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Playful Self-Discipline: You Are What You Eat

It’s Thursday and time to check in on my playful self-discipline project! This month I’ve written about my experiences with night weaning, exercise and flossing as part of January’s theme of physical health. This week I’m looking at food (and eating it too, of course).

bento box

Not my actual lunch...

You Are What You Eat

Part of my reason for starting the year’s reflection on playful self-discipline by looking at my physical health is because I really believe that good physical health lays the foundation for good mental and emotional health. It doesn’t matter how much I practice being mindful or patient, if I haven’t had a good sleep or eaten a decent meal, I’m going to be more prone to losing my cool.

When my husband and I were first living together, he noticed that he could totally calm me down and head off an argument by giving me some food. He was able to see what I couldn’t in the moment, which was the fact that I was totally crashing from drinking too much coffee and eating sugary muffins and breads that didn’t sustain my energy levels. Once I got some real food into me, suddenly I wasn’t angry any more. “Michelle, go eat something,” became a joke between us, a playful way to say, maybe this isn’t really worth having a fight over.

Vegetarian or Flexitarian?

For about ten years or so I’ve been eating a vegetarian diet, eating meat occasionally when I was out at a restaurant or sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner with my family. I was pretty happy with being veggie, although I had to totally relearn how to cook without using meat to anchor a meal. It wasn’t a big strain to discipline myself out of eating meat every day, but I promised myself that if I ever started to feel like I was missing it, I’d start eating meat again.

For a long time, I didn’t miss eating meat. Then I got pregnant, and one day I went walking past a McDonalds. I saw the giant poster with a cheeseburger on it, and I thought, “I could eat one of those, right now.” And I walked right in, bought a cheeseburger, and ate it right up. Then I went back and bought another. Through that pregnancy I ate a cheeseburger probably once a week or so, and the cravings went away at the very end. I chalked it up to needing the iron and forgot about it.

This past fall I started getting cravings for turkey. Turkey sandwiches, roast turkey, turkey gravy poured over mashed potatoes. I also started having terrible premenstrual symptoms, overwhelming irritation and a unreasonably short temper. I wasn’t sure if they were related, but I was willing to try eating some turkey to find out.

Part of me didn’t really want to start eating meat again. It seemed like it would be easier to just keep eating the same thing the rest of my family was eating. I wasn’t looking forward to explaining to my kids why I wanted to eat a dead animal when Beatrice was convinced it was a disgusting thing to do. But I had promised myself that if I was missing meat I’d go back, and I really was missing it.

That first bite of turkey sausage was the tastiest thing I’d eaten in a long, long time. I don’t know whether it was just the animal fat my body was craving or something else, but it was good. Really good. It’s yet to be proven whether or not eating turkey has any effect on my irritability, but I’m pretty sure I’m not a vegetarian anymore.  Primarily vegetarian flexitarian?  Choosy omnivore?  Occasionally carnivorous herbivore?  I’m kind of between labels, I guess.

toddler with bowls of berries

Playfulness and Food

Food can easily become a chore, something we do because we have to.  Food gets caught up in homemaking, and all of the politics and expectations that go along with it.  We eat to fill the empty space in our bellies and don’t always have the time or energy to cook something new, different or challenging. Being a former vegetarian who’s now eating turkey sausages at lunchtime doesn’t seem to take the same kind of self-discipline that eliminating dairy or wheat would require, but the principle of taking charge of my diet and making changes where necessary is the same. For someone else the choice may be to eat more vegetarian meals instead of meat-based ones, or to eat more whole foods instead of packaged stuff. Even simply eating with full awareness of the pleasure of healthy food takes playful self-discipline. After certain meals I can really feel my body perk up, my energy levels stabilize, sometimes even colours seem brighter. We are what we eat, and it’s worth the effort to be playfully self-disciplined with food.

Have you made a big change to your diet before? How did it go? I’d love to hear about it!

I’d also love to hear about your experiences with playful self-discipline. What does playfulness mean to you? Have you taken steps towards better physical health?  Link up a blog post you’ve written on the topic, or share your experience in the comments below!

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{ 6 comments… add one }

  • Rachael January 27, 2011, 7:19 am

    This month, without really intending to, I’ve nearly entirely given up refined sugar. There’s two tablespoons of it in the waffles I make for our family every Saturday morning, and I allow myself one sugary dessert per week. I had been noticing that I just wasn’t enjoying chocolate as I used to — I felt yucky afterward, which canceled any pleasure I had in the flavor itself. Once a week seems to be enough, and I don’t otherwise miss it.

    As for self-discipline in the area of physical health, I think I’m lagging a month behind you. I’ve been working too hard this month, but with the change to the way I run my freelance business, next month my workload should be more reasonable. And so I will be taking the time to take better care of myself in February.
    Rachael´s last blog post ..Keep Your Desk Clean

    • michelle January 27, 2011, 9:51 pm

      Sugar is one of those things I think about eliminating from my diet and never can quite get my nerve up to just do it. I think if I was more aware of how it really did make me feel I might find it easier to give up, but right now the compulsion to find something sweet in the evenings is still very much there.

      I’d like to have the linkups be open to any topic of self-discipline and playfulness that you’ve felt inspired to write about. Feel free to link up a post that’s not about physical health specifically if you want to. :)

  • Kirsten January 27, 2011, 9:51 pm

    I’d be interested to see how one could use this idea of Playfulness in self-discipline to really help become more conciously involved in food prep for the whole family. Thinking of fun theme dinners or creative presentation or location seems like it would help keep you interested in food prep, and even perhaps ease the change into a difficult dietary transition.

    • michelle January 27, 2011, 9:57 pm

      Kirsten – Yes, totally! Your comment reminds me of a post I read this week on this very topic (and one that you, as a veteran blanketfortian, will really appreciate!)

      Making Memories – The Hippie Housewife

      Maybe I’ll just make a list of other blogger’s posts that I think link up with playful self-discipline and add it onto the end of my post. I know I read a few other goodies this month. :)

  • stefanie January 28, 2011, 4:53 pm

    i was late with my linky! :( blame the plague that has claimed all members of my family this week.
    stefanie´s last blog post ..doctor- doctor

    • michelle January 28, 2011, 9:54 pm

      Thanks for linking up Stefanie! :) I’m heading over to read it right now.

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