We often equal being healthy with losing weight. We get messages from society that to be accepted and successful we need to be of a certain size, have certain types of hair, dress a certain way and the list goes on and on. Growing up in a mostly Latino and Caribbean neighborhood, I remember hearing from women in our community that being thinner was better as more people would be attracted to you, hire you for jobs and generally life would be easier.
I internalized these ideas even though it seemed out of sync to me and worked hard early on to keep fit, including yo-yo or unsafe dieting, bench pressing without guidance, over extending my body and sometimes starving myself to be fit. It was a lot of work and all it yielded was bad eating and fitness habits.
In the last ten years, I have spent a lot of time resetting my mindset around health and wellness. A large reason for that reset has to do with two invisible illnesses that haunt many women: severe anemia and fibroids. These two illnesses would make me feel exhausted, putting a strain on my energy levels and my capacity to perform at higher levels. As a result, my body weight shuffled up and down the scale and with it all my emotions about my worthiness and capacity to succeed. At times I was deeply depressed or anxious about my body’s ability to be well. Doctors always gave me the same answers—workout and eat healthy. Since my diet and workout habits were fairly good this only increased a feeling of being broken.
In the wake of that break, these illnesses became a blessing and forced me to rethink how I thought about my body and what benefits being well could bring me. After visiting lots of doctors who couldn’t help me, I decided to take things in my own hands.
I experimented with a variety of whole food, organic dietary changes, changed up my exercise plans, engaged in more relaxation techniques, indigenous massages, herbal remedies. You name it and I have probably tried it. While every experiment was not successful, many of them did work. Most importantly they taught me to notice what kinds of foods my body can digest well, what kinds of activities my body responds to and what changes in mindset I needed to make to help my body along.
To date, changing mindset has had the biggest impact. I decided that my worthiness could no longer be tied to my fitness success. Instead I started associating being fit with being strong and happy. As I made changes in my mindset, I began craving exercise and eating foods that made my body feel good. I stopped trying to eat my emotions, but resetting how I thought about alcohol, discovered I didn’t really care for junk food and that it was mostly a crutch left over from emotional eating in my 20s. The more I reset my mindset and fulfilled my needs, the more success I had in caring for myself, reducing stress or anxiety and increasing my personal and professional performance.
So what have skills have I learned from all these experiments? Here are a few tips I picked up along the way that helped shift my mindset and take action:
- Diverse physical activity can teach you about fun and perseverance. I really like doing activities in groups. Group activities make me feel like I am part of a team and we’re all learning to go the extra mile. Some of this comes from my early childhood. As a young girl I participated in ballet, tap-jazz, salsa, gymnastics, running and volleyball. Having that diversity allowed me to meet lots of people and to figure out my best method for learning. Later in life, I picked up yoga, kickboxing and running. These activities let me feel free, release aggression, get out of my head and focus on the mechanics of the body. I choose teachers who are fun and laugh because it builds my enthusiasm and pushes me to persevere when the classes get hard. Learning to play and how to persevere through a difficult challenge is one of the most rewarding experiences in my life. The more I can incorporate a playful mindset in my work, the more creative I am at solving problems or managing dilemmas in my business. Doing a variety of physical activities outside of work, helps me perform better at work.
- Consistent eating schedules teach you about setting work boundaries. My mom always told me to eat on a schedule because it was good for digestion. I thought it was some old cultural myth. It is an old cultural tradition and its also science. The truth is that the body is a mechanical system and it runs best when we feed it whole nutritious food for fuel and when we eat on a schedule. The body requires approximately 8 hours to digest and clean the food in your intestines and stomach. It does like clockwork at the same time every night. While the stomach is working and cleaning, the rest of your body can rest. When we follow the schedule it runs like brand new Porsche – smooth and fast. When we don’t, the body runs like a beat up old 1980 Chevy – puttering down the lane. Setting work boundaries can help us do the same. Our minds can only process so much information. The most creative people I know are people who respect time for rest, for inspiration and rejuvenation. The mind like the body also needs to rest from its work and recover. If you don’t recover you lose sight of your company values and how those values are manifested in everyday life.
- Eating whole, nutritious foods improves mental acuity and reduces afternoon fog. When you eat food that your body simply doesn’t respond to, a mental blurriness rolls in reducing your ability to concentrate or focus. Most people attempt to counter that with coffee. Unfortunately, the effects of caffeine only last a short time when your body is truly trying to digest bad food. One cause of that fog is what you eat and how you eat it. One way to discover how different foods affect your body is to keep a food journal. Write down everything you eat will help identify the foods that don’t sit well with your body. Noticing how quickly you eat will do the same. If you swallow whole pieces of food without properly chewing them, it will be difficult for the body to digest them. Instead eat your lunch away from your desk and eat it slowly (25 chews per bite of food). Notice how it tastes and how it makes your body feel. Each step in this process will help eliminate afternoon fog, allowing you to focus on the important matters at hand.
So next time, you're thinking about losing weight to please others, instead think of all the benefits it will bring to your work life, your personal well being and inner happiness.