the body and one important question

I’ve been exploring my eating habits a lot on this blog lately. I’ve been really trying to get to the root of my struggles and try to help myself understand where to go. In my life, I’ve turned to so many experts and counselors, so many guides and books, so many plans and prescriptions that I really think it’s time for something different. As much as I want to seek guidance and validation from an outside source, I don’t think this is the type of thing that I want to do that with.

Right now I think I’m at a point where I understand the basics of ditching diet culture. I’m past the tutorials on why dieting is pointless and how a history of deprivation can lead to binge eating and feeling out of control with food. I’m past the initial discovery phase. This information has definitely changed my outlook on myself and is helpful to know, but it’s not helping me get where I want to be.

I want to stop separating how I think and feel about food from everything else. I’m tired of it being this looming category in my life. I have my pros and cons list, I’m working on creating better ways to manage stress, and I’m helping myself avoid urges by putting myself in places I that promote positive behavior.

The other thing I’m working on now is getting more in tune with my body. To do that, I’m asking myself one simple question: What do I want to eat?

This may seem overly simplistic, but really that’s where I need to work. Asking myself this is helpful because often I eat without paying attention and just eat for any number of thoughtless reasons. So every time I think about eating, I ask myself “What do I want?”. The answer can be anything. It can be a big ice cream sundae or an apple slice. Whatever it is, I can have it. But I have to really, fully want it.

This is helpful because the simple question helps me dig deeper into my urge to eat. I ask myself what, knowing that whatever the answer is I can have it. That then instantly leads me to why I want it. I could want to eat for any number of reasons. Some common possibilities include:

  1. I’m hungry;
  2. The food sounds appealing;
  3. I’m stressed and need to zone out;
  4. I’m bored;
  5. I feel obligated because… it’s time to eat / people expect me to eat / I’ve been offered something and it would be rude to refuse / I don’t want to be perceived as restricting / etc.);
  6. I want to reward myself.

When I get to the answer here, I can better evaluate if I really want the food I’m craving or if there is something that might be a better fit for the answer to why. This strategy has worked pretty well for me so far. It’s given me some useful information. I’ve thought about creating a simple document to record this, but I’m not sure I want to get that much into tracking. I’ll think about it a bit more.

For now, I really am using this system to learn about myself and my urges without judgment. Nothing is the wrong answer, I’m just here to learn.

 

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the body and normal eating

There’s a concept that I just can’t seem to get in my head. It’s about what normal eating is.

All these sources I read that are super in tune with how I feel about food still haven’t hit the mark for me. That’s because they articulate a feeling–I’m out of control with food and can’t stop binge eating–but insist that if I could just stop controlling and judging my food choices then I’ll be well on my way.

But here’s the thing. I have tried so hard to stop judging my food choices. I feel I am very permissive. No food is off limits, aside from most meats because I’m an ethical pescatarian. I still binge eat all the time though, almost daily. And despite the many helpful people who write and talk about how letting go of diets and over-control of food will help you become more in tune with what you actually want to eat and help you stop binge eating.

And I can’t help but believe that the reason I’m still gaining weight is because I’m being permissive with my food AND still binge eating.  I don’t feel good after I binge, but I never think about that when I’m about to binge. I’m not trying to lose weight anymore, but I do feel fear about continuing to gain weight (which is another post), and I’m afraid the way I’m eating is the reason I can’t let my body settle into a set point. I know that dieting won’t work, and will probably make the problem worse, so I feel very stuck.

At this point, I guess I’ll revert back to some DBT skills to help me resist the urge in the moment. The urge to binge seems like a more emotional thing than any kind of hunger thing, since I feel that I’m fueling my body properly with as minimal judgment as I can muster.

I think I’ll shoot for some pros and cons, and emergency kit, and removing myself from the opportunity to binge. We’ll see how it works.

the body and the 10 percent

Today I’m going to write about a topic in diet culture that plagues me. It’s the concept that if you “just” lose 5-10% of your body weight, you will suddenly be SO MUCH HEALTHIER!

Everyone says it. The CDC says it. A bunch of sources link to this study about it.

But there are major problems with this. First of all, that study notes that people have gained back half of the weight they lost within two years, and then don’t check back in with those people again. They then go on to say the benefits of the initial weight loss remain, despite the fact that nearly every person in the study is highly likely to have regained all of the weight they lost within 4-5 years. Will the benefits continue then? If so, how? Clearly, this makes no sense.

So many studies of weight loss conveniently stop before the weight gain portion of dieting comes back into play. Not everyone gains back weight after they lose it, but almost everyone does. Even if there are benefits to losing weight, which is a disputable claim to begin with, since often weight loss takes credit for other health improvements, this is just not a viable solution for health.

