Do you eat healthy ALL the time?
I get this question a lot.
Um, yes? No? I don’t know?
I actually don’t even know how to answer it.
Even though it is clear that I make conscious food choices, I can tell by the way that people ask the question that my motivation for this may be widely misunderstood. It has nothing to do with appearance or weight.
And this single fact is one of the things in my life for which I am the most grateful.
I lived all of my adolescence and my early adulthood with the constant idea that I needed to lose weight and an obsession with food. Every single day I would decide how many calories I would allow myself and compulsively count and recount the calories (and division of macronutrients) in what I had eaten and what I planned to eat, to the tune of 100’s of times a day. I shamed myself for every single thing I ate and even for wanting to eat. It was intense and like I was being held hostage by my own body and my inability to lose those few pounds (or grow 7 inches, because, ideally, I would have liked to look like Elle Macpherson).
I hated it, but I didn’t know a way out besides the scale showing me the exact number I wanted to see. And, despite my constant attention to it, I could never make it happen.
I’ll never forget the day it changed. It was just after my 22nd birthday. I was at a restaurant with a beautiful view, in a new country, with my new love, but I wasn’t enjoying any of it. I was in the middle of a standoff with a sushi roll, my brain doing backflips, trying to figure out how much of the fucking thing I should eat.
And, finally, I felt so sick of it. I decided to open my mouth and admit to the bullshit in my head.
I can’t even enjoy this, I said. This whole night should be amazing and I can’t focus on any of it. I can’t stop calculating how many pieces of this roll I should actually eat.
In our few months together he had come to know me as a persistent optimist. Never had he met anyone happier. Except when it came to food.
“You hate your body more than anyone I know.” And then a look of exasperation and confusion, a look I would come to know well over the next 15 years, not because I see it often, but because of its intensity, a look saved only for moments of desperation. “It makes no sense to me.”
Until that moment I had operated under the silent assumption that everyone must hate their bodies unless they were perfect and anyone heavier than me must be in even more agony than I was.
Could it be true that happiness and self love were not inversely correlated to weight?
Were some women happy with their bodies NO MATTER WHAT?
Now my brain was really doing backflips.
Was this really a choice? Like the kind of choice you can choose?
Or not choose?
Could I just decide right now to stop? To stop living my life half paralyzed, always distracted? Never content?
I decided to believe him.
So I stopped, the only way I know how to stop anything. Cold turkey.
I threw out my scale. I blacked out the nutrition information on every food container in my house with permanent marker. After eight years of chronic obsession, I knew the nutritional content of everything, but I hoped this would help me forget the old and remember the new.
We are not doing this anymore.
I wasn’t awake for five minutes the next morning before my brain started at it. This many calories, this many carbs.
I needed to drown out the voice in my head and I did the first thing that came to mind. I started saying the alphabet backwards. This is something that I could easily do, but it took focus, just enough focus to keep me away from the food thoughts until another thought drifted into my consciousness.
Countless times that day, I repeated it. Z, Y, X… For as long as it took for another thought to take hold.
And the next day, and the next day.
I wanted to make it clear to my brain: We are not doing this anymore.
Not just once, not just for a minute.
We are not doing this anymore.
How long did it take? Two weeks, three? I can’t recall, but it was not long. And it was not hard. It was infinitely easier than what I had been doing. I had eight years under my belt of setting impossible parameters and failing to reach the expectations I set for myself. Now I had one goal and it was achievable every single day. Every time I stopped myself from going down that road and redirected my thoughts it was like the sun shone brighter.
And, slowly, I started to notice when I was hungry and when I was full. And I started to notice how food tasted and how it made me feel. Do you know this, that food actually has an effect on how you feel? Not just how you look? I started cultivating a taste for real food, not the stuff labeled “light,” or reduced fat, or processed.
I started appreciating my body for its strength and stamina and intelligence rather than its shape and I began letting it tell me what to do. I resigned as the dictator of my body. I stopped demanding how it should look to best serve me and started listening to how I could serve it.
And it stuck.
For the last 15 years, through the body changes of three pregnancies, and over five years of nursing, I have let my body take the lead, every step of the way, which even included me quitting the gym, as I got the clear signs that the activeness of my job and the daily act of wrangling human boy children was enough of a workout for me.
One of my favorite exercise physiology professors felt strongly that “form follows function.” If a body is trained and nourished for elite athletics the person will look like an elite athlete.
I love how my body looks, but this is a result of consciously and consistently loving it no matter what. I love it and it loves me back.
So, my love. What beliefs have you held for a long time or even a little that do not serve you? Maybe letting go of them is easier than you think. Because, if I know anything for sure, I know nothing is harder than holding onto them.
(Please feel free to share)