Do you remember the first time you noticed your body’s outer appearance? Her curves and her lines and her bulges and her shape and her mass?
Do you remember the first time you made the connection between food, exercise, and controlling your body?
Do you remember the first time you restricted your food?
Do you remember the first time you exercised to counter food intake or to try to reform your body, like a lump of wet clay eager to be cajoled into a sleek, chic vase?
I hear answers to this question that the realization occurred anywhere from 3 years old to somewhere in the middling teens.
“I started dieting when I was 12, and I haven’t ever stopped.”
“I went to the nutritionist for the first time when I was 8. I’d never even thought about my body before that, but my doctor wanted me to learn how to eat before my weight became a bigger issue than it was… having been in the higher percentiles of my age group for years.”
Me? I think my earliest memory is the summer between fifth and sixth grades when I noticed bulges on the sides of my thighs that other girls in my peer group didn’t seem to have. “Saddle-bags” is what the internet told me I had, and the only cure was to undertake a full body overhaul as “spot reducing” (the first time I remember hearing and harnessing that word) is impossible.
Good foods. Bad foods. Reading labels. Making everything from scratch. Passing on the burgers and wings at the sportsball party. Making sure to drink daily green juices and maximizing macros and micros and supplements, and eating by a formula or a timer set on your watch or weighing grams and ounces and liters.
We have endless methods for managing and optimizing our nutrition; you may have even heard of it called “bio-hacking.”
These measures can easily lead us to disavow our internal cues and messages in favor of these external regimes; if this has been going on since childhood (which for many of us, it has—because that’s what our culture has taught us is the “healthy” way), we have established a pattern of distrust. It looks a little like this:
So you can see here the cycle actually BEGINS with restriction/dieting. That is not where it ENDS as so many of us think… “this is the end. This is the last time I let food hold power over me”.
This realization is a total BRAIN BEND for many when it hits. I know it was for me. It’s also permission to RELEASE.
Obsessing over your nutrition is actually keeping you in a cyclical loop that BEGINS with restriction and ENDS with you feeling like absolute crap about yourself. And then we’re back at the beginning of the cycle where we begin another round of restriction in order to feel better. This cycle is not only physically detrimental but it is likely placing a very REAL mental toll on you.
There is actually a “healthy” eating disorder called Orthorexia Nervosa. The term was coined in 1998, and it refers to the quest many embark on to become as healthy as possible. To do so, increasingly restrictive diets are pursued, and it can evolve into an obsession with perfection and eating only the “right” foods.
When there are so many different recommendations out there around what “healthy” means and what “right” is, this can cause confusion, overwhelm, and potentially even devolve into both psychological and physical symptoms.
I can speak to this personally as my obsession with being “perfect” led to depression and anxiety paired with the loss of my cycle for five years as well as fatigue, painful cystic acne, and extreme moodiness. It is not always paired with the desire to be thinner, but this is a common side effect that encourages the addition of eventual anorexia and or bulemia/binge eating disorder.
Things to keep in mind about food and knowing whether or not you are in balance with it…
Food has no moral standing. It is neither good or bad. An Oreo is not bad. A Twinkie is not bad. Kale is not bad. Snickers aren’t bad. Gluten free bread is not bad. Vegan chocolate cake is not bad. An Oreo is not good. A Twinkie is not good. Kale is not good. Snickers is not good. Gluten free bread is not good. Vegan chocolate cake is not good. An Oreo is food. A Twinkie is food. Kale is food. Snickers are food. Gluten free bread is food. Vegan chocolate cake is food. When foods develop a moral standing, such as good or bad, or when food becomes a tool to use to cope with anxiety, stress, distress, discomfort… there is a very real mental toll going on.
When a person can no longer connect with others because other people do not care as much about the purity of their bodies and put trash food in their trash bodies (literally something I’ve heard people say), there is a very real mental toll going on.
When there is little time in the day for joy or fun or pleasure because so much time is spent thinking about food, planning, food prep, research, and hitting up the next cleanse/detox… there is a very real mental toll going on.
When food has become the focus so much that the rest of life begins to fade away… that is a very real mental toll.
I’d like to share with you a better definition of perfect that a friend recently posted on social media. The origin of “perfect” is from the Latin for “per,” meaning “through or completely” and “facere,” meaning “do”. Here’s a little visual:
Rather than thinking we must be pure and attend 100% to the rules of “health” as outlined by “them”, I propose we choose instead to be complete. To experience the full width and breadth of the food spectrum. To eat that which makes us feel WHOLE and COMPLETE and FULL and experience PLEASURE and DELIGHT and DESIRE and JOY.
I invite you to consider what this could mean for you.