“Something So Simple”: The Reality of Maintaining Healthy Habits
March 8, 2011


A few days after I wrote my post on not letting one bad day turn into two, I was chatting with one of my best friends, who told me that he loved the post. He also admitted that, lately, he’s found it difficult to make time for proper self care. He hasn’t been exercising enough or waking up early enough, and he’s made some food choices he regretted. The net result, he said, is a feeling of self-loathing. Sometimes, he says, he wonders “how could I be messing up something so simple?” or “when will I start treating my body like an adult?”

Naturally, I heard and understood what my friend was saying. But I had to disagree with the notion that self-care is simple. Everything I’ve seen and heard as a counselor suggests that taking proper care of one’s body and health is one of the biggest challenges of adult life.

I’ve worked with well over fifty clients now, and they’ve all been impressive, high-energy individuals. Among them are record label executives, filmmakers, mothers of three and four, lawyers, PhD candidates, professional photographers, translators, teachers, software developers, fitness instructors, financial analysts, and social workers. Many of them have juggled those careers with other family obligations or hobbies, and they’ve managed it all with grace.

Where each of them has run into trouble—and this is why they called me—was with food and fitness. It seems that, no matter how successful, ambitious, and competent a man or woman is, there’s still a great chance that he or she might find it impossible to master good eating habits, or establish a steady exercise routine. Time and again, I hear the same exasperated sentiments:

“I don’t know why I have such a hard time shopping for groceries and cooking. I’m so tired on the weekends, I just tend to collapse in front of the TV.”

“I’ll be really good about the gym for a couple of days, but then I hit a busy day and I stop, and I can’t seem to start again.”

“I always plan on packing my lunch and bringing it to work, but then I forget, skip lunch, and snack all afternoon.”

“I’ll be really disciplined for a week or two, but then I go out to a corporate dinner, feel like I’ve ‘blown it,’ and then throw in the towel and start eating everything in sight.”

“I always set my alarm to wake up and work out, but then I just keep pressing snooze until it’s too late.”

Do any of these sound familiar? They should. They’re among the most common impediments—real and perceived—to kick-starting food and fitness routines that last. Two basic patterns seem to emerge: first, people set lofty goals and adhere to them for a few days, but burn out before they’ve had a chance to internalize the routines involved. And second, people tend to get anxious and inflate the potential difficulties of their undertakings before they’ve had a chance to experience them.

These statements flood my inbox almost every day. And it’s worth reiterating that they don’t come from people who are naturally lazy, or unproductive, or pessimistic, or inept. They come from people who are high-functioning, intelligent, and productive employees, partners, parents, and friends. What does this tell us? I think it tells us that sticking to healthy habits is anything but simple or straightforward. Many—perhaps most—people experience a steep learning curve as they work toward a healthier lifestyle, and many stumble a few times before they succeed.

What matters, of course, is persistence in the face of challenge. And nothing will quash your resilience more than feelings of guilt or self-loathing. In my experience, most clients who give up on self-care—be they people trying to lose weight and get fit, or former eating disorder sufferers who are trying to gain weight back—do so because they’ve become overwhelmed with guilt, and have stopped feeling worthy of health.

If you’re reading this and nodding your head—if any of it strikes a chord—you’re not alone. The difficulty you have sticking to a workout routine, avoiding binges, shopping for groceries, or cooking healthy meals is normal. It should be: there’s nothing simple about healthy living. It takes time to cook food, time to plan meals. It takes effort to wake up at dawn and go for a run, or to hit the gym for a short lunch break workout. These things don’t just happen to us: they demand sacrifice and planning, week in and week out.

