Diet and exercise will sculpt a body. This powerful lesson was taught through my 2010 competitive bodybuilding season, and I was in awe of the extent of it. Like most people, I had bought into a common misconception that exercise is the antidote to eating poorly. As if overindulging could be erased by burning more calories. Creating a desirable physique is not just a matter of cutting calories and working harder, but the right food is a mighty tool, and when appropriately applied to the body, produces a desirable outcome. It’s not just exercise that changes our figures; we are shaped by food.
Food matters. The nutrients we consume inform our cells how to behave. All food is made up of combinations of fats, proteins and carbohydrates which are then broken down into usable molecules. Our bodies become like open markets of trade exchanging units of nutrition for a currency of energy.
THE SHAPE OF FEAR
But I’m willing to bet you don’t want a science lesson here. My story is experience. We all read the data but look for living proof. There is so much conflicting information about diet available and everyone has their own opinion. This is mine.
This is also the part where most people skim to the parts they want to hear.
Ouch. That stings, Sharon.
My life experience includes learning that most people don’t want others messing with their food. We get very uptight when we’re told what to eat and when. Or not to eat something at all. What’s on our plate is off our plate of discussion.
Eating is a special activity because were attached to it emotionally. Our first experiences with food include nurturing…being held, talked to, and loved. We equate eating with love. And there are particular “comfort” foods that we associate with feeling loved. We continue this thought pattern by centering holidays and social gatherings around food. Party food.
And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Life and love should be celebrated. Often!
THE SHAPE OF DESPERATION
My body building experience was a unique situation where I was willing to do whatever it took to get to the goal. (Link to Body Building post) Including letting go, for a window of time, the food that comforted.
What I gained in that time was valuable information about the science of the human body. In fact, I was so enamored with that venture that I put myself through sports nutrition certification. Yup. I put out a shingle as a Specialist in Fitness Nutrition and had the sport’s body to prove it worked.
The reason I got in the physical shape I did was because I began the journey in a painful place, not a comfortable one. I was willing make a radical change because I felt horrible in my own skin. I could offer testimonials, recipes, do jumping jacks and stand on my head, but I could not convince a single person that their body would be different if they stuck with the change.
That disappointment went down like a dry cracker, scratching all the way.
I felt like a failure. Rather than taking my expertise to those few individuals with similar athletic drive, I moved away from coaching and simply taught general nutrition. Hindsight tells me that my error was trying to sell Fitness Nutrition to nonathletes. At the time I just sought to protect my heart by teaching general nutrition classes. I was offering information without the needy attachment of seeing transformation. Give others the information and do with it as they choose.
BEGINNING FROM SCRATCHED
Without giving away too much of the story meant to be told in the next edition of my fitness journey, my physical body could not sustain the level of demand I put on it. Exercise looks radically different today than it did over a decade ago. And, subsequently, my diet required an overhaul as well. Focus moved from exterior shape to interior wellness.
I returned to the sciences for help in understanding what foods could shape my interior. I was astounded to learn that every single nutritional powerhouse was a plant. Bodybuilding put a lot of emphasis on muscle and eating meat. But when it comes to healing the body, it’s plants that do the heavy lifting.
Vitamin C is still the first go-to for fighting a cold and the number one source is actually dark greens like spinach and kale. The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) has a list of cancer fighting plant foods that makes me drool just looking at it! The recipes on their website are almost all without animal products. (Link to AICR). And there is proof that heart disease is curable on a whole food plant based diet. (Link to FOK).
But lest I unleash my inner teacher, I’ll rein it in again. The information is out there for the harvesting…if you’re looking. My experience is pretty simplistic: the more vegetation I consume, in the least processed form digestible…the lower my cholesterol and blood pressure, the less inflammation, the fewer my sleepless nights, the fewer issues with anxiety, and the more energy I have.
A FAMILIAR SHAPE
In the years since then, I’ve continued to study nutrition. I’m still fascinated by it. I’ve chatted with God about His bountiful gifting of food, and He’s given me some tidbits of insight. Over time, my opinions have shifted back from “using” food for a physical shape to “feeding” my body with the most amazing nutrients available. I’ve returned to a familiar yet new nurturing space.
Isn’t food meant for feeding?
My experience is not limited to the measurements of medical data! It includes a sensory feast of colors, textures, odors and tastes! I don’t consider it drudgery to eat brightly colored and flavored produce, it’s a celebration of life to dine on a cornucopia so diverse!
I absolutely love the beautiful things God grows for us for food. It’s truly art! How delightful is a fresh strawberry, studded with seeds, its rosy heart hanging from the vine? Or golden kernels of corn lined up like soldiers, dressed in the softest silks? It amazes to think that these crazy shaped plants, in all their textures and flavors are our provision of vitamins! Our Creator could have required us to acquire our sustenance from any number of less attractive means….
If I could speak to my younger self, I’d tell her she’d have done well to listen to her mother. Eat your broccoli and go play outside. Isn’t it funny how life comes full circle! If I had done just that, without worrying about fitting in or being different, who would I be today?
SHAPING THE FUTURE
I can’t change those decisions. However, I can make different ones today. Who will I be twenty-five years from now if I practice good advice today? Mobile? Free of heart disease? More ok with myself? I hope so!
Food continues to shape me in the way I look, feel and think. It’s a gift that way. I like the curiosity it evokes in me. I’ve become more and more the student, listening to the needs of my changing life and accepting what God offers to get me there. And it usually tastes pretty good! Though sometimes I have to get used to the flavor. I’m learning to leave behind a practice in restriction and striving. Preferring to live gratefully doing the responsible thing today and banking on my history that tomorrow is likely to result in a new, desirable shape.