When I was in college, I drank so much Red Bull that I ended up in the Emergency Room. The acid from the drink had made it nearly impossible for me to digest food, and I had to eat nothing but plain yogurt and steamed vegetables and grilled chicken for about a month as my digestive system literally rebuilt itself.
I have found that I have engaged in similar patterns my whole life when it came to food and my health. I know what is good for me and what is not. So why do I continuously make poor choices? Why do I insist upon it? I did some soul-searching and found a few reasons:
While it may seem silly, we often define ourselves by what we consume...alcohol, coffee, pasta, etc. When people give up something that was once a daily or near-daily ritual, it can become difficult due to the ensuing identity crisis.
I definitely had a bit of an identity crisis when I realized alcohol and caffeine were creating adverse health effects for me. I'm still in the early process of eliminating caffeine from my daily routine.
It's difficult to give up something you thought as almost a part of who you were. Maybe I didn't want people to think differently of me, or I didn't want to think differently of myself. But the good thing is identities are quite malleable. If we are willing to grow, our identities will change constantly. And if I'm not defining myself by the substances I consume, then I am defining myself with something more interesting in its place.
After all, is drinking the identity I really want? Is coffee the identity I want? I think not.
Idea that it was Me Versus My Body
For a long time, I thought that somehow, using mind over matter, I could do things that were unhealthy, and still be fine.
It's hard to explain this trail, but it's the same idea as thinking that if you run 1000 calories, then you can eat 1000 calories of...whatever.
I used to think if I drank, it would be okay if I just worked out the next day, just as hard as I drank.
Over time, I came to realize that it was not me against my body. I was not playing some math game where, in the end, I would outsmart my own insides. Alcohol was alcohol. Bad food was bad food. Eating bad food and then a salad didn't "cancel out" the bad food.
That was simply not how it worked, and by telling myself that and by acting that way, I was only putting more stress on my body. My body had to process the alcohol, then do the workout.
I had thought that I was somehow competing with my body, and that my mind could win. I thought that I was pushing through, and that made me tougher and better. But really, this was just compounding the damage I was doing. After all, my mind is a part of my body, too.
Examples from Those Around Me
My grandfather was once prescribed a medication that did not work well with grapefruit juice. Naturally, the first thing he did was buy and consume grapefruit juice to prove that he could still have it.
People in my family are very, very stubborn. I am also very stubborn. This has good sides and bad sides. I am, for example, stubborn enough to continue pursuing a career in writing despite all advice.
There are some ways being stubborn does not help, and that is usually regarding my mental and physical health. I am notoriously too stubborn to ask for help, to say what's on my mind, and to admit when I need to change my eating habits.
Additionally, parents' food decisions tend to influence a child's taste in foods. As we get older, if we have been raised on diets that are high in sugars, sodium, and fats, we may need to work to change our habits. I believe my parents fell somewhat in the middle. We definitely did enjoy some American packaged foods, but we also enjoyed fruits and vegetables often.
Food that Was Readily Available
I once lived above an empanada store that delivered. Literally, the empanada place was in my building, and they delivered to my apartment.
We tend to consume what is readily available, and if we are busy, this might lead to unwise choices. What's more, the issue of food deserts in the United States is very real. When I lived in that particular apartment, it took me about a half an hour to get to a place that sold fresh fruits and vegetables, and I had no car. This meant I had to lug the bags home another half hour. And I don't even have any kids! I can't even think about how impossible it would have been for me to eat healthy if I also had to watch children.
I also lived in East New York for two years, a notorious food swamp in NYC. A food swamp is a place that not only lacks healthy options, but contains an over-abundance of poor food options. I remember walking home, tired from work, and grabbing greasy fast food, chips, and soda. There were no healthy options that I can remember from the train station to my apartment.
While we all make our own decisions, if I'm tired and broke and the options are between the empanada store that delivers, and the fresh groceries over an hour away, who do you think is going to win? In a food desert or food swamp, one needs an extraordinary amount of determination and willpower to consistently eat well. There's also the monetary factor—When I am not doing well financially, it's just so much easier to grab something fast (and awful).
I was hurting myself with bad food choices in part because I clung to those choices as a part of myself. I had to overcome external factors, like my upbringing, monetary factors, and living in a place where healthy food was not readily available.
I was thinking of health as something that could be forced, and with enough determination, I could use my mind to plow through the consequences of my very real decisions. It was sort of like the power of positive thinking, but in a way that kept me stagnant instead of encouraging me to grow.
I am healthier than I was then. I am a little heavier, because now I value eating over starving myself, and I don't replace food with alcohol. I'm no longer partying all the time, nor do I think that the solution is in hiding who I am to become a more outgoing, drunk version of myself. I don't think I need coffee every day to be myself.
I can make better decisions for my body and still be 100% me.