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Earlier this week, I had a funny dream. I dreamed that I was in a 12-hour foot race that included various stations and obstacles throughout. At one, you had to limbo. At another, I had to change my clothes (weird, right?). And later, between more running, I had to eat ice cream. In the end, I won the race. It was one of those nutty, entertaining dreams that I kept thinking about the next day, laughing to myself. How funny that I won! That ice cream was so good! I wonder if a race like this exists (please tell me that it does)!
Ice cream was on my mind that day. But then again, it is from time to time—especially in the summer. I ate a healthy breakfast full of berries and whole-grain cereal. I snacked on crackers, apples, peanut butter and cheese that day. I had a big salad for lunch full of delicious roasted veggies. But later that night, all I could think about was ice cream. Too lazy to cook after group cycling and in the mood to snack, I hopped on my scooter, headed to the grocery and bought one of my favorite ice cream varieties. I returned home, dished it up and ate ice cream instead of a sensible dinner.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Enjoying ice cream as an entrée is not the kind of thing I do very often. But it’s still something that I do occasionally. It was exactly what I wanted that night. The next day, it was back to my normal way of eating: lots of fruits, veggies, whole grains and healthful food choices.
I pride myself on eating healthful, natural foods…90% of the time at least. I eat this way because I like to and because I know it’s good for me. But I’m not obsessed with avoiding certain foods entirely. Sure, I’ll try a few Coconut M&Ms (even if it really doesn’t contain any coconuts). Yep, I’ll eat foods that contain corn syrup (but rarely buy them myself). Dyes? Not in my breakfast cereal or oatmeal, but if it’s in that piece of candy I ate, yeah, OK. Do I like healthy foods? You bet! But will I still eat foods that have little to no redeeming nutritional benefits? Occasionally, yes. I will eat ice cream, sugary kids’ cereals, candy and the like—IF I truly want it and IF my diet has been relatively good and balanced in the hours and days preceding.
If I have ice cream in the house (a rare thing, but it happens), I’ll have a serving almost every night until it’s gone. If I’ve been craving Twizzlers (a favorite of mine since I was a kid) for several days straight, I’ll buy a large bag and sometimes clear it out all by myself within 24-48 hours. If I have a homemade strawberry pie in the fridge, sometimes I’ll eat a slice for breakfast. If I’m too lazy to cook at night but not feeling particularly hungry, I may even eat popcorn for dinner—homemade, with real melted butter. And although I prefer to buy and eat whole-grain products, I won’t scoff at the Italian bread or white-flour naan served at a restaurant—I’ll eat it, quite happily.
I’m not confessing this because I feel guilty about it or feel like I need to change. I’m sharing it as an example of choices we make and of the progress—not perfection—that I believe we can all achieve through a little thing called moderation.
There was a time when I was obsessed with food, calories and ingredients. A time when I would eat a piece of wedding cake and then spend an extra hour on the treadmill to burn it off (if I even allowed myself to eat it). A time when I denied myself foods that I really wanted because they were “unhealthy.” A time when it would be impossible for me to eat at any restaurant because the foods didn’t meet my high standards of ingredients (no whole-wheat pizza crust, no pizza for me). A time when, if I did “slip-up” and eat a “bad” food, I’d overeat uncontrollably to the point of sickness and then feel guilty about it. But those times are behind me.
I ate ice cream for dinner and felt nothing—no guilt, judgment or remorse. I didn’t do it because I was bored, stressed, or angry. I didn’t binge uncontrollably until the carton was empty. I didn’t do it because I had been depriving myself of fun, flavorful foods and suddenly couldn’t take it anymore. I did it because I made the conscious decision to eat it. I didn’t feel bad about it. I didn’t let it derail my desire to eat sensibly and exercise moderately the next day. It was just something that I did—something that I’m sure I’ll do again in the future, if I so choose.
I’ve come to the conclusion that you don’t have to be perfect—in weight loss, eating, cooking, exercising or anything for that matter. Maybe striving for perfection works for others, but it’s not for me. I’m just trying to achieve a balance in my life that allows me to stay reasonably fit and healthy without obsessing about it. And if that means I get to eat more ice cream, I’m all for it. —Nicole Nichols
Note: I just wanted to add that this post was inspired by my friend from childhood who recently tweeted: “every time i eat junk food i imagine @spcoachnicole sitting on my shoulder tapping her foot with crossed arms.”
“If she only knew,” I thought.
Nicole Nichols is a busy health and fitness writer who moonlights as an exercise instructor. She is always adding to her résumé of fitness certifications and enjoys Pilates and group cycling probably more than anyone should. When reviewing the latest fitness trends, safety and efficacy are her No. 1 priorities, but fun is a close second. Outside the fitness world, her dream day would include sleeping in, eating strawberry pancakes, riding her bike (preferably downhill), and scoring a mid-century modern furniture piece for her collection. Nicole blogs regularly over at DailySpark and has her own workout DVDs!