This post has two sections focused on intentional eating and intentional movement. I have no medical background other than my own research over the years, so please don’t take any of this as medical advice. This is simply what I am doing lately and how it’s working for me. Since being diagnosed with MS, I’ve spent the past several years learning what really works for my body, and that is changing all the time. I hope you enjoy reading this post as much as I enjoyed putting it together, and I’d be happy to chat with you about any questions or comments you might have on this topic!
As I get older, I realize that my relationship with food has been quite warped for most of my life. I feel like in the past 5 years or so, I’ve been transitioning away from some of those scary thoughts about myself and what food means for me, and trying to get to a healthier mindset about it.
I recently spoke with my friend and soon-to-be registered dietician, Megan Bova, about intentional or intuitive eating. I had seen her post about it quite a bit on social media, and because I, too, had been leaning toward this practice, I thought I’d chat with her about her philosophy in this department. She gave me some really amazing insight on the subject. When Megan started school to become a dietician, she said she was mid-eating disorder and ready for her professors to teach her how to control every calorie that went into her body, but that mindset quickly changed.
“Honestly, I wanted to become a registered dietitian so that I would know how to attain a perfect diet,” Megan said. “I quickly found that my professors weren’t going to teach me how to cut carbohydrates, eat tons of protein, limit calories to almost nothing, and keep fat out of my diet. Instead they taught me how to calculate my calorie needs based on my height and current weight. They taught me how carbohydrates are the body’s favorite source of energy because they’re so easy to break down. They taught me how healthy fats helped lower bad cholesterol while raising good cholesterol. They taught me how the body needs as little as six grams of protein post workout to repair and rebuild muscle tissue. They taught me how to be healthy, not skinny. And then it clicked that I wasn’t trying to lose weight for my health, I was losing it to keep up with a certain image.”
This makes so much sense to me, and is something I have struggled with most of my life. In the last year or so, I have felt myself sort of naturally craving this idea of intentional eating, and it started with a round of Whole30 last summer. Kyle and I did it together before we left for the beach and I lost 10 pounds. Great, right? Well, yes and no.
“You don’t go on a diet. You have a diet.” — Megan Bova
Doing Whole30 is a total game-changer, and I highly recommend it to anyone who needs a good kick in the ass to change the way they see food. You’ll probably lose weight, yes, but it ends up being much more than that. For Kyle and me, even though we made some big changes in the way we eat before we got married almost 4 years ago (we’re mostly paleo now), we felt like we needed a goal because we’d sort of derailed into a lot of bad eating habits (notice that I didn’t say “bad foods”) and needed to reset. For the most part, I feel like we eat pretty healthily, but with me going back to grad school, Kyle starting to teach a design class on top of his regular job, and just general chaos of life, we were eating out more, cooking in less, and eating a whole lot of processed shit from convenient places like Starbucks and the like (love ya, Starbs).
“When you’re ‘dieting’ you generally eliminate foods like pizza, ice cream, cupcakes, WINE. I don’t know about you, but a lifetime without those foods sounds terrible to me.” — Megan Bova
I think the idea is that “diets” are quick fixes, but in the end, you really need to have a sustainable way of eating. Post-Whole30, I definitely felt leaner and like I got the reset I was looking for, and it gave Kyle and I a good guide with our daily eating even when we aren’t on a formal Whole30. This is also how I kicked my coffee creamer habit, and I felt like I was better able to understand what my body was actually wanting, instead of what I thought it wanted (i.e., when I was craving coffee or sugar, I really just needed energy, so having trail mix on hand was a game-changer). But what the Whole30 really opened my eyes to was the fact that I can’t eat that way 100% of the time. For one, Whole30 doesn’t allow alcohol. But I love wine. And beer. And the occasional whiskey. Of course there’s also no sugar or dairy allowed, but I also enjoy ice cream a whole lot, and we live in a world where blackberry cobbler exists.(#blessed) So I started to naturally veer toward this idea that for the majority of my day, I needed to eat the foods I know are good for me — fruits, vegetables, etc. — and when I wanted a glass of wine or a craft beer at my favorite restaurants in town or a piece of cake at my nephew’s 10th birthday, I should have those things and not feel guilty about it. I realized that I was tired of feeling like a failure when I got a scoop of peach ice cream from Austin’s or ordered chips and salsa (aka my favorite thing).