But here’s the good news: we humans are very good at forming habits. And I promise you—I promise—that simply sticking to healthy routines over time will become easier and easier and easier. I have a few tips to help you out:

  1. Set realistic goals. If you’ve never run a mile before, and you sign up for a marathon, you’ll be crazy not to want to quit. Start jogging lightly for a mile or two once or twice a week, and use fun playlists or an exercise buddy to motivate you when you lose momentum.
  2. Do not give up on your first bad day. Really. Don’t. This pertains especially to food. Most of my clients go a week or two without snags: it’s all excitement and motivation and neatly organized grocery lists. But on the first busy week, or stressful day, or personal hardship, healthy eating gets abandoned, and motivation starts to wear thin. The trick is not to let your first major setback derail you for good. If you can bounce back from your first “off day” (a binge, a day of restricting, three extra glasses of wine, whatever) and get back on track, you’ll realize that you can get back on track. Think all healthy eaters eat ideally every single day? No way. But “off days” are insignificant in the broader scope of a healthy lifestyle.
  3. Don’t let anxiety warp your vision of what healthy living will entail. It’s easy to think about grocery shopping, meal planning, cooking, and exercising, and immediately break into hives. So, step back. Take a deep breath. Relax. Each of these things is actually a lot easier to deal with than you think. And guess what? It’s fine to start with a single goal: for example, you can decide to start exercising 3-5 times a week, but postpone cooking lessons until you’ve got the exercise down to a science. Take it slowly: no one said that each of these great habits depends on the other. You can attempt them one at a time.
  4. Do what you need to do to facilitate healthy habits. This might mean using Fresh Direct if you don’t have time to grocery shop. It might mean paying for membership at a nicer gym, if surroundings will motivate you. It might mean asking a friend to come over and show you some basic knife skills before you attempt a four-course meal. It might mean asking a local parent to watch your daughter, so that you can take a thirty minute power walk a few times a week. It might even mean emailing me, and asking me to help you out with recipes and emotional support. Whatever you have to do, do it: paying a little extra money or asking your friends for support will be worth it in the long run. I’ve made plenty of sacrifices of time, money, convenience, and even socializing—all within reason, of course—in order to maintain my daily workouts and need for ample kitchen time. Why? Because these things give me joy, and make me healthy (in body and spirit). It’s always worth it.
  5. Never feel unworthy. No amount of setbacks means that you’re not worthy of pushing forward with a healthy lifestyle. I can’t tell you how many clients confess to me that they often fail to take care of themselves because they don’t feel “worthy” of homemade meals or costly gym memberships. But think of it this way: how do you feel when you consistently eat poorly, or find other ways to abuse yourself? Tired, sluggish, and probably cranky. At the best, regretful, and at the worst, depressed. And when we’re depressed, we’re all likely to be less present and less giving as family members, employees, and friends. No good comes of our failing to treat ourselves well. So why not take steps toward living more healthily, and feeling better? It may be a cliché, but it exists for a reason: self-care is the first care.

I hope this is all good motivation to jump start healthy habits. But even with my handy tips and encouraging words at your disposal, you should be prepared for the fact that the habits won’t come easily. They just won’t. They’re a challenge worth rising to, but you have to accept the inherent difficulty of what you’re undertaking. You’re not weak or at fault if you happen to hit setbacks along the way, or stop often to think “wow, this is hard.” It is hard. But for that very reason, you’ll feel all the more proud once you begin to see the positive results.

Before I go, I wanted to point out that it was a male friend who prompted this whole post. We ladies tend to assume that guys have it so much easier than us—they can “eat as much as they want and never gain weight,” we think, or “they never seem to obsess over food,” or “their metabolisms are so much higher than ours!” I’ll admit it, I’ve had these same thoughts as I observe the seemingly carefree and uncomplicated relationship that the men in my life have with food. But the feeling doesn’t really stand up to close scrutiny. Scratch the surface, and you’ll find that men are every bit as sensitive to the effects of poor eating as we are; every bit as conscious of their bodies; every bit as prone to feeling guilt or self-loathing when they fail to eat well or exercise. We aren’t the only ones who obsess over diet, nor are we the only ones who greet mirror reflections or scales with anxiety. These issues are shared by all of us—men and women alike—and we should never assume that our male partners, friends, and colleagues “have it easy” when it comes to eating and working out. As this whole post makes clear, it ain’t easy for any of us.

Male readers, I’d love your thoughts on that last bit.

And now, midterm cramming continues. Night!


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  1. I love this post – while I have established a lot of healthy routines, I still find myself battling negative self-talk (or “fat talk”) when I slip up! Even when I’ve chosen and planned an indulgence, I still feel bad after! It’s so important to keep things in perspective and also to know that everyone struggles with this!

