These Pears are fake: Letting go of Food Judgement in a Sea of Conflicting Messages

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First, let me say that these pears are indeed fake. I bought them downtown at a cute antique store. They are green and they really make my kitchen pop! I usually do not buy anything fake such as flowers or other assorted fruit, but my aversion to anything fake shifted recently. During my meditation class, we discussed the healing properties of nature, and that even fake plants have the same calming effects as real plants. So, I bought these pears. I like the way fruit looks in a dish, and they keep for a really long time and do not attract mice or fruit flies, or any other critters you probably do not want in your house. (Henceforth, I recommend fake fruit and or plants as a nice alternative to real). Otherwise, I still favor authenticity as a general concept.

Anyways, this post is not about fake pears. What it is about it something I have pondered for quite some time. How do we enjoy our food and intuitively eat in world where a.) Our food is so often taken from its original form and turned into a different form by man-made means. b.) There are countless messages about what we should and should not eat and the dangers and benefits of eating almost everything. c.) Stop living in a constant battle with our food because of a and b above.

First, let me tell you a little bit about what led me to believe I had some disordered eating behaviors that I needed support to sort through.

I will give you the abbreviated version as I am going to keep a few personal details for myself. To start, I know I emotionally ate as a child. I can remember doing so. However, some might say this is normal. But for me, this turned into excess eating and weight and being ridiculed on the playground and was called names like, “thunder thighs”. Being called “thunder thighs” is not a nice way to spend recess, and is also why I am pretty passionate about addressing bullying in schools.  Fast forward to my early teens, I had internalized all this shame and began my restriction cycle. I began dieting which mainly focused on restricting the amount of calories or “points”. This turned a bit obsessive as I would see how little I could eat and still play sports. Then, I would binge because I was starving. I also used exercise for weight control. This cycle basically went on until something began to shift in my early to mid 20s. I had some health problems and I sought natural health remedies such as changing my diet to an anti-inflammatory diet etc. etc. This sounds great right? Well, there certainly were some great things about it. I began attempting to listen to my body and its needs and I was eating foods that were dense with nutrients. This alone was a huge success. Isn’t this perfect? I went from counting calories to focussing on eating only whole foods and anti-inflammatory foods. Well, not exactly. I did try to focus more on adding healthy foods, but I was constantly bombarded through my own reading, my internal dialogue of food judgement, and some well-meaning professional advice. Some messages were, “don’t eat gluten its inflammatory, sugar is inflammatory, don’t eat white flour, MSG makes you feel like you are in a fog, preservatives are killing you.”

Overall recommendations: Eat Clean, Eat Paleo, go gluten-free, do the blood type diet, just use moderation, be a vegan, just cut out gluten and dairy, go on a juice cleanse. The list really goes on and on. In addition to all of the advice I have received, I have probably also read several books on each topic.

You might have a reaction here and say, shouldn’t we try to eat healthy? My answer is yes, but what does that really mean. If I obsess about whats in my food and it is composed of the “perfect ideal of nutrition” is that healthy? I would say no. If I naturally find my way to food I like that supports my body, but can also eat some foods (and enjoy them) that might go against anyone of the plans above, that to me is healthy and that is my goal. Sometimes I feel really far away from this goal and sometimes I feeling strikingly close. However, turning on TV, going to the supermarket,  or even being on the internet reminds that scared portion of my brain “beware” food can hurt you. I imagine someone without disordered eating that launching into eating or not eating certain foods might be more tolerated as a self-discovery exercise or a way to support your body with nutrient dense foods. For me, however, I think my body took it as, o no! your restricting again! You’re giving me more rules about what I can and cannot eat. Not only was I giving it rules, but I was always changing the rules. At one point, I would be gluten-free, then not the next, then dairy free, then just vegetables and fruits. Honestly, my body didn’t know what to do, and I really didn’t either. I was confused.

