Food Matters: You Pick Yourself Up, You Dust Yourself Off
Posted Aug 07 2009 12:19pm
Thank you so much for the nice comments about my bathroom breakdown! Since I moved into this apartment, I’ve had a number of amusing/scary mishaps, but this one is the undisputed winner. At least I can add it to my bastion of stock New York City disaster stories. That said, my management company could not have been more helpful: within 24 hours, my bathroom had a repaired and painted ceiling, a new toilet, new lighting fixtures, and someone – whoever did the work – was kind enough to vacuum and sweep. I’m going to get that person’s name from my landlord and send him raw cookies or something.
So I’m home from two nights of being a refugee at my Mom’s, safe and sound.
I’m moving on to another in my “Food Matters” series. For those of you who missed the first of these posts, I’m using this “series” as a chance to discuss the things I’m learning from my work—for it’s a plain fact that I learn as much from the clients I coach as they do from me. Today, I’d like to talk about (and pay tribute to) a very courageous client of mine who exercised the quality of resilience this week.
This client—Joanna, we’ll call her—is young, exuberant, intelligent, informed. In short, she’s all of the things I could hope for in a client! Due in part to an acute health condition in her past, she, like many other women, has developed some imbalances with food. She has a tendency to overeat at times, and then to berate herself with guilt and shame. In recent weeks, Joanna has been eating a balanced, mostly raw and plant-based diet and feeling tremendous improvement. A few nights ago, she told me that she’d had a difficult night. She overate dramatically, especially in comparison to the equilibrium of the last few weeks, and was in a state of major regret.
What makes this story so remarkable is not the fact that Joanna suffered a setback; it’s the buoyancy she demonstrated the day after. Rather than waking up and calling it quits—and then spending the day with a tub of ice cream or a box of cookies—Joanna woke up, ate a light and healthy breakfast, went shopping for produce at Whole Foods, and remained calm. She didn’t feel her best, but she didn’t allow herself to feel defeated, either. She didn’t purge or take laxatives or take any other drastic and unhealthy measures to erase what had happened, and she didn’t spend the day overwhelmed with regret. And because she didn’t, she’s now back on track, eating well and feeling energetic and hopeful once again.
We all know the proverbial story of falling off of a bike (or a horse) and never getting back on, right? It’s very much the same with overeating. A person who’s overeaten will think, “what’s the point? Now I’ve blown it; I might as well continue to overeat, or to purge, and give up on this whole health kick.” This is both unfairly self-critical, and also totally self-indulgent. To berate oneself for a bad night is harsh and unnecessary. On the other hand, it’s also complacent; it’s using a momentary slip as an excuse for giving up.
Here’s another analogy. Ever wake up with a hangover? You feel lousy, if not lousy and remorseful at once. You know that you can drink some coconut water, go for a walk, and have a banana. Or you can lie in bed all day and eat a bacon egg sandwich. It may be tempting to do the latter, but you will undoubtedly feel better if you do the former. Best of all, you’ll be reminded that one icky morning is not a permanent failure; it’s a minor setback, from which you can easily rebound.
The point is this: it’s totally human to have a bad night. It’s human to overeat, or even to binge; it’s human to have a few too many margaritas at a party, or to eat more dessert than you wanted or needed. What defines the moment is not your aberrance from generally healthy habits, but rather the resilience and strength you demonstrate in getting back on track.
Part of getting back on track is realizing that one evening is not enough to derail you—EVER. Think of it this way: if you were to exist on a diet of Big Macs and milkshakes, and you happened to eat salad for a day, would you consider yourself a healthy eater? Probably not. Well guys, the converse is also true: a single carb-fest or trip to the ice cream pint is not enough to make you an unhealthy eater—no matter what your guilty conscience tells you.
Guilt, I like to remind my clients, is a uniquely counterproductive emotion. Guilt is what compels you to lie in bed, rather than taking a restorative walk; guilt is what makes you want to overdo it at the gym when you feel as though you’ve gotten off track; guilt is what makes you turn away from healthy habits, away from feelings of self-worth, away from anyone who’s supporting you in your journey towards balance. Guilt is your enemy, plain and simple: it isn’t going to make you any better.
Strength, on the other hand? Resilience? Hope, even when you’re down? These are the feelings that—no matter how hard to muster—will push you back towards feelings of balance, pride, and joy.
I am deeply proud of Joanna’s attitude this week. She had a moment of frustration, but she defined herself as resilient and determined when she picked herself up, dusted herself off, and started all over again. She is a shining example of the best we can all do when guilt or remorse strikes: to start fresh, remembering that no single slip-up is enough to jeopardize overall progress.
I hope what you all will take away from this is a gentle reminder that forgiveness and determination are always more valuable than remorse or despair. This is just as true in life as it is in matters of health: being downtrodden by a professional setback, heartbreak, or personal loss will inevitably prevent recovery and healing, whereas resilience—even when it’s hard to muster—will allow for a fresh start.
On that pleasant note, I wish you all a good weekend!