Here I am busy busy busy again… choreographing some new songs (that are a little outside of my comfort zone) for another fundraiser on Saturday. BTW, sometimes it’s better not to read the lyric translation for Reggaeton songs. Just assume they are singing about gasoline because it’s fun to drive a car and enjoy the thunking beat that sounds like an off-balance washing machine. Otherwise, you’ll be shocked at the violent misogyny of some of these lyrics, good gracious. You kiss your mother with that mouth, sir? Or do you just punch her in the face with your testosterone?
Anyway! That’s neither here nor there.
Recently, I met with a nutritionist to talk about how I should be eating to fuel my classes. See, I have always been conscious of my weight and I’ve done something or another to try to diet since I was in elementary school. Oddly enough, when I began being conscious of my weight, I didn’t HAVE a weight problem. It seemed the more I focused on dieting and being thin (difficult at a time when girls are naturally supposed to grow and get bigger), the more elusive slimness became (In Buddhism, they have a saying “That which you resist, persists.” Ponder that, if you will). So now that I need to eat for fuel, I have a hard time letting go of the mentality that I need to restrict calories.
At this point I will pause and say a few things… first, I have emblazoned on my memory some choice remarks that were made about my physique as a child, some positive, some negative. Almost all of them came from parents. For those of you who have children, choose your comments about your children’s bodies SO very carefully. I know that peers may have made comments about my body, but those haven’t been nearly as internalized as comments from my parents. If you admire your lanky string bean child’s figure all her life and she starts to put weight on as she nears puberty, this is a deeply anxious thing for her. Will your approval be contingent on maintaining narrow hips? Also, while I’ve paused, I’d like to say that what I write here is just my musings. This is not meant to substitute for professional advice or, allow me to be blunt, hard work on your part. If you feel that there are issues that you need to work out involving food and your body, only you can do that. Start reading. Start asking. Start learning.
Okay! Where were we?
Oh yeah. So last year, I read some books by Geneen Roth (Feeding the Hungry Heart and Breaking Free From Emotional Eating) and used her workbook Why Weight? I also read Sheryl Cantor’s Normal Eating for Normal Weight. The books resonated with me… I really felt there was something there.
But working in the industry that I do, where everything is weighed and measured (both body and food), I just couldn’t give up the fear that if I stopped counting calories and measuring my peanut butter, that I would eat and eat and eat until nothing was left in the universe except me and the skeletal remains of Western Civilization.
Geneen Roth puts it this way:
The basic message of a diet is that if you let yourself go, you will devour the universe. You cannot say anything to yourself physically that doesn’t also affect you emotionally. When you diet, you tell yourself that YOU can’t be trusted, that your hunger (for love, fun, pleasure, friendship) will destroy people. And you begin to believe you are hopeless, a bottomless pit. This is not a kind thing to say to yourself. It also is not true. No one’s hunger is bottomless. (Source. Emphasis is mine).
So I agreed to continue to hand my power — to decide when, what and how much my body needs to thrive — over to others. Give me a diet plan, tell me what I should be eating. You know me better than myself, even though you don’t know my genetic background, activity level, build… but you are more trustworthy and knowledgeable than I am about about what my body needs. Vegan? Paleo? 6 meals a day? 2 meals a day? Fasting? Juicing? WHAT? TELL ME?
The amazing thing is that with all the attention I put into weighing and measuring and portioning and counting, my weight basically stays within a 3-6 pound range. The ONLY time it tends to go up higher is when I travel (I am very much a creature of habit, and as much as I love the adventure of experiencing new cultures and places, it is stressful for me to be away from my home turf. Also, I typically restrict my food in anticipation of a trip, so as soon as I hit the road, BOOM! Stress + food deprivation = eating everything that isn’t nailed down.)
Geneen summarizes that phenomenon:
The fourth law of the universe is that for every diet, there is an equal and opposite binge. Diets aren’t free. You will rebel, and when you do, you will gain more weight than you lost. As fat as you feel now, you will feel–and be–fatter after the binge that follows the diet.
With every diet, we internalize the failure. It’s not the diet’s fault, it’s OUR fault. There’s not something wrong with the diet industry, there’s something wrong with US. So the answer is another diet, another failure and further erosion of our innate trust that our body will operate the way it is intended.
Recently I decided to re-try this intuitive eating business because, frankly, I just don’t have the mental energy to remain as completely self-absorbed in my macronutrients as I have been for the past 20+ years. It’s tedious. I’m ready to use those brain cells for something else.
My past tentative encounter with intuitive eating was hampered by a few things. One was the fear of truly giving myself permission to eat even if it meant gaining some weight. I would inspect my abs and thighs for sign of additional plumpiness… I’d weigh myself and try on my skinny jeans to verify weight gain wasn’t happening. This made it difficult to hear my hunger cues as I virtually had one foot in the world of dieting and one foot in the world of intuitive eating. So I gave up and went back to counting everything.
Wow, long post.
So here are things that I’m working through…
There is a tension between giving yourself unconditional permission to eat (in accordance with hunger cues and desires) and nutritional education. Most people do know how to eat and have so many mixed messages that they just throw up their hands and give up. But others really don’t know that Lean Cuisines and Diet Coke aren’t the cornerstones of a healthy diet. What then? Is it responsible for me to tell people “stop dieting, listen to your body’s natural hunger and feed it accordingly,” if there are people who don’t KNOW what food is? Or do I just point them to a book (btw, Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole is the one I’ve read most recently).
Intuitive eating isn’t just gulping down whatever you want to eat, whenever you want to eat it until you are so full you want to die. That’s part of the binge/restrict model. Rather, in intuitive eating, you explore your hunger level. Do I feel neutral? Are there hunger pangs? Increased salivation? Did I recently see an ad for food that stimulated my appetite? Did I think about food? Have I had an emotionally difficult experience immediately preceding this urge to eat? What do I want to eat?
And so on. It sounds over-analytical, but it’s like driving a car. Eventually it becomes second nature.
But what if what you want to eat is not practical (ie, what if you want toast but you’re away from a toaster? Or, like today, you want split pea soup and it’s frozen solid?) or what if what you want will make you feel bad? For example, brownies right before teaching Zumba = bad idea. At some point will I be able to acknowledge what I want, give myself permission to eat it, but choose something else that will make me feel better? I don’t know. I think so? I hope so?