When’s the last time you ate a donut (or some other delicious treat, if you're not a fan of donuts) and thought, "This is a perfectly reasonable thing to eat, and it doesn't matter if I exercise or diet as a result of eating this donut?"
Scratching your head?
And when's the last time you glanced in the mirror for reasons other than to floss your teeth or check your tonsils?
Lemme guess. When you did, maybe you saw something you didn’t like, and perhaps within 5 seconds you came up with all the things you need to do to fix that thing: an extra long run…stop eating chocolate…2 more Pilates classes… chicken and steamed broccoli for a week…maybe new pair of Spanx leggings.
If you're like virtually every other woman (and man!) who lives in our world, it's nearly impossible to go a single day without looking in the mirror and critiquing something about yourself.
And it's really hard to eat a donut/treat (or 5, or 10...) and not have even the smallest feeling of guilt about it.
As a result of either the mirror or the donuts, you may or may not decide to actually do the items on the "fix your body" list. But if you do, it's the same old song. You’ve done it before, it worked, so you’ll just run the food-burn spin cycle again:
Eat donuts, get upset, swear off “bad food,” cleanse, burn, eat more donuts, get more upset, cleanse, burn…
In fact, you often laugh and say you work out just so you can eat those donuts. You’d rather be spending "quality time" with your partner instead of spinning on the elliptical on the weekend, but you only have so much energy, and let’s be honest: you may be thinking that you don’t want your partner to see you with a body like this one.
So you hit your 4th Pilates class this week to burn off your Chipotle habit. As much as you HATE doing it and would rather be on the couch curled up with your sweet puppy or spending time with your adorable 4 year old, you tell yourself that just one more set of the abs series will do the trick and earn you Tuesday taco night.
You say you’re just trying to be "balanced." It’s what everyone else does, so why shouldn’t you?
How else would you be happy and have a social life if you’re not sharing chips and queso and margs at Friday happy hour? You don’t want to be the jerk who sits there and doesn’t eat. Then people would probably think you’re antisocial or worse—that you have an eating disorder.*
And you don’t want them thinking that—because it would just bring…awkwardness into your life.
Well, friend, I'm afraid I have awkward news for you.
If you use exercise as justification or punishment for donuts, queso, pizza, drinking, or any other indulgence for that matter, you might have disordered eating. But not the kind you think. No, you don’t intentionally starve yourself, and no, you don’t make yourself purge after eating the entire box of Oreos. Oh God! You wouldn’t dream of that.*
But, when viewed as a means to control your food and calorie intake and expenditure, exercise is a form of purging. And, on the same tune, cleansing is a form of deprivation.
Both purging and deprivation around food and body image, no matter how you spin them, are a means of controlling something you don’t like, and disordered eating is not about the actual food, your weight or the exercise: it’s about feeling like you don’t have total control and therefore trying to get control by any means necessary.
Let me say this clearly: the exercise-so-you-can-eat cycle and the dependency that exercise and food have on each other in your life, by any other name, is part of the disordered eating family.
How you feel about your body isn’t about the food. Please eat the donuts and queso. Enjoy!
It isn’t about your weight either. You’re beautiful just as you are.
It’s not about your actual body shape, size, or color. It is a temple of badassery and perfect just as it is.
It’s not even about what other people think of you.
It’s about what you think of you.
Every time you tell yourself that you have to exercise in order to eat something delicious, an inner (possibly hidden) voice is telling your soul that you’re never good enough just as you are, that you’re not worthy of the #treatyoself mentality, and that doing something that feels good merits punishment.
You know that voice. It’s the one that says “I’ll be good enough once I can fit into those pants.” It whispers “Your friends won’t love you if you don’t show up for ½ off oyster night.” It sneaks into the shower and says “Hey slacker! Where are your abs? It’s time to step up your game.”
It criticizes your boobs, your eye color, that untamable cowlick that just won’t cooperate with the flat iron (I can’t be the only one with that “problem!”), your scars, your freckles, and everything else. That voice always wants what it doesn’t or can’t have, and leads you to believe that you don’t deserve to be happy because of it.
That voice is the voice of your inner critic (I call it the Gremlin), and she (or he!) makes a living off of making you feel like crap about yourself.
As a result, you spring to action as soon as you hear its squeaky little Gremlin voice.
It may be so sneaky that you don’t even realize that voice is in there! You may just know that you feel kinda bad about a decision you made, can't put your finger on why, and it’s time to pay the price.