Look, I am highly aware that my view on this is not part of popular culture. I know that many people will deride this point of view and perhaps think that I am making excuses for my or others’ lack of self-control. But the thing is, the 10% has never worked for me. I’m almost 30. If it hasn’t worked yet, over the countless times I have tried it, why on earth would I keep trying it?

Health is not a requirement, but I will say that even though I’m heavier than I’ve ever been, I’m also just as healthy as I’ve always been. I don’t have more ailments than I’ve ever had despite my weight gain. My metabolism is perfect, my cholesterol levels are stellar, my blood pressure is right on. I’m active, I work on my mental health, I’m recovering from an injury that literally anyone–fat, thin, or in between–could get. So tell me how I’m unhealthy for being fat?

If you want a more comprehensive and well-researched examination of this idea and fat bias in the medical field in general, I highly recommend this post by Ragen Chastain of Dances With Fat.

the body and fear of hunger

I had a thought the other day: I’m afraid to be hungry. I bring snacks with me everywhere. I always plan the details of when and how I’m going to eat when I travel and then I over-pack food.

I think this stems from years of using hunger and food deprivation as punishment. In my mind, hunger is linked to breaking a promise to myself or behaving in way that I felt shame for. For a long time hunger was one of the only signs I accepted to show that I was atoning for my perceived failures. In the depths of my mind, hunger is linked to excessive self-control, the kind I am now terrified of because it takes me away from myself.

This is a huge problem, because part of the natural cycle of being a person is the tides of hunger. It sounds so simple: you get hungry, you eat, you get full, you wait. Lather, rinse, repeat. But to me, it’s so complicated. I don’t even know how to get to the hunger stage anymore without feeling fear. When I feel a pang of hunger, my brain panics and I start to overeat. At first I eat to fill the hunger, but then I keep eating because I don’t want to feel hunger again.

Sometimes, I don’t let myself get hungry for days at a time. I preempt my hunger with snacks and extra meals, even to the point of feeling ill. I know I won’t feel well once I hit a certain point, but I just keep doing it.

I think the only solution to this is to practice feeling hungry without bingeing afterwards. To allow myself to feel hunger and then allow myself to fulfill it and then take a break. Again, simple to say, but so hard to do.

There’s no real conclusion here, this post is more of just a note about how my eating habits are still a work in progress. In a previous post I said that I didn’t plan to write about food much, but it really is on my mind a lot, so I think I’ll be writing about it more often than I originally planned. I’ll keep you updated on whatever else comes to mind on this.

the body and food and mortality

I just read an article that has significantly impacted my view on food and diet culture. In her article “Eating Toward Immortality” Michelle Anderson (of The Fat Nutritionist), writes about the twin pressures of getting enough to eat and avoiding eating something toxic as deeply rooted human impulses that have come from a history of survival. She writes about how fear of mortality underlies food consumption, but has become so subtle and subconscious that we no longer even recognize it as an influence.

Let me tell you, this is mind-blowing to me. I have never been able to put my finger on why I fear being hungry but why I also fear  “bad” foods no matter how permissive and accepting I try to be.

I’ve often felt that when I’m restricting or following food rules, I’m atoning for previous mistakes or performing some kind of ablution to wash off toxic errors. To this point, Michelle writes:

At a fundamental level, people may feel a twinge of guilt for having a body, taking up space, and having appetites that devour the living things around us. They may crave expiation of this guilt, and culture provides not only the means to achieve plentiful material comfort, but also ways to sacrifice part of that comfort to achieve redemption.

There is something purifyingly painful about “eating clean” and denying my body’s desires for the “right food.” It’s why when I was most suffering, I was most obsessed with fasting, but constantly thought about eating.

But Michelle’s article puts all these thoughts into a broad philosophical context that just expanded my view brilliantly. These fears and struggles are not just fueled by individual struggle and societal pressures, but also an innate understanding that I will indeed die. Food rules are created with this not in mind, but below the surface. As she notes in the article:

Humans are the only animals aware of our mortality, and we all want to be the person whose death comes as a surprise rather than a pathetic inevitability. We want to be the one of whom people say, “But she did everything right.” If we cannot escape death, maybe we can find a way to be declared innocent and undeserving of it.

This especially rings true as someone who has fear of being judged for the constant criticisms of fat people: that I am a drain on the system because I will be unhealthy, that I am going to die young unless I diet, that it will be my fault and I should be ashamed if I fall ill.

Michelle’s article speaks so many of these fears. It had such a calming effect on me. Suddenly, these deep anxieties had context that made sense, and I can’t thank her enough for giving me that.