It’s been a week! What an amazing journey so far.
In the weeks leading up to my sudden recognition that “Eff it, I can’t do this anymore,” and deciding I will not put myself on one. more. diet. EVER. I had a few episodes of compulsive eating. It happens predictably after a strenuous, all-day training workshop. I’m emotionally and physically exhausted and my body demands food. Preferably carbs. Granola bars are our favorite.
There were some other overeating episodes as well in March… 700 calories of cookies in the grocery store (don’t ask)… I forget what else. I could probably go into MyFitnessPal and find them, because I did faithfully log the calories. (EDIT: OH! GIRL SCOUT COOKIES! RIGHT! 6 boxes in 6 days.)
I point this out because I never dealt with those extra calories by adhering more vigilantly to a diet. Instead, even though I’d just eaten God-knows how many thousands of unneeded calories, I gave myself unconditional permission to eat and to eat whatever I wanted. Two counter-cultural, earth-shattering concepts. The unconditional permission to eat is just that: I have the right to eat, and not just “as long as I stay thin.” I have the right to eat, and not just “as long as it’s healthy” or “as long as I’m truly hungry.” Those are all conditions which negate the principle of having unconditional permission to eat.
So… what’s happening in the week since I did this? Have I engaged in Bacchanalian frosting orgies? Have I gained 7,000 pounds? Well, no. I haven’t weighed myself (will not weigh myself, more on that later). It’s obvious that I’ve put on some weight, but my pants still fit (thank God I spend a lot of time in Yoga pants). I recognize that some of the weight comes from never dieting off the granola bar/ cookie excesses from earlier in the month and partly because my habit was to keep my body artificially lean by limiting fruit and bread. I ate them, but not in huge quantities. Carbohydrate bonds with water and is stored in the muscle as glycogen (each gram of carb bonds with 2.7 grams of water). So it’s easy to lose a little of the plump look just by limiting bread and fruit. But it will come back unless you can live off of tuna and broccoli forever. Which I cannot.
My body feels heavier and stiffer than I’d like, I’ll be honest. I sort of feel… water logged. Or just swollen. Sometimes I fear that I am going to expand and spread and engulf the chair, the house, the world. But I have faith that if I stop torturing my body, it will stop torturing me. The best way out of my heavy-feeling body is to go through this process of intuitive eating.
For those of us who, somewhere along the way, became disordered with our eating and at war with our bodies and our natural hunger, the effects are obvious. It shows up in our thighs and tummies, our chins and upper arms. For many women, we lost that natural rhythm of hunger and feeding early — perhaps we were the first girl in our class at school to put on weight in preparation of adolescence and our response was a diet. Or perhaps we never had food or body issues until, suddenly, we get swept up in our first love, first heartbreak, first semester of college. For some women, I’m finding that pregnancy was the first time they truly ate what they wanted. But because they didn’t truly give themselves unconditional permission to eat what they wanted (and because our anxiety about weight has crept even into pre-natal care to the point where doctors will nickel and dime pregnant women over the weight they gain) they hated themselves for what they ate.
All we know is one day we wake up to a body that is not right. Perhaps it’s not, medically speaking “fat.” But, as Geneen Roth put it, in our society, if we are 5 pounds heavier than scrawny, we are “fat” and so we diet.
The diet is treating the symptom of our misalliance with our hunger, but not the underlying cause. The cause is different for all of us. Some of us eat too much because we can’t get what we are truly hungry for (acceptance, love, nurturing, passion, excitement, money). Some of us eat too much because we deny ourselves food until we simply can’t stand it anymore. Some of us eat too much because we are angry at the message that we are only worthy of love if we are thin. And so we will show our parents, our partner, society that they will not control us with their love. Some of us use food as isolation — we keep others at arms length by swaddling ourselves in layers of food and layers of our own body. It makes us invisible. But it keeps us wrapped up in ourselves. We must reach through layers of our body and private eating habits before we can connect with another human.
We each have to figure out how to address our hunger (physical and emotional) to make peace with ourselves. My revelations might not be your revelations. A diet is not the answer to our swollen bodies. I keep reminding myself that the best way out is through.
The temptation is there to say, “Okay, I’ll go on one last diet, lose the weight and then figure out how to make peace with food and my body and figure out what food does for me and what overeating does for me and what I’m doing when I’m depriving myself with food and then eating so much it hurts.” I’m fighting that temptation because, after 20+ years of thinking that enough self-control and self-discipline can whip my body into the ever-changing ideal I have in my head, I figure it’s time to recognize that dieting does not work.
In the last week I have discovered my hunger cues and given myself permission to eat. I’ve learned that I will not become a rowdy crazy person if my fleshly hunger is not kept in check by a third-party imposed eating plan. This week, I’m working on discovering my “fullness” cues and eating sitting down. An amazing thing happened when I started using my mind to listen to myself instead of berating myself or counting calories or focusing on what I just ate and when I could eat again… I started filling pages and pages in my journal of things I’ve evidently wanted to say to myself for a long time.
I’m not a journal-er. Never have been. It’s funny how food is a way to not only keep others at arm’s length, but ourselves as well. Once my hunger and my fear of my body get out of the way, I’m finding that I had a voice waiting to be heard.
I suppose I could be angry or sad at the money, energy and effort that is wasted in dieting. I think, instead, I am hopeful that people can start to see that diets are really an effort to cope with life and not a means to being thin. Obsession with food and dieting is a distraction from pain, despair, boredom and disappointment. If you are alive, which, if you’re reading this, I hope you are… if you are alive, you cannot avoid pain. Although dieting pretends, in Geneen Roth’s words, that the “only feeling that matters is the desire to be thin,”* those other feelings demand to be dealt with. And that’s the skill that we should be learning — not what our BMR is or what the best fat burning exercise is.
*This post is pieced together from my notes and journal entries over the past week. I am indebted to Geneen Roth’s books Breaking Free from Emotional Eating and Feeding the Hungry Heart for the concepts here. While I have quoted her directly, I can’t remember which book the quotes came from. This post would not be possible without her incisive work and I encourage my readers to consult her books as excellent tools for intuitive eating.