I have been exploring “Real Food” over the last month or so, and for Lent have been practicing keeping away from refined sugar. It’s been an interesting and eye-opening experiment so far. I started thinking about Real Food about a month ago, stumbling across the 100 Days of Real Food challenge (www.100daysofrealfood.com). As I read it, there was something about it that instantly connected with me. My last blogpost dove into some of the challenges with body image that have resided within my head for many years… as a result of that, I am loathe to go on diets. I think dieting is a sham, a complete and absolute sham. I think that unless we make changes to our diet that are ongoing and sustainable, dieting actually ends up causing us more harm than good. I have been on most of the dieting schemes at one point or another … Glycemic Index, The Zone, cabbage soup diet (that one was the worst! ;)), blah blah blah. And you do lose weight, of course you do, but it comes back… with a vengeance, and you end up feeling worse than when you started, less motivated the next time around, taking you further and further away from goals that have any relation to health or wellbeing and pushing you into an endless cycle of shame, failure, and self-loathing. For a few years now, I have refused to go on any diet purely for self-protection – I just can’t take it anymore.
But, all of that said, I am eager to explore health and wellbeing. I want to feel good in my body, to practice eating and movement that make me feel good, that give me energy, that strengthen my body and my ability to handle what life throws at me. My distaste of diets has cast a shadow over this goal, keeping me from exploring it for fear of sinking back into the mire of dieting.
But Real Food offers me an opportunity to change my diet, ie: what I eat, in a way that serves my goals, which remain steadfastly focused on wellbeing and health, and not weight loss. Real Food is simple, which is what I love the most – there are no scales, no weird proportions, no powders or points or weigh-in sessions. It’s simply this… eat whole foods (as close to their original form as possible), avoid refined sugar and fried foods, try to make things yourself but if you eat packaged foods, choose ones with 5 ingredients or less. Voila, that’s it!
The other central part of my wellbeing exploration, is Mindful Eating, and this is quite possibly more important than the real food, although they go hand in hand. Mindful Eating is also simple… eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re full. Pay attention to your body to get these signals and take care of your body by providing what it needs. It’s that simple, and it’s that difficult.
For many people, food is a source of comfort, at times a celebratory experience, at times it roots us to aspects of ourselves, our past, our culture. Food brings us together with others, centres social experiences, creates opportunities for positive memories. These things are so important, and what I’m discovering is that food should be a comfort, it should provide more than just nutrients. What is harder to learn is that food is not for numbing. Numbing is different than comfort, it is a shutting off or a shutting down. When things feel too hard, we are overwhelmed, and life has dealt us a tough hand or a tough day, we choose things that make it go away. For some people, this is alcohol, some it is drugs, some people like a cigarette, some people zone out in front of the television. For me, this has always been food. A way of checking out, disconnecting, and escaping whatever chaos has taken up residence within me. But the snag in this plan is two-fold…. first, the numbing doesn’t last, the feelings come back, sometimes stronger than before because they have been combined with the feelings of guilt and shame at using food to numb again. The second is that when you numb the pain, you numb the joy. We don’t have the power to selectively numb, and to choose which feelings we want to shut off, we just shut them all down. We escape our pain, but we also miss out on our joy. Getting into those feelings, allowing ourselves to feel them can be positively wretched, I won’t pretend it is fun … but it opens up the opportunity for us to feel the good things too, which is so worth it.
I don’t know why I want to write about all this, except to say that although all of this is decidedly simple, it is revolutionary for me. Learning to be in my body, to feel when it needs something, to provide what it needs, to take care of it in a nurturing and gracious way, this is new ground. Diets be damned, but this new path for me is a good one. I am having fun exploring how to make foods myself, I am learning about the crazy things they put in processed food and the effect this can have on our health, and most importantly, I am feeling good. Nourished, cared for, energetic, ready for what comes my way (well, at least a bit more ready ;)).
How do you relate to food? What positive or negative associations have you made with it? How do you pursue health in how you nourish and move your body?