  2. Oh man can I relate to this!! 3a wake ups, 30hr calls, and 80+hr workweeks don’t really always support the lifestyle i’d prefer to live. Thanks med school of mine for totally ignoring hours restrictions…hope that’s not a problem when you’re trying to get reaccredited…
    Anyway. Despite my best efforts, sometimes it’s not always feasible to get in 5d/wk working out. Actually, during surgery I had to put my gym membership on hold 🙁 But this has given me a whole new appreciation for living well and caring for myself. I always loved to cook and work out, but now I see these activities as small luxuries rather than things i MUST DO. There’s a gym attached to my hospital, and while there the other day I saw a resident running in her scrubs. That’s pretty badass, and I think it shows how much these moments help save us. Although I’m going into obgyn and love surgery, my surgery clerkship was one of the most trying experiences of my life. Not only was I working 4a-9p 6d/wk with unreasonable and frankly disturbed people, I was doing it during the shortest and darkest days of the year. Talk about seasonal affective disorder…. Whenever I had a spare hour, I ran to yoga or the gym and savored each moment. I made a soup, even a salad. Those things helped me feel better. I try to remember that every time I think about skipping a workout or dropping dollas on the hospital salad bar.

  3. Crikey Gena, you write so well! I can relate in terms of wanting to eat better, but just .. not at times; stress and commuting and work can just take over sometimes.
    The 5) point? I love it. I sometimes get negative on myself and don’t feel I deserve xyz, so that point hit a cord with me – thank you!

  4. Gena, this post couldn’t be better timed for me. I’ve had a very busy week at school, and I’ve binged a couple times this week due to stress. It’s such a painful fall off the healthy living bandwagon, and it’s easy to feel worthless. Feeling good about myself does make me a better friend, daughter, and ultimately student. It’s important not to get discouraged, and I will be bookmarking this post so I keep your advice and words in mind when I feel down on myself.

    I hope one of these days when you come to DC I can meet you, I’ve always appreciated your writing and wisdom, and I hear you’re just as lovely in person as you come across on the blogosphere.

    • Don’t worry, we’ll coordinate! DC visits aren’t going anywhere. And I’m glad that reputation precedes me 🙂

  5. This is an interesting topic and actually something I’ve been struggling with lately. I’m a freelancer and I’ve noticed that when I work on jobs that are not challenging or fulfilling, I rely heavily on having a consistent gym routine, on researching creative new recipes and cooking almost every meal. But when I love the project I’m working on and feel great at work, it is REALLY hard for me to stay motivated and on track with my exercise routine (even though I love my classes and feel great after) and find myself throwing together fast meals and not thinking about it much.

    I’m sure that part of this has to do with wanted to feel SOME challenges & fulfillment – and if I’m not getting it at work I’ll seek it out elsewhere. And, I never give up completely – I’ll always go to at least two yoga classes a week, take lots of walks with my dogs, and eat a vegan diet with at least 1-2 raw meals a day. But I wonder if other people feel this as well and if maybe your work-successful clients are so challenged at work, it’s hard for them to challenge themselves in the health arena?

    • I feel best when I exercise 6-7 times a week, but the truth is, that’s my pattern 2-3 months a year. At most. The rest of the year, I hardly exercise. I’ll do a couple yoga classes a week, at best. I do walk, or bike, everywhere, and I do favor the stairs over the escalator, but unless I’m staying at a hotel, where I have this compulsion to get my money’s worth, I never, ever go to a gym. I’m just lazy I guess. Hard to believe once upon a time I was an all-American runner. For me, it’s super important to get the food right. On an almost daily basis. And that’s enough for me. But I know others who feel about their yoga, or their daily runs, the way I do about food. They’re less persnickety about what and how they eat. Whatever grounds you, I say.

  6. This is such a great post. Almost everyone can identify with something here, if not a lot of things. I actually recently wrote a post about how rare it is for anyone to go vegan or vegetarian overnight and how I struggled with it a LOT. It takes time for everyone to begin new eating and fitness habits.

