Barking Up the Wrong Tree

Making dietary changes and setting exercise goals in the name of health is often not the way to get where you really want to go.  It might even be holding you back. If you are truly concerned for your health, first, have you gone to a doctor or naturopath and had a full physical and blood work up? Is there something actually wrong with your health?

Ok - so let's say in this case that there is nothing wrong with your health, your blood markers are all in a standard range and yet you still want to have habits that will help prevent an illness or disease.  Or you want increased energy, or you don't want to have more than the occasional ache and pain and you want to feel happy and content and at ease in your life.  These are understandable desires.  How do you do that?

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One Chocolate Chip Cookie

One chocolate chip cookie.  Sitting in a bag on the counter.  How did no one eat that yet? It was homemade and everything.  This is something that a few years ago would never have happened, and I was struck by it's significance. I used to cook up a batch of chocolate chip cookies and I'd eat half the batter before the cookies even made it in the oven.  Nauseous and disgusted with myself I would then continue to eat the cookies until they were gone or I had to leave some for my family.  They were so delicious and the guilt from feeling like I shouldn't eat them only made me want to eat them more.

I stopped making cookies. I couldn't take the pressure and the guilt and the shame of how I ate them and I thought that making them was the problem.  I was clearly addicted to sugar and had no control over myself.

And then I started practicing Intuitive Eating.  There are many parts to this practice but one of them is making peace with food.  This means allowing yourself to eat what you want when you want it.  There is no trickery. It's not trying to get you to eat less.  (Although eating less of something  often happens as a natural byproduct of not restricting.)

To make peace with food, first, you must put weight on the back burner.  Not because you are going to gain weight, but because you will continue to restrict yourself if you still have weight as a focus.  "But I'll get fat or fatter", you might worry.  That is a genuine concern since our society puts an overemphasis on the thin ideal.  But stay with me here and lets walk through what could happen.

Let's say you eat the cookies and you eat as many as you want for as long as you want until you don't want anymore.  It may take a day, it may take 3 weeks.  Trust me, eventually you will no longer want to eat the entire batch in one sitting as long as you aren't trying to stop yourself in any number of subtle ways.  There is a phenomenon called "food habituation" that occurs when you eat one food over and over.  You won't actually want it as much anymore.

So by giving yourself the freedom to eat the cookies, you will stop feeling at the mercy of the cookies or __________. (insert your forbidden food here)

So what is the problem? Why wouldn't everyone give themselves full permission to eat? Oh yes, that dreaded fear of weight gain.  That is a doozy to dismantle isn't it? And when it comes down to it, the fear of weight gain is the main reason most people continue to restrict, abstain and live in fear of forbidden foods.  Or people worry that it's not good for their "health".  This often means they are concerned with their weight, but yes, some people will also restrict because they are concerned with certain health markers. This fear of forbidden foods is even why some people  think they are food addicts.  (For more on dispelling the food addiction myth - check out the awesome Love, Food podcast, episode number 70 with Julie Duffy Dillion and Marci Evans.)

So what sounds healthier to you? Bingeing on chocolate chip cookies whenever you make them and sending your body into a stress spiral and filling yourself with the negative emotions of guilt, shame and sadness? Feeling disgusted and out of control and depressed over........cookies? Or feeling joy at the experience of eating delicious chocolate chip cookies and enjoying every single one that you eat, no matter how many.  Not feeling stuffed and nauseous, feeling nourished and supported and loved.  Which experience would you rather have?

When you are afraid of food, you are in a state of constant stress and struggle. This is not good for your mind or your physical body.  Foods will always seem to be forbidden and tempting.  There will always be guilt and shame and perhaps eating more than you were really hungry for since you don't know when you will have certain foods again.  You will be unable to respond to your internal hunger and fullness cues.

The more you try to control your food, the more it controls you. 

Getting past the fear of food by giving yourself unconditional permission to eat  is the key to break the cycle of stress, guilt and shame.  What it comes down to is basic psychology.  People want what they are told they can't have. It's perfectly understandable. So give yourself full and unconditional permission to eat.  It's the only way out of the fear of food.  It's the only way to leave a chocolate chip cookie on the counter and not hear it calling your name.

