Dining with me is an experience. And often it’s not one conducive to gastronomic pleasure. I’ve admitted in the past to a multitude of eating sins including, but not limited to, looking up calorie counts on my phone during the meal, saying said calorie counts aloud, driving a waitress to the brink of madness with the complexity of my special order and then refusing to eat more than one bite of said meal when it was brought to me. I’ve sat hungry through beautiful Easter banquets. And then chewed and spit a bag of sugar free jelly beans in the parking lot of the convenience store where I bought them. I’ve self-righteously turned down homemade, once-in-a-lifetime English Trifle. And then cried as I made myself run an extra mile the next day for “insurance” against future once-in-a-lifetime English Trifles. My disordered eating started at twelve and had become so ingrained over the years that I honestly had no hope of ever eating like a normal person (those exist, right?).
And then Geneen Roth happened.
The past few months have been nothing short of a miracle. I blogged about my budding confidence in the program and in myself a few weeks ago and it has only gotten better since then. I know that I risk ruining all my new-found success in writing it on the Internet but I’m going to go out on a limb and just say it: I Eat Everything!
I came to an important realization about a month ago, as I sat one day at lunch eating my carefully prepared food in an undistracting environment and listening to my body’s hunger cues. (For those of you uninitiated into the Geneen Roth school of food guidelines, the thought process goes something like this: “How full am I? If I’m a four or less I should eat. If I’m a 6 or more I should stop. Am I a five? What does that mean? Now that I’ve eaten a few more bites, I might be a five and a half. Or perhaps a five and three-quarters. If I burp soundly can I subtract a few points? Does water count? Since when did hunger require calculus?!”) I realized that much of my eating behavior is driven by fear. I’ll avoid eating when I’m hungry because I’m afraid that I’ll eat the whole world, that I’ll be so hungry I’ll never stop or because I’m afraid admitting hunger is a sign of weakness or because what I’m really hungry for I won’t allow myself to eat. I’ll eat when I’m not hungry because I’m afraid that there won’t be food I will allow myself to eat wherever I’m going later or because it tastes so good I’m afraid there won’t be more or because I’m eating something I’m not “supposed” to eat and I’m afraid I’ll never get to eat it again or because somebody made me something special.
Most of my mental energy has been devoted to dispelling those totally irrational fears. And the key to unlocking my fear has been – are you ready for the Awwww Moment? – to be gentle with myself. I talk to myself as if I were speaking to one of my beloved children. (Which at the moment is only 3 of them – the 3-year-old is driving me nuts. Kidding. Mostly.) When I feel panicky about getting hungry, I kindly tell myself, “It’s okay to eat. Everyone gets hungry. Feeding your body is not failure, it’s nurturing.” When I feel scared that I’ll be hungry later, I tell myself, “I’ll take care of you. You can eat if you need to. I will find you some food.” It sounds so simple (or crazy – I am very chatty with myself apparently) but it has been so healing for me.
And one of the biggest things that I tell myself is that I eat everything. For so many many years I’ve had an immense number of food rules. I was vegetarian*. Then vegan. Then a gluten- and soy-free vegan. At various points in my life I’ve eschewed carbs, dairy, protein, the entire nightshade family (don’t ask), sugar, grains, anything white and many other foods too numerous to detail. Heck, I had so many restrictions they made a television show about it! I’ve driven friends, family and waitstaff crazy with my insane food restrictions. There was always something I didn’t eat. Not anymore. Now I eat everything.
It’s been a weird transition, I’m not going to lie. One of Geneen Roth’s guidelines is to eat what your body wants. (Note: this is not the same as eating what your mind wants. Your mind will tell you it wants to eat an entire bag of Reese’s peanut butter cups. But your body knows it will feel sick if you do that. Sometimes your body really does want a peanut butter cup but often your body wants a salad or some meat or an apple. Misunderstanding this distinction was one of the major reasons Intuitive Eating didn’t work for me the first time I tried it.) I was afraid that I’d so messed up my body’s signals that it wouldn’t tell me what it wanted to eat (or that it would seek revenge for all I’d put it through and tell me it wanted nothing but Rocky Mountain Oysters) but I think it is safe to say after 3 months of doing this that my body definitely does let me know what it needs. And I don’t panic about eating whatever that is because I know that I will only eat when I’m hungry (usually) and that I can stop eating when I’m full. And my body tells me when it is hungry and when it is full!
And it works. It’s amazing to me that something so simple actually works! For two months I maintained my weight within a half a pound – a feat so astounding that I’m still in awe at my body’s ability to regulate itself so well. And then this last month I’ve lost 2.5 pounds. Without doing anything major or scary. Without crying in my closet. Without mentally screaming vitriol at myself. Without punishing myself with more food restrictions. Without doing anything at all, really.
What is even more amazing is that since my weight has become so stable, a lot of my desire to over-exercise is diminishing. It used to be that I’d gain two or three pounds in a day, panic, and then do a really punishing workout the next day, lose two or three pounds, celebrate, eat salted popcorn and then go back up the weight roller coaster the next day. I was constantly in the mindset of needing to “earn my food.” If I didn’t, for some reason, get a workout in then I didn’t eat. But being gentle with myself and allowing myself to eat when I’m hungry – regardless of if I’ve exercised or not – has made all the difference.
I’m not perfect. While my food issues are slowly but very surely fading to the background, I’m still tied to my scale. I still look in the mirror and wish fervently I were ten pounds thinner. I still am drawn to diet books like a Kardashian sister to the letter K. But for the first time I’m really hopeful that I can conquer those things too.
I ate linguine with cream sauce. I can do anything.
Do you ever make decisions about food based on fear? Are you good at differentiating what your body wants versus what your mind wants?
*I am not saying that all people who are vegan or vegetarian or whatever are practicing disordered eating. Just that in my case it was.