Balancing Act

Q: Balance – If we don’t take care of ourselves, we aren’t as able to [take care of] others. It’s about finding balance so that you avoid extremes in diet and exercise. I know that people have commented that they want to know what diet you finally found that works best, and it makes me wonder if they are looking for answers for themselves. That’s a pretty tough question to answer because nutrition isn’t that cut and dry, and there is still a lot that we don’t know. Everyone thinks that they are an expert, and you can find great arguments that support almost any diet. That’s why I think balance and moderation. I’m curious to learn where you are at with this.
Balance is one of the biggest topics I have begun to see as a theme through this entire process. It is a topic my friends tried to stress to me at one point this past year (something I will go into detail in my project – it was stressful, but eye-opening, and continues to turn up in my life as I come to more conclusions/realizations).

Being a perfectionist, dedicated, hard-working person who finds the ultimate “secret” to success (supposedly) caused me to be consumed with achieving success at the cost of my mental and physical health. I think it comes with having that natural drive, that certain personality – we perfectionists seem to want to go “all the way” with anything and everything. If a little bit is good, then a lot must be better, right? I think it comes with being a runner, too. You think, if I run this many miles, then ten more miles each week would make me even faster. While that can be true, we perfectionists think we can bump it up quickly: Because I have enough discipline. Because I have enough willpower. Because I can force myself to do it.
When my mom suggested I cut down my portion sizes, I figured I had to starve myself in order to lose weight, rather than eat a little less or choose healthier foods (which I didn’t really even need to do anyway; my weight was fine). It was such a small suggestion, perhaps insignificant to others. But to me it screamed, go all the way! The reaction I had toward the entire ordeal (oh my gosh, she must think I’m fat, I have to cut back!) makes it clear how far I felt I had to go in order to keep a perfect weight, to not going out of control, to feel balanced with everything in my life even though it would actually turn out to make things even more unbalanced. For a reference, you can see the post here. When I thought I was merely keeping the perfectionist goal, in reality I lost all sense of balance.
I took “eat two pieces of toast instead of five” into “starve yourself.”
And then with raw food: “eat as much as you want,” to binge.
Lose a little bit of weight to run faster, to lose as much weight as possible to run fastest.
Avoid too many desserts, to avoid desserts and special occasions with friends at almost all costs.
Focus on running and school, to feeling guilty if I spent any time away from that.
When I journeyed into raw food, everything I had learned about nutrition had gone extreme. Eat as much as you want. Eat as much fruit as you want. Only eat raw food for ultimate health. Eat little or no fat. It should be no surprise that 30bananasaday promoted how there is no such thing as “moderation.”
I learned from the best.

Finding the cure in all the wrong places

I felt that one diet would “cure me” of my eating disorder. As evident by my journey into 30bananasaday, I thought eating mostly fruit would cure my eating disorder, would get rid of the bingeing. Long after that failed, I spent hours reading through articles online or buying books from the library to find another “cure,” but it turned out that the only real cure was getting professional help through therapy and seeing a dietician (I made enough mistakes before I went to get help to know that). It was only through their help that I finally found my sense of balance and moderation. They helped me to see past the numbers and macronutrients, and into the mind.
I didn’t realize what a powerful thing the mind was until I recently read on the Psychology of Eating–how we approach food mentally. I advise anyone who is still looking for that “miracle” cure that breaking away from any eating disorder does not end by finding the “miracle” diet, certain macronutrients, timing of meals, or the best weight loss pill to do so. It’s about finding balance again – with your mind and body, with your food.
At this point, I have learned to find balance in food by going all the way back to any food in general, and now moving towards food that I believe is better for my body, while still maintaining balance with treats and foods that may not be so healthy for the body. I figure that if the cheat meals make me feel mentally happier (we’re still getting to that – I’m working on getting rid of the guilt, first), then I will be healthier than the person who eats the healthiest food in the world but feels sad or bored with the food they eat. Food is pleasure. I encourage those of you who struggle to find that pleasure and security again, hopefully through balance.

About Rachael

Rachael Steil is a graduate from Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Michigan with a Bachelor of Arts. Steil an author, speaker, and a recipient of the Spirit and Outstanding Runner award for the Aquinas College cross country team and has received 6th place All-American accolades in cross country as well as 7th place in the NAIA track nationals.
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15 Responses to Balancing Act

  1. Tamara Steil says:

    I love love love this post!!! You have come SO far in your journey. What a woman! You were an amazing extremist – the perfect study in perfect discipline – and oh the trouble it got you in. I am so sorry you had to go through this but all journeys are totally worth it if they are learned from, grown from, and best of all, you are able to help others through this. And teaching your support group how to help you. Your candid sharing about your experience with food and your advice of common sense and BALANCE are right on target. I have never been prouder of you, my daughter.

  2. Annabel says:

    I love that you talk about trying to find moderation in eating food, and doing so in a way that still allows it to be enjoyable. I think a lot of people have a hard time with that, whether they admit to it or not. Clearly, this is something you are working very hard on. Since you have managed to find moderation in your eating habits, do you find that those habits then carry to other parts of your life? Do you find yourself doing other things in moderation between school, running, work, and whatever else you have going on? It’s amazing to think that we can just binge on something or starve ourselves of something and not really think about the consequecnes.

    Glad you shared this post.

    • rachael says:

      Hi Annabel! Thanks for your comment.
      Yes, I have definitely found balance in food as well as in life. But I think life came first–once I was able to find balance there, I was able to find balance in food. I think the way we eat can reflect what is going on in our lives, so it is important to look at the things BEYOND food in order to eat well/balanced again.