I now make chocolate chip cookies again.  When I make cookies now, I eat some batter if I want it, or I don't.  There is no compulsion. I also sit down with a plate and a glass of milk and the warm cookies and enjoy the experience of eating each one.  I usually find I am full after a few and I save the rest for the family. I'm not trying to only eat a few, I am listening to my body and it tells me quite clearly when I've had my fill.  I know I can come back later or make them again tomorrow if I want more.  I have cleared myself of a major source of guilt, and despair and no longer have this Jekyll and Hyde feeling when it comes to food.

Do you have forbidden foods or foods you feel out of control around? For more help on giving yourself unconditional permission to eat, you can read the book Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, or check out their Intuitive Eating workbook. If you still find you need help putting the principle of unconditional permission to eat into practice, support from someone who has been there can be helpful too.  You can message me at elizabeth@elizabethehall.com if you want to schedule a session with me for more support.

F*ck the Joneses

A checklist is defined as a list of required items that need to be completed.  For most of my life, I have  been comparing myself to a checklist that I did not create.  My checklist included some typical elements that you might expect and that I relished completing.  However, my checklist also had elements that didn't leave much room for creativity and deviation.  My list included going to college, getting a job, getting married and having kids.   It also included details on how I was supposed to dress and where I was supposed to shop  and how many friends I should have.  It specified what I was supposed to do to be a good mother, how my house was supposed to be decorated and how much money I was supposed to make.   And it even included what I was supposed to weigh and what foods I was supposed to eat.  It was an extensive list. I have always been a conscientious person who wanted to do what was expected of me.  I took my checklist to heart and worked diligently to complete  it's challenges. On paper, everything was going according to plan. Until one day,  I realized that while I was doing a good job at completing everything on the checklist, I was not enjoying  my day to day life. Things felt hollow, like something was missing.   I wondered what was wrong with me.  Of course it must be me, I figured.  I must not be a very interesting person, I assumed. I'll need to try harder. What I didn't realize is that I had never questioned why I was doing what I was doing and whether I even wanted to do it or not.  I was trying to keep up with the Joneses without regard for whether I even wanted what they wanted.

The first time it occurred to me to question the validity of the checklist came when I  learned that there was something called "diet culture" and that I had bought into it -  hook, line and sinker.  I never knew that I was processing everything in my life through this diet culture filter.  Diet culture told me what weight to put on my checklist and how many times I should workout during the week (to look good of course, not because it's good for you).  Diet culture told me what I should eat and how much.  Diet culture also taught me I was supposed to be embarrassed and ashamed and I wouldn't be loved or respected if my weight didn't fit the societal norm (i.e. the checklist).

Soon I realized that diet culture was a microcosm of a much bigger and more troubling picture.  Our entire culture is built upon shaming people into feeling like they need to look and behave like everyone else in all areas of their lives. It's been shocking and painful  to awaken and realize that the world is trying to turn us into Stepford wives while it promises to make us into our best selves. So our best selves all look the same and live life the same way?  It feels like we have all been slipped a roofee in our drinks  and someone has taken away our power to make decisions on our own behalf.  How had I not seen this? How did I not know I was being manipulated to feel the need to buy beauty products that would fix my "problem areas".  How did I not see how our culture squelches individuality? How did not I not see dieting as the internalized oppression that it was?

Once I saw this, I started to take back my life.  I stopped dieting. I stopped talking to myself negatively and judging everything I did as good or bad.    I stopped reading People magazine. I stopped comparing myself to my friends and neighbors.  Thanks to Theodore Roosevelt, we all know comparison is the thief of joy.  I noticed gossip for the insidiousness that it is when it crept up around me and I changed the subject every chance I got.  What right does anyone have to judge or comment on anyone else's life? I changed who I followed on social media, I stopped looking at my Facebook feed and assuming that all the shiny happy people had better lives than I did.  I realized there was nothing to be fixed in my life because I was not broken.  The way I was taught to look at the world is what was broken.

