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), during the years, I’ve also topped it off with a variety of less healthy psychological habits, which when life got stressful, ended 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.
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. 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.
Shit got out of control. 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 to FEEL, rather than simply want to look, good.
I still drank throughout those last 5 years, and occasionally binged ate 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. 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, my bingeing went WAAAAYYYYY down. But emotional eating still happened in situations of distress (mostly due to PhD work, or lack of boundary-setting in romantic relationships). Most of the time, it involved eating sugary foods to find comfort.
I decided to see if I wasn’t by any change “addicted to sugar”, and cut it out of my diet for a month. Here is what I found:
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 binge eating is an emotional, not just physiological problem), on days where I felt SUPER anxious, I found myself replacing sugar by “fat”, snacking on almonds and nut butters and what have you, sometimes to the point of 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.
Although my food-obsession days are well over, I still want to find more balance and peace. I don’t regret doing this temporary experiment, but I don’t believe in cutting out specific food groups.
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 🙂 🙂 🙂
All in all, the teachings of this last month have helped me “trust” myself and my sensations more, despite some remaining traces of thoughts like “once I get started I can’t stop” and to label foods “good” and “bad”. The big difference, however, is that by now, I know how to identify these as unhelpful thoughts, rather than take them for truths. I think all those years of self-hatred, drinking, combined with the body-image issues so many women suffer from in our day and age, ended up disrupting my ability to “intuitively” know what by body wants and needs. I definitely want to keep my sugar intake to moderate levels in everyday life, but I definitely don’t have time to obsess about it, and mostly want to find balance. Most importantly, I want to avoid the “orthorexic” mentality that has become so normalized yet 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!