  3. Neal Steichen says:

    Balancing is such a huge thing in our culture. Not only with food (which is important), but work, school, fun, sleep, reading, exercise, religion, socializing, etc. Especially at a collegiate level, our lives turn into a balancing act, which will undoubtable fall at some point in some area. In that case we have to make concessions. Personally, I’ve made sacrifices in exercise, eating right, and (most of all) sleep. You are clearly no different form the rest of us, but I have to admit that, despite your struggles, you’ve already done a lot more than most people our age can claim. Not that I am advocating eating issues, but if we don’t take pride in what we’ve accomplished, it’s all for naught.

    That being said, everything in moderation seems to be the best policy in a lot of areas. I think everyone can learn that from your story.

  4. Megan Hornyak says:

    So I have a problem. I enjoy eating sweet treats when I need to. Isn’t that how it is? I have to eat sweet treats when I know I’ve done something right by myself or by someone else or at times when I’m depressed. I just stop myself before I go too far. Either way, its keeping balance with myself, that my foods reflect me and with this post I completely agree with you–and I feel we share the same mind/body struggles since I am a perfectionist too. We feel we can take the damage we end up doing to ourselves, because we are brave, strong, self-reliant, all-knowable even…but we’re not. We need help. I encourage you strongly to keep writing about this new life path you’ve chosen. I too have struggled with many personal demons. It seems yoga was the best answer for me. It allowed me to combine prayer, exercise, and a steady mind into an actual practice I CAN DO instead of the wishful thinking that gets me no where. It allows me to stop criticizing myself for being too intuitive and sensitive and also allows me to forgive myself when I mess up. And when in doubt I follow my emotions and my nose. Sometimes if I smell something I know I need it, like meat…I smell it, get really obsessed with it, and then realize later my iron is low. I think you’re so right, best thing to do is go with the flow or follow your nose.

    • rachael says:

      I wouldn’t call wanting sweet treats a “problem” since, as you mention, this is a normal behavior. You are right when you say that most of us crave sweet treats when we want a reward for ourselves or we are celebrating someone else, and yes, even when we are sad. Most would classify this as “normal” eating behavior, especially when you feel you can stop before going too far.
      I’m so glad you’ve been able to identify your own demons as well.
      I agree, yoga is a great practice! I just started yoga at the beginning of this year. I never knew what a great exercise it was not only for my body, but my mind.

  5. DRA says:

    Balance in life, is something I struggle with. Not because I don’t understand it, but because I often find myself bouncing from believing in balance and absolutes. Thank you for this post which has helped me stay focused on balance.

  6. I love my cheat meals! (Also, please know that if I refer to myself in commenting, I’m not comparing! :) I’m relating.) Every fitness trainer I’ve talked to about the subject of cheat meals say that it’s actually a great thing when eating healthy. One cheat meal a week sort of “resets” the body so it doesn’t adapt as easily to the health foods and therefore plateauing.

    I admire that you’re open about seeking therapy for your struggle. Too often there’s a stigma attached to people who see a therapist. In my opinion, people who seek out help in order to change something they know isn’t healthy–for lack of better word–are strong. I believe you are stronger than those who deny themselves the aid of a professional because “they don’t need it”. You will conquer this.

  7. Jaclyn says:

    Hey Rachel! This is a really great post I love your honesty and you are very brave for sharing all of this so openly. I like your last part at the end saying that food is pleasure. I agree whole heatedly. As someone who has a restricted diet (I’m a vegetarian) your insights through everything are very enlightening. Food should be something that you love, not a burden.

  8. Elizabeth Swanson says:

    Your talk about being a perfectionist reminds me of a self revelation I had not too long ago. I always thought perfectionist were perfect people who always did their best. I never considered myself a perfectionist because I was so far from perfect, but I always expected myself to be capable of perfection. This self image taught me that I was lazy. Too lazy onto achieve my worth. Recently though I have learned to see myself as a perfectionist. I expect myself to reach perfection, and even if I fall short a little bit I consider myself a failure. Somehow your blog is hitting home more then anything has in a long time. So sorry if these comments are more an insight into my psyche then actually commenting on your writing. This is just what is coming out.

    • rachael says:

      So glad you are learning more about yourself, Elizabeth.
      Never apologize for your own insight–that is exactly more of what we need! This blog isn’t about ME–it’s about sharing my story and what I have been through, yes, but I want it to be even more about YOUR story and encouraging others to learn more about THEMSELVES. I’m so glad you are exploring your psyche! :) Very cool.

  9. Becca Ryan says:

    A word that sticks out to me: discipline.

    I think one of the biggest myths of this world is that you can be truly happy without discipline.

    Sometimes, as you mention, this involves having the discipline to not be OVER-disciplined. I’m a cyclist, and I know what you mean about “ahhh, I can do x more miles, it will make me faster/more muscle-y/stronger!” (after a hefty amount of mileage already). Of course it’s important to push ourselves, to push each other, to strive for new heights. But sometimes we have to tell ourselves that we’re good enough. The other day, when I went to the gym with a knot in my back (from the good ol’ stress of an over-achiever), I decided to sit in the hot tub instead of get a hard work out in, because hey, I deserved it. We have a relationship with our bodies– I think patting ourselves on the back every once in awhile is a good discipline to stick to.

  10. Kat says:

    Do you have an e-mail I could reach you at? I have struggled with an eating disorder and I’ve been on fully 801010 for almost 6 months and plant based vegan for almost a year. I feel like 801010 is taking over my life and I just want to eat cooked food again but I have a psychological fear, that my body will reject it as it makes new nauseous thinking about cooked food, and that I will gain weight and will be a failure. I’d love to get in contact with you since you seem to have simliar experience :)

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