At first, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to include this post in the body image category and series because it doesn’t really deal with the image of the body as it can be reflected or recorded in some visual way. However, since it has to do with my own image of what a healthy body IS (rather than what it just looks like) it seemed to fit just fine.
So…. a diet. Definitely not the first time I’ve set out to make a change in the way I eat. After all, a change in diet occurs every time I move because there are, among other things, different restaurants around and different people to eat with. Our diets all shift with the seasons. Or at least they probably ought to. A change in diet is something entirely different from A Diet.
But here’s a thing I’ve learned while thinking about a shift in diet: what I care about most is not the number on the scale or the label or, if I really think about it, any number at all. What I care about is how well I can live. One the one hand, that sounds terribly selfish. Perhaps even spoiled! And I feel a tad guilty about saying it. I care about how well I can live my life. Yet, the reality is a concern fro how well I can live or, put another way, how much pleasure and joy I can get out of my life, is what ultimately drives me to consume unhealthy foods, skip physical activity and probably leads most of us all into lifestyle habits that ultimately decrease our life enjoyment.
I say this phrase and immediately my Good Girl Editor steps in. ‘Ahem,’ she says, ‘excuse me little miss selfish but don’t you think you should care more about other people? Isn’t that where we should all place our priorities? The welfare of others before our own needs!’ Of course, I think in response to this internal chastisement. Yes, I should only are about how well others live and shame on me for that! And so begins a vicious circle of shaming, sacrificing, feeling sorry for myself, comforting and shaming again. I push aside the thousand and 2 things related to myself and my own needs (not to mention wants) for the sake of what needs and ought to be done for the rest of the world and then think, ‘when do I get a day off? or a morning to sleep in? or a chance to finish a book? or time to watch the entire season of NCIS I have DVRed? or take a solid deep breath?’ The twix bar, blizzard, beef & cheddar, tatter tots, chocolate covered whatever will make it all better. I don’t want to drink a bottle of water or to cook my own food, damn it! I just want something fast, comforting and distracting and a Combo #3 seems a small request in exchange for all I’ve done and continue to do for everyone else. I deserve at least that much!
Next verse same as the first.
I am certain, deeply and truly certain, that I am not alone in this spin cycle.
However, if we begin with caring about how well we can live, everything seems quite different. Rather than functioning from a place of ‘when is my share coming?’ we can live from a place of abundance instead, perhaps giving even more generously of ourselves when we are healthy enough to do so. Caring about the welfare and needs of others and their proper priority in our lives is a part of the way to live well. I want to do this. I do not want to stop caring about other people, sharing with and doing for and giving to others, so it has to be part of living well. But so is getting really good sleep, reading a book, petting the cats and not having to down 5 Hour Energy to make it through yet another day.
And now to the diet portion of this look at life because that’s a pretty key part of the cycle. When I started really looking at how little real food is actually in most of the things I put in my mouth I actually got very angry! I’ll not go on about this so much here but check out Salt Sugar Fat as one place to start learning about what is actually in our processed food and what isn’t in there at all and should be. But if that was, in some bizarre manner, making up for all the ways I felt left out, unfairly short changed, over worked and under appreciated over the course of most of my life, it is no wonder I often had a nagging feeling I had gotten the short end of the stick when it came to good things in life. I had. Because basically, I’d been choosing pure crap covered in powdered, sugared, melted fake chemical flavorings instead of anything at all decent just so I could feel like I’d gotten my share. My share was pretty crappy, no matter what the fake toping, and it wasn’t because of anything other than my own choice.
In many ways, this same cycle applies to physical appearance. Shame of not looking “right” followed by shame of caring too much about ones own physical appearance rather than caring about “more important things” and not being “confident” enough to not care or “self-controlling” enough to fix it. I suppose you could substitute lots of things for physical appearance, too, such as intelligence, academic or professional success for example. Follow it all up with some way to comfort that turns out to be unhealthy and life-taking rather than life-giving. Circle back with cheese sauce on top.
The truth is, I’m not so sure I really care about whether or not I’m fat. I know I’m supposed to care. But, I just don’t think I do. For years I’ve said, “I’ve been slim and I’ve been heavy and happy is better than either.” I think that’s probably right, even though I was using it as a sort of shield when I originally came up with it. Also, I’m not persuaded that body fat itself is what causes many of the health problems that are blamed on it.* I think that extra weight on a human body is a result of food abuse and body neglect and those two things are the cause of a great deal of poor health. And food abuse combined with body neglect are most certainly the cause of my not living my life well because good use of food and good care of the body are pretty important things in making it possible for me to live and live well.
In the end, here is what I really want to do and be in living my life well. I want to place the needs of others in good and life-enhancing priorities for me and them. I want to say “yes” when someone asks if I want to go for a walk and do it not just to make them happy but because I physically feel like walking. I want to not feel exhausted after taking that walk and, instead, feel good enough to do something else that same day. I want to be able to do lots of physical activities and enjoy the beautiful part of the world in which I live by going out in it, photographing it and experiencing it first hand. I want to be able to walk into a clothing store and know that odds are good I’ll be able to find something close to my size so that trying to find something I can get into isn’t such a high anxiety part of my life. I want to eat real food that actually tastes and is made up of what it says it is and not some chemical cocktail of meat-miracle-grow and puffed on plastic cheese dust. I do not want to eat the ultra sugared chocolate equivalent of heroine designed to incite unnatural food cravings but I do want a good brownie and I don’t think that’s too much to ask. I do not want to choose para-food and guilty exhaustion as consolation prizes.
Perhaps the body image I want to have isn’t something reconciled to or even at odds with what our culture currently says is good, right and beautiful. At the moment, the positive body image I have is one that is not sat on a scale, measured, poked, prodded and assessed for value but is, instead, dynamically alive in a life that body loves. I want to choose to live my life well. And that’s my new diet. Period.
*Beyond a Shadow of a Diet by Judith Matz is a book written for therapists about weight and it contains significant information on the misinformation we have held on to for years about body weight. It is not a diet book, nor is Salt Sugar Fat and I think it’s a good idea to never, ever read a diet book.