The Vitality Challenge
Whats it all about?
Have you ever had a moment in your life that just hits you like a freight train? The one where you suddenly register that you have been behaving in a way which, when you think about it, it suddenly makes no sense what so ever?! This is what happened when I decided that I needed to change.
I needed to change how I was thinking, how I was feeling and how I was acting around food and about my body.
I have been a lifelong yo-yo dieter. Even writing that down conjures up feelings of failure. I have been on this plan and that plan and despite always reaching my goal when sticking to the plan, I have always ended up putting any weight I have lost back on within 12 months of losing it. Then guess what, I would start the next plan again, stick with it for a while and then something else would come up and all would be lost. What a depressing way to have lived the last 20 odd years of my life. Never feeling happy about food, eating, what I look like or even worse, how I feel about my body.
The body which has climbed mountains, danced until sunrise, laughed until it aches, felt the sand under my toes at sundown, surfed, sailed, snowboarded, loved, grown a human (excuse my french but how the F does that work!), consoled friends, studied, achieved; the list goes on.
All I have done for as long as I can remember is berate myself for not being slim enough, fit enough or pretty enough. I finally decided on the verge of my fortieth birthday that IT ENDS HERE. I refuse to spend the next 40 years of my life, should I be lucky enough to experience them, telling myself I am failing in some way because I am not a certain weight or shape.
I have reflected deeply on how I want to spend the rest of my life and decided to write a list. I do like a good list :)
My list revolved around the thought of how I wanted to experience my life. What did I want to feel? Not how much did I want to weight, or what size clothes did I want to wear, but how did I want to feel in my body. I then honed this list down to a few words:
Strong, flexible, agile, capable, able, positive, full of life, healthy, energised, light on my feet.........
I wanted to feel full of vitality, living the sh*t out of life - no holds barred.
The word vitality means different things to different people but for me, it was quite simply a lust for life, all of my life, including food and exercise. I knew that my current relationship with food and my body did not allow me to fully enjoy all that my life had to offer. I often ordered a salad when I wanted pizza because I was always on a "diet". I felt deprived most of the time around food when on an eating plan. I frequently did not join in with fun team games at social events as always thought people were looking at me thinking "god she is fat and unfit".
I decided to challenge myself to live life with as much vitality as possible for 90 days. I had no idea what that would mean, what changes I would need to make and how, if at all, my life would change. I wanted to treat the 90 days as an experiment, secure in the knowledge that whatever happened I could change it, adjust it, stop it, mould it and rethink as many times as I wanted. There was no plan to follow except making sure that whatever I did made me happy, feel full of life and really made me feel alive at whatever given moment I found myself in. There was no goal or target. It was simply me seeing what happened when I lifted the bans and "bad food list" and just living in the moment around food and exercise.
A definition of madness is to keep doing the same thing over and over when it clearly has not worked in the past right? So it was time for something different. A new approach. Discovery. An in-depth look at myself and my relationship to food. This was exciting! I had no idea where this challenge would take me.
I was lifting the shackles of weight loss, body image, constantly dieting and planning food and meals. The pressure was off and it felt totally liberating!
Here's what's happened so far ............
Days 1 - 14
So, here I am with my new found freedom. Freedom around how I feel about my body, freedom around eating what I wanted, when I wanted it without guilt or self-criticism. I had a theory as to how the first part of my challenge would go. Without the shackles of weighing myself each morning and removing the constant pressure to lose weight, I knew that I would have a period at the start of the challenge which would see me head straight for all the foods that I have stopped myself from having when on diets or eating plans. My theory was this; yes I would gorge, yes I would binge and yes I would enjoy every second of it. That was part of the challenge - to feel good about whatever I chose to do at any given moment. Living life to the full, no negative self-talk after a third slice of toast just pure enjoyment. This was quite simply amazing! I ate cheese guilt free, I chomped on biscuits without batting an eyelid, I ate pizza at a friends birthday party, you name it, if it had been on the forbidden list I was having it. Oh, the joy of the freedom!
It was all going swimmingly, and I was feeling really alive and great about it all and then, under the banner of "just out of interest", I made a stupid error, after all my promises of not caring about my weight and not being bound by the shackles of the scales, I woke on day 13 and before I knew it, was stood naked in the bathroom weighing myself.
My weight had gone up by 3lbs. I was not horrified by this finding, but I cannot lie, it did affect my mindset. I noted this and promised myself to reflect on this later in the day - why did the number on the scale affect me in such a way? What attachment had I made to this number or weighing in ritual? I was not surprised by the weight increase as had been eating everything and anything so knew this would happen initially.
Normally I would have been downstairs and been digging out my slimming world books in a flash but this time around I paused and thought, yes I am 3lb heavier but what has changed because of this finding? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. The word "trust" ran across my mind. I knew that I had to stick with this process and trust that my body would regulate itself in time as long as I kept the shackles lifted. The challenge had now become not to follow my usual patterned knee-jerk reaction and panic and begin a new diet plan! That was not the point of this challenge, I had to avoid that route at all costs as that choice had never worked before hence I was where I was.
I asked myself if I had enjoyed the last two or so weeks of complete freedom around food and the answer was a resounding yes. I had eaten out with friends and family and ordered what I wanted not what I thought I should have. I really enjoyed the food I had. Because of this, I enjoyed the occasions fully and did not feel like I was missing out in any way when normally I do. I realised that food had such a control over me, my life, my mood and the fun I had was controlled by what I ate and how I felt about it afterwards. What a ridiculous way to live. It's just food, fuel, nutrition.
