Just about everyone I know has some sort of issue with food. I have compassion for those who struggle with believing that food is love or that the only way to find control in their lives is to limit their calories. Those who find comfort in unhealthy foods or are constantly on a diet – I get it. I know and love so many of you.
I went on my first diet when I was in fourth grade. I remember looking down at my belly, ashamed of all the candy I’d eaten. So I watched what I ate for a week, lost seven
pounds and that was the end of it. Fast forward to my first major breakup, when I was in my 20s. I was always athletic and vegetarian, so I had never really thought about my weight. But when I was heartbroken, I wasn’t interested in eating. I numbed myself to escape emotions that I wasn’t ready to address head-on. I lost a bunch of weight. Everyone told me I looked great. Enter the world of diets.
You know how everyone says when you hit 40, oh geez, it’s so much harder to take the weight off? That makes sense, even though I’m still in my 30s. As I age, I am much better at confronting my emotions, so less numbing is needed. I presume in a couple years I will also care less about what other people think of me. But I’m not there yet.
Last year, as faithful blog readers may recall, I embarked on a major fitness kick while my boyfriend was out of town for three months. I got up at 6:30 a.m. every day, ate a healthy breakfast and then hit the gym for high-intensity, personal training classes, followed by either a walk, run or sprint over the nearby bridge. I ate few
carbohydrates and more protein, staying away as best I could from junk food. I ate mostly vegan and cut way back on the booze. I tracked my calories using My Fitness Pal and really tried. In the end, I could bust out 50 push-ups, which was something I never was able to do before, but I didn’t lose more than three pounds.
“Well, you know, one pound of muscle weighs more than one pound of fat,” everyone is saying right now. The amount of half-baked, useless and contradictory advice you can find on the internet and from well-meaning friends is amazing. It didn’t matter what they said, anyway; I wasn’t feeling good about myself.
Why? I am a Yoga teacher, an energy worker and pretty darn positive individual. But here’s the rub: I compare myself to others. Part of this is situational. There aren’t many curvy Yoga teachers out there, so I really noticed that little roll of fat presenting itself during a forward fold. I’ve also never dated a guy who was good at making me feel special in a truly holistic sense. If you are a man reading this, go tell your lady she is beautiful and smart and funny, and stop hound-dogging others. Because when my guy obsessed over other women, well, I did too. I would notice what those women had that I didn’t: a flat stomach and a gap between their thighs. So even though I am a German-Italian mix of curves that are attractive to some men, in my convoluted logic, I thought that if I could loose my little belly once and for all, then I could finally feel confident in myself.
When I told people about my interest in losing a few pounds, here’s a sampling of the comments:
* “You’re going to go into starvation mode!”
* “You’ll slow down your metabolism!”
* “You don’t need to lose weight!”
These are comments based in love, and they are usually followed by self-deprecation as a means for buoying my ego. But they are not necessary. Regardless of my mentally unhealthy comparisons, when my jeans get tight it’s time to take action. It’s OK. Americans have an obesity epidemic in part because we use food not as fuel but comfort. This time around, it wasn’t candy that I was overindulging: It was beer and nachos. I did need to lose the belly. Not because I want the attention of some guy with his own problems, but because it is healthier to be leaner.
So about two months ago, I embarked on the 5:2 Diet. It’s from the U.K., and the upshot is ladies eat normally for five days of the week and fast (500 calories) on two days. It’s been amazing. I don’t own a scale, but the jeans are fitting again. It’s also taught me a few things about my own relationship with food.
First of all, by fasting, I’ve learned to find comfort in things besides junk food or alcohol. Sometimes, when I’m at the computer too long, I think, “I deserve a treat.” Actually, I deserve a break. So I give myself one. People like to say things like, “I HAVE to have sugar in my coffee.” But this is just an example of an excuse to make food into love,
into comfort. By really listening to myself, I am learning to love myself.
I’ve also learned to let go of the guilt that is associated with food. I really can eat anything I want on non-fast days – but I’m less likely to go crazy now because I trust myself around food. I am not so attracted to junk or beer anymore. But the other day, when my guy wanted to buy me a coconut ice cream cone, I said yes. It was delicious. It wasn’t comfort. It wasn’t love. It was just a treat. I do not need a food treat every day, because the sunset is a treat. A cool breeze is a treat. A purring kitty is a treat.
I’m learning the difference between feeling good and looking good. They’re not mutually exclusive, in this mass media market especially, but they are different. It feels good to drink more water and go to bed earlier. My interest in sugary treats has waned. While it feels good to fit in my jeans again, prioritizing my health and myself feels even better. Whether that roll of fat is there or not, Yoga still feels amazing.
I know people in my life who are losing weight in clearly unhealthy ways, and they obviously do not feel good. With all the Frankenfoods and high-fructose corn syrupy, aspartame-ridden swill on the market today, it’s easy to be removed from knowing what feeling good physically is like. With all the visions of “perfect bodies” in the media, it’s easy to compare yourself and feel bad mentally.
I still struggle with comparing myself to others, but now that I’ve lost some weight (and know that it’s not magic), I see that focusing on a stomach is as arbitrary as focusing on how long a girl’s ponytail is. As if a man falls in love with a woman based on the length of her hair. That’s not how love works.
I left out one piece of advice I hear when I talk about dieting: You have to love yourself just the way you are. That’s good advice, and it doesn’t have anything to do with numbers on a scale. That’s why every day I find a way to remind myself that I am enough. And I’m here to tell you, so are you. Sometimes we just get hungry for that reminder.