I am frustrated and a little angry about my social media feeds these days. They are cram-jam full of pictures of so-called “clean eating” creations, earnest declarations about willpower and quotes about commitment typed over “before” pictures of people standing in front of a mirror, down-trodden expression on their faces, wearing little more than underwear. Why does this make me angry? Because I have three children, and I want them to grow up believing me when I tell them how wonderful, perfect and precious they are. I’m angry because the same culture that adores an inspirational quote about loving yourself, turns around and obsesses with unbridled abandon every January about all the things we can do to change and control our bodies. Can we just be honest about that? That is what this is about. We talk about health; we talk about longevity. The messaging is about feeling good and looking good. Yet, for many of us, I am certain that our deepest, truest motivation is really about changing, controlling and mastering our bodies. How do I know? I did it for years. YEARS. I was put on my first diet when I was 8 years old. In the 25 years or so that followed, I followed every diet imaginable, though I was way too clever to call it dieting after the first 15 years or so. I didn’t “diet.” I just started eating healthy, or vegan, or low-carb or low-fat or whole grain or non-processed. I ate “clean” many times, with rigor, with commitment, with discipline. I lost a lot of weight – several times. I never had body peace. I’m at one of the heaviest weights of my life right now, and for the first time, all the shaming insinuations and outright body-hatred of January have me angry. I consider it progress.
I started treatment for my disordered eating after the birth of my first baby. If you’re counting, you know that I had baby #3 six months ago, and I am still in treatment. Pregnancy, the massive life changes of new children and all that go along with these things have given me a lot of opportunities to learn, grow, practice and truly digest what it means to pursue a healthy relationship with food and to begin to make peace with my body. All my food “issues,” are rooted in a deep, incredibly insidious and remarkably obvious hatred of my own body. I’m just discovering and learning this. Yes, food and movement are both major components of wellness and health, and yes, the pursuit of health is important. For me, at this time in my life, however, I’m camped out focused on my mental health, especially as it relates to food and my body. If for no other reason, I admit, it’s because I am finally accepting that I can’t change my physical health without starting at the core.
So yes, all the advertising and Facebook groups and diet planning frustrate me. I can’t look at my daughters and tell them that they are the masterpiece’s of God’s own handiwork while turning a blind eye to my sisters and brothers, locked in a war against their own bodies, kicking so plainly against that truth. Friends, I am not against exercise that helps our bodies feel strong and free. I am not against broiled chicken and leafy greens; in fact, I love them both. I am, however, sick-up-to-here of a culture around us that fuels with reckless abandon a narrative of “you are not okay.” Because you are. And real change – ALL real change – comes from a place of surrender and release and letting go and peace. Not put-your-back-into-it pushing, not subtle forms of punishment and restriction and actions that speak much much louder than the words we claim to hold onto as lifeblood.
You can choose another way. There IS another way. One that is perhaps slower and more winding than you’d like. That has certainly been the case for me. But it is one that leads to real freedom. You can live a life in which you are truly at peace with food, with your body and with a diet industry that spends BILLIONS of dollars trying to convince you that boot-straps are the only way. I am a baby learner on this path. I have been fighting it out for so long and working so hard for all the right reasons, but in all the wrong ways. And now, I am stopping. I am laying down my war against myself and just resting in this place. I know there is more movement to come, and I am walking it through in little, novice steps. I’m no guru; many of the answers can only be discovered for yourself. I know, however, that the way that world is coaching, in its loud, screaming voice, isn’t the right way. The way of Jesus and a Father who loves us is anathema to the voices inside that pressure us to try harder, limit more and judge our very own created selves to be unacceptable. I’m ready to lay it all down. I’m so angry. I’m so tired. How about you? Are you ready to choose another way?
* * *
For more information, please see the following excellent resources. Each is only one piece in a complex puzzle, and these are just a few. Starting anywhere is good enough:
My first real real awakening started by reading Intuitive Eating. It’s on sale, so hey, go get it. Seriously. This book explains some fundamental ideals about what it could look like to get back to a life where our own hunger, satiety and body cues are the only things driving our choices about food and exercise. The first chapter, however, talks about the diet culture and how messed up our basic assumptions about weight are as a result. If you aren’t outraged after reading the first chapter, just keep reading. This is a starting place, but it’s a good one.
Next, whether your relationship with food and body are totally healthy or not, everyone should go check out Body Posi Panda on Instagram. This woman is amazing. An eating disorder overcomer, she’s got a POWERFUL and authentic message about body positivity and acceptance. She posted a picture of her body before Thanksgiving dinner and one afterwards with the most accepting, freeing and honest encouragement to accompany it. Every one needs this kind of re-set on our crazy body ideals. (Heads up: for those who prefer to avoid it, there are pics of this gal in her skivvies – they’re not sexual at all, but undies nonetheless.)
The Body Positive is also a great beginning resource if you, like me, are just trying to understand a path to loving your body.
Lastly, for today, here’s a list of 10 Steps To Positive Body Image from the National Eating Disorders Association. It’s possible to love ALL of who you are. I’m learning too, but I believe it’s possible.