I realized what I was seeking was balance.
“It’s basic psychology that when you tell yourself you can’t have something you’ll only want it more.” — Megan Bova
Intentional eating is mostly about eating what you know your body needs, but allowing yourself to truly enjoy the foods that bring you joy. For instance, when Kyle and I travel, I believe that trying new food and restaurants is part of what makes a trip so memorable. We seek out food experiences, and I need to be allowed to enjoy those experiences without guilt or shame. (Isn’t it ridiculous that this is even a conversation I have to have with myself?) With intentional eating, I can focus on eating fruits and vegetables and tasty snacks for the majority of the day, and still enjoy an indulgent meal or delicious cocktail. This allows me to take pleasure in food while still giving my body the fuel it needs, and in turn, I am more mindful about fully enjoying these things. Megan talked about this with me a lot, too, and gave me an explanation of why she hates the term “cheat day,” which I have to agree with:
“The only thing you’re cheating when you have a cheat day is yourself. If you have a set ‘cheat day’ of Saturday nights, for example, that means you can’t have those mid-afternoon cupcakes from the office. You might think ‘but I’ll just move my cheat day to the middle of the week instead!’ No, it doesn’t work that way either. Because when Saturday night rolls around and you want dinner and drinks with the girls, you’ll be telling yourself you can have the plain baked chicken and water instead of the [enjoyable dinner and drinks] because you were ‘bad’ with your cupcake on Tuesday. Now not only do you feel guilty for eating a cupcake on a day that was not designated for a cheat meal, you’re also having a shitty time with your girlfriends with your boring baked chicken and your boring water. You didn’t cheat your diet. You cheated yourself.“
Preach, girl. Why make yourself miserable? I truly feel that there are ways to make smart, healthy decisions even when you’re eating or drinking things you wouldn’t normally indulge in.
During the day, here’s what my 80% usually looks like:
- Smoothies with frozen fruit, veggies, protein, almond milk, or orange juice
- Frittatas or healthy quiche recipes
- Salads that don’t suck
- Lean meats or beans for protein (beans aren’t paleo or Whole30 but I like them for salads or soups sometimes)
- Fresh fruits and vegetables for snacks or meal prep
- Not a lot of cheese, but I love feta on salads
- Homemade trail mix, popcorn, and other crunchy snacks
- Black coffee, matcha tea, water, La Croix, or Bai to drink
These are the things I usually indulge with:
- Dark chocolate
- Chips and salsa, because it’s my favorite thing and I never turn it down
- Halo Top ice cream
- Wine and Netflix with Kyle
- Backyard Pizza, because it is the best ever.
- The occasional latte
- Drink dates with my people (wine, beer, cocktails)
By learning to listen to my body and honor it for what I know it needs, I am so much happier, and I truly believe healthier, than I’ve been, maybe ever. I am not the skinniest I’ve ever been, but I’ve also tried to stop equating that with healthiness. That’s a battle I’m still fighting, but I swear to you, by working to change how I see food in general, I’ve been able to focus more on how my body actually feels instead of what the scale tells me.
Which brings me to the next thing: exercise.
Recently, my routine has changed and I am truly loving it. It’s not something I will likely be able to keep up forever, especially once I start teaching again, but for now, it’s working. This also goes back to this idea of intentional eating, or the idea that (aside from those who have allergies or other health issues) you can’t deprive yourself of something forever. Your life will shift or alter and you might need something different to fuel your body than you thought before. Same goes with exercise; my schedule or health will likely change the way I work out, and by learning to listen to the kind of movement that my body actually wants, I’ve been able to enjoy it more. I am trying to learn to stop working out to punish myself, but rather to honor what feels good.
