This morning while I was in line for my morning iced coffee, I watched a woman in front of me, who had obviously come in from a strenuous bike ride, order a Snickers latte. All the while, she kept asking the waitress “it’s not full of calories, is it?” and, after finally settling on getting the latte, she repeated “I’m being bad, I’m being so bad” in a nervous giggle to her friend for about 30 seconds. Despite the fact that she was not visibly overweight in any way, and was in the middle of getting exercise, this woman was obsessed with the idea that she was somehow being naughty by ordering a latte.
I don’t even know how to start here, except to say that this frustrates me. When did it become okay in our culture to make food the enemy?
Why do we, especially women, waste so much of our time and energy worrying about what people will think of us if we have a bit of dessert now and again?
I can’t say that I don’t have my own struggles with food. I’ve always been an emotional eater, and I can certainly point to my own experience as a prime example of what happens when you spend your life obsessing about what goes into your body. In middle school, I skipped lunch, convinced that eating in front of my classmates would only reinforce their opinion of me as a fat slob – only to gorge on everything I could find once I got home. In high school, after I tired of worrying about what my classmates thought of me, I lost 65 pounds in a summer when I discovered, through my gym class, how fun exercise actually was. It didn’t hurt that I became a vegetarian that summer.
During 20+ years of dealing with consistent weight issues, and finally reaching a comfort level with the body that I have (which settles quite nicely at somewhere between a size 12 and 14 most of the time), I’ve realized a few very important things about food:
- If you don’t love it, don’t swallow. This one piece of “advice” comes from the evil food critic in Ratatouille, and it’s the most concise way I know of describing how I prefer to interact with food.
- If you stop and think about eating a slice of pizza, or cake, or drinking a can of soda – or you notice the way you feel after consuming them – you’ll eventually realize that you don’t love them nearly as much as you think you do. Eating sugar in the middle of the day almost invariably makes me fall asleep, and I get sick from eating pizza. Soda gives me a headache. So, as much as I used to think I enjoyed them – and while I still do occasionally – I rarely eat them.
- There is no such thing as “being bad” – and the more of you think about eating something you enjoy as “being bad,” the more likely you are to gain back all the weight you lose “being good.” Take it from someone who’s lost and gained and lost again 50+ pounds at a time 3 times over the last two decades – the more you judge yourself, the more likely you are to backslide.
My new approach, which I’ve been working on over the last couple of years, is to eat what I want to eat when I’m hungry, and to stop when I’m not hungry anymore. It doesn’t always work – there are still a few times a month when I’m particularly stressed and let my blood sugar go out of whack, and that often leads me to gravitate towards the so-called “bad” foods. But I don’t judge myself anymore for it – and as a result, despite an injury that has kept me from keeping up any exercise program other than walking for almost a year now, my weight’s been stable for two years. I’d call that a victory.