By now, you all must be relatively familiar with some of my food frustrations in France. Well, here’s another rant for ‘ya. But it’s not all negative, I promise! In fact, I’d like to talk about some positive changes I’m instating in order to avoid some negative choices I’ve been making. How’s that for a great song lyric?
Working in a bakery definitely has its perks, and it definitely has its downsides. And coincidentally, the negative and the positive are often both baked into the same 3-layer, frosted cake. As an intern, I don’t get paid. I don’t really need the money right now, and I’m just happy to be doing work that I enjoy. Using the espresso machine gives me a sense of purpose! And, the cherry on the cake: I can eat as much cake as I want. Actually, I can eat as much of anything as I want: scones, muffins, cupcakes, rice krispies, hello dollies, caramel bars… the list goes on. As does my extending waistline.
I was fed a constant diet of sugar while in the womb (thanks, mom), so I’ve got a pretty nasty sweet tooth. It runs in the family. I do my best to keep my cravings under control and make healthy substitutes, but I also make sure to get some sugar in me every now and then. (ok, like once a day.) But what do you do when you’re working for 8 hours and there are no customers for 2 hours and you’re stuck behind the counter twiddling your thumbs? Um, really, you had to ask? You eat some effing cake. (or other baked good items: see above)
I’ve been doing better now with controlling some of these impulses to mindlessly eat everything in front of me. It doesn’t always work, but I do my best– and considering I’m spending 8 hours in front of a literal sugar shmorgasbord, I’d say I’m doing a pretty respectable job. I find that restricting myself immediately leads the opposite result, so I try to only eat one dessert a day, and mindfully.
I really felt like I’d been doing a great job with this “one dessert a day” thing. Sometimes I didn’t even want dessert! And because I’d recently realized how many little things I’d been eating each day, I went about writing down everything I ate for 1 week. I didn’t do measurements or count calories– ew– I just wanted to make sure I was aware of every little thing I was eating, as all those little things can really add up.
Well, here’s where the frustration kicks in. I’m the kind of person that expects immediate results, and I have a hard time realizing that my goals won’t happen in a week. But it wasn’t even that I was expecting my pants to fit a little better, it was that I was just expecting to feel better. Lighter. Calmer. But I felt completely the opposite. And after running 13.1 miles on Sunday (more on that later), I felt like I was completely the opposite of what I was feeling… and how I should be looking. I didn’t feel like a runner, I felt like a blob. And I realize a lot of that has to do with how much stress and fatigue that I had to deal with from a huge workload. But something had to give. I felt that for all the effort I was putting into leading a healthier life, the equation wasn’t adding up. And as frustrated as I can get about not having a lot of food choices here because my host mother feeds me 13 meals a week and it’s hard to find really clean, whole foods for a quick student lunch, I knew also that a lot of the frustration was coming from me. From how I was dealing with everything.
They say (who does?) that your body is the first thing youshould take care of in life, because if you don’t do that, you won’t have a life. And while I’m lucky and have no real health problems, the amount of stress I was putting myself through wasn’t good for me. And because of the stress, I was tired, and because I was tired, I made poor food choices.
But the problem wasn’t what I was eating. Like I said, I had been a lot more aware of what I was putting into my body. The problem was how I was eating. I was just eating whatever was in front of me without thinking about the actual process of nourishing my body.
I wasn’t being mindful.
I would wake up in the morning, exhausted, and stumble to kitchen where I would half-consciously eat breakfast. Then at lunch I’d wolf down a sandwich and try to deny my dessert craving, which I’d end up satisfying anyways. Dinner, well… that’s a different story, because my host mother eats SO FAST and even though I eat much more slowly, I still have to eat more quickly than I would like.
So I needed to make some changes. I needed to be mindful. But you can’t just wake up in the morning and say, “hm. I think I’ll be mindful today.” Sure, that might work for breakfast, but by lunch you’ve already forgotten what your intention was for the day. Like many other things, one must practice mindfulness. While it may come naturally to many people, there are many more– like me– who have a really hard time with this concept. But the more you try to implement mindful practices into your daily life, the better choices you make with regards to food and your body, At least, that’s been my experience.
It’s surprising how much effort it takes to be mindful, even about the smallest things. But I’m trying to make some small adjustments, and I already feel like they’re helping me:
- Wake up, drink tea/hot water with lemon. This helps me wake up slowly, and I can check my emails in the process so I’m not distracted later.
- Do anywhere from 15-20 minutes of yoga practice. I find that even when I just do a short yoga routine, I help bring my attention to my body, which continues for the rest of the day.
- Eat with all 5 senses. Ok, I probably don’t use all 5. But instead of just using taste (because let’s be honest, my eyes are barely open in the morning), I try to incorporate sight and smell. I’ll really look at the food in front of me, and I’ll take a smell of whatever I’m about to eat. This way, I make my meals more of an experience, and I’m more likely to appreciate the moment– and slow down– more.
- Find gentle ways to get moving. I got so burned out during half-marathon training. I wanted to go for a long walk without feeling guilty that I should be running! Now that the half-marathon is over, however, I’m letting myself do whatever I want. It’s not that I don’t want to move, it’s that I don’t always want to feel like I have to run. I lovelovelove to run, but every now and then you have to take a break, or else you won’t remember why you love something so much. Plus, I don’t want to get the same knee injury I did last time I ran a half-marathon when I pushed myself too hard after the race. An hour-long power walk will burn the same amount of calories as a 3-4 mile run (depending on how fast you go), and it lets you appreciate your surroundings in a different way than you would while running. Trust me on this one, I used to wear a pedometer every day.
- Asking myself, “does my body want this?” Because my mind definitely does. But sometimes just internalizing the question, and directing it towards your body, will help you realize that no, in fact, your body really has little interest in eating that chocolate eclair. While it might look really good to our brains, the food isn’t going there– it’s going to our stomachs. And if our body doesn’t want it, then we’ll only end up regretting our food choice later.
- Stretching before bed. Nothing too serious, just bringing awareness back into the body at the end of the day. I also try to take a few full deep breaths before going to sleep, just so I can practice breathing.
So there you have it. I only started this practice earlier this week, so I’m nowhere near perfect yet. And to be honest, it’s impossible to be perfect at “being mindful.” It’s not a competition– it’s only the best you can do. There will be days when you slip up and you will get angry and frustrated at yourself, but just look ahead to the next moment. Because what matters is how you move forwardd, how you forgive yourself and strive to make a better choice in the next moment.