beat myself up about it for the rest of the day! I even love taking my supplements. 4 days without them last week (I decided not to bother while out of town) was a MAJOR lesson in how much of a difference they really do make. Not just to me, but to my daughter (breastfeeding).
So the truth is that I’m still not 100% sure where I’m going with all this, but I do feel I’ve had a bit of an epiphany of late. I’ve been doing a lot of reading on myths of health and fitness. And as you know, I’m all for dispelling myths. Just a couple of examples spring to mind right away.
- The myth that (real) fat is bad for you
- The myth that wholegrains (or any grains) are healthy
- The many many myths around cardio and ideal exercise for fat loss
- The myth that high-protein is bad for your health and the environment
The Need For Structure: Just Another Myth?
Clearly, I’m not adverse to going against the grain. Which is why I got quite a shock to realise over these past few weeks that I have, in fact, become one of them. A person so caught up in their idea of what is right and wrong that she can barely manage to even consider a different approach.
Recently I read this great list over at Fitness Spotlight. 50 or so very simple and direct points about what it really takes to achieve ideal health and fitness. Mike really sums up a lot of the stuff that I often think or say about being in great shape, but the point which really stood out to me was the first one:
“Here’s the secret to lasting weight loss…find an enjoyable way to eat less (without feeling deprived and giving up) and move more. Done.”
It made me realise that for whatever reason, I’ve lost sight of the enjoyment of living well these past few months. I think this is because – for the first time in years – I’ve been dealing with the frustration and fear of not being in the shape I want to be; of having to fight to get there. And so the things which I used to take for granted are no longer there, and therefore a lot of the (probably smug) enjoyment of eating well and training tough all the time has been replaced with a sense of a constant battle. I said as much in my comments on the above list.
“Great list, but I think point #1 is the winner. As someone who has been in ‘great’ shape for several years, my recent pregnancy has left me heavier and frustrated. I’ve spent the last 6 months (post-birth) structuring every tiny little aspect of my training and eating regime and freaking out when something goes astray. Refusing to eat certain things at people’s homes, panicking if I forget my supplements or – god forbid – run out of food.
Long story short? On both a personal and professional level this has been an AWESOME learning experience for me. Particularly because I’m now getting to the good part I’m re-learning about loving training, doing things the way I enjoy to do them, and now eating when and how I feel like it rather than according to a clock. Read your IF e-book 3 days ago and it blew my mind. So I just wanted to say thank-you, I feel like the blinders have been removed and I can relax on the food front. It’s only been 3 days but the lowered stress, if nothing else, has already shown itself on the scales!”
Mike was kind enough to write back, and said this.
“I am like you, whenever I tried a strict diet plan and/or workout schedule in the past….my life was always more stressed over it all….and I would soon burn out. I think everyone needs to get away from the OCD thinking that have come about with structured “diets” and “workouts”. While they can be a learning experience for some, it is never a lasting happy one for most. I find more happiness and less stress. (which is a huge benefit in itself) when I just now focus on “eating” (instead of “dieting”) and “training” (instead of some rigid “workout”). Eating what and when I want by listening to my body (while knowing what I should be taking in as well). Training as my life activity for things I enjoy and want to improve on (such as riding a bike, playing ice hockey and lately just getting better at bodyweight movements). Life is always full of change, to have a rigid schedule is almost going against what the essence of life is all about…and only causes more stress. To embrace a more flexible lifestyle that can move and adapt with life, goes in harmony….and it will show in our daily happiness levels.
I’ve been thinking about this more and I have come up with a motto of what I believe summarizes what I want from life:
Eat – when I want to and enjoy what I have, no stressing over planning and times (this is where IF fits in as a tool to help get the results I am after)
Play – as that is how I want to get my exercise in…moving through life, something we all enjoyed as kids. No one likes to “workout”….everyone loves to “play”
Live – because there is more to life in a day than worrying about counting calories, carrying around food in Tupperware, and spending hours in a gym.”
Now is it just me, or is it freaking amazing that the motto he’s come up with here is incredibly similar to the tagline of this blog?! Great minds must think alike. And I’m ashamed to admit that I seem to have forgotten to take my own advice here. I’ve forgotten how to ‘play’, how to enjoy the day to day. And, just as scary, I’ve forgotten how important it is to learn to listen in to your body’s changing needs. Yes, there are certain rules of health that basically apply to everybody, but there’s also so much that works on an individual level, and that’s true for food, for lifestyle requirements, for supplements and training, and certainly for motivation and mindset. Again, a case of me not practicing what I preach, especially as BioSignature is all about individualised protocols for success!
Where to from here?
The truth is that I still don’t know exactly where I’m going with this, but I do know that change is afoot. From an advice perspective, I will say this. As stated in my recent post on meal frequency, I believe structure and routine are essential when dealing with new habits and foundation health. I’m just not so certain that such rigidity should apply on an ongoing basis. Certainly not if it means taking the fun out of your journey to ideal health.
Now that I’ve spilled all, I’d love to hear back from you. What do you think about the need for structure as compared to being able to go with the flow day to day? Should it be a matter of one or the other, or a balance between the two?