  7. I have experienced everything that you listed (except for point #5) in my journey to find my healthy self. It is amazing that the story is sooooo common. But people absolutely can and do overcome this and start to put themselves and their health FIRST in their lives. Because that it where it needs to be in order to be maintained. That doesn’t mean that you NEED to workout everyday or eat PERFECTLY everyday. But you do need to put yourself first. And that means being kind to yourself when you vary off of your plan. I had to learn how to think like a thin person (healthy thin people don’t beat themselves up over skipped workouts or too much pizza). Once I learned that, everything else started to fall into place. And working “The Beck Diet Solution” was the one book that got me there.

  8. Thank you Gena – this is such a great post. This is something I have been working hard on this year. I am always so busy taking care of everyone else – my kids, my husband, my sick mother, my father after my mother passed away that I never make myself a priority. This year I have been focusing hard on not being so hard on myself and allowing more forgivness for set backs so that I get back on track more quickly. I am also trying to step back from using the scale so much. I am feeling much more positive about my overall progress and the scale is actually going down.

  9. You’re a brilliant writer, I love your blog, and today I particularly like what you said about not letting one bad day turn into two. I’ve always had trouble letting things go. I’m a dweller, and I wish I weren’t! When something unfortunate happens, it always makes it worse to think about it for the rest of the day, or for the rest of the next day! We should all let our setbacks go without too much grief, and even though I constantly tell myself this, it’s still comforting to hear you say it.

  10. What a great read! You are right! We have to feel worthy to treat out bodies and minds in a positive light! And we can’t beat ourselves up if we go out and buy that kitchen gadget that would help us make our cooking or (un)cooking lives loads easier!

    I must adhere to these words.

  11. Great post, Gena! Reading this post reminded me of your post about squeezing workouts in to a busy life. My favorite comment from that post was about how not every workout will be epic. That statement has been so helpful for me, especially when I’m busy or tired, because it’s helped me to realize that I shouldn’t skip working out just because it might not be a long or intense workout. A 20 minute easy workout is better than no workout at all.

  12. THank you for a great post – especially the part where you acknowledge that keeping up healthy habits is hard work and required determination. THere are times (like last night, where 15 minutes of food prep turned into an hour in a blink) where I think I must be the only one who devotes all this time to prepping healthy foods, so it is nice to be reminded that it is not effortless for others too.

  13. Totally agree, Gena! As a guy, I’ve heard the “you have it so easy,” more times than I can count. And, from a genetic perspective, there’s some truth to that. But the Y-chromosome isn’t some silver bullet.

    People only see my results, not the meticulous work that goes into achieving them. Nor the amount of social pressure men are under to be lean and ripped. Now, to be fair, appearance pressure is way more pervasive for women – but it’s not completely absent for men either.

    I think the only thing I’d add to the list is “Stay in the moment. Don’t focus on the big picture.” I think it ties right in with the point you made about setting realistic goals. So many people focus exclusively on their long term goals. They overlook the progress they make each day and feel bad about having not already reached the end goal.

    • Sorry to interject, but Tim’s words are *so* moving that I had to comment. Staying in the moment, acknowledging one’s current progress, and being proud of oneself for how far one has come – no matter how small the distance – are so vitally important. Tim, thank you so much for pointing this out and giving weight to it. I appreciate your words very much.

  14. Thanks Gena! I love being reminded about this stuff. Sometimes it’s way to easy to fall in that slump, and when I finally pull myself out it feels really good; and then I wonder why it took me so long!

  15. Thanks for bringing this up. Taking good care of myself has really been on my mind this week. In fact, I wrote about it in my journal yesterday. It seems I’ve let a few good habits fall by the wayside and I find that I miss them. I know that what will work for me is adding them back – one at a time – until I’m back on the path I want for my life. And you’re right self care isn’t easy but when I do it it sure helps me feel good about myself.

