Trust Your Body
We are taught to be masters of our bodies, and it's time to unlearn this.
I have touched on this subject before, and I'm conscious that it's a sensitive subject for a lot of people. However, it affects the majority of people's lives to a significant degree. Also, there is good news in relation to this subject, and I love good news.
Diet culture has permeated our society for many years, leaving in its wake a distinct fear of the dreaded - fat... It's a pretty blanket belief that we grow up with; thin is good, fat is bad. But, it's not only about the aesthetics of it. Hidden in plain sight are the remnants of previous viewpoints. For example, humans are bad and must spend their lives in the continual pursuit of 'goodness'. Human desires, such as sex and eating, are bad. Humans are naturally greedy, lazy, unspiritual, etc. So, we pursue thinness to avoid being seen as greedy, lazy or self-indulgent. I have spent the last 28 years in this pursuit, and I'm going to start this conversation for us with transparency. I'm not going to allow my own self-indulgence by justifying my story, although diet culture is so ingrained in me that I want to do this so badly right now. Instead, I'm going to say that I connected my identity to my looks to a high degree, and that I deliberately fashioned my identity to avoid being seen as greedy, lazy or self-indulgent. My body is no longer allowing me this identify, and I'm not proud when I say that this is one of the most difficult journeys I've been led to in my life. But, here it is, and I'm choosing to embrace this journey that I would never have been brave enough to take if I was still thin. I'm letting go of the emotional and mental toll that this has taken on me and moving towards a very different way of eating and living in my body. Yes, this may trigger people, but I want to share the joy and excitement that I am discovering in this process, and hopefully inspire people to start taking their own lives back.
I think many people are resistant to admitting to restrictive eating behaviours, so I will not talk in terms of numbers or percentages. I will only say that most of us eat with our brains, rather than our bodies. We are taught that when left to their own devices, our bodies will overdo it. Most of us don't learn to trust our natural instincts in general. We are taught to trust our intellect, and much of our intellectual sifting and sorting is based on society's priorities, our need to connect and belong, our fear of aging and death, etc. Yes, we might recognise the indicators of eating disorders, but do we recognise that the types of eating that are based on rules, research and control, a lack of trust of the body, and a fear of what others will think of us might also be considered disordered eating? We're missing the most important thing. Our bodies are designed to maintain health at all costs, having all kinds of intricate methods for balancing and compromising, and a healthy body means being at a weight that ensures our best health. The problem is, many of us have tried to achieve and maintain body weights that are below what our bodies consider to be healthy for us. Unfortunately, this causes issues such as excessive cravings, extreme hunger, malnutrition, and poor body image. Disordered eating behaviours are everywhere, however they are so normalized that we are not recognising them. Our need to attach our eating behaviours to our identities is also demonstrated by a multitude of labels; paleo, vegan, keto, high carb, raw food, food addict, sugar addict, food lover, and low appetite.
I've recently been passively following a Facebook group for recovery from eating disorders and disordered eating. We assume that we know a lot about a subject, but then find that there is so much more to understand. In a way I did know, as I went on an 'anti-dieting' journey when I was 21 years old, but societal programming is very strong, and unfortunately I bought into diet culture for many years following this. I'm loving how supportive the girls and women in the group are of each other. Perfect strangers. It's really beautiful to see. Some situations, however, are quite sad. There are women with serious eating disorders, who have been practically unable to put food in their mouths for months or years. When, with incredible courage they embark on this process of allowing themselves to gain weight, they are told by doctors and family members to be careful not to eat too much of this or that, or that it might not be good to gain too much weight, and so they are tempted to lapse back into life-threatening eating behaviours. It really puts my struggles into perspective. Their fear of gaining weight is far beyond what I am experiencing and I greatly admire that they are able to find the strength within themselves to continue their recovery.
