I am only a few months from earning the title of “Registered Dietitian,” and I spent the weekend debating whether to make chocolates or croissants. I was out of butter, and it was cold and snowy out, so chocolates were the logical choice.
Being the worrier that I am, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought about whether I should be making such decadent treats as a personal trainer and dietitian-to-be. “Should” is such an innocent little word, yet it shapes our thoughts and behaviors in the most negative ways. What will my colleagues think of me? Is it a conflict of interest? Am I really capable of helping people if this is what I do in my free time? And then of course, the heartbreaking thought, if I were thinner/leaner/prettier, would people still judge me for my hobby? This hobby that I love, that is my creative outlet, that makes me feel accomplished, that brings me joy….I contemplated giving up because of perceived judgment from others.
Well, I think you know what conclusion I came to. Sugary treats are often demonized in the health and fitness worlds, but to me, there is a huge difference between mindlessly scarfing down a tasteless commercial baked good to fill some emotional or physiological need, and savoring a food that has been created with love and joy, and allowing oneself to derive pleasure from the experience. I often make these things with the intention of sharing with others. My hope is always that they will slow down enough to appreciate what went into it, being present enough to notice the textures and flavors that I worked so hard to achieve.
When I think about the path that led me to a career in fitness and dietetics, this candy-making hobby is not incongruent with the rest of the picture. A lifetime of disordered eating eventually led to an unhealthy obsession with health and fitness, which is a pattern that I have observed to be common in both fitness and dietetics. I have worked my ass off to build a healthier relationship with food and exercise so that I have the best chance of helping others to make healthy changes.
The thing is, behaviors that are deemed “healthy” are also capable of providing joy and pleasure. When I sit down to a dish that is full of vegetables, I relish in the beauty of its colors. When I take a bite, I derive pleasure from the contrasting textures, and the way that the bitterness of one vegetable can offset the sweetness of another. Creating a meal that is rich with flavor complexity and balanced components can be as satisfying as a perfectly-executed salted caramel. Exercise, which I used to treat as punishment for eating too many cookies, or for not seeing a change on the scale, is something that I now get excited about. Movement offers so many benefits outside of weight loss and disease prevention goals. These days, lifting weights is primarily what I’m into, but put some kind of cardio dance class in front of me, and my heart will race with joyful anticipation. Walking or biking to where I need to go gives me a sense of self-sufficiency, helps me to appreciate my city, and either serves to wake me up before a long day, or help me decompress when the day is over. An early morning run with my best friend gives us a chance to catch up when our lives are otherwise hectic. A yoga class helps to work out some cranky bits from too much sitting, and brings some calm to my otherwise restless brain.
Find joyfulness by relishing in the things that bring you pleasure. Now, please excuse me while I get outside for a short run so that I can enjoy the sunshine, and be more focused for the day ahead of me.