the body and the mantra

In general, I shy away from mantras and self-affirmations. I find them a bit woo woo, I guess. In light of my last post, I suppose I am at least using self-talk to help myself understand what I want. So I thought I’d write about another phrase about eating that’s been making a difference for me.

The phrase is: “I can have that if I want.” I sort of came to it naturally, since I’ve been trying to ask myself what I truly want to eat and why, and honoring the urges as they come if they ring true to me.

What I didn’t know is that this method is a well-researched and supported approach to eating. I highly recommend this article on Ellyn Satter’s website about methods of returning joy to eating and allowing yourself to have what you want.

I’m finding what she says there to be true. If I give myself permission to have what I really want, what I want from a Wise Mind perspective (hey DBT term!), I feel free. It’s okay to eat a lot or a little and I know that if I want it I can come back to it. I don’t have to just eat something because it’s there and I might not get a chance to eat it again. It takes away the urgency of the impulse to binge. I don’t have to binge because I know that I can have whatever food I really want whenever I really want it.

It’s permissiveness with a different tone than I’ve ever known before. It’s not forcing myself to eat fear foods or foods I have shame about to avoid the appearance of restricting. It’s not making up for eating those “shameful” foods by calculatingly eating something “good” later.  I’ve never had that freedom. I’ve always felt the need to sneak food or hide my eating because of judgment I faced early in life that I deeply internalized. I simply ask myself my first question: “What do I want to eat?” and then when I find an answer, I say “I can have that if I want,” with the understanding that if I don’t want it right now I can always have it later.

Little did I know when I began using my personal permission phrase that this idea is backed by science. I know it’s making my life easier and less stressful. Yes, I still think about food more than I want to, but I’m checking in with my body more than my impulses about it. And every time I make a choice that honors my body, I feel more free.

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.

 

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 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.

the body and reinforcing the brain

Recently I took a day off of work because depression had been kicking my ass all week and I just could not make it out of bed again. It’s a frustrating part of being this low–I have no energy to do basic things and fulfill my responsibilities, but enough energy to feel horrible about not doing those things. Still, a day off is sometimes inevitable during these periods, and I do my best to accept where I am.

Often when I have to take a “sick brain” day, I end up doing nothing. I sit on the couch and watch TV literally all day. The only thing I’ll do is walk to the convenience store or order delivery food so that I can binge while watching TV. It’s really not healthy or productive to making myself feel better. It’s just a pattern of behavior that I’ve settled into and somehow convince myself will make my mood improve. When it doesn’t, which it never does, I feel like shit for wasting a day, but I often don’t have the skills to interrupt the pattern.

This day, though, I did it. I walked out of the house this morning with the plan to go immediately to the convenience store to buy things to binge on and then rush home to eat them. For some reason, this time I decided to take a bit of a walk first. The weather was nice and cool and moving slowly but consistently seemed to be helping my mood. So I walked.

I walked right past the convenience store, looking at it, but thinking I could stop there on my way back. Then I decided to try to find another store to go to, maybe further away. I kept plodding along.

Eventually, I was about a mile from home and I thought of a coffee shop that I really like. I thought it might be nice to get breakfast and coffee there and sit in the sunny window and read. So instead of worrying and being embarrassed, I walked in and I ordered the things I wanted. I got a savory scone and a cup of coffee without thinking about who would be watching me while I ate or if it was a healthy enough choice. It was what I wanted in the moment and I got it. I sat down at a table and read, pausing to take slow bites of my scone and savor my coffee. I stayed for about an hour and half, indulging myself mindfully. After a while, the shop filled up more, so I decided to leave.

I walked out, not feeling good, my mood still down and a bit judgmental, but feeling more human and much less impulsive. I thought, “Maybe I don’t want to binge.” But I also was afraid to give up the opportunity, so I walked in the direction of the convenience store. By the time I got there, I realized something amazing: 1) I didn’t really want to binge and 2) I wasn’t required to follow through on that behavior even though it’s my habit. Whoa, that thought was revolutionary. So I walked home, still slowly, still feeling down, but proud of myself for treating my desires with respect and treating my urges with careful skepticism.

As my therapist always says, every time you act on an urge, it reinforces the routes in your brain that make that behavior easier. So when you make a choice to pursue a positive behavior, you are literally helping your brain to make this choice easier in the future. It’s hard, but it works.

I’m going to work on reinforcing this pattern. My depressed brain is slower and less able to learn new things, but it doesn’t mean it can’t do anything. I think maybe next time making a choice like this will be slightly easier.

the body and its fuel

I haven’t written much about food on this blog yet, and I don’t intend to write about it too much. Still, it’s on my mind. A lot. I know I’m not alone with this, because every person I know mentions how they should “eat better” or have “been bad” every once in a while. Thinking about food and how it affects our health is a huge part of our culture.

I’ve talked about before how my past with food has been checkered to the say the least. These days I’m trying to turn a new page and treat my body and my urges to eat with more respect. Still, I find it incredibly difficult. I feel so out of tune with what my body wants and I often end up eating way too much out of fear of restricting or of being perceived as restricting. I feel a bit lost about all of it.

I often make food-related goals like “eat more vegetables,” “eat fruit with breakfast,” “eat less salt,” “eat more whole grains,” etc. In the end, I always end up failing to meet those goals. Honestly, I have no idea how long it has been since I haven’t had a food-related goal. I’m pretty happy with the way I eat most of the time. But the other times, I feel like I’m betraying my body. This is because I still struggle with binge eating. I use eating tons of food as a way to relieve stress or distract myself from negative emotions.

I’m trying to think of ways to disrupt this behavior. It’s not like I haven’t tried to stop one million times before. I’m hoping the fact that I’m having more and more compassion for my body and what it wants to eat will help me interrupt myself when I feel the urge to binge. I mostly would like to find new ways to manage the stress of intense emotions so that I don’t have to use food to calm them. I’m just not sure what good substitute is.

However, I have overcome incredibly difficult to break habits before, so I know it is possible to change behavior that seems like the only possible coping mechanism. It’s hard time to change, but if I can I think it will help me so much.

Another thing I need to let go of is the thought that somehow if I eat “healthier” I will lose weight. One, that’s called a diet, which I do not want to do–I quit that, I’m done. Two, I want to make choices that are healthy for my body and my mind regardless of what happens to my weight. Three, I will probably not lose weight and I will definitely never be skinny even if I literally starve myself because my body is well-adapted to hold on to its reserves. So what’s the point? I need to let go of the desire to use health as a secret synonym for weight loss. No matter what diet culture says, healthy behaviors and weight are not connected. I deserve to treat my body with love and respect regardless of my weight and regardless of my health.