I decided to continue on, treating every day like an experiment, what worked, what didn't, when did food control my thoughts/emotions and most importantly, how could I break the connection between food and my thoughts? Why can some people eat only when they are hungry and not think about food until their stomach rumbles, whereas I am in the biscuit tin as soon as I get stressed or in the fridge as soon as I get home? All patterned behaviours but where did they come from?
The research into the food/mind/emotion connection began - someone pass me that google machine!
Days 15 - 28
After the unplanned weigh in I began to worry that I would pile on more pounds if I carried on eating the way I was. I returned to my original reasons for taking up the challenge.
I wanted to feel full of life, full of vitality, did I really feel this way physically and mentally so far? I let myself sit with this thought for a few days. I decided to really check in with my physical body first. The first question which came to mind was honestly, how was my general health?
At first, I thought yep, I am healthy. I don't really have any illness, rarely get a cold, I can exercise and physically I am quite able. I then popped onto Facebook and noticed that in my newsfeed there was a video about health by a man called Eric Edmeades. It took my interest so I clicked on the link. The universe had delivered something to me exactly when I needed it as usual.
The video (link here - discusses and questions our current beliefs around food and health. The opening line smacked me in the face. I was not as well as I thought I was. I had low-level symptoms of IBS, sinus problems, an achy body, low energy levels (which I put down to being a mum to a toddler), restless sleep, I struggled with sugar cravings and was gaining weight as I aged. I had had these symptoms for most of my adult life and I also knew the foods which I was intolerant to but for some reason had forgotten about these and was eating them daily. It was no wonder that I felt like crap when I finally took a moment out of my hectic day to actually listen to my body. The initial two-week binge where I allowed myself complete freedom had really sent me to a new level with my low-level ailments. My body was now screaming rather than mumbling! Wow; another game changer.
I then started sifting through other videos related to the topic and viewed some amazing speakers with information and methods of framing the questions of food and fitness in ways I had not even thought of before. My next question was what was I going to do with all this info?
I decided to strip things back to the raw basics as felt a little overwhelmed by my new thoughts. Out came the notepad. I decided to really think about the reasons behind my desire to be healthy, slim, fit and strong. What were the drivers behind these desires? Media? Other peoples opinion of me? Health? Getting behind the why became so much more important than the what.
After spending time coming and going from my notes I drew out some clear thoughts and actions:
- It has taken nearly 40 years to reach this body, it will not change in 4 weeks or 4 months. Do not rush to change. Take your time, adjust slowly. For the first time ever this was possible as I had removed the pressure of weight loss goal completely. This goal had not worked long term so far so no point in keeping it in the mix. Done. Next. There was no end date and I was not "end result" driven. Therefore there was no ultimate success or failure, only progression one way or another. A continual experiment, change, review, change or maintain, pressure off, and breathe :)
- I was clear on how I would know if I had reached where I wanted to be by detailing the feeling I would experience if I made the right choices across all areas of my life which were kind to my body and mind. It was not about how I looked but all about how I FELT.
- I finally realised that by not recording where I was right now, I had no benchmark to compare to moving forwards. I purchased a shiny new notepad (stationary sucker over here!) and began simply recording everything I ate, how I felt, what water I drank when I felt hungry or had a craving, and what I was doing when that craving came through my mind. This was not a food diary so I could judge what I ate or tot up calories, it was simply a list of what I ate so I could get an overview in general of the types of food I favoured, and assess if I was missing out on key nutrients. It was a record of how I felt and a note of my behaviour around food. out of everything so far, this one thing has been the most helpful in reviewing my relationship with food and fitness. I felt no guilt in writing down a banana sandwich or mini cheddars for the first time in my life. My emotional attachment to food was dissipating. I have begun to see food as simply that, food; this was huge.
- I realised that I had not been listening to my poor body at all. I am now starting to listen carefully to it and respond to those whisperings with thought and care. I have reconnected with my physical being after many years of living in my hectic head day in day out. Sorry body! I hear ya now!
The result so far (day 29) from all of the above revelations is:
- I am calmer around food and in my head. I feel in control and am eating consciously rather than reactively. There is no rush. Go slow, and I hate to use the words as they are everywhere but I am moving towards making choices mindfully. This bit is taking practice and I still fall foul to my rushing reactive head some days but that's become okay, it's all a journey.
- Because I am finally listening, I am eating way less. Cravings come and go but by using a journal and recording what I was doing before the craving came into my head, I am able to register that the craving is not hunger but usually boredom or stress driven therefore I need to change my activity or focus not eat something as this will not change my feeling permanently or for long. Bingo!
- Because I am finally listening, I am able to provide my body with proper nourishment. The food that is needs to keep it healthy.
- I am rebuilding a great relationship with my body. Like getting to know a stranger that you meet randomly but get on with straight away like a long lost friend and want to get to know more or spend more time with. This is a really lovely feeling. For the first time ever I feel like I am really loving and being kind to myself mentally and physically.
Now, don't get me wrong here, I am still not on what I would call my a-game healthy, but with all the above has come an acceptance that change will take time and patience. The best thing is, for the first time I am so content with that. I am loving this experience around myself and living a life of vitality.
Amazing that I am only 28 days in and have had all these revelations! Hopefully, so much more to come :)