Why my identity needed to change
Updated: Feb 28, 2019
Nutrition is something I’ve been trying to wrap my head around for years.
I’ve tried a lot of different things - many of which were pretty ridiculous in retrospect. But I’m thankful for each step because it’s gotten me to where I am now.
My knowledge and understanding of nutrition has expanded in a way that makes the whole thing less complicated. I have a much better understanding of the principles and bigger picture, which has allowed me to create change more easily in my own life and with my clients.
Last spring I embarked on a brief fat loss phase leading up to the summer. I wanted to see how lean I could get with both my nutrition and workouts dialed in for fat loss.
Everything went exactly as predicted. In about 8 uninterrupted weeks I got to my leanest physique ever (~15% body fat on DEXA), and I was feeling pretty good!
I likely would have kept going with things, but the “diet” was put on pause with a vacation, then a friend in town, and several other summer events that I wanted to enjoy—so I enjoyed them!
And as you might guess, I didn’t maintain 15% for very long. Eating out a bunch doesn’t necessarily make it easy to do so!
So here’s where I found myself…
The fat loss phase was a success. I felt great about that. I had “mastered” the fat loss piece. Check.
Additionally, my normal daily eating habits were on point, too. I continued my norm of cooking my own meals. Balancing protein, veggies, carbs, and healthy fats...paying attention to portion sizes that satisfy me. Boom.
But here’s the thing. While it’s fun and good to cook and prepare my own meals, I don’t have control over what I eat 100% of the time. Food serves other purposes beyond just fuel, and I’m good with that.
For me, food is a way to explore a new city or culture, connect with friends and family, and celebrate a special occasion. Food connects people, and it serves as a way to pass on tradition and stories.
My family also loves food. We’re always trying new hip and trendy restaurants in Philly and New York (or wherever we travel). We're what you might consider a #foodiefamily.
One of my brothers is also a chef, and Italian cooking is his specialty. And if you didn't know, Italian cooking often uses olive oil to finish off a dish just for funzies lol.
So you can see, food is not always about body composition or optimizing workout performance for me. But it became apparent to me that I didn’t always know how to engage with food when those things weren't the goal.
When you’re eating out it can be so easy to consume a lotttt. To get the experience (which is what eating is in this case, an experience) you might order drinks, lots of plates to share, and dessert.
My fam has also been known to do what we call a “bang bang” where you go to 2 or more restaurants back to back—get a little bit here and a little bit there—just to try more things! Ridiculous? Yes. Fun? Absolutely.
And while this isn’t great for maintaining a lean and healthy body, I really just didn’t feel content with how I was approaching food in these situations.
Enter a bit of self-reflection...
I realized that in order to get to the next level of freedom with food, I needed to be ok with leaving some things behind, no matter how good and enticing the food was.
You see, when you’re eating out, it’s not that the food is inherently bad. Thai food, a burger, an ice cream sundae... I absolutely believe those things can be incorporated into a healthy diet and relationship with food.
It’s really the overeating (and spiraling) that can present a problem over time.
And then I realized something that changed everything.
I realized that being a "big eater” was actually a part of my identity.
Over my life, I became known as someone with a big appetite. I could eat a lot of food, and it was actually something I took pride in!
My mom would usually count on me to finish her food (probably so she could get her “moneys worth” - right, Mom?).
I even have two separate childhood memories of winning eating challenges... so weird right?! One was at a festival. I remember competing with a group of people... we were eating chocolate pudding out of a bowl with our hands behind our backs. I was one of the fastest people to finish! My prize? A Wawa gift card! Perrrrfect to buy junk food.
The other memory was an event held after school. Something about eating donuts for time? That memory is a little fuzzy. But I remember the proud feeling of feeling like I was good at eating... lol.
Besides the fact that I think kids probably shouldn’t be exposed to such eat challenges, I realized that I had a choice.
I realized that having a big appetite didn’t need to be a part of me, and it didn't need to define my actions.
Because here’s the thing,
Our actions will always eventually fall in line with our beliefs about ourselves.
And as long as "someone who can put down food" was a part of my identity, leaving food behind would be constant resistance with myself.
Any lasting lifestyle change usually results in a mindset shift, too. We begin to see ourselves differently and act differently as a result.
Maybe you carry less fear. More self worth.
You let go of labels that define you because those labels aren’t you.
So the question is, what are the beliefs that you hold about yourself that could be limiting you? Is there a behavior that you keep falling into despite your best intentions?
What are the beliefs around that?
Those beliefs don’t have to be you!
For me, this was something pretty subtle that was working in the background, which I think is why it took me a while to notice the effect of the belief I held. It wasn't that I was frequently eating large indulgent meals or reenacting episodes of Man v. Food.
Now, I will say that noticing this belief and choosing to let it go didn't just magically change everything.
I've been practicing and navigating eating out for several months since shedding the old identity. It's not always easy, and it takes time.
But I will say that the mental shift opened up so much potential. I feel much more connected with myself. It's crazy how ideas operating below the surface can have so much pull in a moment, and when you release those ideas, you feel... lighter, and free.
The thing about our "limiting beliefs" is that we don't even realize that they're there. They've been with us so long that we don't question them. We think they are us.
But what if we're not the labels, roles, achievements or failures that we think define us? At any moment we can decide to let those things fall away.
P.S. If anyone wants to face off in an eating challenge, I still think I could beat you! ;)