  16. Oh, brilliant as usual, Gena! Thank you. During a week of no-motivation to exercise, and feeling fat and ugly to boot, this post is probably just what I need. I’ll reread a time or two to let it sink in, and forward to a couple of friends as well. So many of us become defeatists because of perfectionistic tendencies; we fear failure and therefore are terrified to even begin. Thanks for your words of wisdom. Every little bit helps. 😉

  17. This came at such a great time! My schedule has been completely chaotic and I know that for me, I have to get up early to do my exercise…the last few days, I have been slacking on the up early part leaving little time and desire during the rest of the day which results in lack luster performance on my part!

    Knowing I have an evening meeting, I swore I would get my workout in early this morning. When my alarm went off, the pull to stay in bed almost won. I pulled out my IPAD to check on what my day would be like (in form of checking how many client emails arrived over night) and there was your post in my in box. I took a few moments to read it and went to reply (which would have led to more surfing and eventually no time to work out)…

    Instead, I closed the IPAD, got dressed and got a GREAT work out on and saved my reply for now!

    THANKS! Blogs like yours keep me encouraged and motivated to be the best I can be! I am a work in progress and it is so much harder to focus on me and my health but it is also so incredibly rewarding!!!

  18. I have learned how it feels when healthy eating truly becomes a habit.

    Back to school now, and even during the midterms my body dislikes the junk it used to live on. I want my vegetables – they are the comfort food, not donuts or chocolate. But it has taken about 2 years of very slow and gradual change – and necessary self acceptance of no big breakthroughs or immediate gratification – to get here. As well as many days of “blowing it” and then starting up again – and eventually realizing that with time, those days were becoming rarer.

    Now, I just need to the same with an exercise routine…

    “…or former eating disorder sufferers who are trying to gain weight back…”

    I guess I am overly sensitive… but as a former bulimic who is still emotionally dealing with the impact 10+ years of it left on my life, when a reference to eating disorders talks about the underweight spectrum only it makes me feel like we don’t exist, don’t matter, and that an ED in which your weight actually goes up is somehow more shameful and less valid than its opposite.

    • Inga,

      I think I try to make clear–especially since I do often discuss emotional eating, binge eating, and “disordered eating” as a broad term that encompasses a spectrum–that eating disorders comprise a huge variety of behaviors and physical consequences. In the reference above, I simply referred to one manifestation/consequence of disordered eating, which is the need to gain weight. I might easily have said the opposite (“former sufferers of eating disorders who need to balance/lose weight”) and trusted my readers to understand that I can use these phrases and count on them to suss out context, and know that I’m not making a blanket statement that suggests all eating disorders are exactly the same. It’s hard to write unless I can assume that my audience will give me the freedom to talk about specific instances of ED recovery sometimes, and other instances at other times 🙂

      Glad that school has given you more appreciation of healthy food–I’m finding that it has done the exact same for me! I need nourishing food and good self-care more than ever!


      • Which is why I said I must be overly sensitive 🙂

        And I do believe that your coverage of any topic is very balanced – one of the reasons so many people love your blog.

        I guess, I have developed a sore spot overall since I feel that the anorexic spectrum dominates discussion virtually anywhere, which increases difficulty in finding support for the rest of us – even in places that were designed for it. But then, I don’t know the numbers: if it affects more people, it’s fair that it should receive more space. As well, it may have just been my bad luck in not finding the resources and others fared better.

        • Hi Inga – You know, no matter where we are on the ED spectrum, all ED’s breed on shame and isolation, so please do reach out if you need support – it’s out there for each and every one of us. All the best to you!

        • From the statistics I’ve read, bulimia affects a greater number of people, and has a higher recovery rate. Anorexia is the least common, but has the highest likelihood of death and lowest rate of recovery. Binge eating disorder is less studied, but estimates are that it is more common than either BN or AN, and has a lower risk of death than either, but also a low rate of “full” recovery. (Reference: “Lying in Weight”, Trish Gura)

  19. Good timing, Gena (as always)!

    For a number of reasons (because I’m really good at finding reasons) my workouts have taken a serious back seat …. like all the way back to the fourth row of a van backseat. The only thing helping is my very healthy diet. But as each day passes it’s easier to NOT exercise. So I need to not let a few bad weeks keep me from getting back on the fitness bandwagon. You’ve given me a lot to think about.

