I met with a dietitian at work.
For a story, that is — about mindful eating, purposeful choices … eating with intention. But like any writer, I capture little pieces of the journey for myself along the way.
Everything she was saying made perfect sense … and the story/conversation did not go in the direction I’d anticipated. I had the idea of doing an “Eating Well at the Holidays!”-style piece that would probably include tips like “load up half your plate with vegetables first!” and “eat a light snack so you’re less likely to nosh on apps!”
I opened our conversation this way with Wendy, who is so reassuring and non-judgmental.
“I was thinking back to my Weight Watcher days,” I said, “and remembering how, anytime I was headed for a party, I would try to eat all my boring food beforehand so I was less likely to eat all the delicious things.”
Wendy was nonplussed. Neutral. “And how did that work for you?”
“Well, at the time? It worked great. I was so regimented and basically ate when I absolutely had to,” I said. “I lost tons of weight. But now …”
But now, I don’t want to live my life counting cauliflower crackers and berating myself for grabbing a cookie in the break room.
But now, I care less about fitting into size-10 pants than being able to run after my kids.
But now, I don’t want to worry about every photo someone is snapping from a sideline, wondering if I look “fat.”
But now, “weight” is not a dirty word. I don’t cringe when my son pokes at my soft belly (which, he believes, makes an excellent pillow). We talk about bodies, how everyone has a body, and all bodies are OK. I really do believe this. I want my daughter and son to know this. And yet …
The altar of thin is so deeply-rooted, and I am human.
But I am exhausted.
There is so much more to life.
And you know what? It makes me angry, too. Diet culture, impossible beauty standards for women, obsession and worshiping “thin” bodies while vilifying larger bodies … this is all a total mess. I mean, how much time do we have?
So yeah, I guess I am angry.
I have been thin — a size 4. A size so impossibly small that I was even tinier than my middle-school self. I liked being thin, because everyone else liked me being thin. I felt like I’d “won.” I’d done something seemingly impossible. Everyone was so impressed!
It came at a cost. I justified it. I was tiny for our wedding in 2013, and small going into my pregnancy with Oliver. But “thin” is not a direct path to “healthy,” and I was physically and emotionally all over the place. “Thin” didn’t protect me from preeclampsia, which ultimately forced Ollie’s premature delivery and set off a series of health concerns for me.
I’m not a doctor. I know I need to exercise regularly, eat well more often than not, try to get adequate rest, etc. etc. etc. I’m not denying those facts. I am taking care of other health issues and working to be in better shape — for myself and my loved ones.
But this? This is something else. Something more. This is body image. Perceptions. Bias. This is about #goals and diet culture and the collective obsession with thin, particularly female thinness, which is what is so insidious.
Because here is a thing I know: today, after two babies in two years, I am heavier than I’ve ever been.
I’m also happier.
I appreciate my body. It’s been through so much. It’s done amazing things. It grew humans. That’s cliche, I know, but it’s true: women are amazing.
So I cut myself slack. Parenthood has taught me that there is beauty in the trying — that showing up and working hard is sometimes enough. I have to show up for myself, too.
After talking with Wendy, I looked up the concepts we were discussing: intuitive eating, which has to do with physical vs. emotional hunger, accepting our bodies, and making peace with food. It has nothing to do with restricting calorie intake or figuring out ways to reach an “ideal.” I found Isabel Foxen Duke (great name, btw), particularly this post, and Health At Every Size.
It addresses everything I’ve felt since having children, but didn’t know how to express: I want to feel healthy and be physically healthy, but not at the expense of my emotional health.
And restricting food? Creating impossible limits on what I’m eating, and when, and why? Constantly “getting back on the wagon,” then “falling off the wagon,” and dealing with the guilt associated with “failure”? Entering a cycle of self-loathing because I dared to eat a scone in front of my coworkers? That impacts my emotional health.
I’m … tired. And really just done with it.
A few weeks after learning about intuitive eating from Wendy, I’m still in the research phase. Just reading about all these people who have changed their outlooks (and lives) has been reassuring. I like what I’m finding, and want to dig deep to move in this direction: eating and living well for its inherent benefits, not because I need to conform to outside expectations of my body.
Life is too short. We all want to find what makes us feel well … mentally and physically.
So I’m setting off.
I’m going to try.