For the times when eating more is hard + how to sit with the uncomfortable feelings that accompany eating in our calorie-counting culture.
You know that feeling you get when everyone else has finished–and you’re still eating? When it feels like you’re the only human being in the world who ever has or ever will eat as much as you do? Or as much as you have to?
I’ve had several seasons in my life where I’ve had to eat more than felt comfortable, all of them after periods of restriction. During those times, the guilt and shame flooded in. The resulting stress of wondering “‘is this the right amount?” or “was that too much?” compounded day by day, meal by meal. Did I really need that extra scoop of peanut butter on my oatmeal? Or the chocolate covered almonds I ate before bed?
I knew my body needed more fuel, but I wasn’t used to it. That overly-full feeling? Those times when I just knew I’d gained x pounds after a single meal? Part of it, I’m sure, was mistakenly equating feeling full and satisfied for overeating. But it didn’t change the fact that eating more was hard. And it was especially difficult when I didn’t feel hungry. Even though I knew I had to do it, for my health on every level, it was uncomfortable. I felt like I’d violated every health principle known to man.
Eating more–it’s a hard thing to do when we’re told everywhere to eat less. The stereotypical, self-proclaimed low-calorie diets may not be the mermaid toast of the day, but the diet mindset is an insidious beast. It mutates to jive with what people want to hear. Restriction is rebranded as “mindfulness.” But the message remains the same: with food, less is more.
Is less really more with food? If it means more stress on your body, more chances of uncomfortable binges, more general unhappiness (constant, distracting hunger and lacking energy don’t exactly facilitate joy, after all), then yes, less is more.
But that’s not the “more” we’re promised. We’re promised weight loss and health and control and the subsequent benefits: success, acceptance, love.
The truth is, with food, less is not more. Our bodies need food to function. Restricting triggers starvation mode and your body starts shutting down. Your metabolism slows. Your energy decreases. It’s not sustainable.
But we’re saturated in the diet culture which engrains in us the falsehood that we can’t listen to our bodies or we’ll end up eating uncontrollably. The fact that bingeing is our bodies’ natural mechanism to save us from restrictive eating patterns or even restrictive thoughts goes by the wayside.
That’s when eating more is hard.
And it’s partially because the picture of health diet culture paints for us is monochromatic. It’s narrow, lacking, inadequate.
Being healthy is more than typing the numbers into the calorie-tracker on your iPhone. Sometimes, healthy means eating more. That wasn’t an easy lesson for me to learn. It took unlearning almost everything I’d ever thought about eating.
If you’re at a place where you’re choosing to eat more because you want to nourish your body and life-because you want to take care of yourself–good work. It’s not easy.
When eating more is hard, remind yourself what health with regards to food truly is: eating a variety of nourishing and satisfying foods. Eating enough for your needs–and wants, because sometimes, life calls for a warm brownie straight out of the oven with a scoop or two of vanilla ice cream. And not raw date and cocoa powder bars (though those can be good too), real brownies.
The uncomfortableness? Let yourself sit with it. It’s hard. It’s painful. The physical and emotional discomforts of eating more in our calorie-counting culture are very real. It helped me to practice identifying the causes of guilt-inducing thoughts I had around food. In other words, to figure out what was true and what wasn’t. Was it true that denying myself enough food would make me healthy, self-controlled, fill-in-the-blank? What caused me to think that? Were other circumstances out of my control making me feel the need to control? Was I falling prey to the magazine articles proclaiming my not-enoughness? (And offering to help me solve it with a new fad program, of course.)
So mentally separate myself from the diet mindset. And know that by eating more, you’re doing what’s right for you: taking care of yourself.
Linking up for Thinking Out Loud!