I accepted this Viva Fresh Clean Eating Challenge a mere eight days after I learned my dad died in Colombia.
Since then, I completely reworked my goals because I discovered I was yet again “emotional dieting” as a coping strategy. After a three-decade obsession with food, weight and fitness, and using my success or failure in this as a measuring tool of my self-worth, I discovered a new path.
Long-lasting behavior change is an inside job, so I’ve been working on cleaning up my thoughts, which in turn affect my feelings, about what I’m eating, my exercise and my shape.
My health stats show I was pretty healthy at the start of this challenge, if a shade heavier than the ideal, but antiquated, range that was set long ago by doctors.
I decided I want to stop obsessing, craving and restricting. To do that, I’ve been eating whatever I want, as much as I want, whenever I want — until it’s no longer taboo. Until my body recognizes that it won’t be deprived, that there’s no need to stock up on the available calories in case of famine.
Until I can forget that there’s ice cream in the freezer. Those Cheez-Its are always available, so there’s no need to scarf them down.
Then, my body can relax, reach homeostasis and reset to whatever weight range is natural for my particular body.
It’s been a hard process — mostly emotionally.
Without a strict food and exercise regimen, I had no way to distract myself from the intense challenges I’ve encountered during these six months, including planning an online memorial service, handling two estate probate court cases, one in a language I don’t speak, a pandemic with its isolation from social supports, a toddler, a move from NYC to the suburbs, and the ever-mounting workload.
I’ve been feeling my feelings, without being able to numb out by secret over-eating or restricting. I’ve been dealing with these challenges mostly head-on, and it’s tough.
I’ve also been trying to listen to my body and what it wants, aside from what our culture says it should look like.
I’m learning that I really do enjoy fresh vegetables and fruits, not just because I’m supposed to and they’re healthy. They make me feel good, and I love the bright colors, interest and variety they add to my meals and snacks.
I’m learning that I need an outdoor workout buddy to stay motivated, and that if a good solo walk in my hilly neighborhood is all I can manage, that’s great and still has a lot of physical and mental benefits.
I’m learning radical self-love, not dependent on my performance.
I’m learning that a ton of white, simple carbohydrates and sweets makes me feel bloated, affects my skin and energy levels.
Notice I use the present tense. Even after six months, I’ve not mastered these concepts. I have three decades of beliefs to shift, and that takes a long, long time.
This challenge has allowed me to take a risk that I might not have had the courage to take otherwise: Almost purposely gaining weight in order to swing the pendulum back to the middle, the place of moderation.
I’ve gained more self-compassion and patience with this long process of shifting my perspective. I’ve gained the ability to ask for help to recognize that I’m not in this alone, and that yes, fresh produce does indeed rock.