We've all been there. Those moments of boredom, exhaustion or sadness when we reach for a slice of cake or a bag of chips because they're there, we're craving a temporary sugar rush or we think they'll make us feel better. Try as we might, maintaining a healthy diet is extremely difficult for most Americans.
When my best friend and I started hitting the gym regularly our sophomore year of college, we would head straight to the dining hall afterward to feast on ice cream and vegan cookies -- they were vegan, so they had to be great for us, right?! -- to reward ourselves for a job well done.
But as we wiped away the cookie crumbs and celebrated another night of being 19 and looking great in our workout clothes, we would wind up exhausted and dealing with horrible stomachaches
The issue wasn't that our speedy metabolisms couldn't handle our nightly sugar binges. It was that we weren't eating food that made us feel good.
Luckily I gave up that cookie-and-ice-cream habit pretty quickly, but I became way too calorie-conscious as the years went on. I could chew as much gum and drink as much Diet Coke as I wanted because they were calorie-free. Never mind that both gave me horrible headaches.
"Bad" food was reserved for special occasions, and when I felt I'd worked hard and deserved a break, I would treat myself to a sugary Starbucks drink in the middle of the workday that would lead to major 3 p.m. sugar crash.
Although I got the benefit of endorphins from an hour-long ride on a stationary bike, when I started practicing yoga I began to realize just how much focus was put on building muscle and burning calories at a gym. I didn't go to the gym with the intention of treating my body well, I did it to burn off the chocolate ice cream I'd eaten the night before.
Yoga is technically exercise, of course. But to quote my yoga instructors, it's more of a "concert for the body." And it made me feel great. As I found myself spending more nights and weekends breathing into my body, loosening up my muscles and strengthening my core, I became addicted to the feeling and started practicing almost daily. I felt strong and happy, but I still didn't feel the need to eat super-nutritious food. I was getting so much exercise. Why did it matter?
But since immersing myself in my yoga practice over the past month, I've stopped craving anything that will leave me feeling bad or tired. That happy feeling I get from yoga has leaked into every area of my life, but especially into my eating habits. Why would I eat a candy bar after lunch instead of yogurt and fruit? It doesn't make sense, because it doesn't make me feel as good.
I'm not claiming to be perfect. My diet hardly consists entirely of kale and lean protein, and I haven't banned sugar and fat from my life, but it just makes more sense to me to indulge in the good and stay away from the bad.
As I mentioned before, keeping up a nutritious diet isn't easy for most people. But the answer isn't yo-yo dieting, cutting out all "bad" foods or not eating enough. For me, it was realizing the importance of being nice to my body, and I came to that understanding through yoga.
Before you close your computer and immediately hit the mat, be warned: Yoga isn't the answer to all food-related issues, it's just what worked for me. But I will say that it's certainly worth a shot. A few downward dogs never killed anyone!
Until next week. Namaste!
For more by Leigh Weingus, click here.
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