When those pesky food and body issues swing by for a visit, even though you’re a feminist, and you vowed to never diet again.4
October 24, 2017 by Julia
I am happiest about food and my body when I can forget about both.
I’ve been trapped in shame cycles, and I’ve been liberated in happiness cycles, and you’d think I’d know by now which course of action leads to which. But these choices present themselves under different guises for the rest of our lives, you know. It’s not like we can make the right choice once and then be done with it. Sometimes we do the self-destructive thing, in part because we are afraid that if we are too kind to ourselves, if we take good enough care of ourselves, we’ll spoil ourselves – and then we’ll be too annoying or fat or weak to ever be loveable. We want the safer option, the one that focuses on the traditional ways of earning admiration, power or wealth.
But the safest way starts with self-love, because love always wins. It’s a good way to win yourself back, when you are lost.
Earlier this year, I was hyper-aware of wanting to lose the seven-to-ten pounds I’d recently gained throughout the holiday season, but I was also still fundamentally opposed to dieting. (I refuse to go back to that miserable place of starving and then bingeing and then hating myself for my mistake of eating too much.) It’s a limbo I find myself in every year or two: wanting to be thinner, but feeling that dieting is wrong. It sounds silly, doesn’t it? To obsess over seven pounds, weighing the moral issues, as if most people would even see those seven-to-ten pounds on me? (Some did, I’m sure; probably the same ones who obsess over their own bodies.) During this period, I tried writing my way to a place of justifying dieting as “self-love” under the theory that I’d be “more comfortable in my own skin” if I was just ten pounds lighter.
It’s a good thing my bullshit meter is mostly intact when it comes to my own writing, because I just couldn’t force that reasoning together into anything worth sharing with the world. Beware the many ways that shame and self-love get confused as we try to motivate ourselves into better people. The truth was that I so badly did not want to accept myself as-is.
But I had to. It was the only way out.
There was no exact turning point this year, after that phase, but I changed gradually, getting more and more okay as the weeks went by. Little realizations added up into a happiness with my eating and my body that I have rarely experienced in life, but enjoy now so much that I wish every woman could feel this way.
I wish we could stop hating ourselves, mostly. I wish we could eat what we want, when we want, and do it well, in ways that nourish us. I wish we could stop punishing ourselves with bingeing and purging and starving – that even if we are stuck in the middle of it, we can tell ourselves right then that we are loved, we are valuable, we should be nicer to ourselves. We don’t have to do this – starve. We don’t have to do this – eat uncontrollably. But if we can’t help it in this moment, it’s okay. There are more moments coming, and we are loved.
These are the realizations that have helped bring me to a good place:
Exercise changes everything. I need to do it every day, for my mental state, for my aches and pains, for my confidence. If it helps to keep weight off, to improve my appearance, that is icing. But the cake is finding exercise I enjoy and maintaining it for my general well-being. My current “thing” is walking on the treadmill at the Y while reading. I feel good about doing this on every level – I admire the YMCA as an organization and am happy to pay them for my membership, it is good for me to be out of the house during the day, I don’t get bored if I can read, walking literally erases my lower back pain, I feel like I am accomplishing things with my brain and body at the same time. These factors are what keep me coming back. I try not to focus on less superficial reasons, because they are not good enough to keep me coming back. The top game-changer for me was that I knew walking would fight my depression and anxiety, and it has – which in turns helps me to eat healthier, too, which of course fights my mental illness, too. We’ve got a happiness cycle here, folks. Do the exercise you enjoy for the right reasons, and you won’t regret it.
I stopped weighing myself. It made me feel bad when I did, so I stopped. Shame = not helpful. Since then, I’ve remembered that the number on the scale is a pretty inaccurate way of measuring attractiveness. I’ve realized that when we see a certain number we tell ourselves that we “feel fat,” when maybe we felt just fine before seeing that number. I’ve realized that we obsess about measurements as a way of keeping things under control, but usually that attempt at control is counterproductive. Eating is with us for life. Our bodies are with us for life. I like to take a more organic approach, listening to my body, rather than trusting a scale to tell me what to do. It just feels better.
