About six months ago, halfway through my one-year anniversary of transforming my diet to “eating clean,” I started to experience a slump of sorts. I started feeling a bit sluggish: falling asleep earlier than usual and needing more than my standard six hours of sleep. My motivation to work out had taken a dip too, and I was feeling unusually anxious. As I had routinely done for the past few months, I started to analyze my diet and took some mental notes as to what needed tweaking. Maybe eliminating a couple of food categories here and adding in a few superfoods there would solve all my woes and I would go back to feeling right as rain. I even consulted a friend who had been on the Paleo diet for the last couple of years and was an avid Crossfitter. Maybe it was time to ditch the legumes and gluten once and for all, and go back to feeling amazing.
In response to my inquiry about making further adjustments to my diet to fall in line with the Paleo way of life, she simply stated that I probably just needed to rest more. She reminded me that I was a busy mom of three, juggling work and mom duties on top of trying to completely alter my way of life. To her, it seemed pretty obvious and normal why I would be feeling a bit drained. I had to admit, she had a point.
If you spend any substantial amount of time in the health food world of social media, you’ll start to catch on to an ever-present theme. No matter if you’re searching the Paleo tag on Instagram or reading the blogs and journals of those dedicated to a Whole 30, gluten free, or vegan way of life, everyone seems to feel amazing. I too have documented more times than I care to count how “amazing” I feel after downing another “superfood” smoothie after a yoga session, or the energetic buzz I experience following a green juice and power bowl of kale and quinoa. We health food nuts love to extol the healing benefits and life-altering effects of certain food categories: greens like kale and chard, grains like quinoa and freekeh, and power foods like chia seeds and maca powder. Conversely, depending on which food camp you’re in, we shame the damaging toxicity of other food categories like gluten, dairy, antibiotic-laced meats, and vegetable oil. It’s at times a dizzying state of affairs that leave many of us grappling for the key to that competitive edge to feeling amazing. We want to find the perfect equation of foods that will leave us feeling full of energy, slim as can be, and crushing personal workout goals with clear skin — all while efficiently functioning off of four hours of sleep. We want it all, and we look to food for all the answers.
However, the truth of the matter is that when I look back over the past year of changing my diet, not much for me has changed besides more regular bowel movements. Sure, I experienced a sort of post-detox buzz after I initially cleansed my body of crappy fast food and overly processed junk like flaming orange Cheetos, microwaveable lasagnas, and soda pop. My body felt lighter, even though the scale didn’t change much, and I did experience more energy. I’m also consistently headache-free, trading in my weekly doses of Advil for a daily green juice addiction. And like I said, my digestive system is thankfully on track and the awful stomach cramps I used to get several times a week have pretty much disappeared. But when readers and friends enthusiastically ask and imply that I must feel “amazing,” I sort of shrug “sure” in response, because what does amazing feel like anyhow?
In reality, I think most of us who have wised up over the last few years and in eliminating a lot of the processed and prepackaged foods we grew up on, we’re really just experiencing life, and our bodies, as we were meant to. If amazing means I can make it to yoga 3-4 days a week, live headache-free, and have a regular digestive system, then sure, I feel amazing. But really, I think I just feel normal, as I’m intended to feel, which is definitely pretty amazing.
I’ve been able to sustain this way of eating for a year now, and it has really become just a way of life for our family, nothing unusual about it. When new readers and followers on my Instagram account hopefully ask for direction on where and how to start changing their own diets so that they too can feel amazing, I urge them to be cautiously optimistic. Sure, changing your diet can completely alter your health and your body, but eventually the laws of diminishing returns kick in, and what initially felt amazing will start to just feel like your new normal, which is a wonderful thing. I urge others to not get too greedy with our expectations of what food can deliver, as a healthy dietary lifestyle doesn’t leave you bulletproof against the usual ups and downs of life. And it definitely doesn’t give you superpowers. I too have to remind myself that no amount of green juice or steamy bowls of kale can fix a bad night’s sleep.
To feel “amazing” on a consistent basis, I try to accomplish the following:
1. Get enough sleep
As I’ve gotten older and the size of our family has grown, my usual six hours of sleep no longer cuts it, and to feel great I need at least seven or eight. This is easier said than done for us moms, especially if we’re still in the infancy stage of parenting. Still, it’s a goal I strive for several times a week.
2. Exercise consistently
No amount of coffee or power smoothies cures a midday slump better than a walk around the block or some other form of exercise. In addition to the physical health benefits of exercise for us women, including decreased risk of developing some forms of cancer and heart disease, it’s also great for stress management and increasing feel-good endorphins.
3. Drink plenty of water
Sure, fancy green juices, raw coconut water, and fizzy kombuchas all have their own individual beneficial properties, but drinking good old-fashioned water is still the best and cheapest way to hydrate your body, detox, increase energy, and fight cravings.
4. Have a positive attitude
A usual cynic, I do notice a remarkable difference in everything from my energy levels to how well I sleep when I try to approach life, family, and friends from a more positive attitude. Mental health affects physical health, and vice versa.
5. Eat right
It goes without saying that the icing on the cake to all of the above is eating a well-balanced diet that works for me, on a consistent basis. Eating “right” varies tremendously from person to person, so follow your instincts, listen to your body, and eat the foods that make you feel “amazing.”
As a harried mother of 3, I usually consider it a successful week if I can accomplish three out of five of the above. In trying to remain positive, I allow grace and try not to strive for perfection. This will all usually add up to me having a pretty good week, leaving me feeling my own version of “amazing.”