Did you ever think about the role that diet plays in our identities? For most of my life, I identified as a foodie. By that, I mean someone who absolutely LOVES food (especially cookies and ice cream) and sought out opportunities to eat whenever possible. I was also a baker. I was known for my chocolate chip cookies. I was the girl who you’d call over to help you finish the pizza or ice cream no matter what time it was. Eating sugary sweets and junk food was such a strong part of my identity. And it was mostly something I loved about myself and felt proud of. For every birthday I asked for fancy new cookbooks and looked forward to trying out a new restaurant so I could compare their chocolate soufflé to every other restaurant I had been to.
When I learned about how diet changes could help me with PCOS, I was so scared of the changes, not just because it’s more difficult and time consuming to cook healthy meals than order pizza, but because I really felt like I was losing a part of myself in the process. I seriously mourned the end of my relationship with sugar. But with this breakup, I didn't have the Ben and Jerry's tubs to turn to for comfort.
When I started changing my diet, one thing I learned was how damaging processed oils like canola oil can be. Health experts recommend using unprocessed oils like olive oil and avocado oil for cooking and coconut oil for baking. My regular supermarket didn’t have avocado oil, so I decided to take a trip to my local health foods store. I went in and got a serious case of imposter syndrome. I felt like an idiot, not even knowing
how to classify most of the things I saw on the shelves. Flax seeds? What the heck is a flax? What are millet and amaranth? And also when was anyone going to tell me that avocado oil was 6 times the price of canola oil for a bottle half the size?! I felt so out of my element. Even things that should’ve been familiar, like cocoa powder, had all these labels I didn't understand- Raw, Organic, Non-GMO, Vegan...As I walked around the aisles, I felt more and more lost.
"I don't belong here," I thought. I belong in the baking aisle at my regular supermarket. Take me there and I could find the chocolate chips and powdered sugar in a millisecond. I could talk you through the 8 different types of flour and explain to you why a combination of multiple flours with different gluten contents will give you the perfect amount of "oomph” in a chewy chocolate chip cookie. That was my element. This overpriced, filled with gibberish health foods store was NOT.
Sometimes our habits align perfectly with our identities. I identify as organized and I make a to do list every morning when I wake up and usually complete each item before going to sleep. Sometimes our habits don’t align with our identities. You identify as a reader but actually haven’t picked up a book in months because life got in the way. After a few more months turn into years, you might even have a shift in identity and think, “I used to be a reader but not anymore.” Our identities shape so much about how we view ourselves and the decisions we make. It even influences what places we like and what places make us feel uncomfortable. A reader might find complete inner peace in an old book store or library. Someone who hates reading might tense up in the same environment. Our small, daily habits are what build our identities and shape these feelings.
When I started my health journey, I absolutely did not identify as someone who took care of their body or as someone even interested in health. And I felt like a major imposter at the health foods store. I was too embarrassed to ask any questions. I think it took me about 30 minutes to buy some avocado oil because I was just cautiously roaming the aisles, feeling like I was in a foreign country, not understanding what anything was and just wanting a cookie. I took every part of my health journey one day at a time. I still do. With each small, healthy choice I made, day after day, I built an identity around health that had spilled over into so many areas of my life. Even now when I’m tired and lazy, I chop up veggies for a salad because it’s just what I do. My amazing friends bring over platters of cut up fruit and veggies on my birthday because others have also gotten so used to this new identity. Funny enough, the health foods store has actually become one of my favorite spots because after each trip I got a little more comfortable there.
One of the scariest things about changing our habits is that it can go against the grain of the identities we’ve held and others have held about us for so long. I wondered who I would be if not a foodie? Turns out, I’ve been able to channel my foodie energy in a different direction. But I’ve also learned that I’m not defined by chocolate chip cookies or kale chips. So many of us are afraid of change because we’re afraid that it’s a threat to who we are. I’ve found for most clients who come to me, they’re only ready to change once they fear the risk of not changing more than changing itself. The fear of living with diabetes is greater than the fear of learning how to cook healthy foods. For me, the fear of going through infertility treatments was greater than the fear of quitting sugar. Often times these fears are subconscious and irrational but they can seriously hold us back. Once we bring them to the surface, we can work through them or around them. If you're feeling intimidated about going to a new store that's out of your element you can order online or go with a friend who is more familiar with that store. If you feel like your friends or family won't want to hang out with you if you're no longer saying yes to late night pizza, you might need some new friends! Kind of kidding but not really. In most healthy relationships, if you let them know you're working on your health and just want to feel good in your body, your friends and family will be so excited to support you. When we confront these fears, we realize that we can still be ourselves while working towards the identity you want to become.
Wishing you all health and happiness,
P. S.- If this post helped you think about your behaviors and identities, send me a message on instagram or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I love hearing your thoughts and how you're working towards your healthiest self!