    • JL, this is so true for me right now, too. I’ve let the exercise slide and I miss it. This morning I started with something easy. I spent 20 minutes stretching. I love the feeling I get after I’ve stretched.

  20. This is such a fantastic post. I’m currently training to be able to offer diet and nutrition advice and this post just consolidates all of the thoughts I’ve been having about how I approach supporting people that are looking to live a healthier life. I certainly all rings true for me, incorporating new habits into my life has been whats made it possible to lose over 80 pounds and not stress myself to death that I’ll regain it (as I have a couple of times before) because even if I fall off the wagon one day my new ‘norm’ is consistently healthier than its ever been before – thanks for yet another inspiring and practical post 🙂

  21. Great post. Until recently, I thought fitness was a gift — you have it, or you don’t — but I’m starting to realize that being healthy is more like playing piano; you won’t get anywhere without daily efforts.

  22. The perfect post for the energy that surrounds spring and the upcoming summer. After a sleepy winter hibernation when it feels ok to slow down, eat a little heavier and sleep more, spring comes around and fills me with lots of energy and goals. I notice around this time I start to pile on new personal goals and I can easily get overwhelmed in trying to find “balance”. I loved the underlying current of this post because even though you are in the midst of mid-terms, you managed to send this peaceful, compassionate message to everyone. Thanks Gena and good luck with all your exams 🙂

  23. Nice post. Right now I’m doing pretty well with eating and decently with exercising by my own standards, though my body image isn’t great. But I’m having difficulty with school. I went through your points and considered each in the context of my goals for my progress and my evaluation of my progress in school. Maintaining healthy work habits and self-esteem in grad school is also quite hard! I think your list generalizes very nicely to any difficult long-term undertaking. People tend to underestimate how common their experiences are, in general. I’m not sure men have it as hard on average- I’ll need a little more convincing. But of course gender is never a guarantee of anything.

    • Ha! Yes, I may have, for the sake of argument, downplayed the male advantage when it comes to eating and body image. It’s there 🙂 However, counseling did show me that men really are susceptible to guilt and some of the same cycles of behavior that women are; I think they’re just less prone to obsessing over it, and that they also have been socialized not to discuss it the same way we do.

  24. Great post Gena! I love every suggestion and am posting it somewhere for me to readily read as I know I need to realize those things more often! I put too much on my plate too often!

    and I totally know about the male mentality as I’ve got two brothers who although are athletes and with the fastest metabolisms, still worry about eating healthy, looking good, and performing their sports well. No one has it easy now a days; no one.

    • Yay! So glad this gave you a hand; I don’t comment much these days with school, but I do read, and I know you have had a few ups and downs recently. Hang in there 🙂

  25. I’ve really learned over the few years of eating raw that it’s ok to have a meal or a day or a snack that is not on the regular plan and that in the large scene of things, it won’t matter too much. But if you let that derail you into changing your diet completely into less greens and more processed, it will affect you. So I let myself have the treat and then usually gravitate to some healthier stuff the say after. No biggie.

    I too know about men and their issues. My father and all of his siblings have issues with eating and he hasn’t been immune. He’s finally getting on track and eats a largely vegetarian diet.

    • Go your Dad! My mom is far from veg, but she’s taken huge steps, such as dairy reduction, and I’m very proud.

  26. amazing post! Sometimes you read my mind. This line really resonates and makes me feel better about myself at the same time: “But I had to disagree with the notion that self-care is simple. Everything I’ve seen and heard as a counselor suggests that taking proper care of one’s body and health is one of the biggest challenges of adult life.”
    You’re amazing!

    • Thanks love!

      I owe you a response re: Bragg’s/tamari and a low sodium alternative! I find that adding acid can often replace the satisfaction we get from salt just as nicely: for instance, my cashew cheese uses less salt than people assume, but it’s heavy on lemon. Try lemon or vinegar (start with 1 tsp extra) and cut the salt by half, and you should be good.

