This weekend I attended a Body Trust retreat hosted by an amazing pair of women just down the street from my apartment. The location is one of those coincidences that I just can’t help but think was fated.
One of the things we talked about is the importance of sharing our individual body stories. A lot of people’s issues surrounding food, dieting, self-confidence, self love, etc. are deeply rooted in shame. Shame thrives on the feeling that we are in it (whatever it may be) alone. That there is no one else on the planet that can relate to what we are going through. In sharing our stories, the hope is, we take power away from that shame. We start opening the door up to vulnerability and compassion: the two things that successfully abolish shame.
Before I start my story at the chronological beginning (my birth), I want to share the recent events that got me here and then tell you where here is.
In February, as some of you may recall, I posted about my last before and after picture and in there I shared a brief history of my dieting. Since then I have sprinkled more information here and there about intuitive eating and quitting long-distance running for the foreseeable future. But the truth is a lot more has been happening in the background.
That first post, in my memory, was about approaching working out from a more loving place. So I decided to stop working out because I hated my body and wanted to change it and start working out because I love my body and want to respect it.
But the problem was, I didn’t love my body. I love it more now. But I definitely didn’t love it then. And just stopping the Beach Body program I was on at the time wasn’t going to suddenly make me love my body. It would take much a lot more than that, but I didn’t really know where to start.
In my internet search for inspiration and solutions, I somehow stumbled upon Kelsey Miller’s The Anti-Diet Project on Refinery29. From there I went into a media consumption frenzy, reading every article Kelsey (and eventually her co-writers) had written on the subject. And Kelsey Miller led me to the Minnesota Starvation Experiment, which blew my mind wide open.
I am a scientifically minded person. And that experiment was the first thing that showed me evidence that contradicted something I had taken for granted for about half my life: that I should be eating 1200-1500 calories a day. They were starving these men on 1600 calories…that was more calories than the higher end of what I’ve allowed myself to eat since I was eleven. Of course, there were days I ate more than my allotted amount, more than even what the study used for starvation, but those days were binge days and they were few and far between and they were bad and they were shameful and they were my secrets. This was the first time that I looked at my diet-minded eating as starving rather than dieting.
Now, there were other takeaways from this amazing study. Firstly, it talked about the men’s behaviors when they were starving. They sounded eerily like my behaviors. I can’t tell you how many recipes I have looked up (but never made), how many eating plans I have made (but not followed), how many exercise regiments I charted out (only to stop after day one). This made me realize that my fixation on food was not something that competent eaters dealt with on a daily basis.
The study also goes into the recovery of these men. How it took much longer than anyone anticipated. It took up to a year of the men consuming a higher-than-3000 calorie diet for their behavior (not weight) to normalize.
My favorite thing about this experiment is that it’s only men. All these behaviors that we somehow expect of women nowadays (recipe searching, counting calories, ritualized eating, etc.) is foreign and worrying in the men of these study. For the first time I realized that some of my behaviors around food were concerning. I was obsessed with food because I wasn’t getting enough of it.
After reading this article, sitting with it, mulling over it in my head for a while, I did a few things. First, I went to NEDA and took their online screening. My prognosis didn’t surprise me: I did not have an eating disorder, but I was at risk, I exhibited a lot of disordered eating behaviors. Then, I went to Google and tried to find more sources, blogs, scientists, anyone talking about this different perspective on dieting and eating. I bought Intuitive Eating.
Through this search I came upon The Fuck It Diet. I also happened upon many other sources, read, consumed, sat, mulled, but I kept coming back to Caroline. I think it was her age, her story, the language she used, her appearance and general attitude that drew me back to her site. That and the fact she provided several other sources that really spoke to me.
What really tipped the scales in Caroline’s favor for me, was the issues she explained with Intuitive Eating, issues that I could see myself falling for. Intuitive Eating scared me because it told me I needed to trust my body. But I didn’t trust my body. I was never sure if I was hungry or not. I was never sure what I was craving. I was still worried. Still scared. Intuitive Eating was not for me. And Caroline Dooner made that seem OK.
Caroline also led me to a few other sources namely The Men Who Made Us Thin, a BBC special about the dieting and it’s relation to the Dieting, Pharmaceutical, and Food industries. She led me to Body Respect and Health at Every Size. And she led me to Your Eatopia.
*Now I want to make something clear, I stick with Caroline because of a bunch of things that she does that align with how I work. She is not the only one doing this work. There are many others and someone else might work better for you. If any of this interests you I recommend you do your research. And if you need help finding other sources, contact me. I have read many. If you do have an eating disorder, please seek professional help. If you are concerned I would recommend finding someone who works with a HAES (Healthy at Every Size) approach.*
Through Caroline, I joined a group that’s comically similar to my Beach Body groups, except for we talk about all our hardships in quitting dieting, instead of our hardships in losing weight. I started exploring my beliefs around food, fat, and my body. It’s been mind opening, nauseating, thrilling, and scary at times.
Eventually, I decided to dip my whole foot (instead of just the toe) in the water and sought an in-person group experience. That’s how I ended up at this past weekend’s retreat. The retreat showed me a few things:
- I am not alone
- People of all shapes, sizes, and colors can relate to me.
- A variety of things can lead to disordered eating behavior.
- People on the anti-diet approach don’t always agree on the best path to healing (which is also the case with weight-loss believers so chill) but they all agree being thin and dieting is not the answer.
While the retreat confused me a little, all in all it was a very positive experience. For a whole weekend I was surrounded by women (but there are men out there too, so don’t think this is just a woman’s issue) to whom I could tell everything and who completely understood me. I actually ended up telling a few people outside the group about my disordered eating and recovery because I realized I wasn’t alone, and that this was nothing to be ashamed of. It also made me realize I needed to solidify what approach I’m taking so as to give me less room to question, waver, and potentially fall back into the dieting pool.
WHERE IS HERE
- I believe that our bodies are biologically wired against restriction – they see it as a famine, a threat to our livelihood, and do anything in their power to ensure that we survive the famine.
- I believe that over a decade of dieting, calorie-restriction, and mental restriction has done serious damage to my body and my metabolism.
- I believe that to recover, I have to eat a lot of food so that my body has the calories it needs to heal the physical damage and learns to trust that I will never ever starve it again.
- I believe that the goal is not to be thin or weigh less, but rather to have a stable weight (whatever it may be…still working on accepting that) and a competent relationship with food (ie not thinking about it ALL THE FUCKING TIME).
- I believe that every person has a natural weight set point at which their bodies (not their heads) are happiest and at which they are most likely to remain. I also believe this set point is completely unrelated to what BMI deems as normal and cannot necessarily be determined.
- A secondary goal is to have other health metrics (like blood pressure and heart rate) at good levels because these are actual indicators of health, unlike weight. This is secondary because I believe my body must heal completely before I can start to concern myself with these markers.
- I believe that a central part of this process is fat acceptance and body positivity and this has to be done both in word and in action.
These are the things that make sense to me now. I am not prescribing them to you (except for maybe number five). I urge you to do your own research if this interests you and find what makes sense to you.