Striking a healthy balance
By Caroline Shannon-Karasik
“I’m a health freak.”
People – including me, sometimes – tout the label like it’s a badge of honor. And, yes, it certainly is a statement that indicates some very positive things. People who are “health freaks” care about their well-being. They make healthy food decisions and have a regular fitness routine that helps keep them in shape.
But being a health freak isn’t always all it’s cracked up be. In fact, sometimes the label can come at a detriment to someone’s overall health. But how can making healthy decisions be bad, you may ask?
I wouldn’t necessarily say they are bad as much as the 24/7 focus on a healthy lifestyle can cause a bit of a life imbalance. Like anything in life, if we don’t leave space for a bit of wiggle room, our rigid behaviors can send us into overdrive.
Prior to my diagnosis with celiac disease in 2010, I spent a large portion of my life subscribing to a ball-to-the-wall approach. The same characteristics that made me driven and motivated had also often left me unable to relax the rules. There was never room for a happy medium or “sweet spot” in my world. Exercise didn’t count unless it was done for at least an hour. If I was trying to minimize sweets, then they had to be completely wiped out of the kitchen – not a single granule in sight.
This, of course, led to a constant up-and-down effect throughout my way of life. Unable to maintain the harsh parameters I had set for myself, I would eventually fail at my master plan, caving to an entire chocolate cake instead of taking the one or two bites I had wanted earlier in the week.
It wasn’t until I was able to admit to these patterns I realized I was the root of my inability to maintain a healthy path. By setting these strict standards, I was like a semi-trailer truck careening around a rather curvaceous road – it just wasn’t going to end pretty.
So, how did I find a little balance? I had to stand in front of the mirror and give myself a pep talk, starting with: “Take a chill pill.”
Then, I got to work on these steps:
• Stop approaching workouts like a try-out for the Olympics. Yeah, we like to sweat it out like the hunkiest guys at the gym, but it’s OK if every workout is not a marathon sesh. Sometimes, all you have is 15 minutes. Do some squats, crunches and push-ups, mix in some jumping jacks and call it a day.
• Hold hands with your inner kiddo. For some reason, so many ho-hum adults think being a grownup means they can’t have any fun. Well, you now have permission to stick your tongue out and wiggle your thumbs by your ears. Guess what? It’s OK to indulge your childlike curiosities and, in fact, they could trigger just the thing that’s been missing in your life. Maybe you were the neighborhood’s best pet sitter or you loved helping your mom bake when you were younger. Consider volunteering at a shelter or enrolling in a cooking class.
• Seek a little bit of Zen in your life. If you’re a full-throttle, Grade-A overachiever like me, chances are you don’t often grant yourself serenity. I learned the hard way peace, harmony and all that “stuff” are actually necessary in order to keep my life running at an even keel. Yoga, deep breathing and even essential oils, like lavender and chamomile, have helped me to chill out.
• Don’t nix an entire food group just for the heck of it. Sure, I’m down with veganism and other dietary choices that are mandatory in order to be healthy – like food allergies and intolerances – but abandoning an entire food group is nuts. For example, all carbs are not bad. Quinoa, brown rice and millet are all gluten-free, delicious and packed with fiber and healthy nutrients. If you are seeking to make changes (i.e. reduce sugar intake), then make the swaps in small doses, but don’t cut it out completely. Abandoning an entire food group for no reason will almost always result in setting yourself up for failure.
Much like the age-old saying it’s important to “never say never,” a healthy way of living stems from the idea there is not a one-size-fits-all prescription for achieving total wellness. That’s why it is so important to subscribe to a way of life, not a temporary fix. This is the place where you will discover healthful bliss. The spot where they can enjoy vibrant green juice and have your gluten-free cake, too.
So, go ahead and strike a little life balance, you health freak, you – we’ll all be here to cheer you on.
Caroline Shannon-Karasik is the author of The Gluten-Free Revolution and a certified health coach. She is also the author of the popular gluten-free blog, sincerelycaroline.com. Her writing and recipe development has been featured in several publications, including, VegNews, Kiwi and REDBOOK magazines. Caroline lives with her husband Dan and four adopted cats in Pittsburgh, Penn. Caroline can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.