Newsflash - the checklist that defines the societal norm is bullshit.  All of it.  There is no one way any of us should live our lives. We can't get this life living thing wrong.  Our biggest failures are often our biggest lessons.  Ultimately,  we are here to discover the beat of our own drum, even if it is messy and looks nothing like anyone else's experience.  Success can be defined in an infinite number of ways, not the few narrow ways our checklist suggests.   The true goal is to follow your unique path and see where it takes you and to make room at the table for both the highs and the lows that will ensue.   Trying to make everything in your life look nice and neat and perfect is soul sucking and frustrating and so worrisome!   In the end, there is no extra credit given for neatness.

If you can relate to this, I suggest you stop trying to keep up with the Joneses. How are you trying to live up to a checklist that you did not create? How are you trapping yourself  and striving to achieve something you may not even care about? What feels like a "should" every time that you think about it and creates a knot of tension in your belly? What things in your life make you worried because they don't seem to fit the "norm"?  Many of us have a high level of stress in our lives and are chasing new ways to reduce the stress. I suggest we go to the root of the problem and recognize it's the checklist that is causing the stress.  It's time to toss it out and challenge what we keep telling ourselves that we need to achieve.

We must be willing to get rid of the life we've planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us. - Joseph Campbell

Create your own checklist for how you want your life to look and taste and feel and smell.  What brings you joy and satisfaction? What makes you smile and feel good?  Try to control less.  Be more curious.  Cultivate playfulness.  Become aware of your desires and preferences.  Explore and experiment.  Let go of the worry and the doubt.   Be willing to be different. Be willing to fail and fail big. No matter how much you try and control things - life is going to continue to happen and it seems to me that it would be much more enjoyable to invite it in from a place of wonder than to try and keep it out from a place of fear.  And most importantly, when you don't know what to do or how to proceed, seek guidance and trust the advice from the only one who really knows the answer.  You.

My Path to Peace with Food

When people first hear about the principles of Intuitive Eating, they think it's mainly about eating whatever you want whenever you want.  Many people may react to the idea with disgust, thinking it is irresponsible and can only lead to weight gain. (And we all know what our society thinks of weight gain.) I remember when I first read about this concept a few years ago.  This is what I wrote in my journal: So the latest book I read says eat whatever I want. I am going to do it. I know this isn’t entirely a new concept. It’s “intuitive eating” and apparently your body will go a little nuts with freedom and then will start craving salad.  But what if it never does? What if it is perfectly happy with a plate of nachos for dinner every night? Then where does all my healthy and clean eating research go? All the paleo ideas, the natural sugars, almond flours, healthy fats and all the things I’ve focused on for the last several years. I actually like eating that way but I’m afraid I will eat crap just because I can and if I don’t eat the crap I will feel like I am subconsciously depriving myself. Wow – it gets really messy and complicated fast. Add to that the emotional eating aspect and I’m a mess. But what an awesome time to do this eat anything you want experiment! It’s the beginning of summer and I’m going out with friends and out for my birthday and to the Cape and to a bunch of parties. I would love love love to eat whatever I want! Onion dip and ice cream here I come. Margaritas and guacamole with a bowlful of chips, baked potatoes with butter and sour cream, fried mozzarella (I never ever eat that and now I am craving it because I can). Oh but wait, eat only when I’m hungry, stop when I’m full and don’t make it a rule.  This is so messed up. I feel like I will be walking off a cliff. I can feel the weight coming on and it’s summer, I want to be light and fit, not bigger than ever.

This book also said that exercise doesn’t matter. What?! Now I have actually been doing exercise so long that I like it but if I don’t have to do it 7 days a week then 3 is probably all I’ll do. The book says that’s ok.  Then it says you should go walking because it’s good for your mood. Ironic how that would also get you off the couch and not eating and moving and burning calories. I think all these books are just trying to trick people into doing things to lose weight without saying move more and eat less because lets face it, that would suck. No one wants to hear that. How boring and awful is that? So anyway, I’m going to give this all a try.  We’ll see what happens! Oh and I’m not going to weigh myself. I know if I’m getting fatter or thinner and sometimes the scale agrees and sometimes it doesn’t. I am going to accept myself as I am and say Fuck it to the scale.

