I haven’t written about food or my body image in ages. Sadly, that’s not because it hasn’t been on my mind. Just last week I was at an early morning barre class and I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror and loathed the way I looked. But before I could fall down a complete, long, and gaping rabbit hole of body lambasting, I stopped my train wreck of thoughts and told myself that I love barre class and the way it makes me feel and look how strong I am even at this ungodly hour when I should be sleeping (but probably would be nursing if I was back in bed). I finished my workout and felt good…for a bit.
That’s how it’s been lately – a lot of ups an downs, a lot of trying to steer clear of the diet mentality, and embrace my body for what it is now rather than pining for what it was when I was postpartum as a trim 26-year-old mom after my first baby who’s a teenager now. Then I’ve been trying not to fantasize about what my body might be if I just had more discipline or self-control or if my stupid hamstring would let me run as many miles every week as I once did. Intellectually, I know all too well the allure of being thin is far more wonderful than the reality. As I’ve written in the past, thin people still suffer. So do fat, fit, wiry, curvy, lanky, petite, puffy, and otherwise people. People suffer. Period.
I realize that even though I no longer starve myself or use exercise as a form of self-atonement for the cookie I sinned with the night before, I still am quite often mired in the diet culture. Most of us are.
So I ordered a book that I’ve heard about from time to time called Intuitive Eating. (I also ordered its newer companion workbook.) This book has been on my periphery radar for a long time (I think it was probably mentioned to me during my eating disorder recovery and treatment), but I’m not sure I was ready to read it until now because maybe I wasn’t willing to totally give up any form of dieting. Or maybe I didn’t even recognize that I was still steeped into the dieting mindset and would need a book of this nature since I don’t do diets. But doing and being influenced by are two different things.
Just a few weeks ago, for example, I’d find myself scrolling through my social media feed and wonder if I ought to try Whole 30 even though I’ve vehemently spoken out against it or any form of diet or elimination/deprivation cheerleader that masquerades itself as simply being a helpmate for people wanting to make more healthful choices. I even subscribed to the the Whole 30 newsletter but after reading three newsletters that just didn’t sit right with me, I promptly unsubscribed.
Also, a few months ago I purchased a nutrition plan for more money than I’d like to admit even though I don’t believe in plans or anything that has rules or takes the creativity or enjoyment out of planning meals and eating.
So this week I culled my social media feed, deleting any account that blatantly or subversively promotes the diet culture. I also deleted some well-meaning accounts from my feed simply because I found that they didn’t evoke positive feelings in me. I encourage you do the same. I fell off the face of blogging and social media for awhile because I was in the midst of a major depressive episode (someday I’ll write more about this, but I’m not quite ready to share yet…) because none of it – even the most inspiring blogs – made me feel good. I’m on Instagram (my favorite outlet), Twitter, and Facebook, but I’m very careful with it. I am well aware of my tendency to compare and/or feel inadequate or defeated in the realm of body image and otherwise.
As social media consumers, many of us can easily fall into the trap of feeling like we are just hapless bystanders who can’t control the content of what we see. That’s often true in the world of advertising. I can’t not see a giant billboard using a buxom blonde to sell air conditioning repair services of all things. However, I am in charge of curating my social media feed for the most part. Even the ads that pop up are based on images I like or have viewed. I’m hungry for authentic women of all shapes and sizes who promote self-care over self-control. I don’t even want so-called fitness accounts that supposedly advance a balanced lifestyle if they’re going to constantly be flashing before and after photos or telling me what to eat or how to eat. My body knows what to do. I just haven’t trusted it for most of my life.
Dieting and just the mindset of it has proved time and time again to make me uncomfortable, uneasy, and anxious around food. As soon as I think I need to or should lose weight I’m so very tempted to fall into the Last Supper way of thinking (Intuitive Eating discusses the Last Supper mentality, but I’ve used this term for a long time) and start to feast before the famine. I honestly believe one of the best ways for me to gain weight is to start trying to lose it. Ample research confirms this is true for most people. (Watch this video to learn more about how the detriments of dieting.)
