Wanting to be healthy is an excellent goal to set. Cleaning up your diet and committing to regular exercise greatly reduces risk of obesity and heart disease, improves cognitive functioning and keeps you fit and happy.
However, in this media-heavy world, what “healthy” means can become quite distorted. Even though your doctors say one thing, movie stars and magazines say another. Often, while you are trying to figure out what’s best for you and your body, you can quickly fall into a trap that many girls, and boys, have fallen victim to in the past.
“Eating disorder” is a heavy phrase. I don’t really like to use it myself. I prefer to call it “disordered eating patterns” because that’s what it really is. There are different types of eating disorders, each characterized by different symptoms. But if you don’t fall into a certain category, you won’t be diagnosed will having one, even if in reality you do exhibit some form of disordered eating habit. So let’s just call it what it is.
The beginnings of this trap are characterized by disordered thinking patterns, setting unrealistic goals and negative self-talk. Let’s go through each one individually and see what you can do to avoid them.
- Disordered thinking patterns
This is one of the most important causes and the hardest one to avoid. Even those who have conquered their eating struggles physically may still struggle with it mentally. Thoughts become distorted when something becomes an obsession. Food becomes your worst enemy and your best friend. You begin to focus on the calorie content of everything you put into your body, instead of the nutritional benefits. You think about whether something will make you fat instead of whether it will do what food is supposed to do--provide your body with energy and allow it to run smoothly. In short, you focus too much on one thing and ignore the entire picture. It’s not about whether or not that cookie will affect the fat content in your body; it’s about whether that cookie gives you a simple pleasure, one of life’s most valuable things.
2. Setting unrealistic goals
Exercise should be fun. It should be something you want to look forward to, not something you dread. You should not feel obligated to work out every day like it’s a chore. You should also stop yourself from setting unrealistic goals. It’s perfectly fine to want to tone up your abs, lose a couple pounds or work on your booty game, but don’t define your progress on these things. Working out isn’t just about how you look, but how you feel. It’s about getting stronger every day, and being a better you than yesterday.
3. Negative self-talk
This one really goes for life in general but can get particularly harsh when it comes to unhealthy eating habits. Self-image is a very hard thing to keep positive about in today’s society. If you ask any woman on the street, chances are she is not quite satisfied with her appearance. When you try to eat healthily and work out, you may expect to see results quickly and feel disheartened when you don’t. But it is important not to fill your head with thoughts like “Why did I eat that slice of cake, it ruined all my efforts, I’m a stupid pig,” or, “I can’t see a visible difference in my body so I’m not working hard enough, I’m too lazy”. Instead, acknowledge that you are on a journey. Realize that every workout you do is an enormous accomplishment. And remember that having your favorite dessert once in a while isn’t going to kill you.
At the end of the day, it’s not about how you look or caring about what other people think of how you look. You aren’t doing this for them. Committing to a healthier lifestyle is not a competition, it’s about making your own life better. It’s about treating your body with the respect it deserves, instead of punishing for not living up to impossible standards. It’s all about you and becoming stronger every day, inside and out, for the rest of your life.