4) No junk food when I’m hungry

There are two small decisions I’ve made that I think have improved my food-related health more than anything else. I don’t believe in diets, I’m frankly terrified by the idea of not eating enough to the point where my body decides to change shape to try to keep up. SO. CREEPY. Also, I get dizzy if my blood sugar gets too low. But I am 100% on the eating healthy train, so sometimes I try to think up ways to basically trick myself into eating better.

So I make deals with myself.  Since willpower is limited, I figure that hard rules will eventually fail me, or at the very least exhaust me for other tasks.  Instead of telling myself “don’t eat that”, I have a deal: I can eat as much junk food as I like, so long as two conditions are met.

First, anything I eat that’s bad for me has to be high quality. It seems silly to spend calories on things like candy bars and chips, which I guess are okay but honestly I’d probably enjoy fruit more. Higher quality junk food also tends to come in smaller portions and / or be more difficult to obtain. For example, if I want high quality cookies, they pretty much have to be homemade. Or from a legit bakery. There are no cookies in most grocery stores that pass my standards, so I don’t buy cookies when I go shopping. And then I can save that cookie money to buy truly amazing cookies later, thus eating less junk food and enjoying it more. Which is a win for me.  I can’t be sure, but it doesn’t feel like it takes much willpower to say “Hmmph, that shrink-wrapped Nanaimo bar is beneath me.”  Especially when I can just go get something tastier if I want it enough to put in the effort.

The second condition is that I can’t eat bad-for-me foods when I’m hungry. If I stop and eat some real food first, most of the time I realize that I don’t even want junk food, I just want calories. If I do still want the chocolate or whatever it is, I end up eating way less of it, and again, enjoying it more. I think it also results in me eating more real food a lot of the time, which is good because sometimes I forget to eat.

If I ever feel like I’m eating badly, I just raise the bar a little on how delicious junk food has to be to be worth it, or lower the amount of hungry I can be and still go for junk.

I think the best part is that if I’ve fulfilled both conditions, I feel like I truly have permissions to eat as much as I want.  End of story.  I could eat an entire cake if I wanted.  Two entire cakes.  Usually it turns out I don’t even want very much, but knowing that I could eat more makes me feel better about stopping.  Cake should not ever be a guilty pleasure, it’s a delicious pleasure.  I have enough guilt in the rest of my life, thanks.

And seriously, cake is delicious.  Speaking of which, I have some trifle waiting for me in the fridge.  So now I’m off to eat tangerines and maybe some pasta.  Because I’m hungry, and honestly?  I’ll enjoy it more another day.

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3) Periodically check in with myself about my relationships

Just about anyone will tell you that you shouldn’t stay in a relationship where one partner is mean to the other, or hurting the other, and all that. This was clear to me from before I started dating. But no one ever really told me that there’s more to it than both sides not being jerks.  It took a few relationships that went on way, way longer than they should have for me to properly figure that out.

Over time, I’ve slowly added to that list of required attributes that make a romantic relationship worth continuing.  A lot of romantic advice focuses on avoiding red flags, but really, a lack of red flags should be a baseline standard for human contact.  If a (potential/) romantic partner treats me with courtesy, kindness and respect, that’s not so much a “points in their favour” kind of thing.  It’s a “the minimum required for me to willingly spend time with them as a person” kind of thing.  There have to be green flags too, for a relationship to be worthwhile.

I think the most important thing I’ve figured out about this has to do with timescales.  When I think about relationships (especially one I’m in), I think about it in terms of different times: right now, tomorrow, next week/month/year, foreseeable future, rest of my life.  I guess I’m not so focused on the past, except insofar as it affects or predicts the future.

What I realized is that the closest times are the most important ones.  In the past I’ve spent a long time looking at the far-off times, thinking “yeah, I can see myself making a life with this person”, without stopping to think “is this the best thing for me right now?”  I wanted so much to get through to that shiny future in my head.  There’s no point in planning a lifetime with someone who doesn’t make me feel brave and special and just so fucking excited every single time I think about being with them.  Just because I might be able to make everything all right again given x amount of time (and SPOILERS: I can’t), doesn’t mean it’s worth it.

Which isn’t to say that things have to be perfect.  But the times that I can pause, even during the rough patches, even in the middle of a fight so bad it seems like there’s no solution … when I can step back even then and say “This relationship, this person, is what I want right now.  This is awful and hard and still worth it right now.” … That’s something worth keeping.  It’s a lot more complicated than that, of course.  But it’s a damn good start.

2) Have a story ready for awkward life things

For some time, there were few sentences more terrifying to me than “So, what have you been doing lately?”

In the past few years, I’ve had a series of physical and mental medical issues that finally resulted in me dropping out of university last year.  I loved my program, I loved science and learning and thinking of myself as smart and academic and a good student.  Losing that was incredibly dispiriting, to the point where I had fairly major depression which I’m only now starting to climb back out of.  I spent months unable to leave the house, and still verge on a panic attack every time I try to think about getting a job or college training or basically doing anything with my life.  I’m trying different antidepressants, and seeing a fantastic therapist, but it’s been hard getting myself back together.

I cannot imagine how I could cause more awkwardness in casual conversation than by answering honestly when old acquaintances ask how I’ve been and what I’m up to now.  And lying is generally a pretty bad idea, especially about big things that might inspire follow-up questions.  The solution is to have a simple and true (but perhaps incomplete) story ready to go.  My story for this situation is “I had some medical issues that made it hard to be doing university, so I’m taking some time off to focus on my health.”

The extra advantage of this is that when I come up with a really good story, I can tell it to myself.  When I get to thinking about how I’m wasting my life and probably worthless, I can say to myself “No, I’m taking some time off to focus on my health.  That is not a waste of time.  That is LEGIT.”

I use this strategy most often for things relating to depression.  Mental health issues are often misunderstood and usually stigmatized, so it’s really handy having a plan ready to deflect conversation around having to say “I wasn’t able to ___, even though I tried really hard, because I’m depressed and sometimes accomplishing things is just not on,” and then having to deal with people’s confusing or pity or thinking I’m lazy because they don’t believe it’s a real problem.  There are a few people in my life who get to hear the whole story in those situations, but for people I don’t know as well, the conversation will just go so much better if I don’t disclose much.  Everyone wins.