I have learned a lot, and I will include some links below for if you wish to learn more. The body knows what it's doing and what it wants to eat, but it takes some time for us to learn to understand its signals. Many of us are so out of touch with this aspect of our bodies. Basically, if we watch the way children eat, we will understand what our bodies are capable of. If left to eat freely, children eat when they're hungry and stop when they're full. They spit things out if they don't like them and forget to eat when they're really busy playing. They don't differentiate between 'good' or 'bad' foods unless we teach them this, and they typically gravitate towards a healthy nutritional balance over a period of time if left to choose. Sounds super easy, but many adults have a lot of guilt and fear around food. Our bodies sense this stress. Our bodies' only understanding is that they have to keep us alive and in balance, so any type of physical or mental restriction puts them in alert mode. Ooh, food is scarce, so we must store fat to keep this body alive. Or, we must make this person eat more so he or she doesn't starve. So, our body prompts us to crave food or eat more food than we intellectually feel that we need in that moment.
Also, people with a history of restrictive eating may be lacking in nutrition, regardless of their current weight. Obese people can be undernourished. The body will prompt us to keep eating until nutritional requirements are met, whether we are underweight or overweight. Many people are restricting types of foods under the guise of health, reluctant to admit, sometimes even to themselves, to the pursuit of thinness. So, for this method of eating disorder recovery, people are taught to satisfy hunger signals or cravings as they occur, regardless of whether the food is considered 'good' or 'bad' by societal standards. Both physical hunger and mental hunger must be satisfied in order to achieve eventual freedom from food fear and tyranny. This is a the tough one, wow. To let go of control and risk gaining weight as a necessary step in the process of healing is very difficult. But, we see people all around us struggling with weight. We see elderly women still justifying their portion sizes. We see anemia, osteoporosis and fatigue from lack of nutrition. As far as I can see, we have two choices. We continue the struggle with weight and let it take up an enormous amount of our brain space for the rest of our lives, or we commit to change.
Everybody's body is different and works best at a different weight. I understand that we can trust that once our bodies have gone through all the processes that they need to go through to recover from all that we have put them through, they will return to a weight that they feel it is safe to be at. This weight might change over the years. It also might take a significant time for our bodies to feel safe to lose weight. I feel absolutely confident that this will happen for me, but I also feel that I have no right to rush my body. After all, I have been putting it through numerous restrictive regimes since before I was a teenager. And, this was only one of the many stressors that I subjected it to. It deserves a break. Also, fighting the process will only slow it down. I understand that not everybody is ready to take this step. It is easier for me, as my body is no longer responding to any type of restriction. At least, not in the way I want it to. So for me, I will be overweight for a while longer whichever path I take. If I continue to diet, I will most likely gain more and more weight, so the path to recovery is by far the better option.
So, let's talk about what's on the other side of this process. This is eventual food freedom. This is taking pleasure in eating a wide range of foods. This is enjoying lots of foods that we haven't eaten for years, or haven't eaten without guilt for years. This is eating when we're hungry and feeling physically and emotionally satisfied every day. This is being able to keep any type of food in the house without feeling that it is a threat. This is enjoying social situations without fear of having to eat 'fattening' foods. This is developing a new superpower, which is to instinctively know what our bodies want to eat on a given day and not having any judgement about our bodies' choices. This is feeling strong, energetic and vibrant due to having the nutrition that our bodies need. This is no longer worrying that we will gain weight, but enabling our bodies to take care of their needs. This is allowing ourselves to move our bodies in ways that feel good, rather than forcing vigorous exercise. This is finding our identity and value apart from our appearance and eating practices. This is having so much more time to spend thinking, creating, doing things that we love, and connecting with others. This is developing a new love for our bodies and enjoying expressing ourselves through movement or through our style.
This is incredible freedom! This is what excites me so much. Sometimes, the best things in life require walking through hot coals. And this feels like one of those journeys. Yes, it's not for the fainthearted, but it is so worth it. To spend the second half of my life enjoying a nurturing, pleasurable relationship with food and my body. So amazing! Also, we can learn to enjoy the fun, experimental aspect of this process as we walk through the inevitable discomfort. I am already finding more and more pleasure with all the things that I let go of. Don't be that little old lady, or man, telling everybody that you'll only have a little bit of cake because you're on a diet. Don't spend the rest of your life eating yucky, 'healthy' substitute foods to maintain the illusion of control. Try not to judge others' journeys with their bodies, but rather support their pursuit of freedom and physical and emotional wellness. And also, love yourself enough to set yourself free.
To learn more about eating disorder or disordered eating recovery, I can recommend:
Kayla Rose - damnthediets.com
Tabitha Farrar - tabithafarrar.com