Resolving An Identity Crisis: Fitness Fanatic Or Feasting Foodie?
Updated: May 8
Finding Harmony In Health Goals And Life’s Flavors. With Data and Visuals.
Have you ever felt two personalities at war within you between your present self and future self?
Ever felt the imposter syndrome at your job?
Felt conflicted about showing dedication to your employer vs. finding the motivation to interview and find another job (or start a company) at the same time?
Like the above, I have two personalities at war inside of me.
A Fitness Fanatic. A Feasting Foodie. Here is my journey of making sense of an identity crisis.
If you have wanted another bite of the chocolate cake while wanting a beach body, you’ve been in my shoes. How to resolve this identity crisis?
What Is An Identity Crisis?
An identity crisis is a state of confusion about self-identity, values, and beliefs. It can lead to anxiety, indecisiveness, and a lack of motivation to pursue goals.
Meet Fitness Fanatic Harshal
The Fitness Fanatic version of me eats clean and trains dirty. Where can you find me at 5 am on Sundays? You can find me standing on my bedroom carpet, dressed in sweat-wicking gym clothes, ready for a workout at the gym. It would’ve been 12 hours since I last ate food, but I don’t eat anything till I’ve weighed myself in the morning.
Yet, I have a limited pool of motivation. I felt the time burden of commuting to the gym. So, I built a home gym with weights adding up to 200kgs. Here is an illustration of my records from every day of ever set and rep I lifted. I weighed myself and measured myself regularly across years, thanks to FitNotes and Fittr.
After the workout, I have the same type of breakfast everyday morning at the same time. I don’t drink soda, fruit juice, or milkshakes to eliminate liquid calories. I got comfortable with unsweetened almond milk because it has less than 1/4th of the calories in cow milk. I wrote about part of my diet here. I visualized my consistency in home food here:
My lunch is similar to my breakfast. I measure each ingredient to +-1 gram. I pack my lunch when I step out. When I had free lunch at my workplace, I gave my share to colleagues and ate measured home-cooked food. I’ve even taken lunch and dinner in boxes when I’m commuting for work and have a meetup at night. It takes time and effort to prepare 10+ SKUs. Here is a video of serving a meal. One meal out of 3 a day.
I have 3 mealtimes a day. I don’t watch videos or use my phone during mealtimes. I give my undivided attention to social company and the food in front of me. Giving up audio was hard for me, given my reading interests. Traditional Indian culture and Western “palate cleanser” science suggests bread, rice, or tortilla are neutral in taste. These are usually eaten with curries or meat but not as-is. Whereas, I have gained a new level of mindfulness where I can savor the taste of plain white rice. I make it a point to feel the texture of every morsel of food.
Here is another way of visualizing the food, through a video reel.
I drink over 5 liters of water daily to help with a calorie-deficit, high-fiber, high-protein, and creatine-supplemented diet. If you gift me a box of chocolates and we open it together, I will thank you profusely. But I may throw it in the compost after you turn around. I don’t eat dirty even if my parents bring sweet treats for me from 8,000 kilometers away.
Between watching a movie on a Saturday night and sleeping at 9 pm, I choose the latter for my Sunday 5 am workout. I don’t drink water after 5:30 pm to minimize night-wakings to maximize muscle recovery during sleep. Even as I build a business, I aim to sleep 8 hours each night and workout every morning.
Fitness Fanatic as an Identity
I’m proud of having fitness as a purpose and goal. I love the feeling of strength, agility, and wellness. One aspect of my 2019 tattoo represents self-improvement in workouts and martial arts (Krav Maga) by striving to lift more weights and become harder, better, stronger, and faster.
Eating clean and training dirty are part of my identity. It guides my daily behaviors, including sleep, fun, socials, books, workplace design, home design, exercise, weekend hobbies, and more. It guides my beliefs. It gives me the motivation to pursue my wellness goals.
Downsides Of Fitness Fanatic
There are downsides to this identity.
I’ve lost satiety and hunger cues. Over the last 3 years, I trained myself to satiate hunger cues by chewing gum, water, herbal tea, or decaf coffee. My meals are pre-planned, so I don’t look out for satiety cues. I know if I think I’m satiated and stop eating my dinner, I might get hungry in the middle of the night. I measure every gram of food. So, I cannot eyeball food to know whether it is the correct quantity. So, neither visual approximation nor satiety cues can guide my meal portions.
