Thoughts on Exercise, Calories, and Intuitive Eating

Kbaked.com formerly focused on recipes, but I’m hoping to change that moving forward and get a lil more real. Today I wanted to share some reflections I’ve had recently and give a general life update. Are you buckled in? Brevity isn’t my strong suit, and I have no editorial team on this blog to tell me I’m talking too much, so I feel like this is going to be a long one…Soba Noodle Salad Edamame Vegan

First, let’s back up a few months. Or more like 8 months. Let’s go back to August of 2016. After completing my master’s degree in nutrition at Columbia University, I traded two job offers and a life in the city I knew and loved for what I thought was an opportunity of a lifetime.

I wish not to go into detail in the interest of being respectful and aware that my experience was highly personal, but what I’ll say is that I quickly realized I had traded a lot of what I’d worked so hard for, for what felt like a series of never-ending empty promises, disappointment, and most importantly, for something I realized my heart wasn’t in.

When I left what I was leaving, I left something certain that made me miserable to move home at age 26 without a job or a solidified future, feeling like a complete loser.

Delicious Vegan Samoas with Date Caramel

I’d be lying if I were to say the past few months have been easy; they have not been. But something good has come out of them: during the past few months of unemployment/feeling frustrated and angry at the world, I actually finally feel in tune with my body, maybe for the first time since childhood.

After a lot of emotional stress and constantly feeling like I had totally ruined my life/was a giant failure/that I’d generally fucked up big time, I slowly but surely somehow decided I needed to stop holding myself hostage.  I started really getting into self-care, and not even intentionally.

This is going to sound cheesy, and I hate to sound like one of those cliche fitness-saved-me people, but I really think getting into barre helped kick me in the right direction.

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After weeks of debating if I should or not, I tried a class at my local The Barre Code. I loved it. The atmosphere was so positive, and the whole class was about challenging yourself, taking time for yourself, and getting stronger, physically and mentally.

I almost immediately signed up for a month unlimited deal, and started going regularly.

This was the first workout I’ve genuinely adored and looked forward to since my competitive dance days in high school. The more I went, the more I wanted to go back.

All the instructors were kind, and the strength focused movement was really great for working out lingering aggression.

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A funny thing happened when I started going to barre regularly: I also started eating more based on hunger/fullness cues, and less according to clocks/schedules/what and when I normally eat. I also started letting myself sleep – like actually rest and sleep – for a full 7-8 hours a night, for the first time in years.

In grad school, even though I was studying nutrition, I look back and realize I was really unhealthy. Between the rigor of school and research, working two jobs, and my anxiety, I was averaging 5-6 hours of sleep on a good night, and I was constantly so wound up that I actually induced terrible migraines and muscle spasms in my shoulders, neck, and back, all of which lead me to countless doctors appointments, physical therapy, and therapy therapy.

When it came to eating last year, I’d like to say I was healthy – and generally speaking, my diet probably looked healthy to an outsider. But I look back and realize how planned everything was. I was on a tight budget and would grocery shop once a week, buying basically the exact same shit every time, perfectly calculated to get me through the week ahead.baker_katherine_chocolate_chip_single_serve_vegan_dip

There’s nothing inherently wrong with this; I hate food waste and think it’s good to plan ahead so you don’t end up with lots of spoiled food, BUT the way I was eating was very structured, based on routine, and didn’t really allow for too much flexibility. My eating routine became a habit: just another thing I had to get out of the way to move on and focus on other things, not really checking in with what I wanted and needed as much as I probably should have.

Occasional dinners and desserts out aside, I ate mostly the same things almost every day, at almost the same times, for a year.  Didn’t matter if I wasn’t as hungry one day, or if I was famished another. I somehow became a highly routine eater, probably as a result of my insane schedule and tight budget, and also probably because I was too exhausted to take care of myself.

