What is a real Woman?

Am I a real Woman?

“Real women have curves.” You hear this from many different places. As “plus size” women do we try to over compensate by declaring ourselves better for having curves? Are we fighting against what has made us feel rejected for so long?

By saying real women have curves we are enacting the same “us, them” attitude that has gotten us into this mess in the first place.

Real women come in all shapes, sizes, sexual orientations, races, talents, likes, dislikes. In fact, I would really like to take out the word “Real” all together. It implies that the opposite is somehow fake in some way. I have many friends without curves and I’m pretty sure they are real and I’m pretty sure they are “real” women.

Am I being too serious? Can’t we joke? Yeah, I mean believe it or not I am a jokester. But, as a society we have taken appearance and telling people what is or is not good wayyyyyyy beyond where it needs to go. But this is a serious issue in society and people do end up with eating disorders as a result of societal judgements. What role could humor serve though? Could making this issue more lighthearted among friends relieve some of the tense energy around it? I would say…maybe…and know your crowd.

I joke around with my friends all of the time in fact. We joke about our bodies, and everything really. But, to make wide-spread judgements and campaigns about what a real woman is or is not isn’t too funny to me.

So don’t worry  anymore, get out there. Be a woman. Do your thing. Owning your “woman-ness” has nothing to do with curves or not.

Fear of Food: why these avocados(and other foods) aren’t so scary after all.

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Fear? Would I actually consider the anxiety I have felt so often in my life around food to be fear? Well, I think I would go ahead and say yes, in a way. Why? Because, I really believed on some level it could hurt me. Let me explain a bit more.  As I see it, as humans, one of our basic instincts is to survive. This does not just mean to physically survive( living flesh and bones) in the world, but also to be seen and recognized in society as having value. This is normal. We want to feel love and be included. This is because we are social beings, and many times our actual physical survival does involve being socially integrated. Therefore, if I view x food as being a barrier to my goals(weight loss) and if my goals(weight loss) are seen to be so closely tied to how I believe I am seen in the world, my relationship to food is thus crippled by the belief that my sole ability to survive and be expressed in the world depends on it. Wow! That was probably a run on sentence and a lot of words! Now, it is true that we have to eat to survive and some foods support us in different ways. However, when one food or a group of foods is isolated to be the sole barrier or answer to all of the questions ever asked about food and dieting, this creates an extremely intense situation. In summary, I believed this avocado and other foods would make me gain weight, which was my biggest fear. Then because of the weight gain I would assume I would feel alone and sad or other intense emotions.  Thus, if I avoid the avocado(etc.), I avoid intense distressful emotions associated with feeling alienated and alone right? I couldn’t have been more wrong. I had developed a stress response surrounding food. Which also causes distress. Wow! What a cycle I was in huh? But why did this even develop in the first place? Well, the reasons are innumerable however,  I will tell you that when I first began dieting in my early teens, I was measuring every calorie, even the calorie in gum. Not kidding. I was proud of my ability to do this and actually received praise in numerous different forms. Thus, reinforcing the behavior. I was basically internalizing, “great job obsessing about food!” I was receiving the message you have such discipline or would even receive compliments about how great I looked now. Alas, if only people knew the internal battle going on inside of me to remain, “disciplined.”

Back to the avocado:  I remember seeing someone about weight loss at some weight loss center and was told the TRUTH about avocados. ahhhhhhh sooo scary. I was told they contained a high percentage of fat and to either avoid them or eat very small portions. I loved avocados as a teen and I liked guacamole too. But, I had just found out these green fruits were a barrier to my goal: to get thin. My brain then slapped a judgement on them, and I tried to avoid them. Even if I did eat them, I was probably all too aware of the fat and caloric content within them. My brain thought, avocados contain fat, I’m afraid of fat, I’m going to avoid them. Things changed, as they always do and during my college years, as I began to get more into eating whole foods, I reintroduced avocados into my life with a gracious welcome. I am not sure exactly what changed, but I began to read about all of the amazing benefits they contained. I am sure there was tremendous internal dialogue and various degrees of judgement. But never the less, I ate them with joy. Wow! you might be thinking this sounds like a lot of effort to reintroduce an avocado. Yes, obsessing about food is exhausting. But, back then judgements about food were a daily occurrence and I think I did it almost unconsciously. Now, my process towards avoiding food judgement is much more deliberate and purposeful.  In the end, it turns out avocados weren’t so scary after all and are delicious! They are also super nutrient dense and delicious in smoothies, salads and in soups( I know soup? I was surprised too).

What is the point of this story? Is is about Avocados?  No, the point of this story is to highlight many things. One of which is that I have become very aware of society’s crippling obsession with food judgement. It is literally everywhere. For me I found that it robbed me of whole-heartedly enjoying one of life’s most essential activities(eating). It also sent me into a tumble of confusion and mind games . It most certainly did not bring me closer to embracing my true authentic self nor make me feel more love. I am also pointing out that I was praised for being obsessed with food because I was losing weight or because people saw me as disciplined. I am certainly not saying goals are bad. Goals are awesome!!! However, my goal was wrapped so tightly around my self-worth that the perspective of not achieving it felt like failure on about 100 different levels. The goal meant everything to me. After further digging deeper into my judgement of food at this “older” age, I am very aware of how this tendency to judge food has seeped into my life and my disordered eating. As I got older, I would still place judgement on many foods, but then I would crave them and most likely eat what felt like uncontrollably larger portions of them then I necessarily needed too. It is hard for me to write this down even now. It is hard for me to acknowledge that at some points in my life, I have felt ,and sometimes(although significantly less frequently),  still feel urges to eat uncontrolled amounts of food.  This is because, for so many years of my life, I controlled every bite of food I took and took great effort to do so. These thoughts telling me that I need to be a perfect eater and receive praise for doing so can still be heard from time to time, but they are quieter now. The twinge of self-judgement I feel as I am writing about feeling a loss of control is still there as well.(Almost like a shadow of a memory) However, now swiftly in its place comes self-compassion, self-love and the reminder to be gentle with myself and that this is all a process. My goals, as I have said many times before are now different. My goals now are about enriching my relationship with food and my body. My goals now are about exploration and opening up to wonderment. I need social support and companionship because I am human and this is a basic human need(and I like being loved and giving love a lot), but I do not need the external approval in the same way I once did. I do not need to be scared of food anymore. Does that avocado really look that scary? To me, it looks beautiful and delicious. You might read this and think wow, a whole post about avoiding avocados. However, I know I am not the only one. I have heard from other people who have avoided avocados for the exact same reason. More, importantly, I know of many other people who have been anxious about eating certain foods. This story only stands as one example of the relationship between ourselves and our food. This avocado could have just as easily been replaced by thousands of other foods or ways of eating. The question to me now, is how do we normalize eating in a culture so obsessed by weight loss and food messages? I can really only speak for myself.  For me, this is happening one grateful mindful meal at a time.

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.