I face anxiety when going for a social get-together if it involves food because I would rather eat my home-cooked food.
My relationship with food has changed, not all for the better.
You have the same hours every day. You can do an activity like watch a movie at 5am or at 10pm. You can meet friends for a board game at 8am or 8pm. But most cultures have get-togethers and socials in the evenings, not in the mornings. I don’t like events that make me stay up late at night because I’ll miss the next day's workout. So, I have an automatic reflex against events. I must overcome this consciously to go to events.
A Philosophical Tangent On Digital Satisfaction Of Your 5 Senses
We have 5 senses: sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. Digital recordings can recreate sight and sound.
From my philosophical viewpoint, I value experiences that require physical presence more than experiences I can capture in a digital bottle. I can watch a parade, sports match, or a national park with more clarity and convenience digitally rather than in-person. I can hear the sounds of a concert better digitally than in-person. I don’t like going through logistical challenges to experience sight and sound.
But, when I go on a vacation to ski, surf, fish, or mountain bike, I use touch and smell senses and flux in hormones like adrenaline, which YouTube cannot digitally recreate.
I find vacations fun when it involves senses beyond sight and sound. I like vacations when they involve smell, taste, and touch.
I find the change in the pace of the day enjoyable, yet, it seems theoretically possible to achieve the change without travelling somewhere.
Meet Feasting Foodie Harshal
The Feasting Foodie version of me thinks food touring is the perfect hobby.
Tasting food excites my smell, taste, and touch senses. It provides new textures to the touch, new emotions when sharing with my family, and varied smell & taste combinations.
Some eat to live. But, I live to eat.
I live to savour a variety of flavors.
You can see a collection of food touring pictures over the last few weeks. I do not go to the Big Ben or the Tower Bridge when I travel to London. I go to the bustling food markets, hole-in-the-wall dessert cafes, and top-rated restaurants. Here’s a video capturing about 100 dishes I’ve ordered over the last few weeks.
In recent times, when my family and I visited New York City, Dublin, London, Boston, Mumbai, and Hyderabad, we had spreadsheet and maps for each city of the food places we want to go to. The only place we marked on the map that was not a restaurant was our airbnb or home.
I also realized that my wife and I have collectively had the food in or from 45 countries. For example, we’ve eaten in the US, Ireland, India, and a few other countries we’ve travelled to. We’ve eaten food from Italy, China, Japan, and a few other country cuisines that we have travelled to gastronomically, but not physically.
We used map customizer to map with cities we’ve eaten in marked with green and yellow markers representing cities that are the source of the cuisines we’ve eaten. Green markers are cities we have eaten in, and yellow are cities we’ve eaten from but not in. We’ve eaten in 10 countries and eaten food from 35 other countries.
Feasting Foodie As An Identity
My thinking pattern has changed when I think of a trip, a weekend, or fun. When I have a professional meeting at a cafe, I open their menu online to look up what’s interesting before I think of what’s interesting about the people I’ll meet. I sometimes zoom the map on my phone to see top-rated restaurants around a so-so cafe.
Downsides Of Feasting Foodie
Feasting is expensive. It is expensive to buy 100s of dishes but eat parts of it. It is even more expensive because we are not feasting at cheap chains like Subway or McDonald's.
A moment on the lips, forever on the hips. Fitness Fanatic has to endure sustained hardships across weeks for each day enjoyed by Feasting Foodie.
Sometimes, immediately after ordering food at a cafe, we feel guilty about eating outside our diet.
Our family or friends do not share my wife and my hobby of Feasting Foodie, which means our style of tourism is alien to them. We don’t enjoy the tourism style of our friends or family, so enjoying a trip together may be hard.
Alternatives Of Feasting Foodie As A Hobby
This identity has endured downsides till now. I know that Feasting Foodie is a fun time for me. It was the way my wife and I bonded. For more than a decade, it was our way to have couples' dates or socialize with new or old friends.
I thought of alternatives:
Hikes and Picnics are weather dependent. The weather does not usually cooperate in Ireland.
Movies mean the added expense of a babysitter and sleeping late. I cannot go to movies during the weekend day with a toddler. Movies also do not enable relationship-building conversations since we both isolate ourselves from the world (and each other) to focus on the show.
Apart from the downsides of going to movies, Theater is expensive, and I don’t enjoy sitting so far away - craning my neck and squinting my eyes. Theater also seems less fun than a movie, where the VFX and editing give you a spectacular show through the combination of man and machine.
