I have never had a healthy relationship with food. When I was a kid I was always super-thin, which was perfect to my mother. She would point out heavier women to me in grocery stores and say things like “if I ever get that fat, shoot me.” Or “don’t ever let yourself get disgusting like that.” A lot of times the women weren’t even particularly fat, but to my not quite 5 foot tall and under 100 pound mother they were monsters.
When I was a teenager, she measured out my food. I constantly heard “no, it’ll make you fat,” so when my dad gave me lunch money I went off campus and ate burgers in secret. I was a debutante (shut up, I’m Southern) and when I weighed 117 pounds in at my ball I was informed that I looked like a cow in my dress.
In college, away from my mom for the first time, I made it my mission to eat delicious things all the time. Unfortunately, she never taught me to exercise, just not to eat. Every time I came home for a holiday she would take me clothes shopping so she could tell me “that won’t look good on you, your butt is too big now.” Right before she died, she told me that she hated to eat because “eating makes you poop.”
Now that I’m an adult and have gone through two cycles of fairly healthy weight loss and subsequent re-gain, I have decided that I’m not going to let myself be sucked into her madness. Instead of depriving myself because I need to be thin or because it’s “bad,” I’m looking at it differently.
For starters, intuitive eating. It’s no longer a crime for me to have a delicious piece of cheesecake, or to eat two sandwiches the week of my period because my body is telling me what it needs. Instead of eating when I “should” be eating, I eat when I’m hungry. Thanks to my low-sodium diet, we eat lots of fresh foods that are pretty filling so I actually end up eating less food more often.
Again, because of my low-sodium diet I found that fat free and “diet” food is unhealthy. Most of it is stuffed with sugar, artificial sweeteners and salt to make it taste better. Dieting doesn’t work because it shames or guilts you into depriving yourself so you can have the perfect body. When you don’t, you feel worthless, and for an emotional eater that’s a perfect trigger. Even if you achieve your goal weight/body, you have a lingering feeling of anxiety that you’ll go back to being disgusting and worthless. Some people deal with this by gaining weight back, others develop eating disorders. It’s a terrifying cycle perpetuated by the media and our peers every day.
As for me, my goal is to eat healthy food 95% of the time (hey, a girl’s gotta have a burger or cheesecake every now and again!). Fruit juices and nuts were off limits on diets because they were high in fat and calories but I have them when I’m hungry now and feel satisfied. Food isn’t as terrifying now, and even though I still look in the mirror and think that I’d like to look like I did when I was a teenager, I have a different goal now: Eat all the things. In moderation.