I haven’t thought about my relation to food in a while, although for many women one’s relation to one’s body often transpires in their eating habits.
While I’ve always had a healthy diet (I’m talking whole grains, home cooking, organic fruit and veggies since childhood), I’ve also topped it off with a variety of less healthy psychological habits, which when life gets stressful, end up turning food into an area to control – or lose control over.
When I moved to the USA 6 years ago as a French existentialist smoker who had never exercised a day in her life -no, I did not stoop as low as wearing a turtleneck and beret-, I was in awe when I discovered (one of) the “American” lifestyle(s) of “going to the gym, counting calories, banishing carbs as the work of the devil, and whenever it all felt like too much, eating a ton of junk food as an emotional coping mechanism”. It was very strange. I started heavy weight lifting and got addicted to the sense of empowerment, started making protein shakes and restricting my calories, and when I went back home for Christmas I remember my friends telling me my upper body had developed so much I looked like a bulldog.
Or maybe that’s what I told myself.
The point being, this was a lifestyle dramatically opposed to my previous “French” one: “walk everywhere but never do any kind of sports, eat carbs but banish fat as the work of the devil, lower your appetite by smoking a ton of cigarettes, enjoy your food and drink alcohol because what’s the point of life anyway”.
Long story short, despite the new bulldog physique, I lost a TON of weight during my first year in the US and got into the “strong is the new skinny” mentality, which I like a lot. In France women are trained to want to be slim and petite, which can be perceived as being encouraged to take up as least space as possible: efface your existence and keep your voice low. I too, after 6 years in the U.S., now much prefer to stand up for myself and wear short shorts that reveal muscular thighs, laughing out loud with an “if you don’t like it, then f***ck off” attitude, thank trying to shrink my appearance down until *POOF* I turn invisible and disappear completely.
I ended up having to stop lifting heavily because I fucked up all my joints (I blame my all or nothing mentality), and the repercussions of that year of intense calorie restriction began to manifest themselves during the next 5 years. A couple of google searches revealed that I had somehow ended up on the “binge eating disorder” wagon, trying to eat “healthy” (starve myself) until I cracked and ended up in my bed with a ton of cookies or chocolate, and indulging in a delicious (aka “forbidden”) feast every time I came home drunk in the evening. Often I would eat until the point of physical pain, then fall asleep, and wake up the next day full of shame. Then you know the drill: repent, restrict, repeat. Sigh.
Looking back I can see all the suffering, the desperate need to control the emotions and the body, rather of giving it what it needs, and treating oneself with kindness. I also still have horrible memories of constantly feeling deprived, of missing out on the joys of life. Thankfully, after I stopped weight lifting I discovered yoga, which (together with starting therapy for the first time) gradually changed my relation to my emotions and my body, and is still helping me slowly move towards wanting to FEEL, rather than simply look, good.
I still drank throughout those last 5 years, and binged ate very often when I got drunk or when anxiety levels got too high to be manageable. However, with yoga and therapy added to the mix, it was like a small but very resilient caterpillar was simultaneously chewing at the destructive patterns, gradually inching its way, with every bite, towards more self-compassion. (weir analogy, I know — I guess I was unconsciously thinking about “the very hungry caterpillar” lol). In fact, I think that was the beginning of the process that lead me here, in the middle of a post on a sobriety blog.
And indeed, when I quit drinking almost 9 months ago now, my bingeing went WAAAAYYYYY down. But it didn’t stop completely – it still happened in situations of emotional distress (mostly due to PhD work, or lack of boundary-setting in romantic relationships). Most of the time, it involved eating gargantuan quantities of sugary foods in a single setting.
Because I still have control-freak tendencies and strong drives to want to “lose weight” (though physically I am a healthy weight), I decided to see if I wasn’t by any change “addicted to sugar”, and if getting rid of it would get rid of the bingeing. One month later, I can confidently say: yes AND no.
Effects of 1 month sugar free:
- a LOT less sugary cravings (kind of like when you quit drinking)
- increased feelings of satiety after meals (mostly due to increasing healthy fats in my diet)
- Less “hanger” between meals: more stable blood sugar levels and moods
- Less fear of eating fatty foods (my cholesterol levels even went down in a month!)
- Complete change in taste buds: fruit now tastes VERY sweet
- General decrease in impulse to snack in the evenings
- My weight stayed relatively the same (I lost 1.3 lbs)
BUT unfortunately, (and this proves that bingeing is an emotional, and not just physiological problem, at least for me), on days where I felt SUPER anxious, I found myself having replaced sugar by “fat” binges, snacking on almonds and nut butters and what have you, sometimes to the point of physical pain and shame, just like I used to do with the sweets. So clearly, for me it is also about emotional regulation, not just about cutting out a single, “bad” food group.
Without these “fat binges” (which occurred about 3 times a week), I think I would definitely have lost a lot more weight, but probably not in a healthy way.
Although I still clearly need to find more balance in my relation to food, I don’t regret doing this, not one single bit ! I am even going to keep going with some of the new habits I’ve had to implement, such as:
- baking with fruits, e.g., dates, as sweeteners
- snacking on nuts or veggies/hummus instead of sweet stuff
- NOT sweetening yoghurt or smoothies or chia pudding
- keeping white/refined flours out of the picture
- looking at labels and gasping with horror at the “added sugars” line in the nutritional info.
- keep eating plenty of almonds, avocado, coconut oil, nuts and seeds, fatty fish
I do HOWEVER severely regret purchasing this 2 lb bag of “Organic Stevia/Erythritol” sweetener. I don’t care if it’s zero calorie, that shit tastes FOUL, and iI would be happy to mail it to you, preferably those who live in Europe so I can get it as far away from me as possible 🙂 🙂 🙂 Instead I am going to buy a bag of raw coconut sugar to use in cases where I really DO need a bit of sweet taste.
All in all, this month has helped me “trust” myself more around food despite the deeply ingrained tendency I have to think in terms of “once I get started I can’t stop” and to label foods “good” and “bad”. I think all these years of drinking, combined with the body-image issues so many women suffer from in our day and age, have gradually completely disrupted my sense of being able to “intuitively” know what by body wants and needs. I definitely want to keep sugar as low as I can in my everyday life, just because it makes me feel healthier and less dependent on yet another substance, but I mostly want to find balance, and avoid the “orthorexic” mentality that to me seems like just another unhealthy control (a.k.a. restrictive-addictive) mechanism.
BUT Y’ALL WILL NEVER TAKE AWAY MY COFFEE. NEVER!
Hang in there folks!