I’m a woman. I’ve always been tall (I was 5’6″ in 6th grade, at 12 years old), I have broad shoulders and wide hips. I take up space. I always have, I always will.
I haven’t always been okay with it.
I spent a lot of my adolescence wanting to be smaller. I was never the girl who could be at the top of the cheerleading pyramid, or the one the boys would pick up and spin around, because I was big. My bigness came with strength, I was always the one doing the lifting or carrying, at the bottom of the pyramid, the backbone of the red rover team. As a young girl, I felt self-conscious about this. Girls are ‘supposed’ to be weak, and tiny and need big strong boys to take care of them.
I was also lucky to have parent’s who didn’t care about what girls are ‘supposed’ to be. My dad taught me to chop wood, and fish and hunt. My brothers and I almost always had the same expectations when it came to chores and helping out. At home, my bigness was never an issue, my strength was something to be proud of. I never once felt like my parents or extended family judged me in that way, and for that I am thankful.
But I didn’t live in a vacuum, I saw society’s expectations, I felt the burden of being bullied. I was reminded regularly that being big and being a woman is a problem. I tried a few diets here and there, but honestly I love food too much to ‘stick’ to anything. I went through a phase of following a hit-diet that emphasized no carbs, and cheat days, and very fucked up views on food. (the diet actually suggested increasing the number of bowel movements on ‘cheat days’ to minimize the number of calories absorbed – um, pretty sure that’s a version of bulimia). I lost a reasonable amount of weight, for me. I remember my mom asking me if I was eating. She was worried. I felt proud. Hey, everyone was noticing how ‘small’ I was, that had never happened to me before!
Looking back on that time, I cringe. I thought I was doing things ‘right’. After all, people are praised and put on pedestals when they ‘stick to’ their diets and lose a significant amount of weight. We don’t talk about how obsessed with food they are, or if they can function outside of planning their meals, or if they can enjoy day-to-day things because it may or may not be ‘on plan’.
So what changed?
I had a baby. I had a newborn to take care of, I had to recover from pregnancy and childbirth, and all on broken sleep. I was exhausted (who isn’t in that stage) and I could feel my emotions so much worse some days than others. There were days when I could feel myself getting frustrated with Nugget so much easier, and I started to analyze why. Yes, sleep was a factor, but that was mostly out of my control. I started realizing when I ate poorly, I felt awful. My patience was thinner, and I was quick to snap on my husband. And it wasn’t like I was eating fast food everyday or ordering pizza, it was just whenever I was out of balance, I felt it.
So I started paying even closer attention to how each food I ate made me feel. Too much bread? Made me so bloated and uncomfortable. Lots of green veggies? So much energy and my digestion felt like it was humming along. Not enough protein? I would get hungry and cranky within hours of eating. I started getting more in tune with my body’s needs. I started craving ‘healthy’ foods. My daily choices started balancing out.
I used to forbid my husband from purchasing any ‘bad’ foods because if it was in the house, I would eat it, and I would eat it all. I would think ‘oh man, I can’t have that, I should eat it all so it’s gone so I don’t have to worry about it anymore’. But now? I know I can have chocolate, or cookies, or ice cream whenever I want, and I do! But I don’t feel the need to polish off 10 servings, because I know that it’s always there whenever I feel like it. I don’t feel deprived, therefore I don’t need to binge. I try to live in an abundance mindset. All the foods are there all of the time whenever I want. There are no ‘bad foods’, nothing is ‘off limits’. There are some foods that make me feel crappy, so I don’t eat them as often, because I don’t like to feel like crap. There are some foods that make me feel great, so I choose those more often.
It’s as complicated and as simple as that.
So I bet you’re reading this and thinking, well shit if I ‘ate whatever I want’ I’d eat the entire pantry and gain 500lbs. Listen, I thought that too. And to be honest, when you start shifting your mindset, it’s totally normal to swing the pendulum to the opposite end of the spectrum and go overboard for a while. Your body will be so used to being deprived perpetually, that it will take some time to re-calibrate your thinking to eat without eating all the things, all the time.
The key is to eat mindfully. Pay attention to how you feel before, during, and after you eat. Before – are you eating because you’re hungry? Bored? Sad? All perfectly okay, just acknowledge it and sit with it. During – are you enjoying what you are eating? Is it making you feel good? Are you full? Do you actually want that next bite, or are you just eating because there is some left? That last one is hard for me, I feel guilty leaving a bite or two behind, but one of my role models (Jennifer Campbell) said in a group we’re members of (I’m paraphrasing) ‘If you eat something, because you feel bad throwing it away, you’re just making yourself the garbage can.” That resonated with me. If I am eating something that I don’t want or need, then how is that any different than throwing it in the garbage? It’s not. And After – an hour or two later, are you feeling stuffed? Bloated and gross? Tired and lazy? or energized and happy? These are all things to help you guide your choices.
Now, this isn’t to say you must always, only eat foods that make you feel perfect, all of the time. No. That’s not the point. The point is balance. So you go to a birthday party, and there’s cake, and you want a piece. You like cake, you want to participate in the event, and it looks tasty. So have a piece! Acknowledge that maybe the cake might make you feel not so great later, so maybe only have one piece. But, consider while you’re eating the cake – is it good? Are you enjoying the cake? Does the serving size feel okay? Are you satisfied after 3 bites? Then stop. If the cake is bloody delicious, and you’re still feeling okay after you finish – then have another piece!
Like I said, complicated, but simple.
Your body is this funny thing. It has these cues that are there for a reason. Hunger, fullness, bloating, energy levels, constipation etc. They all work together to help you decide what to eat.
And you know what? The funny thing is, 14 months after having my first baby, I weigh the same as I did when I was doing that ‘crazy diet’ a few years ago. Except I am so much healthier. I have more muscle, more energy, and most important of all, I don’t obsess about food, like, at all and I love the way my body looks, but I also love the way it feels.
And the best part? I get to eat hot dogs with my son, who absolutely loves hot dogs, every week. And I don’t feel one single ounce of guilt over it, because I am balanced.