  27. I would add: What are you passionate about?

    So many times, when I think back through my own binge eating disorder recovery and dealing with 10 years of dieting..the ONLY thing I could/would talk about was weight loss. It was my identity. For many people, the things which they do consume their lives and they forget about their passions. I would aruge, that for people who are struggling with weight and are high-powered/busy oftentimes want exercise/eating well to become their passion..but it’s not where their heart is.

    The ironic thing, and so many people can attest to this, is that when people stopped living for what they thought they should do/yearn for..and do thing they were passionate for and gave them life..the whole weight/healthy living thing sorted itself out.

    It’s my focus. If I die tomorrow people aren’t going to remember me for not eating corn syrup, then will hopefully remember how alive I was and living for the things which made me happy.

    • I love this post, Gena. I get tired of the emphasis on “easy” in articles about healthy living because it implies that once you get momentum, you just move forward effortlessly. Not true.

      And in reference to your comment, Michelle, I think you are so right about the passion issue. In my mind, healthy living should provide the energy to help us pursue our passions. It should not become our one and only passion, but for many of us it can become all-consuming. Hence that feeling of utter failure when we slip up.

      I was just thinking this morning about this, actually, in reference to “Healthy Living Blogs”. When I die, do I want my brain to be filled with recipes and the knowledge of what a bunch of 20-somethings ate for breakfast? Or do I want my brain to filled with more knowledge about the things I am passionate about? And in that same vein, do I want to be remembered as someone who can make a delicious, healthy smoothie or as someone who made a difference? If I take care of the latter, that doesn’t mean I can’t do the former…and the former should actually feed the latter. But it is not the smoothie – or any of the other hundred healthy habits I develop – that defines me or even defines a healthy life.

      Healthy habits are not always easy to maintain, and we should certainly make the effort to do so. But I also think that for many they have become an end, rather than a part of their life which is defined by so much more.

      • Interesting thoughts, ladies. Sarah, I can absolutely relate to what you say about healthy eating and healthy living in general needing to be a means to the end of living your passions, and not the total focus of your life. BUT, there’s another aspect to consider. As someone who is WAY beyond my 20’s (moved squarely in to middle age) I can tell you that even by your 40’s, poor eating habits will definitely be rearing their heads in the form of poor health, if not before. The body becomes less and less and less forgiving as the years go by. In my community (the capitol city of my state, not a small town) there is not a single vegetarian restaurant, much less vegan, or raw. There aren’t scores of raw potlucks to participate in – actually none. The momentum needed to choose a different way of eating, when that choice means virtually every morsel of food you put in your mouth must be prepared from scratch (while all those around you stare at you strangely while zapping food in microwaves, and tearing open bags) and that choice also means eating differently from every family member, friend and acquaintance you have, is tremendous. I would argue that the reason many of us keep checking in to read food blogs is not because we are shallow folk who have become obsessed with food to the exclusion of all other passions. It is because we are reminding ourselves that we aren’t alone in what we are trying to do. That there really ARE other people just like us out there in the world. In my case, I’m already dealing with serious health challenges, so the choice isn’t an idle one. My eating choices aren’t motivated by wanting to fit into a bikini. It’s about regaining health and energy, so that the second half of my life can be lived in a meaningful way in service to others.

      • I absolutely love this little dialog too. I can particularly appreciate what you said, Michelle, about how quirky it is that when people let go of the obsessive focus on weight/health/food, then, often, their goals and ideals of lifestyle seem to join them more naturally. Something I have learned, and relearned, time and time AND time again.

        And it really struck me what you, Michelle and Sarah, talk about regarding passions defining who we are, not our eating/health habits. I thank you for the reminder, actually because I needed it right now. I guess this topic does tie into what you, Gena, wrote regarding “losing your sense of uniqueness” as a fear of letting go of disordered eating, though taken at a slightly different angle. It’s nice to have a full circle of ideas going on here! 🙂


        • Full circle indeed! And, remember when Matt (No Meat Athlete) guest blogged for Gena and posed the challenge: “What’s your incredible thing?!” I just LOVE that mantra!

      • Another terrific dialogue, Gena. And, I couldn’t agree more with your thoughts – Michelle and Sarah. Defining and then focusing on what is significant to you, your intended contribution (vs. the comfortable distraction of dieting/exercise) often begins to generate the healing and self-care that has alluded you. One’s self worth and inclination for self loving acts tends to grow when one gives energy to things that matter.

