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Living a healthy lifestyle: throw away the rulebook

Committing to a healthy lifestyle doesn’t mean you have to impose strict rules on yourself. Ali Roff explains why it’s all about balance

by Ali Roff

healthy lifestyle

3 minute read

When I decided to get real about living a healthy lifestyle of nourishing food, stretching and exercise, and the new healthier habits took hold, I started to feel truly amazing in my own skin. I also realised that to only eat unprocessed, unrefined foods for the rest of my life is unrealistic, no matter how much I enjoy them, or how great they make me feel. Birthday cake is a prime example. Even if I manage to deny myself slices of other people’s celebrations all year, what kind of life do I live if I say no to my own? I’d miss gorgeous Italian gelato on holiday, trifle at Christmas and burgers in a bun straight off the BBQ in summer. Even when we enjoy eating healthily, can any of us honestly say we’ll never take a single indulgent bite again?

The same goes for exercise. I love getting up each morning and heading to the gym for some ‘me time’, or going for a Saturday morning run. But will I delude myself about never having a ‘lazy’ day in my life, and set rules and regulations around how often I exercise per week? I’ve done that before, and have come to realise that the only thing it creates is guilt.

Finding a balance

When we set restrictions around what we eat 100 per cent of the time, and rules about where, how, and when we exercise, we cage ourselves into a life of shame, remorse, guilt, and punishment. Every missed gym session becomes a burden to carry, every ‘slip’ from a gluten/dairy/sugar-free diet is cause for repentance. And these small treats that we ‘give in’ to, can make us lose faith in our healthy lifestyles completely.

One of my recurring inner thought patterns used to be: ‘Well, I’ve eaten this piece of cake now, so I might as well skip my run later’. I had broken one of my rules, so why not break some more? But, when we commit to a healthy lifestyle, what if, instead of punishing ourselves with a guilty conscience when we go off track, we forgave ourselves? Instead of dwelling on our supposed missteps, what if we relaxed the rules in the first place?

Creating a healthy lifestyle for life takes time to get used to. For me, the norms of chicken kievs and oven chips for dinner slowly transformed to fresh fish and vegetables thrown into home-made curries. Punishing hour long runs were replaced by a fuss-free morning gym and evening yoga habit. I still have days where I decide to turn off the alarm and sleep in, or watch TV instead of practise yoga before bed, and sometimes I do eat more than the suggested serving size of chocolate buttons. But I’ve found that the things I truly enjoy never feel like a regret. When I feed my body with goodness all week, it’s a necessity to feed my soul now and again. The 80/20 idea – eat healthily and work out 80 per cent of your week, and relax and indulge the other 20 per cent – is a great way to practise this. It’s a journey that will always have its chocolate button-bumps in the road, but it’s all about balance, and when that balance fails now and again, it’s about forgiveness, and resolution.

Image: Laura Doherty

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