I wrote this post several months ago, but didn’t post it. Here it is now.
I don’t usually talk too much about how or what I eat, because I’m uncomfortable with the often performative, status-grubbing nature of doing so on the internet. I also don’t want to give the impression that the way I eat is the only right way to eat, or that anyone should compare what they do with what I do, because there is no such thing as one, true way to eat.
But it seems like people may have gotten the wrong idea about how I actually live and eat, to the point where I now joke with my husband in the grocery store that I am required by law to only purchase foods packed in syrup.
I am not a fan of stereotype-busting, either, because it seems to throw people under the bus. So that is not what this post is about. Rather, this post is about my lived experience and the reality of my relationship with food. This is what is true for me about eating and exercise. I want to be able to write about that openly.
So: it’s come to my attention that I’ve become a person who eats 5-8 fruits and vegetables a day and who exercises, on purpose, almost daily.
I feel zero angst about either of those things.
The snack food I eat, at this point, is mainly with my clients. I enjoy it, but it’s not as compelling as I remember it once being. Sometimes I’ll have a bigger treat, but not as often as I did when I was preoccupied with those foods (chips, brownies, ice cream, chocolates) because they were “forbidden.” For the most part, I fall within the serving guidelines recommended by Canada’s Food Guide — and not entirely on purpose, but not entirely by accident, either.
I don’t choose to limit myself to a certain ceiling, but I do try to ensure I reach my minimums, and in doing so, I mostly stick to the ceiling without trying. (If that makes sense.) Ellyn Satter calls this “add on, don’t take away” nutrition. It works for me. I eat in a way that I think is pretty moderate. It does not look like a diet — my weight is stable, I eat the amount of energy my hunger and fullness cues lead me to eat, I use fat and sugar in things, and I am afraid of neither cheese nor carbs.
But it also is not the free-for-all that many people assume.
I’m not particularly fussed about seeking out fancy food, though I like it when I have it, and I’m not a perfectionist about eating or exercise — not by a long shot. I used to be. I used to be so rigid about my eating and exercise that it made my life miserable with constant hunger and constant soreness and a constant, sinister euphoria. I believe that the way I got here, to this place where I can eat nourishing food in a way that is satisfying, with zero pressure or angst, was through permission and structure.
This is really, really hard for many people to believe or understand. They believe that permission can only result in a free-fall into endless binge eating, and that structure can only mean very rigid, restrained rules about eating that feel burdensome and unnatural. (Naturally, most of them also believe that the latter is the Right way to eat, the former is Wrong.)
People also seem to believe that, if fat people aren’t being told their weight is bad, and being threatened with ostracization and disease and death, they will have no motivation to care for their health. I am living proof that this is not true. Maybe some people need threats to motivate them, but I rejected the idea that I had to lose weight or else well over a decade ago. I am perhaps lucky that I did this at a young enough age that I was able to take time to fumble around and find my way with eating and movement – not an easy task in a culture that is increasingly disordered about both of these things.
Now that I’m 35, doing things to feel good on a daily basis, that also happen to reduce my long-term risk, are salient rewards for me. I care about my health, and I’m convinced it’s because I learned to care about myself, rather than to denigrate myself. I’m convinced it’s because I refused to internalize the stigma that wants me to believe I am less-than, a burden on society, an eyesore, an unattractive nuisance; because I learned that my body belongs to me, that I don’t owe my looks or my health to anyone else, and that my body is my home.
I’m also convinced it’s because I gave myself permission to eat food, while supporting myself with structured meals and snacks. Eventually, I moved from having random snack food for lunch to having meals that incorporated multiple food groups. Then I started adding on more fruits and vegetables because I learned to like them more, and noticed that they made me feel good.
I also started playing around with exercise — first, as basic transportation to work, which took all notions of choice or resentment out of the equation. Then, as fun things I voluntarily chose to do, like snorkeling, and underwater headstands, and finding the secret beach, because they were fun and made life worth living. When old, disordered thoughts cropped up (and they did, reader), I noticed them, labelled them crap, and refocused on having fun. Finally, I’ve learned to incorporate movement as a basic part of my daily maintenance. My daily walking recess makes me stronger and gives me that wonderful sweaty, heart-pounding, lung-stretching, slight-muscle-burning sensation that I used to find so uncomfortable, but now crave.
Maybe the permissive, autonomy-building approach doesn’t work for everyone, but those of us for whom paternalism and coercion don’t work deserve to have healthy, peaceful relationships with food and movement, too.
That’s who this blog is for. That’s who my whole life’s work is for: the rest of us.