And so I began my journey.  It can take awhile for the principles of Intuitive Eating to really sink in. It is also a practice and as such, some days are better than others.  I have been practicing it for a few years now and I still have debates with myself in my head over it.  I realize that the negative side of the debate is often fueled by what I think other people must think about it.  So I am constantly seeking to quiet the critic and remind myself of the evidence that Intuitive Eating is the right thing.

As it turns out, Intuitive Eating is the "right" thing.  For me.  I recognize that it is a choice and it may not be for everyone.  Some people may choose to keep dieting and if that works for them then that is ok too.  We are all different people at different places in life with different wants and needs and we all need to make our own choices.

Scientifically, I know that diets fail 98% of the time.  Scientifically, I know that overweight people actually have lower mortality rates than thinner people. Scientifically, I know that intuitive eaters are happier and healthier than their peers.  Intuitive Eating is evidence based, which means that there have been studies that show it is a safe, healthy and effective way to feed and nourish our bodies.  There is not one study that can say the same about dieting.

So scientifically, I'm sold. I am on board and I will never diet again.  I get it and it makes so much sense and I love it.  It is validating and empowering and freeing and has brought so much more joy to my life in feeding my body and my family.  Where I stumble is with the external appearance/body image part of the work.  This part is so much harder.

When we live in a world that is constantly telling us we should be thinner and we are unattractive if we are fat, and in a world where diet talk is the norm, and people are admired and praised for restricting themselves, it can be very triggering and challenging to hold your ground as an intuitive eater.  Especially if the journey leads to weight gain.  That might be where some folks simply want to get off the train.

The truth is, intuitive eaters may gain weight, may lose weight or may stay the same when they start intuitive eating.  It all depends on the history of the person and at what point in the diet cycle they may be in.  I gained weight when I started intuitive eating.  And for two years I blamed that weight gain on intuitive eating.  It wasn't until a few months ago that I realized - wait a minute - what was I doing before intuitive eating? I was DIETING. So what was bound to happen when I stopped dieting? I gained weight. I was a really "good" dieter. I was able to restrict myself for years and years until it started to get harder and harder. I stopped for the sake of my sanity.

I can't believe it took me so long to make the connection between my weight gain and dieting even after reading how dieters gain back their weight plus more within 1-3 years of every diet. That was eye opening for me. It helped me understand that it's not my way of eating now that is "causing" my weight gain and that my weight is simply trying to find it's normal place in the world after 30 years of my fucking with it.    It doesn't know what it's doing right now and my mission is to help it out and to give it some time. "Do what you need to do body - you are now running the show.  I'm sorry I tried to control you and override your needs and wants for so long. I hope you can forgive me. "

The other thing I would like to note is that when I started eating what I wanted, what I wanted changed.   So for the people who think they will eat cookies , cakes and pies and continue to gain weight, that is simply not true.  I ate my fair share of all the forbidden foods that I would deny myself on diets, and then I got sick of them.  They didn't hold their appeal when I knew I could have them anytime.  And while I gained weight, it also then leveled out and has been the same for the past year or so.  I know because of how my clothes fit.  I haven't stood on a scale in years.  (I face the other way when I go to the doctor and ask them not to tell me, I know the number is completely irrelevant to my state of health).

So what is my long winded point? If you are curious, Intuitive Eating is more than worth checking out.  I want people to know there is another way to live that does not involve restriction and misery.  If you are tired of hating food and your body and have spent years on diets and are still miserable, it is the light at the end of the tunnel.  And that light will guide you through even though the process may be long and is not at all a straight line. It's a process and can be slow and does not promise any quick fixes. But it gave me my life back and maybe it can give you yours too.

