How Diet Changes Freed Me from Myself
Tracking diet and exercise can be very helpful. But at what point does it do more harm than good?
Yes, you heard it; diet changes freed me. In 2013 I gained weight when I quit smoking. Yep, I was a smoker. I picked the habit up from my parents, one of many bad habits. So, I started running again. And to make it more interesting I bought one of those fitness trackers. I just knew that having cool gear would make working out more fun. And it did. I believe the first one I bought was a Fitbit. I also bought a Garmin GPS running watch. That was just the beginning. I downloaded a popular app for tracking calories in and calories out as well. I had improved my eating habits, somewhat, because I had some weight to lose. But I had not yet really grasped the concept of nutrient-dense foods, organics, GMOs, endocrine disruptors, the vast effects of sugar on the body, etc.
Over the next two years I would graduate up the chain of fitness trackers, getting more complex and integrated. My daughter would get first dibs at my discarded trackers. It was appropriate. That’s how we always handled cell phones when she was younger. I would upgrade, and she would get the still-perfectly-good “old” one. Remember the pink Razr?
My final upgrade was to the Apple Watch. Closing those circles every day became maddening. I would up the move goal, the exercise goal and stress over meeting them. I made sure my left arm was always free to move so I would get credit for every single step. The same was true of the app I was using. I would sit at restaurants and try to figure out how to enter my meal: by name, by ingredients? At home, I would construct a dish and add up all the macro and micronutrients to enter into the app and save. I rationalized the time spent as time spent wisely towards better health.
It took me a while to realize the irony. The amount of stress I had created for myself through fitness trackers, calorie counting and daily weighing was, more than anything, weighing on my mind. If you asked my husband, I’m certain he would have told you I was obsessed. That’s not healthy. All that stress raises cortisol levels for one. I’m sure my unbalanced hormones were begging me to stop.
Last year when I took animal products out of my diet – meat, dairy, eggs and fish; as well as refined sugar (and just about any type of sweetener), and highly processed foods, I also decided to stop counting calories. Well, calories in. I was still quite mindful of calories out. See, I was still tied to my fitness tracker; or rather it was tied to me. Until, the battery in my watch started conking out before bedtime. Some days it was hours before bedtime, others just early enough so that I didn’t get all the rings closed. I’d be one hour short of the stand goal, or 2 minutes short of exercise, or 10 calories short of my move goal. It drove me nuts. I guess just nuts enough to make me realize that all of these “health promoting” items were more than likely detracting from my health.
The Benefits of Tracking
Now don’t get me wrong. I believe these methods and devices were a big part of my success. They kept me honest and on task. More importantly, they gave me insight. See, eventually I knew what level of fitness I needed to engage in on a daily basis to meet my goals towards healthy physical movement and nutrient intake. I learned which foods were more nutrient dense and which ones gave me no benefit whatsoever. I also learned that the best judge of my fitness level was not a number, but a feeling. Do I feel rested because I got enough good sleep? Do my clothes still fit? Do I have enough energy to get me through the day? Is my body operating in the ways it should, naturally? Eventually I reached the point where I learned how to listen to my body, as opposed to some one-size-fits-all device.
The result? Less stress, less anxiety, no calorie counting, no categorizing of one type of physical activity over all others. I can sit down and enjoy a meal and the company of others without my head buried in my phone. I do eat one non-plant based item on a regular basis, and that’s wild caught Alaskan sockeye salmon. It’s the only “clean” fish that I like. I like many other kinds of fish, but they are not clean. They are either farmed and fed horrible things I would not eat, or they are full of toxins like mercury. Some don’t even have the nutrients we would want to eat fish for in the first place. Maybe I’ll acquire a taste for some of the other clean fish; who knows. I hated salmon until recently.
What’s my point? If you eat a healthy diet comprised of clean foods, get regular daily physical activity, engage in mindfulness practices that reduce stress, and greatly reduce the toxins in your environment, your body will respond the way it should. Your body will function the way it should and be able to keep you healthy and well. I believe all the tools available to reach a healthy lifestyle are very useful, but at some point we need to cut the cord and trust that we have learned enough to care for ourselves. Using these tools for limited purposes like training or tracking an event are fine. I like to see my runs on a map to assess my progress when needed. But all day every day for too long may be doing more harm than good.
Yours in Wellness,