I’ve been staring at the blank page of this blog post for a while, wondering where to begin. (Update: I wrote this post and then let it sit in my drafts for a while, that’s how unsure I was of posting it.)
When I dove back into the blogging Instagram world, I was quickly reminded of the effect that it can have on one’s psyche. There’s so many pretty pictures out there of pretty people doing pretty things, and it can, sometimes, be a bit overwhelming.
It has gotten me thinking a lot about balance. And, in honor of National Mental Health Awareness month, I thought it best to share a bit of my own story. Forgive me if this is rambling, or redundant, but this is also a little leap of faith as I open up about something I don’t often do: namely, my relationship (or, my previous one) with food.
Trigger warning: this post deals with eating habits, restrictions, and dieting.
Now, there’s obviously a lot of different types of balancing acts. It seems like these days, we have to juggle so much, whether it’s our health, our jobs, our social media usage. Where is it that you find the sweet spot of feeling like you’re doing enough, but not too much? How do you know when to take a break, without doing too little?
It’s taken me a while to figure it out, and I won’t even pretend like I’m an expert at it. I think that balance comes as you grow and get to know yourself better, and I also think that balance can mean different things at different stages in our lives.
For example, once upon a time (aka, my freshman year of college) I decided to go “healthy.” I was determined to avoid the Freshman 15, so I rerouted that determination towards only eating healthy foods, work out regularly, etc. The only problem is, I went way the other direction. I skipped eating mindfully and started to pay too much attention to what I was eating, and working out regularly became like a drug: if I didn’t get my run in that day, I felt miserable, and not due to lack of exercise. If I didn’t get to work out and I ate something “bad for me,” I felt worse than miserable. Granted, I did indeed save myself from gaining the Freshman 15… I lost it, instead. And then some.
Needless to say, I wasn’t so healthy, even though, in my mind, that’s all that I was. Ironically, it was my mind that wasn’t.
I remember coming home from school that summer and my mother reminding me, gently, to be careful. I knew what she meant, and though I was stubborn at first, I eventually eased up a bit. I started being okay with the extra slice of cheese on my sandwich, with not knowing what I was going to eat for dinner until I ate it, with skipping a day or two at the gym. Eventually, I found my true balance again, and by the time I went back to school, I regained my balance with food again.
Besides, that sophomore semester, I had a goal, one I needed to be happy and healthy for: I was going to England.
I left for England the January of my sophomore year of college, and I spent the next seven months having the literal time of my life. (I’ve written, talked, and reminisced on that time more often than not, so there’s no need to rehash the wonderfulness of it now, just know that it was incredible.) It was the first time in a long time that I literally did not think about food or worry about how I looked. I just wanted to experience everything, and experience I certainly did.
I came back from being abroad heartbroken to be home, and upset with the number on the scale. But I was so afraid to fall back into my freshman year habits, so I took it one step at a time. I started junior year with a resolve to be better about exercise, but maintain my England-driven attitude towards food. And it worked, at first, but as all exercise-only diets do, I plateaued after a while. Then I dropped the exercise and started to only eat “healthy foods.” That, again, worked for a bit but stalled after some time. I couldn’t seem to get back into healthy habits I had once had.
The rest of college was a struggle to get that balance back. I’m not saying it was an unhappy struggle, though there were times where I would get discouraged or upset. But who doesn’t? I tried to make the most of my junior and senior year, because if England taught me anything, it was that the time spent in that atmosphere was short, and I didn’t want to take it for granted.
The idea of true “balance” came when I was out of college, as I think it does for many of us. Suddenly, I no longer had the excuse of too many classes or a looming thesis deadline. At the same time, I was living completely on my own, for the first time ever, and learning so much about myself in the process.
And of course, lot of my story is, of course, so strongly about faith. Don’t think for a second that I think I could have gotten to where I am today had I not unrelentingly turned to God for guidance. I have Him to thank for the courage to get through it, the support He put in my life, and the strength to find that balance. In fact, I can honestly say that I didn’t feel the full power of regaining my own balance until I fully pulled Him into the equation, and for that, I am incredibly grateful. He showed the true force of His stable, loving hand as he guided me through this journey.
This journey that, in time, helped me figure out what balance means to me.
Balance, to me, is working out 4 days a week and being an utter slug the other 3. Balance, to me, is eating eggs for breakfast and a salad for lunch, and pizza for dinner. Balance, to me, is a hard workout followed by a bagel breakfast. It’s running 3 miles one day and just weight lifting the next. It’s having a wine night only to wake up and hike the next day. It’s putting a stone in the “healthy” side and a stone in the “happy” side at the same time. It’s making sure the scale stays even.
That said, I’m not saying that this is what balance looks like for everyone. For some, maybe it’s a daily workout and a strict vegan diet, because that’s what makes them feel their best. Because, really, that’s what it’s all about. Once you figure out what makes you feel happiest, and feel healthiest, then you’ll be able to get into that cadence more easily. If I’ve learned anything as I built my own structure for balance, it’s that there’s no one way to do it.
Balance looks different for everyone, and everyone has their own story for getting there.
PS: If you’re struggling, please don’t be afraid to reach out for help. The National Eating Disorder Awareness Helpline is a wonderful, life saving resource.