There is a pretty big lesson I’ve learned in quarantine. It’s week 10 of social distancing here in Indiana and to say it has been a long ten weeks would be an understatement. I’m grateful that some of my favorite restaurants are slowly starting to re-open because let’s be honest, it’s been a minute since I’ve done my hair and put on jeans to go out for a nice meal. However, there is one place that still remains closed that I am desperately hoping will open this weekend- the gym. In addition to working for Integrated Sports Nutrition, I am also a personal trainer and the gym is easily one of my favorite places to spend time. It’s a place I go to take care of my body, de-stress, and work with clients and not being able to go in and workout has been really difficult for me. However, being out of the gym has uncovered a lot of areas in my fitness and health routine that are in need of improvement. Even fitness professionals have opportunities for growth and I’d like to share mine with you.
The Lesson I’ve Learned in Quarantine: I struggle with my diet. A lot.
Everyone has struggled with their diet at some point or other in their life, including fitness professionals. For me personally, I have always had a difficult relationship with food. I’ve had seasons of over-restricting, where I either ate only whole foods that were 100% clean or hardly ate at all for fear of gaining weight. I’ve also had seasons as a personal trainer of eating for performance and muscle gains that required over 3,000 calories per day. I didn’t enjoy restricting and I definitely didn’t enjoy eating 3,000 calories per day. I ate those ways because I believed I “had” to in order to achieve my goals. Last year at this time, I grew tired of being so vigilant with my diet. After 13 years of obsessing over it, can you blame me? I decided to relax and eat the chicken nuggets and french fries if I wanted them. I drank the wine when I wanted the wine and I ordered Chinese takeout if I wanted it. In the moment, I told myself what I know to be true: no food is bad, you don’t have to work this off, it’s okay to enjoy these foods in moderation. But the next morning would come, and my butt would be in the gym doing some crazy workout to “burn” it off as though that would make me feel better. It didn’t. And the frustrating thing is: I knew it wouldn’t! Trainers struggle with bad food habits just like our clients. We should know better, but guess what? We’re human! And we have our own past experiences that cloud our judgment and knowledge when it comes to ourselves which is another lesson I’ve learned in quarantine.
So when COVID-19 closed down all the gyms, what do you think my initial response was? Restrict. If I didn’t have a full gym to burn off “bad” food choices, I needed to be on it all the time. But I knew I couldn’t start restricting because once I start, it’s hard for me to stop. So instead of doing that, I kept on eating as I had been. I had the chicken nuggets, wine, and Chinese takeout if I wanted them, and while I was still working out every day, I simply wasn’t moving as much as I was when I was training. You can imagine what happened next. I started feeling like crap. I felt bad about myself for making the wrong choices in the kitchen and I wasn’t happy with how my body was looking. Everyone cares about how they look to some degree, but personal trainers as a whole care a LOT. It’s just a fact.
I wanted to hop on a diet trend or start restricting, but I was TIRED of this cycle! I realized how consistently inconsistent my diet has been throughout my life and, y’all, I decided I am over it! Personal trainer or not, it’s time for me to start eating the way that makes me feel good. I don’t want to eat for performance. I don’t want to eat for gains. I don’t want to eat for weight loss. There is nothing wrong with adapting your nutrition to fit your goals. But I’ve been eating for some goal or other since I was thirteen and I need a time out. I don’t want to eat for anything other than fueling my body with good foods that give it the nutrients it needs to feel good for years and years to come. I know the foods and the amounts of those foods that make me feel good. So I calculated my macros based on my adjusted activity level. I told myself I wasn’t going to go overboard and start over-exercising and over-restricting to lose the couple pounds I’ve gained in quarantine. Instead, I started eating the foods I love that make me feel good consistently throughout the day and unsurprisingly, my body feels better than it has in a long time. I know that this is how my body is designed to eat and it feels RIGHT to be eating this way. And It’s maintainable for the rest of my life and that is the most important thing to me for right now.
New fitness goals will certainly arise in the future, and my nutrition will adapt accordingly. I’ll still want to enjoy takeout food and wine sometimes. And when I want to, I will. The key to being able to manage this balance, however, is taking into account if those new goals or fun “cheat” meals make me feel anxious. If I feel pressured by a new goal, is it worth pursuing? If I feel pressured to eat something, is it worth eating? Probably not. If something is supposed to make you better, stronger, fitter, fill in the blank, it shouldn’t be making you anxious or upset.
I can’t wait to get back into the gym (hopefully this weekend), but I am going to take the lesson I’ve learned in quarantine seriously. Eating shouldn’t make you anxious. Neither should exercise. I’m not a professional athlete. I’m a personal trainer but more importantly, I’m a person. And as a person, I don’t want to feel guilty or ashamed about food. I don’t want to feel like I’m not measuring up because I didn’t make my macros over the weekend. And I don’t need to. Food is here to nourish us and give us what we need to live long, healthy lives, not punish us. And that is my commitment coming out of this quarantine: from now on, my purpose in eating healthy and exercising is to live a long, healthy life. I hope I look good in the process and keep making gains in the gym (I know I will because, you know, it’s science), but this is a shift in mindset that is here to stay.