The Problem with Eating for Your Looks

I am not comparing the difficulty level of having a new puppy to having a human baby, but if there's one thing I've learned this week, it is that I have never neglected my physical appearance as much as I have since we brought puppy Crosby home. My not-so-shaved legs? We won't speak of them. My hair? Minimum 5 days unwashed. Thank goodness my job is in fitness because I can't imagine the torture of putting on makeup. 

I tell you this because this week represents a classic example of a period in which I do. not. care. what I look like. When you wake up with a puppy at 4:30 am multiple nights in a row, personal grooming tends to fall by the wayside. I can only imagine how unkempt my looks will be during the first few months of having a child, but hey, I've already made my Ugg moccasins a daily fashion statement, so I'm probably on my way.

No matter how focused you are on your appearance, you too will have a time (or a season) when you just don't care what the mirror shows. But, what I can say about the past week and a half is this:

My looks may have faltered, but my nutrition has not. 

Before you write me off as someone with an iron will for eating well, I'm going to tell you a little secret - I used to eat for my looks and nothing else. When I was 17, I began down a road of restrictive eating that I called "healthy", but it's only purpose was to make me skinny. I lived like this until I was 21, and the residual effects of a negative body image and shame lasted even longer. My life with food was one constant guilt trip after the next if the food I consumed made me gain a pound or look "bigger" in the mirror. I felt suffocated by my desire to eat things that would give me the aesthetic I yearned to control. 

How I grew out of this lifestyle is another story for another post (or several, if I'm being straight with you), but many of my revelations about eating for health, rather than looks, came through an elimination diet (very similar to the Whole30) that I was required to do by my naturopath. I was having some gut issues, and for the first time, I recognized the power of real food to cure my body, rather than deprive it. So, if you're stuck in the vicious cycle of dieting to lose weight and scrutinizing every pound, bump, and flaw, let me tell you something:

If you eat for your looks, rather than your well-being, there will come a time when having the perfect body no longer matters, but your health is too valuable to sacrifice. 

I can speak to this topic because I have lived it, and I also watch it every day. January is the season to "shed the holiday pounds" and "fit back into your skinny jeans" post-holiday binging. I can't tell you how often I hear people justify cutting calories, drinking crappy protein shakes, and following some ridiculous lemon-water fast to lose weight. And here's the thing, there are plenty of people who truly need to lose weight for their health, but even then, if you're training yourself to eat in order to look a certain way, but not focusing on the nutrient density of your food, your habits will not stick. 

We all talk about wanting a healthy lifestyle, right? Well, if you want it for the long haul, that means making it a priority to eat nutrient rich, real food on the good days and the bad. Eating for your looks isn't a strong enough resolution to carry you through for life. But, eating so that your body is strong, eating to cure or prevent disease, eating to live for your friends and family? Those are resolutions that last. 

If you're trapped in a world of eating for your looks, hear me when I say I understand. But, your spouse, family, friends, and children deserve you at your best; in fact, they need you to take care of yourself for the right reasons, and so do you. Don't let the popular school of thought in our culture prevent you from making the mindset shift to what is truly good for you. Eating for your looks may be effective for a season, but eating for your health is the only lasting strategy.