The Gremlin LOVES the payoff she gets when you spring to action and pay up. "Muahahaha," it thinks, "I’ve brainwashed her yet again! This is so much fun!"
Side note: I don’t know about you, but I’m getting a picture of the Wicked Witch of the West in my mind just thinking about this Gremlin.
Because of her, you stay in the cycle. Eat donuts, feel guilty, swear off “bad food,” cleanse, burn, eat more donuts, feel guilty, cleanse, burn…
You may be thinking, “Maybe there’s a voice in YOUR head, Julie, but there is no voice in my head. That’s just how I AM.”
Actually, that’s not how you are. You are not the Gremlin voice in your head. You are smart, courageous, loving, beautiful, and oh-so-caring. That is who you are. Just because the voice is in your head doesn’t mean it’s YOURS.
Or you may be thinking “Um, you’re a doctor. Shouldn’t I be exercising enough and eating healthy? Isn’t that what you tell people to do!?”
Yes, you should exercise and eat healthy. And everyone has a different nutrition, lifestyle and exercise plan that fits their personal health needs. That’s exactly what I coach people on every day!*
But that’s not what we’re talking about right now.
What we’re talking about is that voice. That voice that says things about you that you wouldn’t dream of saying to any other human on the planet. Although if we’re honest, you might think about saying those things about people, but you wouldn’t dare utter them out loud.
Goodness, that’d be a quick way to lose friends.
So what about you? Would you be your inner voice’s friend? What makes it OK to beat the crap out of yourself on the inside, but not OK to say those things out loud to anyone else?
What makes it OK to punish yourself for choosing to eat a donut and spending all of your hard-earned money and time burning it all off, just to rinse and repeat the cycle over and over again?
Do you see how this is a losing recipe? You never get where you want to go. You’re always running in circles.
"Running in circles is a great workout, after all," you might think.
I get it. You love the workout. Great! Keep showing up! You love the friendships you make at run club and you adore your yoga instructor. You feel great when it’s over. Awesome!! I love that! Keep doing all of those things!
Make no mistake: I’m not trying to take those away from you. In fact, I’m not proposing we take ANYTHING away from you, especially things you love, like cheeseburgers and fries, HIIT class or triathlon training.
What if you knew you could eat the donut, kick ass at CrossFit, and not give a damn about why you’re doing either because you positively LOVE how both make you feel? What if that was just what you do, and neither one was the punishment or reward for the other?
What if you didn’t have to work so hard to keep everything under control, and you could just have fun and live carefree without a worry or any guilt?
How is this even possible?
Well, I kind of lied just before.
There’s actually one thing you can take away from yourself to make all of this better. That is, unless you like having the squeaky little voice in your head. You’re welcome to hang onto that voice as long as you like. But something tells me you’re really not a big fan of her. She’s what you can take away.
I know what you may be thinking. "What do you mean get rid of the voice? She’s been with me all this time! She’s what keeps me in line!"
Whoa. Whoa. Whoa.
That’s another lie that she’s telling you (and that you’ve unknowingly bought into!) right there.
The Gremlin's fooled you into thinking that she’s what keeps you in line right now. And yes, let’s admit it, she has likely kept you in line for most of your life up until now.
But she, Gremlin, has a friend named Love who does a way better job at keeping you in line. See, when we do things out of love, they last forever. Yes, it’s a cliché, but it’s a cliché because it’s true.
When we do things out of shame, guilt, fear, pride, or anger at ourselves (all products of Gremlin’s masterful craft), we may start out strong, but we always fizzle out eventually. This is why we get stuck in the cycle of donut-guilt-burn-cleanse—rinse and repeat.
Maybe you’ve met Love before in other life encounters: supporting a friend during a tough time, being there for your sister when she was sick, volunteering at your local church, taking a leap of faith on a new job or taking care of your child when she is scared.
You did all of those things not because you had to or because it’s what you "should" do, but because, goshdarnit, you just wanted to and it your heart felt warm when you did. That was Love talking to you.
Love LOVES to love you. She makes a living out of loving you.
But that voice—that squeaky voice—that is not Love. Somewhere along the way, probably when you were a kid or a teenager, you learned that you would get shit done, whatever that shit was, if you felt scared enough to avoid the consequence, guilty enough not to let yourself or someone else down, or shamed enough to believe that you weren’t good or loved enough unless you followed the “rules” perfectly.