#ihaveembraced

Wow. The Embrace documentary is a powerfully moving film that makes you think on so many different levels.   I have spent the last few weeks contemplating the movie since I saw it for the first time and I have been wondering what people thought of it.  On the one hand, I have received wonderfully supportive feedback.  My community was moved and impressed and they texted me and emailed me and posted on Facebook to thank me for bringing the film to our area.  There was also some talk as people left the movie of -" what do I do now? I am so much more aware of this issue and I don't know how I can help".  I actually had one dear sweet friend ask how she could help support me support the movement. I have an answer for that although at the time we were talking I felt just as overwhelmed as she did by the enormity of the problem concerning women and body image in our society. I also spent time wondering about the people who did not reach out and tell me what they thought.  I wondered if they had a negative reaction.  Did they not relate to any of it? Did they think we are all bunch of cry babies lamenting our larger figures? Many of my less positive thoughts were not at all productive but I welcomed them because they made me re-examine my beliefs and caused me to challenge my own ideas about body image.  That is always a good thing for me because every time I do that, I come back stronger in my belief that dieting is not the answer, we are all beautiful and perfect human beings just as we are and we all have a light to shine that we may be hiding somewhere.  And for god's sake, 90% of the time, it's not about the food.

maddenspictureAt one point, while I was wondering what people thought of the movie, my friend shared with me this picture.  Her 13 year old daughter  drew it after watching my screening of the movie.  I saw that and burst into tears.  I don't normally burst into tears but I was overcome with the emotions of gratitude and validation for what I was trying to achieve.  The picture reminded me that I will never know what impact the movie has on people exactly but if there is one person, like this amazingly talented young woman, who can draw a picture like this after seeing the movie, then everything I was trying to achieve was accomplished.  I stopped wondering what the impact on everyone was or whether people loved or hated it.  If I at all had any doubts, I was back on track with my mission.

Why doubts? The short answer is I think we all question what we are doing as we are doing it.  Even though my gut and my heart tells me I am on the right path the majority of the time, my head and my inner critic and my ego are trying to get a word in edgewise.  Not to mention that pull of society and the media.  I've been conditioned to think a certain way for 40 (alright 46) years and it's not going to dissolve in an instant.  It's not entirely fun to have doubts, but I welcome them because they lead me to more clarity and more conviction once I work it out.  I happy to say I feel stronger than ever about my belief that life is simply better on the other side of the scale.

What to do about the "what do we do now" questions?  When women walk out of this movie, they may be more are aware of society's impact on their body image or maybe they are now able to name something they felt but didn't know how to identify.  That can feel raw and exposed and overwhelming.  The issue might be understood intellectually, but how do we move on from there?   The answer is, we each individually have to do what we can and what feels right to forward the movement for ourselves and not worry about the mountain of work there is to do around this issue.  I was talking to someone yesterday who reminded me of a quote by Confucius. He said, "The man (or I'd like to say woman) who moves a mountain begins by carrying away small stones."

So if people can examine their own lives and find that one way they can forward the movement, before you know it, we will have moved the mountain.  What might this look like? It might look like canceling your Weight Watchers membership.  It might look like signing up for that dance class that you always wanted to try but were too scared to go for.  It might start with following a body positive stream on Instagram or reading a book about body positivity.  It might look like not commenting on your child's weight or food intake.  It might look like doing some research into the science behind Health at Every Size.  It might look like stopping yourself when you are about to lambaste your back fat in the mirror.  It might look like getting rid of the scale and ditching the magazines that are full of false promises.  It might look like making time to go for a walk by yourself or cooking something for dinner that you can't wait to eat.

There are actually so many ways that we can start to move this mountain, right now, today. I am not feeling overwhelmed anymore, I am feeling inspired.  Personally,  I'm going to write this blog post for my approximately 0 subscribers and hope that maybe my mom reads it or someone glances through it on their trip around the web late one night.  What are you going to do today to support the movement? Feel free to comment below (mom) - I'd love to hear your ideas.