Recently I realised that if we were a couple, then my stomach and I would have been in the midst of serious trust issues. I would be the one oblivious to the fact that they existed.
After reading Fat is a Feminist Issue, one of the most important things I realised was that many, many women- including myself- have an issue with trusting their body. And I wanted to speak a bit about it. Right here, right now.
From a young age girls are exposed to diet culture. It’s on every magazine cover, it’s on many female relative’s lips, it appears on TV all too frequently. From a young age then, girls are taught that it is okay to ignore their body’s built-in signals.
We can ignore our hunger signals in order to adhere to strict diets.
We can ignore our hunger signals in order to comfort eat, unable to listen to what the body really needs, and sometimes substituting food for actually dealing with difficult emotions.
God forbid we actually listen to our own stomachs though.
What is so terrifying about listening? Will we balloon? Will we never stop eating? Of course not! Will we perhaps stop thinking so incessantly about the effect of food upon our bodies, and trying to control this, that we actually have room to enjoy eating, and devote time and mind to other more worthwhile things? Perhaps…
Some of you may be doubting: if I just listened to my stomach, I’d just eat crap all day! This is where I disagree. It is important to try and eat a healthy, balanced diet overall. Part of this is finding nutritious foods you enjoy. So if you believe you don’t like this sort of food, perhaps you haven’t found what you like yet. But, more importantly: yes, we all get the cravings for chocolate/chips/ so called “naughty food”. But what if this food wasn’t “off limits”, and if you could eat it without guilt? Then the drive to eat it all of the time wouldn’t be there. From a young age we’re told several foods are completely off limits by diet plans: once it is something we can eat whenever we like, then the scarcity surrounding it evaporates. We can eat it until our stomachs are satisfied, and not push beyond this point. Because we can have more another day. We don’t have to “get back on track”, because there is no plan, and you’ve not broken any rules.
In the same way, I feel we’ve all been taught to hate some foods. Notably, the healthier or more nutritious ones. We’re brought up thinking it is normal that children won’t try vegetables or fruit – I was one of the weird exceptions here- and naturally love additive-laden crap. Yes, we’ve evolved to like sweet tastes because they signal something isn’t poisonous- but many of the foods we decide we like are heavily marketed to us. In the same way we’re told to trust diets, we also trust adverts when they tell us highly processed food products are more delicious than the alternative.
One of my best friends has always done something I haven’t understood until now: she has eaten what she likes. She also has what I always interpreted as the willpower to bring home a doggie bag. The reality is simple: she hasn’t been sucked into trying to ignore what she wants to eat. She hasn’t banned foods. There is no sense of “I have to eat this all now, because tomorrow I’m being good again”. She’s found a balance that works for her, where she listens to her stomach and her body and remains in a healthy state of body and mind. She loves cheese, good bread, wine, mushrooms, spinach, roasted vegetables, ice cream, cous cous salads, soup…a huge variety of different things, not one of which is ever “banned”. For her, this is simply how things are. It is normal. She eats when she’s hungry, stops when she’s full- sometimes if she eats something really delicious and so needs to finish it, she may have to undo the top button. She might eat a bit too much and tell me she’s stuffed- but she never even verges on binging. And this is balance, and normal eating. It can be very hard to believe people actually think like this when you’ve had an eating disorder, or any kind of skewed relationship with food- but it is possible to love and eat all of your favourite foods without allowing them to make a day good/bad. It is possible to listen to your body’s own internal signals- all it takes is a bit of trust.