I had a strange teacher last semester.

She wore patterned head wraps and had an interesting and extremely colourful wardrobe: beaded jean jackets one day and flowing, flowered dresses the next. She talked about strange ideas and always asked us whether the comments we made in class were coming from love or from fear. She was very zen.

She changed the way I look at nutrition.

On the first day of her course, she asked us to come up with two words to describe our relationship with food. Some people came up with words like confused, complicated, obsessive, passionate, etc. Mine were: analytical and inquisitive.

After we had all shared our words and she had written them down, she asked us to think about our lives in general, and see whether those words couldn’t also be used to accurately describe ourselves. It was always a perfect fit.

Her point was that food is very intimately related to who we are. We are what we eat. Or at least, we relate to life the same way we relate to food.

I never forgot that.

Since then, I have discovered other links between my life and exercise and diet. I’ve noticed that my mindset when I workout is very similar to my mindset when I eat, and the way I have been raised to understand life.

Being aware of these links have helped me overcome bad habits, particularly the ones that I was raised with. A few weeks ago I became my sister Elizabeth’s nutritionist. As part of her thorough assessment, we explored the body mind connection behind her eating habits. Here is something she said about the way she was raised:

My view of food was generally: Eat when you can because there might not be food later.

We have the same parents, so I completely understand what she’s talking about, although my interpretation was different. For me, it was:

Save as much food as you can for you and your sisters because there will not be any later.

For me, this has been one of the hardest things to overcome, not only with my eating but also in my training. I’m good at long distance running because I’m good at saving. Saving energy, saving my breath, and always thinking about preserving my strength for later.

So when I do my interval or plyometrics training, I run into trouble. I’m not used to giving it everything I have in a one-hour session. I automatically hold back and try to preserve my energy. And the reason behind this is fear. Fear that I won’t be able to finish. That my energy will run out and never come back. That I might hurt myself.

But I need to learn to let go. I need to understand that my strength will always come back, and it’s ok to exhaust it sometimes. That’s how we get stronger. I need to know that I’m in a safe place and that I can trust my trainers, so it’s ok to give it my all and push as hard as possible.

Learning to push myself to a physical limit over a shorter period of time is really tough for me. But I’m getting a little better at it every day. And I owe a large part of my improvements to the comfort in knowing that from now on there will always be food in my fridge.