I also believe there’s something soothing about eating so-called forbidden food when you’ve tried to be “good” girl in so many areas of your life for as long as you can remember. I’ve certainly been the perfectionist who overeats because it feels like a moment of freedom and recklessness.
As soon as I start to wonder why the last 8 to 10 pregnancy pounds are clinging to me like a co-dependent boyfriend, I’m tempted to eat more because somewhere in my psyche I’m afraid that deprivation is right around the corner. Oftentimes, eating with reckless abandon or indulging is a response to deprivation in the past or even just the thought of impending deprivation.
Of course, I’ve had periods where I’ve been very “good” at losing weight, and admittedly, I did briefly feel happier in a thinner physique. I also felt strong and powerful. But all of these feelings were fleeting. Dieters, like so many people, take the short view and don’t consider the long-lasting effects dieting and obsessively controlling what they eat has on their bodies and more importantly, their emotional well-being. Looking back on my life I too often define it by the thin period, the gross period, the out of control period.
Meanwhile, life is passing me by.
As I’ve come to realize that the final step in my full recovering from my past eating disorder and body image issues is rebuilding trust in my body and completely eradicating the dieting mindset from my way of thinking and life, I find myself cringing at some of the thoughts I’ve shared in the past on my blog or speaking as a body image expert or even in Weightless. While I certainly got some things right – at least for me; recovery is such a personal journey – there are some things I said, wrote, and once believed that I no longer think are very helpful. For instance, I used to endorse the belief that loving yourself enough would allow you to make healthy changes. But now I believe we should love ourselves even if nothing ever changes – our bodies, health, or otherwise. And that love may not allow us to do anything other than live a fuller life maybe even in a fuller body. The real challenge is loving ourselves as we are, to eat the damn cake with no guilt, to exercise and move because that’s what our bodies were created to do, and to not let our thoughts or lives revolve around weight, food, or any other health “rules” we might see as our savior. (We have only one Savior, and He’s not found in a number on the scale or in cheesecake.)
I don’t think I’ve idolized super-thin for awhile now, but sometimes I want to be stronger. Yes, even when I seem to forget about weight loss, it’s hard to ignore the cultural megaphone shouting at me that strong is the new skinny. Those messages can make me feel like I need to lift heavier or finally be able to do an unassisted pull-up. I want those abs I’ve seen on the women in their 50s who swear by clean eating. What does clean eating religiously mean for me? Am I eating unclean? My abs are there. They are strong. They can hold a plank for 90 seconds* or longer. But I certainly don’t have a six-pack. My abs are nicely covered in I’ve-been-gifted-with-5-
Am I going to fight my changing body? Am I going to tell myself if I loved myself more I would eat less or eat more “clean” or exercise harder or longer when I’m already mostly healthy? Or am I going to love my body as it is now? Am I going to encourage other women to do the same? Am I going to teach them that truly living a weightless life means never, ever pursuing weight loss again? This doesn’t mean you won’t lose weight. It doesn’t mean you won’t gain it either. You may stay the same weight. It’s weight neutral. It’s about trusting your body and its cues. It’s about rejecting a dieting culture that sets people up for failure and demonizes certain types of food (think grains) that the vast majority of us can tolerate and even thrive off of.
Diet culture promotes behaviors that aren’t healthy or sustainable in the long-run. It embraces the ideology that being thin and/or fit is somehow morally superior. It impresses upon us that if we are fat or not physically strong or even just not engaged in the dieting du jour of the day (paleo, clean eating, forbidding processed food, etc.), it’s a sign of some inherent, personal defect. We don’t care as much about ourselves, or we’re lazier or undisciplined. Whereas what I’m arguing for is recognizing that health comes in every size, and there’s a growing body of research to prove it.
The mindset I am working on embracing and championing is about never shaming yourself, your kids, or anyone for eating or feeling hunger or dipping into an ice cream carton when you’re sad. And also apologizing if you do accidentally resort to your old way of thinking and shame someone or yourself. Maybe it’s okay to sometimes feed our feelings. It’s a coping mechanism, and isn’t it a better alternative than getting drunk or shooting up heroin?
