Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Normal Eating: Guilty Pleasures, Treats and Listening to My Body.

Reaching For Nirvana
reaching for nirvana, antonkawasaki

There is something so fantastic to me about seeing people walking around with an ice-cream cone. It has such a childlike attachment to it that when I saw a man in a suit, probably in his 50's walking alone up our street with one I was strangely fascinated by it. Like, here is this grey suited definition of seriousness doing something that seems so frivolous, something purely for pleasure. This is what I love about eating ice cream, it's one of those foods where really the main reason you're eating it is that it tastes freaking amazing. Sure, it's also good on a hot day and it kinda fills you up if you're hungry, but mostly it is all about the deliciousness.

"Normal eating is going to the table hungry and eating until you are satisfied. It is being able to choose food you like and eat it and truly get enough of it -not just stop eating because you think you should. Normal eating is being able to give some thought to your food selection so you get nutritious food, but not being so wary and restrictive that you miss out on enjoyable food. Normal eating is giving yourself permission to eat sometimes because you are happy, sad or bored, or just because it feels good. Normal eating is mostly three meals a day, or four or five, or it can be choosing to munch along the way. It is leaving some cookies on the plate because you know you can have some again tomorrow, or it is eating more now because they taste so wonderful. Normal eating is overeating at times, feeling stuffed and uncomfortable. And it can be undereating at times and wishing you had more. Normal eating is trusting your body to make up for your mistakes in eating. Normal eating takes up some of your time and attention, but keeps its place as only one important area of your life.

In short, normal eating is flexible. It varies in response to your hunger, your schedule, your proximity to food and your feelings."

I absolutely love this quote by Ellyn Satter (thanks to Christa for first linking to it!). It's something that I've struggled with pretty much my entire life - how should I eat, what is the right and/or best way to eat, I'm allowed to eat x because I've first done y, guilty pleasures, good food and bad food, etc. So to hear someone say that normal eating actually encompasses all of those things was really refreshing. I've spent some time at Weight Watchers and they have these meetings after the weigh in where you chat about one topic or another - strategies, tips and tricks and the like. I very rarely stayed for these as I just couldn't handle the earnestness of it all, but when I did the discussion would often lead to why we eat. Are we emotional eaters, do we eat because of stress or boredom. All of these things are apparently wrong, you see, and if we want to be happy and skinny then you need to figure out how to combat this.* The thing was, and still is.... that I do all of the above, I'd venture to guess that most people do, and that there is nothing wrong with that. There is nothing actually wrong with eating cake because you feel shitty, or with not eating cake because you know it will make you feel even shittier.

Now, I'm not saying that it isn't possible to have an unhealthy attitude toward food. Of course it is. I'm also not saying that despite being body positive there aren't still times where I'm unhappy with my weight, body, etc (29yrs of the media/society telling you that you're not good enough is a tricky cycle to break). But I think that where a lot of people would argue that emotional eating is the unhealthy attitude I'm going to say that banishing emotions from eating and regulating it so strictly that it is no longer enjoyable, is far worse.

I like to eat. I like to eat a variety of foods. I like to eat because food tastes good, because it nourishes and sustains me and also because it can be satisfying on an emotional level. I like to cook, experiment and try new things. Food is social, I like to eat because it can mean sharing and spending time with my friends and family, something that becomes increasingly difficult when dieting and monitoring every calorie. While I don't monitor calories anymore, I do keep an eye on what I put into my body from a health perspective, meaning that I like to eat organic if possible, I don't eat meat, I try to limit processed foods (aside from candy, but that's a given I feel like), eat lots of leafy greens for iron and combine beans and grains for protein, drink lots of water, etc. Interestingly when I was dieting I didn't do any of these things. I looked for things that fit into my allotted points for the day regardless of nutrition, I ate processed low calorie sweets with who knows what in them, I felt increasingly stressed about eating with friends, I 'treated' myself with junk food after a weigh in, felt guilty if I strayed from the path and generally didn't enjoy eating. Now that I've shifted from a focus on weight (and losing it) to just listening to my body I'm actually eating much, much healthier than I ever have before. This is where I might say 'and if I lose weight in the process, great!' but actually, no. It's just not relevant.** This is the body that I have and that's not just ok, it's good. I might lose weight, I might gain weight! I might eat little more than chocolate, popcorn and toast for a week when I'm particularly stressed out and I might detox the next week because I'm feeling gross, or I may do nothing at all.

That normal eating is flexible doesn't sound that revolutionary, but it really, truly is. Where most messages we receive about eating talk of guilty pleasures, being 'naughty' (can't even tell you how much I loathe that word) and having a treat, the necessity of working out to counteract junk food, punishment and being at war with your body (no pain, no gain! battle of the bulge!) - for someone to say that there actually are no rules is incredibly freeing. Guilty pleasures and treats are things I'm no longer interested in as food and eating should be pleasurable, emotional, social and comforting. No need to feel guilty about that.

*This is not to say that I think Weight Watchers leaders don't have good intentions, it's just that the whole system we and they exist in is flawed, a system where food and our bodies are policed often under the guise of health.

**Again, this is not to say that I still don't have days, weeks where I just want to be skinny. Or that being thin isn't easier in terms of buying clothes, being generally accepted, etc. So while it is still something I think about at times, it's no longer the standard I will judge myself by.
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