Biking tours separate us as a couple because we cannot bike next to each other through city traffic. We need to ride in a single file. It also requires the logistics of synchronizing turns and signals.
Museums and Castles don’t attract me because I do not feel a change in my perspective or an ah-ha moment. In cases with an ah-ha moment, I could have gotten even better insight at home by watching or reading about it. Museums are a breadth of exploration at 10,000 feet, whereas the depth of a historic event moves me. Stories are better agents of change or persuasion than aggregate information.
I categorize watching sports as entertainment (not as a way to learn sports), and I prefer movies over sports (Although I watch less than one movie a quarter). My Fitness side prefers resistance training or martial arts over other sports.
I considered taking workshops together, such as baking or dance classes. But those are expensive or require a multi-week commitment. Some are during the daytime on weekdays.
Clash Of Feasting Foodie With Fitness Fanatic
When I feast as a foodie, I always eat calorie-rich food. Such food is high in carbohydrates (especially sugar) and fat. Food low in protein and fiber. I know I can enjoy tasting food without eating huge portions, but I find it hard to stop at one bite.
Fitness Fanatic loves following my clean eating or diet routine and feels a mix of happiness and sadness any day Feasting Foodie comes out. I feel guilt about missing my diet on foodie days.
Reconciliation Between Feasting Foodie And Fitness Fanatic
I understand it is normal to have conflicting interests. This might be true for many between maintaining a healthy lifestyle and enjoying delicious food, for example, desiring 6-pack abs and eating a gallon of ice cream. I thought and researched ways of reconciling between my identity clashes.
1 - Balance.
One way to resolve the identity crisis is to reconcile between them. I posted on the fitness subreddit and got many beneficial suggestions. I can now eat something outside of my diet without the guilt. I have become comfortable with both sides of my identity.
I set weekdays for Fitness Fanatic and weekends for Feasting Foodie. But I need to put a lot of effort on weekdays for a few moments of happiness on weekends. The happiness of the food from the weekend doesn’t carry through for the rest of the week.
My fitness coaches recommend having 1 cheat meal in 4 weeks. I have 2 cheat days in 1 week, which is about 16 cheat meals in 4 weeks.
I crave food delicacies on many weekdays but stick to my pre-planned meals.
2 - Moderate.
I can moderate both sides, but I have no idea how to moderate clean eating. I know I can moderate Feasting Foodie by being a foodie but not feast. Does that mean I buy 10 things and waste 80% of their quantity or I buy 2 things and eat 100% of them?
3 - Healthier options.
I can choose the healthier option when I am eating outside. I’ve become good at figuring out the constituents of savory items outside. So, I’m able to make healthy savory choices when I need (not “want”) to eat out such as at a meet up or social occasion. When I want to eat out (not “need”) on a food tour, I go by my sense of smell and taste, not by healthy options. Yet, I don’t know ingredients of desserts. I love desserts. I eat a lot of those without realizing what have I eaten. I now use MyFitnessPal to log each item I eat outside my diet to gradually build that awareness.
4 - Eliminate the unhealthiest.
The opposite of picking healthier options is eliminating the unhealthiest options. If I eliminate desserts from my foodie feast, I would be eliminating the unhealthiest options. And I would likely moderate my eating of savory items. Together, I would moderate my feasting, have a less negative impact on my fitness goals, and not have the intense craving that desserts create with their mixture of fat and sugar.
5 - Pick one identity.
I can pick one of these two identities and stick with it. I would choose Fitness Fanatic any day over Feasting Foodie. But there is no getting around social get-togethers. Meeting friends over brunch in a restaurant or inviting friends home involves food.
6 - Set a fitness goal and be a foodie as long as I am meeting the goal.
I can set reasonable goals. And if my fitness efforts + foodie habits still let me meet my goals, then I don’t need to let go of my foodie side.
My fitness goal is not an output metric but an input metric (See input vs. output metrics). It is harder for me to decide to have 8-pack abs or a 56-inch chest in 9 months. It is easier for me to target eating clean 5 days a week and measure my progress toward this target.
However, when I have only input metrics goals, I miss the positive reinforcement loop of seeing my lifts or body measurements improve.
Resolving An Identity Crisis
Writing helped me crystallize my thoughts. But not find a solution.
Have you ever faced an identity crisis? What has helped you resolve it?