Diet culture–with its messages of low calorie=healthy; less food consumption=self-control; thin=beautiful; and beauty=success–was once something in which I immersed myself. I fell for those messages at a young age, and for nearly 20 years I cycled through periods of food restriction in order to lose weight.
I didn’t learn about intuitive eating until just a few months ago, during a podcast (if you aren’t familiar with Christy Harrison’s “Food Psych,” check it out immediately). This concept of “eat whatever your body is asking for, stop when you’re full, and repeat,” seemed far too simplistic to work.
But it has worked. It has allowed me to fully nourish my body and has gotten me to a healthy weight, and my body has never felt better (which is not the same thing as “I have never felt better in my body,” but that’s a story for another day). I was baffled to realize that throughout my life, I’d never previously heard of intuitive eating. I had never learned to trust my body.
After a few months of pretty consistent intuitive eating (and sporadically relying on my old meal plan when I’m struggling), I feel like my body knows what it wants and needs, and it’s my job to just honor that.
The other day my boss came back to the office with his lunch in a bag from a nearby restaurant:
Seeing this bag that suggested, “Not too much; not too little,” was one of those small moments during which I realized how much my thought process has changed in recovery. When I saw this message of moderation–of some external factor telling us how much to eat–I felt angry. I didn’t think twice about how much I was going to have for lunch that day. Instead, I felt frustrated that these messages persist. These messages are still dictating how so many people feed (or don’t feed) their bodies.
I think that anger–anger towards the culture that encouraged my self-destruction–is a sign of progress in my recovery.
There are 10 principles of intuitive eating, and the one that I often play in my head is, “Give yourself unconditional permission to eat.” Depriving our bodies hurts us physically, mentally, and emotionally. Chronic food restriction produces dramatic changes in eating behavior, including overeating and binge eating.
It’s so hard to reject diet culture when it’s everywhere–calorie counts on menus, “lose fat” ads plastered on the doors of gyms, weight control a common topic of discussion in social settings–but it’s only when we take a risk on our bodies that we can start to trust them. I wouldn’t know whether I could listen to my body’s cues if I never gave it a chance in the first place.
Seeing messages that endorse dieting behaviors have become easier to ignore as I’ve progressed in my recovery, and I think that feeling anger towards these messages is proof that I’m getting better. Over the past few months, I’ve recognized that: all foods=good foods; regular eating=better mental and physical functioning; all bodies=good bodies; and being a kind person=success.
In recovery, I’ve learned that my body holds more wisdom than any marketing campaign ever will.