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Can't we stop hating our bodies?
So many of the people I work with don't like their bodies: they can tell me how much they weigh down to the last quarter pound, they are convinced their lives will be better if only they could lose half a stone and even those who have reached their "target" express a deep self-loathing. So much of their time, energy and money is spent in the pursuit of this magical smaller shape which they believe will lead to self acceptance, a self acceptance which proves elusive and short lived. They struggle with their own personal feelings which contrast with their world view that people shouldn't be judged by the way they look; they shudder with horror at the idea of fat shaming, at the same time as hating their own "fat", their own seemingly imperfect bodies.
But the answer is simple, surely? Those who don’t have a problem with food or weight tell us we should simply eat less and move more. Problem solved? Except it isn’t, as food is so much more than fuel and the size/weight we are is not a simple matter of something personal to us; it can be governed by what society deems acceptable, what clothes will fit us, what body shape is currently in fashion. And what about food? Simply fuel or is it comfort when you are feeling down, a part of a celebration, something to be enjoyed, savoured and cherished? Maybe it’s not so simple after all.
Babies come into the world knowing how to eat, how much to eat and when they have had enough but somehow we lose this ability to eat “normally”. So many messages get tied up with food: food is used to soothe us, to reward us, food is given labels such as good and bad, food is no longer neutral, it is something to be scared of, something that will harm us, something that will make us fat. Somehow we start to eat more than we need, food is a cheap fix, we lose touch with our natural ability to eat and stop when we have had enough. Food becomes so much more than food and we feel lost around it, unable to control our appetites, not sure what we want to eat, what we are allowed to eat: we don’t understand how to have food in our lives.
At the same time society tells us there is something wrong with our bodies, we need to be smaller so we go on a diet. We move further away from our natural way of eating and start eating what someone else tells us to eat, how much and when. How do we know if we are hungry? Someone else will tell us it’s time to eat and what to eat so we lose touch with our bodies and what we need. Then we are off on the roller coaster of dieting: starving ourselves and then giving up and eating the contents of the fridge, beating ourselves up mentally as we have failed, we have become bigger despite our best attempts and so we start the process all over again. More failure, more guilt, more blame. A lifetime of misery unless we decide we’ve had enough and identify clearly that this isn’t working for us.
So what to do instead? The worry is that if we’re not dieting we are going to end up the size of a house, unable to stop eating, out of control around food but the reality is very different. Deciding that diets are out means we can step off the roller coaster, we don’t need to eat a whole packet of biscuits as we know biscuits are no longer banned, no longer bad, just food. If we deny ourselves something we love, say thick white bread and butter, then we crave it, think about it all the time, and when we give into our cravings we can find it hard to stop, knowing that this is something we aren’t allowed and it will be back on the banned list, the list of sins, before we’ve blinked so we’d better fill up now, way beyond the point of enjoyment even.
Unlike many of the diets that are promoted as a quick fix to our body hatred and so-called excess weight, learning to eat normally isn’t something that happens quickly: if we’ve spent a lifetime on the dieting treadmill it will take time to get used to standing on firm ground again, to stop ourselves tempted to try one last diet as this might be the one that works forever, to feel relaxed around the foods we have found so tempting for so long and allow ourselves to love our bodies, whatever size they might be. But what’s the alternative: a lifetime of the numbers on the weighing scales controlling our moods, the slightly tighter feel of our clothes setting off a narrative of self loathing, feeling grumpy and deprived? And couldn’t we be spending that time on much more interesting things and enjoying our lives more? Don’t we want to live in a world where no food is banned, where everything can be enjoyed and nothing has a virtue value: if you want chips, eat chips, if you want a salad, eat a salad - it’s all just food and there is a chance if you eat salad when you want chips you’ll end up dissatisfied and still eat the chips later!
Alongside relaxing around food we need to be kinder about our bodies and those of other people: it’s hard to believe anyone would chose to be very “overweight” (who decides how much people should weigh anyway?), we don’t know their story so why do we need to judge? Can we be kind to other people and that might help us to be kinder to ourselves, to accept ourselves more and break the narrative of self-loathing? We need to stop comparing ourselves to others, accept our bodies as our own and learn (re-learn) a way of eating that is normal for us so that food and weight can stop being a thing in our lives, a great big unsettling thing, and just accept ourselves without worry.
This way of eating isn’t a diet by another name like a detox or juice fast: it’s a way of getting eating back into perspective, to stop it dominating our lives, to stop it controlling us. It’s getting rid of all the rules, the labels, the outside control, it’s about learning to trust ourselves again and be able to get on with the more interesting and rewarding things in our lives. It’s learning to love ourselves exactly as we are rather than waiting for some time when we feel we might be “perfect”.
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© Copyright Charlotte Feeny