The past few months (and more) have been filled to the brim with experiments, trials and errors as I’ve navigated what it’s like to go from my dieting mentality to that of a mindful eater. There have been three major challenges, and triumphs, for me:
1) Challenge: Not assigning moral attributes to foods, i.e. this cake is “bad,” this broccoli is “good.” I’ve been reading If Not Dieting Then What? and something really clicked for me. It’s not that we should disregard what we know about nutrition – we do need to be food literate, especially in a culture that has “industrialized our palate,” no doubt – however, food is more than what we know about its composition; we also need to bring in our intuition. We need both nutrition & intuition to become healthful eaters. What that means is that sometimes we want cake; and some days we eat more than others; however, there is no need for the moral assignations, which often lead us to disregarding our desires (which means that we may not be satisfied with our food choices even if we feel full. This can lead to binging), or restricting (and later binging), etc. This is a bit more complicated, I think, when you consider ethical components to food. As a vegan I do not want to eat anything that has animal products in it, even though I do desire certain tastes and textures of foods that have animal products in them. I am trying to see this as a satisfying choice, rather than as a moral ascription. This is something I need to think about more.
Success: The past two weeks have represented an incredible shift for me. I have eaten things that I would have before labeled as “bad” without restriction and without remorse. Guess what happened? Nothing except enjoyment and satisfaction. I ate entire vegan cookies – meant for two people – and savored each bite. I asked myself if I wanted it; checked in when I felt like it; and allowed myself to savor it. I did the same with a plate of vegan nachos another day. Before, I feared that allowing myself to eat more than a bite of these “bad” foods would trigger a binge; and eating them would have signified a failure (the consumption of “bad” foods in more than a trivial amount = bad). But instead of these foods triggering a binge or remorse, I felt satisfied enough that the thought of having these foods again soon, and/or in copious amounts, declined in level of desirability.
2) Challenge: Actually being able to hear and acknowledge my body. For over a decade, I have put my hunger and satiation cues on the back burner as I’ve counted and measured. This is still a tough one for me: to listen to when I’m hungry and to eat slowly enough to feel myself feel satisfied. Success: I’m getting there. I have been surprised at times at how little food I need to feel full and other times I’m surprised at how much food I want to eat (and give myself permission to do so). It’s also a different experience to say “no, thanks, I’m not hungry” and mean it rather than saying it because I’m practicing restriction.
3) Challenge: Being a mindful eater means that you eat without wondering “is this going to make me fat?” or “I am fat and need to lose weight” and without allowing self-judgments, as related to weight and size, to interfere with feeding myself well and sufficiently. I mentioned maybe 6 or so months ago that I had noticed clothes was fitting more tight on me. Eventually, some of even the tight-fitting clothes did not fit. I had to work incredibly hard at not reverting to dieting mentality. In other words, it is easier for me to diet, than it is not to diet. I am a pro at losing weight. I am not a pro at listening to my body, accepting my size without contingency and setting myself up with a sustainable way of life. Success: When I’ve felt uncomfortable with my weight gain, I’ve talked myself through it instead of running to pad and paper and calculating how I much weight I could lose if I relegated myself to 1200 calories a day and excessive exercise. I’ve asked myself critical questions: has my life changed with this bit of weight gained? (yes, but for the better; the weight has increased as I’ve stopped binging and purging); Could this weight gain be a sign of health? (yes!); Why can’t I love this beautiful, healthy body now? (I can, I do!).
So where have my body and health fallen with such acceptance, love & permission? They’ve both fallen into a place that makes me happy and comfortable. My clothes are fitting again. This wasn’t the goal and it may not remain that way, but it’s just factually what has happened. I am trying to notice this in a neutral manner (i.e. I don’t want to celebrate or bemoan anything related to my size unless it’s an indication of health matters; even then I want to do so without judgment). My health, with the exception of the fever I had recently, is “incredible” according to my doctor. I enjoy food. I enjoy exercise. I enjoy life.
One challenge I’m still facing is trying to turn off my “calories” voice. It seems that the calorie counter in me is die hard and always at work, even when I’m trying to listen to my body’s cues and eating accordingly, I still seem to be tracking. This clearly interferes with my progress. I imagine that as I continue with some of the above tactics, she will diminish, but perhaps eating less and less “safe foods” (i.e foods that I know calories counts of) would actually be helpful. Thinking.
The Cranky One