Since I am currently in the midst of finalizing my cookbook (and creating over 50 gluten-free and dairy-free seasonal comfort food recipes!), I have a really cool guest post to share with you written by my friend Claire of Eat Well. Party Hard. I honestly got chills as I read her story because I can relate to so many pieces of this in my own life and I know that this will hit home for many of you as well. I love Claire’s message about self care and prioritizing our own health, and with busy back-to-school season upon us, I think this message is perfect timing. Take it away, Clare!
The simple truth about life is this: you are going to run out of room.
If you’re anything like me, you try your hardest to deny this fact. You take on extra activities, projects and responsibilities without a second thought–maybe with a sense of eagerness in the beginning. Why miss out on anything that could potentially be fun, or profitable, or impressive? Why risk disappointing a loved one or a superior by saying no? Why not just do it all?
And so you barrel through the days at breakneck speed, pushing through the routine like it’s a NASCAR track of work, work, work, errands, personal projects, family time, friend time, gym time, eat, sleep, repeat. No stopping for breaks, no pause-and-reflect. As long as you can get it all finished, you’re set.
Eventually, though, you begin to wear down. You burn out. You crash.
Because you have run out of room.
And it’s at this point–when you’re flat-on-your-back exhausted, and your goals are all half-accomplished but not one thing can be marked as really done, and the ingredients for that fabulous home-cooked meal are waiting for you in the fridge, but it’s about 100x easier to just order a pizza and be done with it–it’s at this point that it’s time to face the facts: you have to give yourself more room.
Only recently did I begin to recognize this destructive pattern in my own life–a life with absolutely no extra room whatsoever. I was too busy just getting through each day to contemplate what kind of changes I needed to make, or whether I could even make them at all. There were the regular 10+ hours in the office, followed by late-night shows three or four (or more) nights a week, plus the backstage hangs, the after-parties and the long waits for the subway back home that inevitably capped off most late evenings/early mornings.
A regular yoga class? Uh, not happening. Dinner at home every evening? Ha! Okay, yeah, sure.
But when what you’re doing looks so damn awesome from the outside, it’s easy to push personal health to the back burner. And draining though it was, clinging to a cool job title was much less terrifying than the prospect of admitting that something needed to change.
When I began Eat Well. Party Hard. in January, I was grasping for the tiniest bit of control in my own life. I certainly didn’t have much say in my schedule, which equated to a struggle for control of my fitness levels and relaxation time. The least I could do was control what I put into my body–and I was sick of the sh*t I was eating making me feel like, well, sh*t. Though I didn’t have the luxury of three free hours to cook dinner every night, I was determined to start fueling my system with real food, not just filling it with empty calories that would further the crash-and-burn cycle or contribute to an unhealthy weight.
This new intention began with minuscule adjustments; instead of a $1 slice of pizza (read: nutrient-free white flour, sugar-packed tomato sauce, the-wrong-kind-of-fat cheese) on the commute from the office to a show, I’d stop by the nearest convenience store for a Naked smoothie (nutrient-rich calories, no added sugar, plant-based fat and protein). I quit relying on factory-made bagels to power through afternoon energy slumps, and instead kept a loaf of zucchini banana bread in the break room. Smoothies, desserts and breakfast foods began turning green. And as my taste buds adjusted to real, actual food rather than cheap imitations of the stuff, I began to understand: it was only by cutting out the bullshit that I’d been able to make room for things that were awesome.
This transition of my diet–from the garbage disposal it was years ago to the intention-driven habits I now carry out daily–is analogous to the way I’m working to structure the rest of my life. If it’s true that we only get one shot, then I want my one shot to be meaningful, to be savored, to be f*cking amazing.
So instead of trying to do it all, I’m trying to do what matters. I’m cutting the empty calories, both in life and on my plate, to revel in the activities and foods that are genuinely fulfilling and truly nourishing.
Before you begin the race car loop of daily life tomorrow, take a look at your goals, your projects, your overwhelming to-do list. Think about how and when within that schedule you’re taking time to nourish yourself, or whether you’ve considered taking time for it at all. Which foods and actions are fueling the journey toward the life you want to live, and which are just empty calories?
Here are three action-oriented steps to jumpstart the process of eliminating empty calories from your life; don’t look at them as quick fixes, as “diet” techniques with expiration dates, but as building blocks to a long-lasting, healthier lifestyle.
1) Always keep a few nutrient-dense snacks nearby.
A burger and fries are 100x more tempting on an empty stomach, so be proactive. Arm yourself with a bag of raw cashews in your purse, chopped fruit or veggies with dressing in the fridge at work, a few granola bars in your car. If you can tide yourself over until the next opportunity to grab some real food, your body will appreciate the effort infinitely more than it will appreciate dinner from a drive-thru.
2) Set “time to eat!” alarms throughout the day.
Do you get so wrapped up in the daily grind that you forget about eating altogether? You’re far from alone–”Crap, it’s 4pm and I’m only now coming up for air, guess I’ll just have Skittles to hold me over until dinner” syndrome is all too common, and it’s crazy-making, y’all.
Don’t let the high-intensity environment of your office or lifestyle foil your healthy efforts; set two to three daily alarms (lunch, afternoon snack and, if you work late, dinner) on your phone to save yourself from being swept away by the busyness flood, as doing so leads directly to that aforementioned burger and fries temptation. Even if those alarms create just three minutes’ space to nuke leftover veggie pasta, or to run to the gas station for a Naked protein smoothie, those are three minutes your mind and body deserve.
3) Don’t beat yourself up for eating “bad” foods–but pay attention to why you chose them.
Okay, so you didn’t set the alarms. And you were too busy to stock up on smart snacks. So dinner turned into two mega-slices of pizza and a Diet Coke, devoured in the car/on the way to an evening event/on the couch, in front of the TV.
At this point, the least productive or motivating thing to do is to get upset about the food choice you just made. Instead of crying tears of self-loathing into the takeout box, reexamine the chain of events that led to that meal. Why, specifically, did you choose pizza?
Was it simply because you were famished? If so, what other options would have been equally as satiating?
Was it because pizza was the most convenient purchase? Then in what ways could making smarter choices be made more convenient? (see: number 1).
Was it because you were stressed, or upset, or because a similarly powerful negative emotion was guiding your actions? What other, less guilt-inducing habits could you start creating to soothe those emotions in the future? (i.e., taking a slow, solitary walk around the building, finding a quiet space in which to play a few minutes of music on your iPod, putting the $5 you would have spent on junk food into a “Treat Yo’self” jar for a future, more satisfying purchase)
Eliminating the excess–in terms of both nutrition and schedule–from your life is not easy, and it’s not a quick procedure. Habits require time, lots of time (sometimes months, sometimes years) to form before they begin to feel like they are truly yours. But take the steps to do so, and little by little, I promise that what remains will be exponentially more satisfying.
Claire Suellentrop is a catalyst for purposeful change. A passionate whole foods enthusiast and organizational whiz, she shares lifehacks that allow busy people to make healthier food choices on Eat Well. Party Hard. She’s happiest when helping others take greater control of their lives through knowledge and action, and fuels her own weird life with a plant-based diet, black coffee and whiskey. She’d love to hear from you at eatwellpartyhard (at) gmail (dot) com.