The other day I made a loaf of bread. It took approximately ten seconds to mix, baked up beautifully, and tasted great. That’s when it fully hit me: I’ve been on a crash course to healthy living burnout for the last year or so.
It all started with a bread mix that I bought at the health store down the road. Just a simple gluten-free whole grain bread mix. The kind with a packet of yeast where you add some eggs and oil, mix ‘er up, and let it rise. Simple as heck.
Guess what – I didn’t touch that mix. I gave it the ol’ side-eye and just flat-out ignored it for a solid eight months.
It was one of the easiest semi-healthy things in my kitchen. A convenience food that was far healthier than the store-bough stuff I had been buying, yet I still could not manage to motivate myself to just bake the freaking loaf of bread.
image via flickr cc
Why couldn’t I?
Because I was burned out. I was fed up to here with making an extra effort in a hundred different ways to be ALL THE KINDS OF HEALTHY. I was so totally over making a bajillion tiny baby steps toward better health that all just got wadded up to a gigantic, unbearable burden of stress and exhaustion.
I found myself rebelling against my own carefully culled ideals, throwing certain standards out the window in the name of survival mode and stress relief. I ignored that dumb package of bread mix and bought gluten-free bread at Costco instead.
I hated living that way. But I also resented the unbearable pressure of living up to my own sky-high ideals. (Let me be clear: there is nothing wrong with having high ideals. It’s more about how you go about achieving them.)
The last five years (coincidentally also the years of my healthier lifestyle journey thus far) have been wrought with stress and major life events like moving across the country and birthing a bunch of gorgeous babies in rapid-fire succession. Also: being married has felt more like hard work than a fairytale (I know – shocker.)
Then one day I realized that I had unwittingly just stopped caring so much. I began making compromises in our diet but then beating myself up for them.
We gained a bit of weight, felt smooshy and sluggish and achey-painy, and we gained the unwelcome companions of hopelessness and indifference.
That’s when we started doing things like eat out and throw restraint out the window, in the name of “just this once” which became “on a very regular basis” quite quickly. I nodded along to the blog posts and articles about the dangers of GMO’s and white sugar and refined flour and then turned around and consumed them without restraint.
I felt like a hypocrite for denying myself a cupcake at the coffee shop because for heaven’s sake: I had ordered a half-sweet white chocolate mocha. I felt like a fool for ordering a white chocolate mocha because I *do* believe that things like that affect my body adversely. I KNOW BETTER. But I couldn’t bring myself to care.
So what happened?
I think a couple of specific factors played a role in my healthy living burnout.
1. Elitists & strict rules
I will never be an elitist when it comes to food. When I first began bursting out of the SAD (Standard American Diet) mindset five years ago I started by reading some blogs that were very, shall we say… militant in their approach. No stone left unturned, no ingredient compromised.
Their idea of an unhealthy meal was non-organic frozen green beans steamed with butter, baked chicken from the grocery store, and mashed non-organic potatoes. (The pesticides! The CAFO meat! The starchy white potatoes that turn into sugar in your body and contribute to belly fat! Run away!)
Good grief. I cannot and will not ever knock a meal that makes a legitimate effort to be healthy and from scratch, no matter how “perfect” it may or may not be. Perhaps we all still have some learning to do to figure out the ideal diet. Maybe that knowledge will not come this side of eternity, I don’t know. I do know, however, that I can eat pretty dang healthy without having to be an elitist over every tiny detail.
I also know that the meal I just described is 98% better than a can of chef boyardee or a box of kraft dinner. And that’s worth something.
I am also not at all a fan of the crazy strict rules that go along with that mentality. I do not want to ever be in a place where I have to refuse hospitality or community because I simply cannot bend my own paradigm even a tiny bit to accommodate other diets and choices. I cannot do it. I believe that compromising the relationships in my life will have as much of a health effect as my diet.
2. Psychological pull to old habits
The discussion around diet and health in our culture usually seems to center around one main factor: willpower. But that’s not what it’s about, really. It isn’t about how strong you can be in resisting that cupcake, and then patting yourself on the back when you do.
There is a very real psychological component to our eating habits that is rarely discussed. There are two cravings that typically work against us: 1) the craving to be “normal” and accepted like everyone else and 2) the cravings for the popular substances to which we are addicted (think: sugar, caffeine, carbs, etc.)
In It Starts With Food, the authors talk about how we are addicted to food and unable to stop eating stuff that’s bad for us, despite our best efforts. They say:
“It’s not your fault. You are not lacking willpower. You are not lazy. And it’s not your fault that you can’t stop eating those foods. Now, we’re not trying to say that the choices you make aren’t your own or that you don’t have any responsibility for your current health status (or waistline). But what you have to understand is that these unhealthy foods have an unfair advantage. They are designed to mess with your brain. They are built to make you crave them. They make it hard for you to give them up.”
This really resonates with me. The guilt and shame of making unhealthy choices only hinders our efforts, I think. So if we can remove those negative feelings, that’s a huge step forward.
3. Exhaustion and stress
Let’s face it: these little years can be overwhelming. Between the sleep-deprivation and the child-rearing (they are supposed to turn into responsible, compassionate, and kind adults but no one knows how exactly), a lot of young mamas are in a perpetual state of fatigue and overwhelm. Not exactly a recipe for success when it comes to implementing lots of new and foreign concepts into your life, most of which do require extra work on your part.
How do I get back on track?
1. Consider a reset
Do you feel like you need to press the reset button? Are you addicted to sugar? Enduring “minor” daily health concerns? Always feeling fatigued? Maybe you need to consider a sugar detox, a cleanse, or a radical diet for more serious health issues such as the GAPS diet or Whole 30. Maybe you need to set some ground rules for yourself and hold yourself accountable.
2. Remember one important fact
It’s a small but important distinction – Food is Not a Moral Issue. As I’ve said before: “The thing about elevating the importance of food above community is that you start missing out. You can miss out on community and social interaction; you miss out on real relationship – or worse – you can harm relationships… We can acknowledge that certain things are healthier than others without attaching shame and guilt to them. It’s true, honest.”
3. Set one goal
People who have achieved big goals in life will inevitably tell you that it takes intentional planning in order to achieve big goals. Decide right now which one next step you want to take in your healthy living journey, and forget about the rest. One slow goal at a time is better than overwhelm that leads to giving up altogether (and I am SO preaching to myself here.)
I recently starting brewing kombucha, and I love it so much. I’m sticking my fingers in my ears and singing la-la-la really loudly when the rest of the “should-do’s” start pounding on my door. I’ll move on to the next thing when I’m good and ready, thank-you-very-much.
Now that life has inched forward a tiny bit from the crazytown of babies and cross-country moves and exhaustion, I find my motivation is making a comeback.
It’s slow but sure as I find within me a strong desire to live with intention when it comes to my body. I am more aware than ever before that each small choice I make toward a healthier lifestyle and diet is an act of worship to He who created me in the beginning. My body is intricately and lovingly designed by a Creator, and I want to honour Him with it. That includes pursuing health as much as I am able.
Healthy living burnout can happen to absolutely anyone, and if I’m being honest – I suspect it happens far more often than anyone cares to admit. I felt ashamed about it for a long time, thinking it was somehow my fault. I now realize that the shame was only weighing me down and preventing me from moving forward.
I have been fairly open about my non-strict rules and my lapses at times despite my better judgment, but even I can tell you that it can get rather lonely up here on a “natural living blogger” pedestal. Burnout is real and it is insidious. Thankfully, I’m on the upswing again.