Have you ever noticed how a ‘balanced lifestyle’ is actually such a vague concept?
“I try to live a balanced lifestyle by eating only clean foods and cheating from time to time”
What? “Balanced”? “Clean”? “Cheating”? How can I conclude anything from that statement? Now, I know people who say this, myself included, mean well, but it is important to determine what this means to YOU.
Personally, I have been noticing that the more I focus on reducing body fat and fitting my meals to certain macro’s, the less I focus on the health benefits of the foods I eat. This is a bit ironic since, up until a couple of months ago, health was all that mattered. It still does, but it is no longer a freepass to eat calorie-dense foods all the time. Because I have now experienced both of these ‘extremes’, I have started to think about what it means to me to live a ‘balanced lifestyle’. What is my in-between?
I believe it is important to find the balance where you choose both healthy foods and foods that contain the ‘right’ amount of calories, carbohydrates, fat and protein. There is no point in restricting your calories and eating only rice crackers and cans of tuna all day. Yet, the opposite is true as well. Don’t just eat whatever food you wish under the pretext that what you’re eating is healthy. If you manage to find the in-between here, I guess that’s what you could call ‘balanced living’.
With this post I will try to help you figure out how to determine if you’re living a ‘balanced’ lifestyle and if not, how to make some changes that can guide you in the right direction.
How to know if you’re out of balance
There are two main ways in which we can be out of balanced; in your actions and in your mindset, your thoughts. I say ‘main’ because there are many others, but these are the most relevant ones for what I am trying to explain. If you associate to either one of these extremes, you’re probably not living a balanced lifestyle. This in no way means you’re not capable of changing that! I can promise you that all of us have found or will find ourselves in one of the extremes, do not despair!
The extreme health freak
Everything you eat has to be bursting with vitamins, you don’t eat any refined foods and you eat loads of nuts all day long because… healthy fats, duh. You’re probably the healthiest one of your friends and people regularly ask you what foods they should eat to become ‘healthy’. Yet, you might also be a bit frustrated because you feel like you’re doing really good job by eating such ‘clean’ foods and by working out regularly, but you see no results in terms of weight loss or reduction of body fat. This was my extreme for 2, almost 3, years.
The calorie counter
You’re someone who has tried out every calorie counting app out there and knows exactly how many calories are in a slice of apple pie. Health doesn’t matter to you nearly as much as calories do. A banana and some rice crackers for dinner, that must be healthy, right?
Now, I am not at all saying counting calories is a bad thing. Quite the opposite. I believe it is wise to want to know how much you’re consuming to gain some control over your body (your weight, muscle mass, body fat percentage etc). However, it is easy to fall in to the trap of turning calories into your main concern, over your macros, vitamins, your health etc.
When reading these descriptions you might have either associated strongly with one of them or recognised a bit of yourself in both of them. By putting both of these ‘extremes’ in to perspective, comparing them to one another, it might become clear that the in-between would be to take in to account both the health benefits and the calories in foods, without letting either one become more important than the other.
Choose healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, fish, lean meats, superfoods (if you want), but stay mindful of their calorie-content. Consume healthy (and unhealhty) such as nuts, avocado, bananas, salmon etc. calorie dense foods in moderation. Be mindful that a handful of nuts might just contain as many calories as a large chocolate chip cookie. Your body doesn’t know the difference when storing fat.
Overthinking and obsessing
All you think of is when your next meal is going to be, what it will consist of, if it will undermine your goals etc. When things don’t go the way you expect them to, you end up having an unplanned dessert for example, you stress out. You start feeling guilty, not telling anyone, but thinking about that dessert for hours. This will most probably leave you feeling sad and empty a lot of the time. In some cases, these negative emotions trigger recurrent behaviour such as emotional eating, which can indeed be undermining your progress.
The reckless one
Many of us are part of this extreme. You don’t think about what you put in your mouth for a second. The only thing that matters is if it tastes good. Your diet most-likely consists of beige foods such bread, pasta, pizza, but also a lot of meat, some alcohol and coffee. Anytime someone talks about health or fitness, you get slightly annoyed.
Now, if you’re reading this post you’re probably not as extreme as the previous description, or at least, you’re trying to make a change (a step in the right direction!). The younger you are realising that this isn’t a durable way of living, the better. You might get away with eating this way as a teenager/young adult, but it will catch up with you eventually (not trying to sound like a parent here).
Let’s tackle these one by one. It will be hard to let go of the first extreme as it takes time to rationalise that this way of living, constantly obsessing over a physical goal isn’t going to make you happy. If you’re an emotional eater, try to identify which emotion/situation causes you to do it and try to find distractions (meet new people, discover new places, a new hobby, talk to people about what you’re feeling etc).
If you associate with the second description, you might feel like you don’t need to change anything. You feel good and don’t see the problem. This is why shifting to the ‘in-between’ starting from here is going to depend completely on your own willingness and willpower to change. You have the resources, now it’s up to you to decide what to do with them!