Does sitting on my ass on the couch to watch TV feel good sometimes? Yes. But I’m actually learning to honor that, too. Allowing myself to rest for a few minutes, or even a couple of hours when I can, gives me a reset when I need it, and then I can get up and do something active. This can sometimes backfire, especially after a particularly long day, but again, this is a process and I’m basically just trying to focus on listening to my body.
Here is what I’ve been trying to work into my weekly routine:
I don’t get to my mat as much as I’d like, but I try to practice yoga in some form every day. Yoga is a mindset, and I constantly use it to get through tough or stressful situations. I try to practice on my mat at least three times week, whether it’s a full set of Sun Salutations or just some stretching in front of the TV. I also try to remember to breathe throughout the day, which might sound crazy, but think about the times you realize you haven’t been breathing and have to take a deep breath. When I’m feeling stressed out, coming back to focus on my breath works wonders. Also, this summer is extremely busy and I feel like there’s something going on every weekend, but when I can, I go to my favorite Saturday morning class with Ashley Skeen, aka one of my soul sisters in life. It truly changes my whole mood and sets me up for a great week.
I started doing barre pretty recently and it has truly changed my body and my exercise routine. Keeping up with it consistently has made me stronger in ways I haven’t experienced in years. My arms and legs are stronger, my waist is leaner, and I love the combination of cardio and strength training that this workout provides. For reference, I can burn about 500 calories in a 45 minute workout. It is no joke. I love the way I feel when it’s over, even when it’s difficult to get through the workout, and I always wake up the next day feeling stronger. I usually go to a couple of different classes at Brown Dog Yoga, and my bff and I recently completed the June challenge group with Barre Alley, which was killer.
I found Buti yoga a couple of years ago and it is another one of those things that was a game-changer for me. It is a type of yoga class that combines asana practices with tribal dance and core work, and another of my soul sisters, Randi Greene, is an incredible instructor. Randi is the one who also brought Wild Spirit Yoga Camp to the world which truly changed my life. So in short, she’s a badass, and buti yoga will make you feel like one, too. I particularly love the tribal moves, even though they are often the most challenging. These moves make me feel more feminine somehow, but in a strong way. Every class leaves me dripping with sweat but somehow still smiling. It’s incredible.
I only recently started incorporating cycling into my weekly routine, because even though I f***ing hate cardio, I really need more of it. I haven’t been running as much (or at all) lately, because I have just felt like it wasn’t working for my body. After adding cycling in at least once, sometimes twice a week, I truly feel like I could go for a run and feel completely fine. I’ve even been feeling like my body wants to run, if that makes any sense. I think by doing these strengthening workouts on a regular basis, added in with a high intensity but low impact cycling workout, my body has been able to change in a way that would make running easier for my body. I’ll report back on that for sure, but I definitely enjoy getting my heart rate up in a short cycling class and feeling stronger because of it.
Morning walks with Kyle.
I’ve mentioned this several times, but Kyle and I try to take a walk every morning. Sometimes we don’t because of rain or our schedules, but it sets the tone for our day. Some days, our morning walk is the only exercise I do, and that is totally fine with me. I am learning that my body doesn’t need an intense workout every day, and in honoring that, my body has thanked me. It still feels stronger and more flexible than it has in a while.
“Making sure you nourish your body with all three macronutrients (carbohydrates, fat, and protein) and maintaining an active lifestyle, will help lead you toward a more healthy life.” — Megan Bova
As I’ve said, this is a process. I’m not perfect and what I think works for me now might not work for me later, or might not work for you at all. I’m simply realizing that I’m not going to find some rigid meal plan and workout schedule that’s going to work for me forever, so instead of sinking time and money and energy into these things that aren’t sustainable, why not spend time finding balance and joy? Because we live in a culture that tells us that being busy is what makes us successful, it’s often difficult to stop to listen to our bodies, or even hear ourselves for that matter. Honoring myself is a tough lesson, I think, but it’s one I’m trying to learn.