Sometimes in life you have those moments right after an experience when you just know that things will never be the same after it. I have been fortunate in my life to have that happen to me in a positive light many times. In fact, I have to say in the last year it has happened more times than I could have imagined.
It is no secret that I have a huge passion for all things food, health and wellness. It is a passion I fuel everyday with the food I eat, the hours I spend reading cook books, the countless Youtube cooking tutorials I watch, the time I spend studying, and the time I spend with my loved ones.
As a nutrition student every day I am learning something new about health. I am learning about different vitamins, methods of cooking, ways of interacting with others and the way our body works. It is so holistic. Unfortunately, what I learn is not mirrored in reality. With social media at our fingertips it can be so confusing to actually know what living a ‘balanced’ and ‘healthy’ life really is.
Instagram allows its users to choose the photos that they wish to post. It is not always reality. So many of the foodies, nutritionists, dieticians, health and wellness bloggers and influences I don’t believe are telling the whole truth about ‘balance' when it comes to food.
I have had times in my own life that I thought I was ‘balanced.’ I would eat ridiculously clean all week and then have pasta and a brownie on a Sunday night and say that is ‘balance.’ I don’t think that’s balance. You know why? Because I would spend the next week killing myself to eat clean to make sure that not a gram of that pasta or a spec of the sugar in the brownie changed my body. Does that sound ‘balanced’ to you?
Yesterday was an incredible day for me. I got to meet nutritionist Monica Mignone (@balancebymonica). She is one of the most beautiful and authentic people I have ever met. What you see is what you get. She showed up sporting her amazing Italian tan (she is going to love me mentioning that), a smile from ear to ear and a passion that oozed right out of her. She is someone that I feel like I just connected with instantly. We got talking after the photography course about ‘balance.’ She to me is the definition of ‘balance.’ She is unlike any other nutritionist I have ever looked up to.
“I don’t think food should be viewed solely as fuel. I think it is so much more than that. Food is the common denominator in most social interactions. It is almost always shared with others, and it is a beautiful way of bringing groups of people together.” - Monica Mignone.
When I go to uni during the week I always love looking around campus and seeing everyone eating their own homemade food. It is actually so nice to see so many people bringing home food. Food is a way for people to connect and I feel like a person’s lunch is always a great conversation starter. At uni we never talk about abs, diets, restriction or deprivation. We talk about food experimenting, the fun workout we did on the weekend, the amazing walk we went on, the latest cafes and the beautiful sunshine. Its insightful, its inspiring. Then I go on social media…. I am bombarded with ‘#clean’, ‘#raw’, ‘#cheatmeals’, ‘#abgoals’, ‘#gains’, ‘#progress’….. ‘#balance.’ I am sorry but I don’t think that ‘cheat meal’ and ‘balance’ belong together. It insinuates that you eating your pizza or chocolate is wrong and that you have somehow stuffed up.
What social media taught me was that in order to be ‘healthy’ I needed to always have unrefined sugar, exercise vigorously every day, never eat out, stay away from the dessert table. Well the 'success' that came with that was temporary let me tell you. Sure my body looked good but my mind was so messed up. All I could do was think of food. My passion for Italian food and nonnas cooking was stuffed away. Something that was always so close to my heart had been torn away by the ‘rules.’ Now that lifestyle was not imposed on me. It was something I thought I needed to do.
I knew as soon as I enrolled as a nutrition student that it was going to challenge me academically (especially because I hadn’t touched a science book since 2009), but more than that I knew it was going to challenge my beliefs. I knew I would be learning things that could easily put me right back into disordered eating.
In my family my dad and I have always been the ‘healthy’ ones. For a while this label became an expectation I put on myself. When I would go out with people I would get comments if I touched a piece of cake (“you know that’s not good for you”) or if I looked like I had gained or lost weight you best believe there would be a comment made. It was like my worth was in my image. I thought that I had to be setting an example by eating healthy all the time but that could not be further from the truth. How could I possibly help others live a ‘balanced’ life when in actual fact I am inundated with guilt?
Health is a collective of physical, mental and social wellbeing. There is no set of scales that can tell you anything about your social or emotional state. If you are avoiding social situations and feeling anxious around certain types of food, you may have perfect physical health, but you are most certainly not completely ‘healthy’. – Monica Mignone.
Monica is one of a kind and she is paving the way for a different generation of nutritionists. Yesterday we both shared our struggles with our relationship with food, our insecurities, our passions and our journeys. It rung true for me that if you really do love yourself and put love into everything you do that you will always succeed.
“The key to cheesemaking is love. That’s true for everything you do, not just cheese. If you do it with love, the results are obvious – it’s got to be good. That’s why my company’s name, ‘That’s Amore’, means ‘That’s Love.’” – Giorgio Linguanti, Founder of That’s Amore Cheese.
In the last couple months, I know my body has changed but you know what, so has my mind. I can honestly say that this is the happiest and strongest I have ever been in my life. I am doing workouts that I genuinely enjoy, I am eating food that I love to eat, I am dating someone that loves every part of me, I am studying things that are fuelling my mind with knowledge, I have a beautiful family that I love, incredible friends; and I am working somewhere where I feel valued and where I can utilise my skills.
Just last week I was starting to get self-conscious of my body because I was scared of what people would think. I have been letting myself eat whatever I want and not really overthinking food lately. I have just been living. It took speaking to Monica to really realise that my family, Bruno, followers on social media and friends don’t care what my body looks like. They want to see me happy. Whether I am a size 8 or a size 20 it doesn’t matter. I mostly eat well, I exercise, I love to laugh, I love dessert, pasta is a passion and nothing makes me happier than eating gelati with my friends and family. Loved ones don’t want to see me contemplating whether or not to have another cannoli or piece of cheese. They don’t want me to not eat at social gatherings because I am scared the food will make me ‘fat.’
“Always remember that one bad meal won’t make you fat, just as one healthy meal won’t make you skinny.” – Monica Mignone.
I am writing this post for those who still struggle every day with the food demons. For the people that are always wondering what their next meal is. For those who watch others indulging (when they would want to) and sit in silence. This is for someone very close to my heart who I watch battle these thoughts often. I hope this person can see that they don’t have to eat perfect all the time and that precious moments of food enjoyment with family are so special and we don’t want to see them miss out. A person will not think any less of you if you look a bit different. As long as you are emanating positive vibes and we see joy in your eyes the love will always be there.
I know that by me embracing my beautiful body with nothing but love and support (and maybe a cannoli or two) that she will love me right back. I know that the smile on my face is worth so much more than abs will ever be to me. I want to help others find their real ‘balance’ so that they can grab life by both hands with all the energy they need to conquer their goals and live their best life.
“It’s not about deprivation and saying no for me, it’s about saying yes. I say yes to going out for dinner with my friends. I say yes to treats after dinner with my boyfriend. I enjoy meal times with my loved ones. And I am able to do all of this with the knowledge that I am not ‘ruining’ my progress or sabotaging my fitness goals. It took a lot of trial and error, but I’ve learnt now that it IS possible to eat my favourite things while being in the best possible condition, physically, socially and emotionally.” - Monica Mignone.
Gelati and Bruno... happy girl (thats a big smile!)
The beautiful Monica herself...and a cute (and heavy) cow
Smiling because life is more than what you look like and what others think of you...