I let myself eat whatever I want. We all know the psychology of wanting the forbidden fruit. But here’s your friendly reminder that if you let yourself have whatever food you want, you kind of stop wanting it so much. I love candy. But these days, I have no desire to eat an entire bag of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, because duh, that would make me sick, and because I know I could do that whenever I want. Just the knowing it helps to ease the pressure to eat, eat, eat. If you have the ability to read this, you too probably live in abundance, and don’t have to fear hunger. But we fear hunger anyway, because we are constantly hearing about how we need to starve to be thin enough. So, we get scared that if we don’t eat all the candy right now in this moment of weakness, we’ll miss our chance later when our “conscience” kicks in. Yeah – all those mind games are pointless in the long term, methinks. It all evens out in the end and we’re miserable along the way. And assigning morality to our own eating habits, beyond just a general sense of wanting to give our bodies good food to care for ourselves, is not helpful, either. Eat whatever you want. You’ll stop wanting junk food eventually. If you don’t…
Ask yourself what is really going on, when your eating habits go berserk. I do believe that when we eat too much or too little (and aren’t sick), it is because something is up mentally or emotionally – whether it’s just throughout a rough day, or for longer periods of time. I have recognized the following patterns in myself: I eat to shield myself from the kids, huddled at the kitchen table with a book, when I just want some space and comfort. I eat as procrastination when I am really stressed out and just can’t bring myself to move forward in whatever task is worrying me. I eat in the evenings when I want pleasure, when I want to feel that the work of the day is done, and now I can enjoy myself…but this TV show is boring, and I’m not enjoying myself, ahhh! Quick, get the ice cream or giant glass of wine! I often panic about not enjoying myself. But you know what? Having an “okay” evening is fine. I am realizing it doesn’t always have to feel like a celebration. To just sit on the couch and have a cozy cup of tea while watching a show is enough. Pleasant relaxation is enough for a Wednesday evening. It really is! No need to panic.
Of course, these are all small reasons for eating too much, and sometimes we eat in erratic ways because of much more serious issues. I’ve never had a diagnosed eating disorder, but I do sense now that food and weight problems are the symptoms of my emotional struggles, not the causes – and that does apply to most of us who struggle with disordered eating patterns, I think. So, if I notice myself falling into unhealthy eating patterns, I don’t berate myself for it, or even tell myself to stop – I just do a little investigating into what the cause might be. Therapy helps. (Always.)
I do my very best to look at myself with admiring eyes. I see women who are not perfectly slender, who would be anomalies in Hollywood, and I see them flaunt what they’ve got without shame, and I love them for it. And I tell myself I can be as attractive as them not by berating myself into a thinner version of myself – not only because I can’t seem to do that, anyway, but because it’s possible to be awesome at my current weight. Truly. Again, it’s the only way out of the shame cycle that keeps me in the binge-misery-hunger-misery mode. As a bonus, whenever a woman accepts herself, it helps to liberate the women around her, too. I appreciate the women who show themselves as-is, and don’t make excuses. They can dress it up, or dress it down, keep it natural or spend hours on it, but whatever they do with it, they’re so okay with it that they don’t need to hide it or insult it.
I can be that way, too. I am that way, these days, knock on wood. I am getting comfortable in my own skin. The goal is to be so comfortable that I forget to compare myself to the woman beside me, to be so comfortable that my lack of shame is felt as freedom and, in the case of accidental, initially unwanted sightings of myself in a mirror or a photo from a different angle, as just a new opportunity to appreciate my own form of beauty from an unexpected viewpoint, and then forget about it, moving on to more interesting things.
I am happiest about food and my body when I can forget about both, only remembering them when it’s time to enjoy them.