So of course it’s time to go on another diet, right?
Hah! So wrong it hurts.
Look, if you want to go on another diet, that’s your business and I couldn’t stop you even if I wanted to. As for me? Well, I’m not joining in the yearly insanity. Since I intuitively found something I later found to be called Intuitive Eating, I’ve been happier, healthier, and actually surprisingly thinner (your mileage may well vary, because, hey, different bodies do different things and IE isn’t about weight loss or gain; it’s about loving and respecting your body). The thinner wasn’t why I started doing it. I started doing it because I had been through a prolonged period in which I treated my body badly and I decided it was time to listen to it more thoughtfully.
For years I’d ping-ponged back and forth between restriction and gorging. This actually is a pretty common pattern. When you tell yourself that you are not allowed to have delicious cake and pie simply because you weigh more than you think you should, your mind has a way of raising its middle fingers on high and tempting you more and more with the thought of just how delicious that cake or pie would be. Eventually you give in, have the slice of cake and then come to the conclusion that since you’ve already sinned against the dieting gods, you might as well eat another three slices. Oh, and why not have Moon Pies and Mountain Dew for breakfast?* After all, the diet is blown and that means you must eat everything in sight because that’s what people not on a diet do.
One day I just put on the brakes and decided that if I wanted the slice of cake or pie, I was going to darn well go ahead and eat the slice of cake or pie. I’m an adult. I do not need to ask permission. By the same token, if I do not really want cake or pie in that moment, I can say no thanks. There will still be cake and pie when I want them. The same goes for red meat, green veggies, potatoes, fresh fruit, yogurt, tofu, and every other food under the sun. If my body and mind want it, I eat it. If they don’t, then I don’t.
The above paragraph makes it sound like the whole thing was a snap of the fingers and I never overate again or berated myself for poor food choices. It wasn’t really that easy. It took a while to detox myself from cultural imperatives, and there are still days when I catch myself wondering if I should make a conscious effort to eat less potatoes and more carrots. It’s also sometimes amazingly frustrating trying to figure out what your body is telling you it wants to eat.
For instance, I once read a comment on a thread about IE in another blog where the woman recounted the tale of wanting to eat gasoline. Obviously, she knew that wasn’t a good idea and had no intention of listening to it…except that when she sat down and parsed out mentally what would be leading her to crave gasoline, she realized that the gas station was the only place she could get her favorite beef jerky. So she went, got the jerky, ate some, and no longer wanted gasoline. It’s an extreme example, but it gives you an idea of just how much thought intuition takes sometimes.
When I don’t know what I want, I do sit down and think it out. Sometimes I wind up just eating something because it’s been too long and I start getting stupid when I go too long without eating. Still, even with the occasional frustration, I find IE completely worth it.
The thing is, I don’t want to be like a friend of mine. She’s a terrific lady with a great family, but she’s always unhappy with her body. Every time I see her, she’s on a new diet – often involving a pill or extreme restriction – that’s going to be her new answer. I’ve known her for seven years, and in that time her body has stayed pretty much the same size and shape. She loses ten pounds here, gains fifteen there, and I honestly don’t think that’s going to change. She spends her life treating her body like an enemy.
Her body is great. It’s nurtured and given birth to four children, it’s strong and warm and gentle. She’s been generally quite healthy over the years. Her husband certainly seems to love her body…hence the four children.
I worry about what she’s going to teach her daughters. Are they, too, going to see their bodies as enemies? Will they panic at the thought of taking after their mother more than their rail-thin father? Will they, too, chase after every diet as though it might be the holy grail?
I cannot change my friend, but I hope that in treating my body as a friend I can be an alternative point of view for her daughters…and her sons. Perhaps they will notice that I love and appreciate my food and do not fear it. Perhaps they will realize that I’m perfectly capable of simply saying yes or no when offered a sweet treat rather than moralizing on whether or not it’s okay to have. Perhaps they will notice that whether they see me eat a large meal or just a nibble or two, I am happy and capable of playing with them for a long time without getting worn out. And maybe, just maybe, they will see something to value in that.
Food is not an enemy. It is essential to human life. Our bodies are not the enemy. We are our bodies. How we treat them matters. Sometimes they want leafy greens, sometimes they want protien – whether animal or vegetable is up to you, and sometimes they want a slice of cake just because it tastes good.
If I have one hope for all of you, it is that you will treat your bodies with the love and respect they deserve.
*Disclaimer: I have never breakfasted on Moon Pies and Mountain Dew. I loathe marshmallows and cannot adequately describe my impression of the flavor of Mountain Dew in a family-friendly blog.