It’s that time of year again-new year’s resolution time. I can’t scroll through a Facebook or Twitter feed without at least one comment about diets. Many of the comments involve people starving or sacrificing which always makes me sad. Mostly because I’ve been there. Resolved. Ready (I thought) excited and determined to make THE CHANGE.
You know the change. The one that means certain happiness. If I just lose weight and exercise more, I’ll be better, happier, healthier, whole and first I must start looking at food differently. Right?
Yes, if you want to lose weight you have to cut calories and control portion sizes. But if you’re starving, or feeling tortured, not only might this “diet” not work, it certainly isn’t going to last a life time and it surely isn’t going to make you happy.
One of my favorite lines of all time comes from the book Women Food and God by Geneen Roth. It’s a chapter title actually and man does it sum up this whole theme; “It’s not about the weight, but it’s not not about the weight.”
Forgive all the double (triple?) negatives if you will and just focus on the sentiment. The struggle usually isn’t entirely about the number on the scale, as there are tons of reasons we end up overweight. However, one can get so lost in all the other reasons for weight gain that they forget that the weight is actually still an important piece of the puzzle.
Excess weight makes you unhealthy, which in turn makes you sad or broke or angry or all of the above. I’ve checked each box at least once along this journey. Often I check them all at once. For, when you are sad or broke or angry, you tend to eat more and there is an underlying reason for that too-that seeking comfort in food. Which means, the weight and all it involves, leads to a vicious cycle that can only be broken when you pay attention to every single piece of the cycle. So, “it’s not about the weight, but it’s not not about the weight” either.
The same is true for food. So many of us think we can diet and deprive our ways to the perfect weight and then we’ll really begin living. When we’re a size six, then we’ll be happy. We may come to the table, if you will, viewing food as an enemy or a trouble maker or a punishment or a reward or something even deeper. When we’re dieting we try to make that right by taking power away from food. We call it nourishment and medicine and try to strip it of its love and comfort powers. We know it can not fill all the void, so we take away any power it may have to fill some.
I tried that. For years I tried the “food is fuel” method. Hell, I even went and studied about it, thinking if I just make nourishment my JOB, then certainly I’ll have to get a handle on it. You know what all that got me?
It got me fat, and sad and angry and defeated. I dove deep into food and what I thought nourishment meant. I cut out all the things I learned were “bad” for me and I ate “clean” and “whole” and every other damn kind of thing I was told was right. In the end, I was confused, and discouraged and 60 pounds heavier than my body should be.
Sometimes, this food for nourishment only thing works and people are very successful maintaining healthy weight for years. But I always wonder, are they happy? Have they reached the magical number or mastered the art of eating the perfect meal and suddenly really started living? The truth is some are and some do. Some people truly have no emotional connection to food and thus it is merely fuel. To them, my hat is off. But for the rest of us, I submit it’s not so simple.
Here is the radical idea that is working for me, someone who loves food, like a lot: food does hold power and sometimes provides much more than just nourishment, but I can take control of that power and use it to enhance my life.
I love food. I love eating it, shopping for it, preparing and sharing it with people I care about. Through the years of my life, food and meals have played a central role in happy memories and feelings of comfort and joy. Therefore, to me, food is comfort and love. Rather than try to beat that notion out of my head (trust me, I’ve tried and I can’t) I have had to learn that food can mean comfort and love but it does not substitute for love. However, I accept that it is a type of love that I need in my life. Food is not my enemy. Food is not a trouble maker. Food is not punishment or reward. But food can equal comfort and food can equal love.
Only by accepting this, and then learning to harness that power for good, have I been able to lead a life that is full and happy because I have a sane and fulfilling relationship with food (now). It’s new. In fact, I wrote a post very similar to this years ago and I was very wrong about my relationship at the time. But now, in this moment, food and I are good with each other and my life is better for it. That means I have learned white rice and dairy aren’t poison. I will not die if I have real pasta. When I have a cold and can’t really tasted much, two slices of buttered white toast are delicious and totally satisfying, and they will not magically add ten pounds on the scale. This also means, eating Christmas cookies does not make me a bad person with no strength. Instead, my truth is that I feel better if I mostly eat green things, that one can identify as real food, but I also have a cookies at Christmas time and that is just ok. Also, whilst not poison, I mostly lay off cheese because I don’t feel great after I eat it. But, sometimes, nachos are exactly what the doctor ordered, stomachache be dammed.
It has not been a simple path, and I’m certain I am not finished growing, but learning to embrace my complicated romance with food has helped create a more “whole” life and isn’t that the point of it all?
P.S. Looking for more parenting guidance and tips for self-care? Check out From Chaos to Calm a guided training to help you feel better in this tough season.