Over the last few months, however, I started eating more based on intuition, and less based on what the clock said. And I stopped pre-planning my meals. Granted, this is much easier now that I live a 2 minute drive from an amazing grocery store with good prices and my schedule is currently WAY more flexible, but still, it’s been a really awakening experience.Screen Shot 2017-04-17 at 11.37.38 PM

Somedays I eat lunch at 11am. Somedays it’s at 2:30pm. And sometimes lunch is a giant plate of snack foods like veggies, dips, avocado, and crackers, other times it’s nut-butter slathered waffles and fruit, and sometimes it’s lunch that actually looks like a ‘lunch’ like salad or sandwich. Some days I eat a lot more than other days. I’ve learned my body has ebbs and flows with when it’s hungry and that’s okay.

I’ve also finally gotten a handle on stress eating. Stress eating is something that has been an issue for me in the past. I am generally a healthy eater, but could get out of control around sweets when I was overtired or stressed. I used to inhale entire pints of ice cream or packages of cookies in a single night and feel like total garbage after. Sometimes it wasn’t even because I was craving sweets. I think, honestly, I was craving the rush.

Now I can have some ice cream or a cookie or a chocolate bar and not feel crazy. Some days I want a lot of sweets so I eat a lot of sweets, and other days I can eat half a cookie and be done with it (minus chocolate, chocolate is an everyday food to me). But it’s so nice to not feel like food is a coping mechanism.Screen Shot 2017-04-17 at 11.38.01 PM

So my food habits have shaped up, not necessarily in terms of nutrition, but in terms of intuition, which is something I believe I have lacked since probably high school, and something I believe is overlooked in terms of importance when it comes to food. I just feel so much more sane now.

And sleep: SLEEP. Sleep is the best. I can’t say enough how much sleep has helped me mend my overall frame of mind on a daily basis. I just feel so much better when I get enough, and would 10/10 recommend you prioritize you do the same. I’m going to post more about this in the future.

As mentioned above, much of the positive shifting in my life in terms of being more in tune with my body was unintentional; I was actually awakened to just how much progress I’ve made with I attended a free Orange Theory Fitness class last week.peach

I’m going to preface this by saying I have nothing against OTF, but it simply wasn’t a positive experience for me. Besides having an instructor who wasn’t my style, shall we say, I didn’t like how the entire workout and OTF concept is so heavily focused on numbers: how many minutes you spend at your max heart rate and how many calories you burn seem to be what’s prioritized in an OTF class.

I didn’t want to wear a heart-rate monitor, because personally I don’t think it’s healthy to focus on how many calories you burn while exercising (any anyways, those monitors are notoriously inaccurate). When I asked if I could NOT wear the heart rate band, I was told that that was “the point,” of the workout.

And it made me reflect: at barre, I don’t focus on calories or numbers or my max heart rate. I focus on releasing stress, turning the anxious part of my brain off (temporarily), and getting stronger, not smaller.Vegan Miso Hummus

These two very different exercise experiences and my recent shift towards self-care have reminded me of the following things:

  1. Your body is not a calculator. You’re not meant to live your life crunching numbers (calories, macros, etc). This is stressful and puts you out of tune with your body.
  2. Your body is not a machine. You cannot run around ignoring it’s needs forever. You are a living organism. Just like your dog needs sleep, water, and plenty of healthy food, so do you.
  3. Exercise can be wonderful: it can make you feel stronger physically and mentally, relive stress, and improve your mood and confidence,
  4. Exercise can also be not so wonderful: it can make you feel inadequate, weak, and anxious about if you burned enough calories or fat.
  5. You have the right to choose your exercise. I suggest going with #3 instead of #4.
  6. Eat what you crave when you are hungry. Stop when you are full. This may or may not happen at the same time every day, and may or may not involve the same foods two days in a row.
  7. Sleep is the best thing ever.
  8. Sleep is the best thing ever, except for maybe dogs.

That’s all for me today on this long rambling post. Hope y’all have a restful, delicious, happy, wonderful, productive day.

More food for thought: Thinking Out Loud – Running with Spoons