Sometimes food is love, and sometimes love is food. There’s no shame in that. Food can be enjoyed and savored; sometimes it just needs to be eaten because your body is a machine that just needs to keep on humming along.
When I first was recovering from my eating disorder, I had to have a flexible meal plan to help me get on track and to ensure I was adequately feeding myself. I also didn’t really know what hunger cues were. I’d messed up my body so much and was no longer attuned to its innate wisdom. Later, I didn’t need a plan. I was supposed to be listening to my body. But I think sometimes I still feel panicky without a plan; yet, if I try to count calories or log my food intake into an app like Lose It! or even just try to be mindful of my macros (how much protein, carbs, etc. I’m taking in), I start to feel restricted and anxious. It’s more than just information to me. It’s a threat.
Despite knowing this about myself, I’ve been admittedly somewhat dissatisfied with my body’s postpartum weight and shape and keep toying with the idea of embracing some sort of nutrition plan. No big shock here, but I’ve found myself craving more junk as well as eating more of it. Part of this certainly has to do with my sleep deprivation. Chronic sleep deprivation is linked to increased cravings and eating more. Not to mention the fact that I’m nursing a hungry 10-month-old, and my body is miraculously producing ounces of liquid gold. I need plenty of calories.
Yet, I also know that even more than chocolate, I am craving balance and a day when I’m not thinking so much or even at all about food except when I’m eating it. I’m ready to not be threatened by the impending real or just perceived risk of deprivation that causes me to disrespect my hunger cues. I’m ready to see myself in the mirror and keep on moving along rather than pausing to analyze whether I’m looking thin or muscular today or not.
This is going to be a long journey. I’ve already been traveling and stumbling down this road for so long.
I have a vivid memory of feeling guilt after eating too many Cool Ranch Doritos at a neighborhood friend’s house. I still remember the friend’s name was Connor, but I can’t remember what he looked like at all. I do remember the colorful Doritos dust on my fingers and the tangy taste the chips left in my mouth. I can’t see that blue bag without remembering the shame.
Here’s the crazy thing: Connor lived in my Illinois neighborhood before I moved to Georgia. I moved Down South when I was in the second grade. The second grade…So that guilty Doritos memory had to have been from the first grade or earlier. I started having issues that long ago. That’s crazy to think about, but here’s the good news: I’ve never felt so ready to change my way of thinking – and maybe even to help others along the way. Studies suggest 75 percent of American women have some sort of disordered eating pattern. I don’t want my daughters to be part of that statistic. I’m honest to them about my own struggles, and I’m honest to them about how I’m trying to change the way I feel about food and my body.
I’m going to read Intuitive Eating and talk about its 10 principles over here to help hold me accountable and sort through my feelings. I have also decided to seek professional help from a nutritionist who specializes in intuitive eating and health at every size to hopefully nip this all the bud once and for all. I don’t want to be on the precipice of death and have regrets about spending more time being aware of my flesh and how much I was eating than living and loving others well.
For anyone interested, the 10 principles from Intuitive Eating* that I’ll be exploring, discussing, and trying to wholly embrace are the following:
- Reject the diet mentality
- Honor your hunger
- Make peace with food
- Challenge the food police
- Respect your fullness
- Discover the satisfaction factor
- Honor your feelings without using food
- Respect your body
- Exercise – feel the difference
- Honor your health
*The book Intuitive Eating “is a bridge between the growing anti-diet movement and the health community. While the anti-dieting movement shuns dieting and hails body acceptance (thankfully), it often fails to address health risks. How do you reconcile forbidden food issues and still eat healthfully, while not dieting? [Intuitive Eating] will tell you how…”
–Intuitive Eating Intoduction p. xxi
Thank you for reading, and stay tuned!
*A friend of mine sent me a message and said, “You can hold a 90-minute plank?!!?” Um, no. Clearly, I need an editor. The original post used the word “minutes” instead of “seconds.” I am not that big of a plank rockstar.