Why the problem is not in the recommendations to choose healthy foods:

Honestly, I agree with so much that some of the wonderful beautiful souls of people have given me for advice on what to eat. The problem was not the food. It was that I had restricted myself for so long, that my body was revolting against any further restriction. I am just realizing this recently. I would try any of the above mentioned plans. I would last a month, a day, or longer. Then, I would probably binge on some food I had taken out and feel extreme guilt and the cycle continues. I began to think I am addicted to food! Food is the problem. So, I thought more restricting. I need to not eat any foods that are addicting! What did I take out? You guessed it, gluten, dairy, sugar, salty foods, fried foods. I tried meditating and breathing and doing other activities that fulfilled me so that I would succeed at being able to not eat these foods. However, then a light bulb went off in my head with the help of some amazing eating disorder professionals. This is just another binge restrict cycle, and again it’s not about the food. How can this be? Aren’t some foods evil and addictive etc? Don’t studies show us this time and time again? Well, what I have come to realize for myself is that when I stop restricting and/or judging food all together it loses its power over me. A power, by the way, I am giving it. When I eat enough during the day and allow myself to eat dessert etc, the urge to binge is either significantly decreased or non-existent. Is this always the case? No, I still have urges or times when I have cravings, but again, it does not seem to be about the food. Instead, I can now realize it is about what is happening in my life or what is triggering me. Perhaps, there are foods that are more triggering or that I tend to eat more of when seeking comfort. However, it seems to be related to deprivation from another source such as feeling lonely, needing love, feeling anxious etc. It is not that the food is inherently evil. I am missing something in my life that my body perceives the food can take the place of. (It can’t by the way)

Marc David author of the wonderful book, “Nourishing Wisdom,” points out in an article entitled, “Relax, Enjoy, Digest” (http://experiencelife.com/article/relax-enjoy-digest/) that, “Make a point of eating in a state of relaxation, says David, and you’ll enhance not just your enjoyment, but your digestion and metabolism too. “It is probably more important to relax and count our blessings,” he adds, “than it is to count our calories.”(David 2009)

First of all I think Marc David’s work is brilliant. Second of all, he points out an important point, that being in the stress response during a meal will not help in any way. It is better to sit and eat consciously and be grateful for what is on the plate, instead of obsessing about what is in the food. This is something I am very consciously doing.

But what about all the messages about what is in or done to our food, shouldn’t I avoid certain things?

This is the question I have asked myself over and over. The answer I have come up with(for myself personally) is. First, I am pretty angry that we even have to ask ourselves this question in the first place. It is not surprising so many people have disordered eating behaviors or thoughts surrounding our food, when you look at all the manipulation food goes through and the messages we are constantly bombarded by. I wish food was still just food end of story. However, the reality is that our food has taken on a whole new meaning in our society. Everyone is just trying to sort through all of that and figure out what that means for our health and wellbeing. However, for me, right now, I have to treat all food as food without judgement. I have to trust my body to lead me to what nourishes me. Because I have restricted foods for so long, I have to stop the restriction cycle. If this means eating white flour sometimes bring on the white flour!

I think that if you are confused by all the food messages you are absolutely not alone. I sometimes imagine us as rats in a laboratory and these evil doers look at each other and say,  “I have an idea!!!”

Evil Doer 1: Let’s modify some of these rat’s food and feed it to them. Let’s watch them enjoy it as they live on that for a while. Let’s even tell them there is no difference between that food and the other food they are used to eating because, “we ran tests on it and its ok.”

Evil Doer 2: HAHAHAHAHA that sounds awesome. In a few years as they have come to enjoy and consider these foods a daily part of their life, let’s tell them a lot of disturbing “facts” about what the food can do to them, but still have the food readily available all mixed in with their original food.

Evil Doer 1: Let’s also place some kind of mark on some rats and tell all the other rats this mark is bad because it came from the food we modified. MMM Let’s alienate those rats and really amp up the fear!!!

Evil Doer 2: This is sooo evil I love it. Then we can watch how they sort everything out while they make sense of the whole mess. Let’s even tell them conflicting messages about the foods.  That will really throw them off. They will be so confused it will be really awesome!

This is the scenario I have played out in my mind that I feel like I am a part of. In a previous post, I discussed dreaming about a time when food was just food. But if I am to heal this, food is just food now and this cycle for me must end.

P.S. I just had dairy in my coffee and I loooooved it!

References:

David, Marc (November, 2009), “Relax, Enjoy, Digest” Experience LIfe! http://experiencelife.com/article/relax-enjoy-digest/Retrieved February 13, 2014.

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