And just who sets the rules, exactly?
There’s really no telling.
Nobody actually makes the rules on what the perfect body, perfect health, perfect diet, perfect workout, perfect lifestyle, or perfect relationship is. A lot of people like to say they make the rules or sell these things, but that doesn't mean it's perfect for you.
Whether we realize it or not, we are indoctrinated to believe that how we are right now is never good enough, therefore we must please, perform, perfect, purge, protect, and practically light ourselves on fire in order to be loved, accepted, and safe.
In fact, much of marketing in the world is targeted at making you believe that you’re not good enough—which is what makes you spend money.
Don’t believe me? Pay attention to the next 10 social media or television ads you see, and other than the Hallmark, wedding or pet food commercials, make note of how many of them really give you warm and fuzzy feelings.
Eventually, whether via marketing, the things we see and hear from others, or the things we tell ourselves on repeat, we unknowingly become brainwashed to believe these Gremlin voice things to be true, and we turn those beliefs on ourselves at a moment’s notice.
In this scenario, it shows up as the squeaky voice who says you’re not healthy enough, you don’t care enough about yourself, you don’t have enough willpower, you’re not skinny enough, or you don’t go out enough.
So you give in to the peer pressure of the voice. You go out and eat the pizza.
Damn, that pizza is good.
Then the voice shows up again. “Damn you, you really should have only eaten half the pizza and gotten a salad. Time for an extra Orange Theory class to pay for it.”
Ahhh, that’s better, now you’re balanced out.
You’re damned if you do, and damned if you don’t. That voice is pretty fickle, isn’t she?
And she’s anything but Love.
What if you just went out and ate the pizza because spending time with friends makes your heart flutter?
What if you went to Orange Theory because you love how strong and confident you feel when you’re on the treadmill, running faster than you ever could have imagined?
What if the pizza and the treadmill had nothing to do with each other?
What if every step you took in life was simply because you LOVE yourself enough to allow yourself to take it?
This may seem like it’s damn near impossible and that I’m talking out of my rear end. That’s ok. You’re welcome to believe that if you’d like.
But I can say from firsthand experience that I’m talking out of my front end, not my back end, and I’m talking from experience.
I used to be the President of the Club of “wanting to please everyone else and beating the crap out of myself for not being good enough or perfect at, well, just about anything.
Unbeknownst to me at the time, I lived in a world of anything but self love. It showed up as overstriving, yo-yo eating and exercise, fearing food, eating too healthy, training too hard, staying up too late to work or study, rinse and repeat.
And what did it earn me? Stress. And hormone problems. Guess what? Stress, yo-yo eating and exercise will mess with your periods. And guess what happens when that happens? You get injuries, pain that wouldn’t go away, periods that are super painful, disappear or come all the time; you train so hard and the results won't show, your plate starts to overflow, and your friends and partner start to think that you care about everything in life except them.
For me, all of these things happened. And then they happened to such an extent that I hit rock bottom in the form of panic attacks followed by mystery illnesses and eventually cancer.
Consider a brick thrown at me and a wake up call ringing LOUD and clear.
I’m not a big fan of wake up calls whether real or proverbial. I’m more of a sleep-‘till 10-let-the-dog-wake-me-up kind of girl. I didn't listen to the warning signs that stress and my body were trying to send me.
And most of all, I didn't listen to my heart. I didn't know I needed to! The Gremlin voice is what I heard most of the time.
Through some deep personal, health and spiritual work, I slowly climbed my way out by reinventing the way that I viewed the world and, most importantly, viewed myself.
I learned to reject all the “rules” I’d unknowingly subscribed to.
And I know what you're thinking--if you're the rule follower type--breaking the rules might sound scary or impossible.
Yes, it was scary (and at the same time, felt so liberating!) to break the rules at first. But it got easier with practice, especially once I realized that those rules were nobody's rules except my own and I was standing in the way of self love and happiness.
Now I’m a Certified Rulebreaker when it comes to food, exercise, body image, and how I talk to myself.
And now I guide other people like me to become Certified Rulebreakers, too!
I help active and athletic professional women with jacked up periods, pain, and no energy for “fun” things like travel, sex, or hanging with their kids, or just kicking back and reading a book. They’re worried that in order to get better they’ll have to sacrifice their careers, stop exercising, stop eating what they love, or that they’ll piss off the people who depend on them. There’s no time to feel better or take care of themselves. I teach them how to get better without sacrificing anything and to get their hormones in check while staying ahead in their workouts and careers.
