I’m not much of a blogger anymore around here, but there’s something that I’ve been wanting to chat about that requires a bigger venue than Twitter, where I do most of my chatting, ranting, laughing, etc. It’s a bit of a heavier subject than some of my recent tweets and posts, and if you’re easily triggered, or there are subjects you need to avoid, I want to disclose that I will be writing about disordered eating, body image, and the like. I won’t be upset if you click the tab closed right now, in fact, I will applaud you and your knowledge of what you do and do not want to read. We have to take care of ourselves, friends. Close it down, or continue along, it’s your choice, always.
I have had a complicated relationship with food for a very long time. There were a number of years when food was primarily the only thing I thought or cared about. I counted it in calories or in Weight Watchers points. I measured it, weighed it, bought diet versions of it, and withheld it from myself for long periods at a time. I marvelled at how little food I needed throughout my day. I was in control of this, this body that just would not conform.
I was a chubby baby, a skinny little kid, a pudgy preteen, a thinnish teenager, a fat teenager, and a fat adult. Then a thin adult followed by a too-thin adult. Then a fat adult once again. Throw a couple of pregnancies in there, and one or two abdominal surgeries (not counting the c-sections from the pregnancies) and my body has endured a lot. And it is only recently, now, in my 50s, that I have started to appreciate it. Not appreciate it in a “Woweee look at meee!” kind of way. At all. It’s that I have learned to appreciate the fact that even though I tried to beat my body into submission, it was resilient. It survived, intact. I survived. Mostly intact.
I use the caveat that I have survived mostly intact because there are some things that will likely never leave me. I still often think in terms of how many “points” are in certain foods, and if I do the math I can have this many, and so on. Points, if you don’t know, at one time was a Weight Watchers tool of measurement for foods, and let me tell you friends, Weight Watchers, for me at least, was a helluva drug.
I will also still want to substitute certain foods for others, remind myself to make “healthy choices” and consume litres and litres of water in order to stay “full” so I won’t want to eat. Basically, so I can subsist on water and air and whatever is in car exhaust I guess? It’s maddening. But it’s not surprising.
When I was in my 20s and 30s and living the WW lifestyle, losing weight, dropping sizes, buying smaller jeans, I thought I had found the secret. I watched other women, women I worked with, try all the fad diets: Atkin’s, grapefruit, the one with lemon water, maple syrup, and cayenne. And I scoffed at them. But, even as I scoffed, I wanted to know does it work? Was someone doing that diet for a few weeks and then stepping into the office in a smaller size? Should I try that too? Maybe that’s what I need to drop those last five pounds.
I was on the WW program for years, dropping it when I was pregnant, but then going back as soon as I could after the babies were born. I cringe to think of it now, but WW had a program for breastfeeding mothers, and yes, I was on that for months too. In those months when I was so very tired with a baby, and then with a baby and a toddler, I somehow stuck to that damned regimen, weighing and measuring and restricting, and eventually I started to think what the hell am I doing? And I needed to get out.
And I got out, and I have been trying to heal and deal ever since. It’s been a long road, friends, and anyone who is nodding along right now can tell you that it’s hard, so very hard not to fall back into the routine, the ritual.
I have been wanting to write something like this for a long time, and I think what kicked it into gear was a tweet a friend liked or retweeted and it was something along the lines of how eventually we need to talk about how a lot of the diet cultures that have sprung up in recent years (think clean eating or vegan culture) are sort of code for disordered eating or eating disorders (I forget which was used in the tweet.) And I felt that so very deeply.
There is a lot of diet culture talk in the lunchroom at my workplace, and while I love the people I work with, and I normally love chatting over soup and sandwiches, I often have to remove myself from the table when paleo or keto or whatever latest trend is the topic of conversation.
And I get it, I was one of those young women (it’s mostly the young women who chat about diets) and I remember how exciting the changes to my body felt and how I wanted to share them, how powerful it felt to restrict myself to certain foods at certain times, to eliminate entire categories of foods when I needed to. But these are conversations in which I can no longer participate.
I sometimes want to say, “Let me tell you a story,” but I know that wouldn’t have worked on me. I thought I had it all under control, and they do too. And who knows, perhaps they do. Part of my issue might be my personality, my desire for control, no matter what kind of control it is, my deep need to organize, to classify and to restrict. So I continue to work on it, and I continue to quickly finish my lunch, and move on.
And on those days I try to be extra nice to my body, to myself. I try very hard not to deconstruct and critique the lunch I just ate, and sometimes I will go and buy myself a little treat or take a 5-minute meditation break to prove to myself and my body that we are enough. It’s slow progress, but it’s progress just the same.
And if you’re reading this and feeling like I am speaking to you or to your experience, please do feel free to reach out. I don’t have a lot of answers, but I have experience (did I mention I am an old) and I am always happy to be a shoulder or an ear if you need one. Always.