Recently, I’ve been on a bit of a health kick. I try to go to the gym at least 4 times a week for about an hour. On Saturdays and Sundays, my boyfriend and I will usually take my dog to the park (weather permitting) and do some hiking, so Fridays are really the only day I don’t do any exercise. Getting a work out in six days a week is pretty solid.
Regarding eating, I do my best. But I love trying new restaurants and I have a sweet tooth, and who doesn’t like snacking while curling up on the couch with a good (i.e. bad) Lifetime movie every now and then? Additionally, I don’t eat meat except for the occasional chicken, so most of my meals revolve around pasta or noodles, which objectively are not super healthy options.
I’m not actively trying to lose weight, although I wouldn’t complain if a few pounds decided to fall off. What I’m trying to achieve the most is stronger mental health, and for me, part of that entails feeling physically healthy. I’m much more concerned with toning up and building muscle than losing weight.
Eating is an important part of getting in shape, but I don’t believe in dieting. I think it does more harm than good. In my opinion, as I’ve stated before, diets glamorize having an unhealthy relationship with food and only contribute unnecessary stress into our lives. I’ve tried dieting, and it’s always ended in me hating my body and feeling like a failure. Dieting destroys my mental health, and I know I’m not alone. And mental health is just as (if not more) important than physical health.
Which is why this time around, instead of dieting, I eat whatever the hell I want, adopting an “if/then” mentality when selecting which food to eat.
It started my family went the circus a couple weekends ago, and naturally, we wanted to snack while watching the show. And for those who haven’t been to the circus, they have some BOMB food options. I ended up defaulting to my go-to soft pretzel—but without the salt.
That part was new for me. I’d never had a soft pretzel without salt, I just kind of ordered it on impulse because, you know, salt is bad for you. Subconsciously, I had told myself, “If you hold the salt, then you can get the pretzel and enjoy it without feeling that you’re ruining your health kick.”
Since then, I’ve used the if/then strategy when it comes to making all my decisions about food. Girl Scout cookie? If I take my dog for a walk, then I can enjoy a Girl Scout cookie (or two) when I get home.
If I go to the gym, then I can enjoy two helpings of my favorite stove-top Indian meal.
If I drink eight glasses of water during the day, then I can enjoy a piece of candy before bed.
If I eat fruit for breakfast and a snack, then I can enjoy Starbucks on my way home from work.
If I order salad with the dressing on the side, then I can enjoy a breadstick.
The key ingredient of this strategy is the word “enjoy.” In order to make smart eating decisions that are healthy for our bodies and minds, we have to stop demonizing food—especially unhealthy food that tastes so good! You’re not a bad or lesser of a person for wanting an extra slice of pizza or scoop of ice cream. Besides, if we weren’t meant to enjoy chocolate, then why does it taste so good?
I encourage other foodies who are trying to get in better shape (like myself) to adopt the if/then mindset. Not restricting what foods you can eat definitely makes it harder to lose weight/gain muscle/do whatever you’re trying to do, but you’ll feel better mentally, and that’s what’s important. My if/then strategy allows me to enjoy the foods I love while still maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
Your body AND your mind will thank you.
This post was originally featured on onMogul.com.