Ok then, so what would I tell you to do if you were my client?
Make friends with the Gremlin in your head. That may feel kind of awkward, given that you may not have ever met or spoken to each other before. So you’ll need to introduce yourself first. And she’ll need a name. Let’s call her Gladys the Gremlin. In a weird twisted way, Gladys does have a job to do that she thinks is helpful. She is just trying to protect you. But that’s just the thing. You don’t need her protection. Think of her as an overprotective/helicopter parent (you know the ones I’m talking about), a pushy salesperson or that 2nd grade teacher who made you recite your times tables 1000 times until you got them perfect. She honestly really deserves the employee of the month/year/life award for the good job she's done so far. But that's where the buck stops. Now, each time you hear her squeaky voice, pause, take her by the hand, thank her for her help, and send her on her way—just as you would a well-meaning-but-overbearing salesperson. Try it! Say it with me, friends. “I get it, Gladys. You’re just trying to do your job because you care about me. I appreciate it. But I can handle it from here, and I don’t need you to protect or motivate me. Thanks for coming, now you can have the day off.” See? That wasn’t so bad. Kind of fun and silly, right? I told you it would be more fun and carefree!
Compliment others (and yourself) on something other than appearance. Be very clear, I’m not telling you to never compliment people on appearance. That is ok, so long as it’s not the only thing you’re doing—because chances are if you do, it’s the only way you look at yourself too—on the outside. Learning to love ourselves is an inside job, and chances are, the people we love need some help learning to practice self love and body love, too. Our society places a lot of emphasis on having the perfect body, the perfect diet, or the perfect health. These are all “outside” things that are measurable and easy to critique. But inside stuff: courage, resilience, creativity, curiosity…those are great things to compliment as well. It may feel a little awkward at first, so just take baby steps and try one of those words on for size when you chat with yourself or a friend.
Be gentle with yourself. You’re doing the best you can. It’s probably not often that you wake up in the morning, stretch, and say “Ya know? I think I’m only going to half ass today. I’m not going to do my best.” I’m not talking about the days where you feel like crap and drag yourself into work anyway thinking “I’ll just half ass my job today…I mean at least I’m here.” Because even then, if you’re sick and working, you’re still doing the best you can given the circumstances. Practice saying “I’m doing enough. I’m good enough. Today, I did enough.” All you can do is all you can do, and you’re a rockstar just as you are, even if 12 things didn’t get done from your to-do list.
I challenge you to do just one of those things and make sure to reach out and let me know how it goes!
I truly believe you are beautiful and perfect just as you are, and I haven't even met you yet! I just know.
Got questions? I’d be happy to chat. Reach out to set up a conversation with me now!
Together, we can hone in on simple steps and shifts you can make to gain control over your body image, outlook and health, get your questions answered, and get rid of your problem areas so you can continue to do all of the amazing things you love. Like eating donuts and working out without the fear or guilt.
Sound like your cup of tea?
I’m so thrilled to offer a FREE 60-minute one-on-one conversation to readers of this blog post (just email us and mention to us that you read the post). Let's dig in to your questions and figure out just how to get you started on the road to less stress, better periods, and more energy so you can keep doing all the things you love without the worry.
And if you’re the DIY type and itching to dig deeper and get started right now, make sure you check out my FREE DIY guide, Energize Your Health, that offers 3 simple steps you can take to improve your stress, energy, and nutrition, so that you can keep on staying active and slaying your goals.
Free? I love free! Get me the free guide now!
Thanks for reading! I can't wait to hear how this goes for you!
In love and health,
*Disclaimer: There are many types of diagnosed and undiagnosed disordered eating problems which should always be taken seriously and given the appropriate types of support as they can have long term impacts on your physical, mental, and emotional health. If you think you have disordered eating, or a purging disorder such as exercise addiction and need more support, please do not hesitate to reach out to me, your personal medical team, or a mental health provider. In addition, getting the right amounts of nutrition and exercise are important for overall health. The right amounts vary tremendously from person to person. In no way does this blog intend to recommend avoiding exercise, exercising all the time or eating an imbalanced set of nutrients for your own personal health and wellness needs. If you are unsure what is the right plan for you, please reach out to me to chat and I am happy to help you or make a referral to the appropriate provider for you!