When Health absolutely does not matter (but also absolutely does)

Hi friends. So I sat down at my kitchen island to write today and realized it’s been over a month since I stopped through here. I’ll cut right to the chase – among other things (see my previous post for my current mental state) my grandma passed away. I’ll spare you all the details of her final days and all the good, bad and ugly family stuff that happened, but as you can imagine it was a rather life-disrupting event.

This wasn’t “grandparent passing away – I’ll just show up for the funeral and go back to normal life” – kind of event. As a granddaughter, there were nights spent on the couch giving medicine, buying and making food and taking care of the family, playing music and speaking at the funeral, and being knee deep in the emotion and messiness (both good and bad) that is inherent in family.IMG_8968

I tell you all of this, not as an excuse for my absence, or to vomit out all the details of my personal life, but because it actually inspired the title for the post I’m writing. Allow me to elaborate…

I’ve been struggling the past few months with balance when it comes to food, health, and my relationship to it all. Eating well will always be important to me, and in the past several years has become a top priority for me. And I don’t think that’s wrong. What is wrong is when that priority takes over. When it doesn’t shift when other things come up. When it doesn’t allow for grace, balance and self-compassion when life’s difficulties and uncertainties inevitably surface.

In dealing with my grandmother’s final days and death, this is what I saw happening – both in myself and in other family members. I was able to pull myself out of it to some extent. But on other levels, I was disappointed in where my priorities were.

But every experience is an opportunity for learning and growth. And in my journey to a greater understanding of self compassion, I’m learning that it is far more productive to step back and see what I can learn from an experience – rather than labelling it as good or bad.

I try and pull myself out of a situation and observe what I’m doing, as objectively as I can (which is really hard: I said try). So as I was observing, here’s what I saw, and thought:

“Your grandma is dying. How messed up is it that you are worried about hitting your macros (aka macronutrients – carbohydrates, fat, protein) right now?” Thankfully, after the first day of the whole ordeal, I let that one go. But even still, I was worrying. Through the grief and stress I was thinking about food. Worrying about all the extra treats I was eating. Wanting to be present and be there for my family, but also caught up in how much “bad” food I was eating.

The sad thing is, I was not alone in this. As I baked my grandpa’s favourite date squares (baking for loved ones is both how I show love and cope) for our family, bought groceries and prepared whatever food anyone was craving, sat up with grandpa late at night and ate ice cream with him because that’s what he wanted, I heard other family members voicing my thoughts. Family members who are much older than me, yet it seems still struggle with much of the same black or white thinking I do. I heard family members making remarks about how all this was “bad for them” or that they were going to gain weight.

I reassured them with the same assurances I wanted to hear myself: “You’ve established healthy habits. Now is not the time to be worrying about what you should or shouldn’t eat. Sure, you might be up a few pounds before this is all over, but you are smart, you will get back on track.” I was selling this line hard, both to them and myself – but if I am being honest, I had trouble totally buying it.

Long story short, when crisis hits, you have to be kind to yourself. More and more these days, I think we are starting to see that “having it all” really and truly is a myth. Maintaining a killer bod, dealing in your diet and sticking to a regular exercise schedule while dealing with a family crisis? Darn near impossible if you ask me (and really – what’s more important – having a great physical body or being present with your family in their and your own grief?).

There was a lot of family bonding and coming together during this time too. And I don’t know about your family – but in mine, that pretty much always means FOOD. So when all of the “original 6” cousins were together for the first time in years, and after a visitation that went right through the dinner hour, ordering pizza and treating ourselves to delicious cheesecake seemed appropriate. When the post-funeral reception sandwiches left something to be desired –  ordering wings from our favourite hometown joint with my family seemed a necessary indulgence.

Eating your feelings isn’t a viable or recommended lifestyle choice for the long term. But if events like this are the exception, rather than the rule – is it really a huge problem?

That’s where the second part of the title comes in – how health can simultaneously not matter at all and also matter a whole lot. Confused yet?

Eating your feelings and indulging in pizza, wings and cheesecake in one weekend is not a huge deal *if* and only if – you have a healthy baseline. If you’ve established healthy habits. If you routinely nourish your body with high quality food. If you typically cope with emotions in other healthy, non-food ways. That way, it’s that much easier to get back into those healthy choices and routines when the high-stakes grief days are over. And guilt and self-punishment become less necessary (Speaking of which: I posted on Instagram during all of this: The older I get, the less I think “being healthy” is about being “on or off the wagon.” It’s more about doing the best you can and making the best choices in the situation you are in).

There’s also the exercise component. You can imagine that being away from home, the gym and routine would make it hard to work out. And no one would fault me if I had skipped it altogether while I was caring for my grandma and with my family. And while I didn’t want to be selfish or be gone when I was needed, I found opportunities and took them. I know how important exercise is not only to my physical but mental health. And I don’t think there’s anything selfish about making time for it in the midst of a crisis.

Thankfully, there were usually several members of my family present to care for my grandma, along with amazing personal support workers. So I strategically looked for moments to get in some form of movement. One day it was going for a quick run. Other days it was sneaking down to the basement to do a quick bodyweight workout.

Just like the healthy food baseline, having established a habit of exercising more days than not made it easier to to so, even in such a tumultuous time. And the benefit of having done CrossFit as long as I have means that I’ve also learned a workout doesn’t have to be crazy long to be effective. I got crazy sweaty and tired doing twenty minutes of push-ups, lunges, sit-ups etc in my grandparents’ living room (although the fact that they crank the furnace to near tropical levels might have had something to do with it).

Better still, CrossFit comes with a community of people concerned about both my mental and physical health. On the one day I did make it to the gym, I wasn’t afraid to talk about what was going on. And I was surrounded by people who knew I wasn’t myself. And on a day when I hadn’t had any plans to do workout, after a text from my gym bestie checking in, I was inspired to drop and do 100 burpees (in my mom’s living room – a workout doesn’t have to be long or fancy – just MOVE).

Wrapping up – I want to clarify something. This post is NOT intended to be like “look at me, I’m so awesome, I made healthy choices while my grandma was dying.” Nope. Sure, I made some healthy choices, but also my fair share of choices that no one would classify as healthy,  not in a million years.

This post is NOT intended to make you guilty for doing or not doing something in a time of crisis (or any time for that matter).

It is intended to help you (and me) be kinder to ourselves. To examine your priorities, and cut yourself some slack. To recognize that you’re probably “healthier” than you think. And if you slip up (and who doesn’t?!), your healthy habits will be right there waiting for you.

***One more side note before I go: I’m in the midst of a bit of a paradigm shift about food, health and eating (if you follow me on Insta, you may have noticed some hints in my stories). What that means is that you’re probably going to hear some more about it in the days to come…because if you can’t write about what’s going on in life/at the forefront of your thoughts on your own personal blog, where CAN you? I’m excited to keep working at it and share more – so stay tuned!***

As always, if this makes you think/sparks conversation, then I’ve done my job. Above all – be kind to yourself my friends.


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