If you scroll aimlessly through social media: whether it be Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter; you will likely fall on a post where some fitness freak is spouting tosh about finding balance in their life and everyone should do this, that, and the other to achieve it too. That’s great. Finding balance in life is an incredible thing and it has truly changed me – my personality, my outlook on life, and everything that is involved with the fitness world. So when I see these posts, it always makes me question whether these people actually know what balance is and whether they truly have found balance in their lives: I question it more when they’re bragging about “killing it” at the gym and “nailing” their protein for the day. To me, that just sounds like a chore: it sounds like something I’d have done back in the days where I “killed” my workouts and “hit” protein for the day. It sounds like complete BS. You’ll even have people who claim to have balance in their life, but still push themselves to go to the gym because they have “extra carbs in them” – the icing on the cake – they don’t even want to go – Da fuq? That doesn’t even make sense to me, and to me that isn’t balance and it never will be.
Don’t get me wrong. I too have been one of those people on Instagram claiming to have found balance with my diet and lifestyle and at that time I truly believed it. But having balance and believing you have found balance in your diet and lifestyle, are two completely different things and I didn’t fully experience it until I went vegan last year. Even then it took me a while to embrace the change because I was always looking for ways to make something low carb or lower in calories and I even considered just giving up and going back to vegetarianism: I also started tracking macros again. But there was no need for me to do any of those things – I wasn’t overweight, I wasn’t diabetic, and I wasn’t physically unhealthy. It was just silly to live that life and miss out on so much; just because I was scared of gaining weight. I was actually jeopardising my health just for vanity and the older you get, the more you realise there is more to life than just looks and whether you have visible abs or quads – soon your health will be all you have.
I’ve suffered eating disorders since I was seven years old and in my teens it got out of hand: I was removed from school in Year 10 until I got some form of recovery back. After that my life pretty much just followed the same patterns of – eating, overeating, over exercising, and then starving myself for weeks- before going through the same cycle again. This didn’t change until about 4 years ago. However, this time it was more – eat, overeat (refeed), cut back and track macros, exercise – and this cycle continued until last year: a cycle which was ‘normalised’ by social media.
It wasn’t until I started following more food bloggers, photographers, and ‘normal’ vegans, on Instagram and less fitness accounts, when everything just fell in to place. These people just embraced life to it’s fullest: used wholesome ingredients to cook with and didn’t give a crap about whether they got a workout in that day. They just lived their lives, ate the foods they loved, and did the things they enjoyed and overtime that rubbed off on me too – that was what I wanted. Soon after, I started to challenge myself and experiment with sugar and baking with fats – I felt so unhealthy? How could I call myself a healthy person if I used these ingredients? It wasn’t until very recently that I realised this is normal. It’s normal to use sugar and fat in baking and not some weird sweetener, flour, fruit, or bean as an alternative and don’t get me wrong, I enjoy using those too: there was a time when that’s all I would use and that’s my point – it saddens me to eat that way and any diet which isn’t enjoyable, is exactly that – a diet – not a lifestyle. Plus, for the most part, some of those ingredients can get quite costly and as I’m someone who likes to live quite minimally – I don’t want to spend £4 on a tiny tub of stevia when I can buy 1kg raw sugar for just under £2 – plus, it’s got a weird taste anyway. What has the world come to where we need to cut out certain things from our diets, in order to ‘lose weight’ or to be considered ‘healthy’? What happened to just being a bit more active, cutting back on processed junk food and eating good food?
Of course, those bakes you make with sugar and fat should be eaten in moderation too, but if you overindulge once in while, that’s fine too because that is just called living. What’s not normal, is to overindulge and then punish yourself at the gym for hours and pass it off as extra fuel. That’s not balance and it is a cycle that won’t break until you do something about it.
For me, that time came last summer. I was living the same vicious cycle of eating and tracking macros and then going all out with my workouts every single day: I had tons of energy and adrenaline ruled me, but I was also using my training as “therapy” and using it to shift the depression I was going through. I was so focused on endorphins, I didn’t realise how much I was working out and how hard I was pushing myself, with not only a 40-60minute KB workout, but also 20-30 minutes of HIIT before that, followed by a long-ass walk in the evenings. In my mind, I was happier than I’d been in months – I felt strong, sexy and liberated. But my body was starting to break down and things were happening to me that were scaring me. Yes I had muscle and the best booty I’d ever had, but I was all over the place and my body was suffering because I so desperately wanted to fix my mind.
I decided that in order for me to be healthy: mind, body, and soul; I needed to work on myself and use exercise for what it was meant for – to be fit, healthy, and strong. So I did the one thing that most people would probably have a nervous breakdown over – I gave up working out. It was tough because I enjoyed what I did and I enjoyed seeing myself getting stronger everyday: never did I imagine making rep after rep of clean and squats with a 24kg KB, but I did and it was empowering. But I was letting myself down, by letting everything control me. I mean there were times when I just worked out to get stronger and of course eating enough to fuel those workouts is essential, but I was focusing more on hitting macros than just eating enough food in general and the fact my thoughts and depression were shifting and improving was like crack to me – I thought if I stopped working out, my mind would become a dark sink hole of truly disturbing thoughts again.
It didn’t and with time, a good diet, and little exercise I got better.
I think with this modern world, we tend to live vicariously through our phones, IPads, and laptops, and we can now get involved in other peoples lives through social media, like never before. But what we also have to realise is that these people are still just people and some are just a username: they only share with us what they want us to see and know and you have to realise that 90% of the time, these people aren’t doing what they say and preach. You will never get to know them completely, nor will they ever tell you the struggles they may have: that meal they may have skipped after the gym or the fact they haven’t truly found balance yet. I tried to let you all in, but honestly, I was mostly just ashamed of what I was going through and when you’re going through depression, the last thing you want to do is talk about it and let people in. So instead, I focused my IG account on food and photography instead and that was the change I needed to be able to fully enjoy food again.
Nonetheless, I promise you this. When you find balance in your diet and life, it will be the best thing you will ever do for yourself. It will be that time where you reach for the second brownie and eat it with out a second thought, it will be that time you are hungry late at night and make a sandwich and enjoy it, it will be that time you overindulge and carry on the next day: not even thinking about what you ate the previous, but instead, reminiscing about the memories you may have made. Balance is when you go to the gym just because you want to, it’s about eating a meal and not even considering the macro count, but enjoying it because it is what you and your body crave. Balance is about living your life, enjoying your food and staying active; whether that is by walking, hiking, going to the gym, crossfit, or cardio – if you enjoy it – Do it! But don’t push yourself! If you are tired or sore then stop: stop for a day, two days, a week, a month; because if you keep pushing yourself and living the same cycle, you will never change and you will never get better and that to me was a terrifying concept and so I fixed it.
You can read Tracey McGowan’s guest post here on living a balanced life – why we should all stop worrying about food.
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