        Maintaining one’s wellness is of great importance, and the daily work it requires should remain a priority, yet it’s also important to not allow accomplishments in this arene to solely define us.

      • Michelle,

        Awesome point. I do consider healthy cooking to be a legit passion, one that preceded and will outlast my blog life, but I agree that a huge part of overcoming any unhealthy relationship with food and restoring self esteem is to find sources of passion and self-worth that are not related to the minutiae of healthy eating; that’s one thing I tried to say (though in a different way) in my NEDA post.

        Sarah, love the line about what 20-somethings ate for breakfast. My blog reading tastes have shifted quite a bit since I started CR; I’m less interested in diary-like records of food intake and far more interested in blogs that simply celebrate food through recipes, or blogs that are issue driven. I still love many diary-style blogs, naturally, but the point is that I stopped being able to muster up fascination for the detailed itemization of someone else’s food. At the least, I’d rather focus on my own 🙂


  28. I really appreciate this post! Although I stick to a pretty healthy diet most of the time, I also struggle to maintain balance and consistency. I tend to go through phases of eating really healthy, and eating not as healthy as I’d want to. However, over the past four years, my eating habits have improved exponentially. I’m so quick to get down on myself when I get off track, but it really helps to look back and recognize all the progress that I have made over the years. I know my journey to leading the lifestyle I want to lead is a evolutionary process, and I think this post is a great reminder that one bad day doesn’t have to derail all your efforts. Thanks for sharing!

  29. Awesome post! It came at a really good time for me. It also underscores for me that choosing the good thoughts takes practice and vigilance. It’s very easy to choose negative thoughts and behavior that breeds feeling negative about ourselves because it’s familiar. It’s not that we consciously “want” to feel unhappy, but sometimes it feels like too much work to make the effort to get happier or healthier.

    Thanks Gena!

  30. Great post. Good luck with the midterms!

    It’s so true that it’s amazing how otherwise capable people can be so much at a loss about how to feed themselves and their families. It must be a problem of education, to be so endemic.

    I agree on the guy thing too: even if their metabolisms are more forgiving, ‘they’ (generalizing here) are definitely affected by what they eat and how it impacts their bodies. I’ve known one or two guys who claim to be impervious to this but anyone who knows them can see the effects, so I think those kinds of guys (and it’s usually guys) are actually in for a harder time of it because of being out of touch!

  31. Yes, great post! How ironic is this. When you originally posted “Don’t Let One Bad Day Turn Into Two” it stuck in my head. Since, if I was having a bad day and it overlapped into the next…I stopped myself and was reminded of your post. 🙂 After reading todays post I feel human in knowing that others experience the same thing from one time to another. Gena, I have picked myself up, dusted myself off and you’ve given me the inspiration and tips to get back at it! We all get in a slump every now and then … the beauty of it all is “it can be something so simple” to turn things back around. Thanks for giving me the “prompt!”

  32. I like this topic a lot. As a wellness coach, I totally agree with you. I’ve also found that many people don’t realized how much they have actually improved. We expect ourselves to be perfect, so when we reflect, we only see what we didn’t do…if we acknowledged the progress we made (even if it wasn’t ideal or huge), we’d feel much more positive and motivated to keep up the good habits.
    Heading in the right direction is much more important than how fast we get there…it’s just hard to remember that!

    Great post!

  33. I would agree that if self care was so simple, that America would not be overweight yet undernourished as a whole. That we wouldn’t be in the predicament we are with diseases like high blood press, diabetes, heart disease (much of which likely could be managed/prevented through improved self care.)

    But it’s NOT always easy for people to motivate for a workout, to choose a green salad over drive thru, to practice yoga rather than practice channel surfing on the couch, etc etc.

    I think that self care takes WORK!

    I love how you addressed that. And also men…I will say that in my experience they are just as effected by things as women are, they just manifest it differently and the effects, i.e. behaviorally or emotionally, just are demonstrated differently. But we ALL feel it, I believe.

    Great post, Gena!