a focus on health and vitality… whatever that means

I didn’t appreciate my body when I was in my twenties. I took for granted that I could spend an entire evening downing beers and vodka-Sprites, stumble into KFC the next morning to order one of those meal deals (chicken strips with fries and a drink, perhaps?), then eat half a Domino’s pizza in the evening, and still come out of the other end relatively unscathed. This cycle repeated itself almost every week when I was 22.

But when I turned 23, the abuse started to affect my body, first through weight gain—which I always struggled with anyway but was now more pronounced—and then through something inside not feeling right. My body revolted through itchy hives that covered my arms. I was lazy, living alone, and not making that much money. Plus, I was all the way across the globe from my friends and family, and I found comfort exclusively in packaged meals and processed junk.

When I returned to Canada at age 24 after a couple of years abroad, I was able to get back on track, lose the weight, and the itchy hives naturally disappeared. I think I got all the late-night drinking and disgusting hangover meal choices out of my system. I didn’t want to experience the effects of that lifestyle anymore; plus, I had less incentive to go out and be crazy, since I was looking to settle down, get a proper job, and make something of myself.

For the rest of my twenties, I still didn’t appreciate my body. Things were slower in the metabolism and recovery area, sure, but I ate freely, not paying attention to calories or what those calories consisted of, and not exercising consistently. I was still about to “bounce back”, for lack of a better term, after stuffing myself or eating too much junk. Or so I thought.

As predicted, I slowly packed on about 20-30 pounds (difficult to be sure as I didn’t weigh myself regularly back in those days), which one day culminated in an emotional breakdown in the parking lot of the Midtown Co-op. I lamented to Mark that none of my clothes fit right and I hated looking in the mirror. Being ever the pragmatist, he consoled me through some tough love—stop complaining and let’s do something about it. Luckily, he was in the same boat and we would do it together.

So we went through various weight loss programs. We started with the P90X plan, which worked brilliantly. The 90-day program of structured workouts and a meal plan were the perfect way to break out of the weight gain and unhealthy eating cycle. We successfully finished the program. We felt great… but it didn’t last. Why?

I still wonder why we couldn’t sustain the momentum. Was it because after the 90-day program, we didn’t know where to go next? Was it because we started adopting the mentality of “treat yo self”, slowly letting treats and other unhealthy foods back into our lives? I can’t pinpoint an exact reason, but I know for sure that there were a multitude of them bundled together in a pattern of self-sabotage and destruction.

There is a reason why some people end up gaining back all of their weight. It’s simple: If you go back to the lifestyle that caused you to gain the weight in the first place, then that is what will happen. Thinking in terms of short-term diets is a surefire way for the unfortunate yo-yo cycle to continue. A lifestyle change has to be permanent. You cannot go back to the way you were eating before and expect different results.

Mark and I have found the most success in the Low Carb, High Fat (LCHF) lifestyle that promotes a high fat, medium protein, and low carb diet. I stumbled on it by accident while researching a more sustainable way for us to lose weight and keep it off. But it took Mark some convincing to give it try because the diet is counter to everything that we learned growing up: Fat is Bad, Fat Will Make You Fat, Fat Will Kill You. But what did we have to lose, except our bulging bellies?

It’s been nearly four years on the LCHF plan and so far, it’s been the most sustainable and manageable plan—as it relates to weight loss and management. In other respects, it can be a daily struggle, especially eating out, traveling, and explaining to others that no, we do not want to live a little and try a slice of that cheesecake.

For Mark, ever the pragmatist, LCHF works and that’s what he’s sticking to. He has never had the urge to have a cheat day and he has no plans to introduce any of his beloved carbs back into his life. He knows himself too well—he knows no such thing as moderation and has a healthy respect for that thing called a slippery slope.

For me though, it’s not as cut and dry.

Having struggled with food and weight most of my life, LCHF has been a tremendous help in getting me past some of my weirdness with food and body image. But it’s not a panacea for the mental struggles I still have towards dieting and my self image. I still struggle not to fall back into anorexia and bulimia, which I dealt with in my late teens. I still struggle to see past the imperfections in the mirror and celebrate what I have been able to accomplish. I still struggle not to overeat and get obsessive about the things I can’t eat.

I went through an especially difficult time late last year, starting in about September all the way through the holidays. I didn’t take care of myself the way I should and ended up constantly overeating. It was my way of dealing with my anxiety and some depressive tendencies, which I can recognize now that I’m in a better place mentally. I had some good days that started off promising, but I would derail my progress by listening to the devilish voice in my head: “Eat today, diet tomorrow.”

Add to this my tendency to go from 0 to 100 real quick. Some people are great at portion control. They are satisfied after eating one or two cookies. But me? Damn, I ate a third one… might as well just eat the rest of the package since my will power failed anyway. I have to keep reminding myself of this: If you step in dog shit, you don’t fall to the ground and roll around in it; you simply wipe it off your shoe and move on with your day.

Getting older can be a good thing, though. As I near my 35th birthday, I want to make a promise to myself to be kinder and gentler. I want to take the focus off food and calories and ingredients and weight loss. I want to think beyond the physical, the number on the scale, and what size of jeans I’m able to wear. I want to go on more walks and adventures with Sammy and Mark. I want to take up yoga, not for weight loss but for the meditative practice and the health benefits that come with it. I want to Stop. Being. Obsessive.

Lastly, I want to finally heal myself from the pain of those early years and admit that yeah, I need a professional to sort my head out. And there is no shame in admitting it.

So this is where the health and vitality thing comes in. It means something different for everyone. For me it means focusing more on the depth of health, moving beyond the surface of being thin and taking care of what’s inside instead. In turn, I hope that I can experience vitality through the healing of my mental health and working through my anxieties.

Health and vitality. What does it mean for you?

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