Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Weighing In On What I'm Supposed to Do and How I Choose to Be

Dede Craig King posted something that pushed me to put into words something that’s been on my mind for a while and it has to do with food, eating, hunger, and stuff I’ve been dealing with lately.

Specifically, Dede said this:
I don't get hungry the way I'm supposed to, rather I have to see food or be reminded of it to remember to eat.
When I was younger, even into my 20s, this is exactly how I was.  I would eat when I was hungry, often going nearly a whole day without doing more than eating a little fruit or toast, eating one meal, typically dinner.  Having children forced me to be a little more focused on when we ate and a schedule for meals entered my life.  Mostly, however, I ate leftovers, which is not unusual for mothers.  I mean, you hate to see the food go to waste and when a toddler is done you don’t want to push them to eat more.  So I often finished a bowl of pasta or ate the last corner of a sandwich. 

Image found here.
No doubt I was not eating enough calories or getting the full range of nutrients I was supposed to get.  In my early 40s, I finally slowed down to look at how I was eating to compare my typical daily diet with how I should be eating.  After all, we all know we are supposed to eat a certain amount of protein, carbohydrates, healthy fats.  I definitely was not getting enough protein so I adopted the Atkins Diet and there were the usual nay-sayers about how I’d start having cholesterol problems and, when I stopped, I’d regain any of the weight I lost.

I did gain weight, eventually, but not when I stopped rigidly following the diet.  My cholesterol levels didn’t change, nor did my blood pressure.  Eventually, I did gain weight but that was because I was stuck in bed for a year and I think it’s safe to say that anyone would gain weight under those circumstances. 


Image found here.
Therein lies an implication because western medicine has traditionally approached healing from a generalized perspective.  What holds true for the many is true for all.  Up until recently this was especially problematic for women who were told they needed more iron because research showed that men naturally have more iron in their blood so women, who have less iron, are obviously more prone to anemia.  Men also had more heart attacks and it only took a few decades and a quickly rising number of heart attacks in women for someone somewhere to discover a connection between iron levels and increased risks of heart attacks.  Women, who naturally get rid of excess iron once a month, were told they needed to take iron supplements because they were anemic based on natural levels for men.  Yep.  Nothing wrong with that logic.

We’ve come a long way, baby, and the medical industry no longer makes generalized statements regarding what is good for women based on what is good for men. 

Image found here.
We still have a long way to go to realize that what is true for many is not necessarily true for everyone.  Which brings me back to this whole concept of how we are supposed to eat because, when I expressed my concern regarding my weight gain to my doctor, she suggested I try Weight Watchers and for the first time I was tracking every bit of food I ate, making sure I was hitting my daily points each and every day.  This often required my eating when I was not hungry or looking at how many more points I had left after eating a satisfying dinner and trying to add more food to the end of my day so I wouldn’t fall short. At the same time, I was beginning to exercise regularly so I went from a sedentary life to an increasingly active one when I joined the program.

Week after week, I went to the meetings and I weighed-in.  After six months, I had lost no weight at all.  Nothing.  Not even the first five pounds that would have earned me a keychain reward, a reward I watched other newer Weight Watchers users earn.  But not me.  And I had Rob there supporting me, encouraging me, and reminding me that I had to find something that was worth 3 more points before I could stop eating for the day.

Does anyone else think it’s insane to eat when you are not hungry because someone out there says you are supposed to eat?

Don’t get me wrong.  I know Weight Watchers works and I know why.  I can also tell you why it did not work for me.  That, however, is not the purpose of this blog post.   

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about food, about our culture’s relationship to food, and about my body.  What it means to be a middle-aged woman and how I seem to be putting on weight regardless of how I eat and how much I exercise because I keep listening to those who know better than I and want to tell me what I am supposed to do.  Because if you don’t eat enough protein, you won’t have enough iron and can’t really build muscle mass but you also need carbohydrates for easy energy and cell formation while you also need to eat enough calories because you don’t want to slow down your metabolism and start storing fat.  Oh, and don’t forget that women-of-a-certain age usually gain weight (as if we were supposed to gain weight) and probably don’t need as many calories but you’re supposed to eat so many calories or you’ll go into starvation mode and your metabolism will slow down which it does anyway because you’re older now and . . .

Image found here.
During my trip I decided to just stop.  Stop listening to them and do something really crazy (and not so crazy making).  I decided to listen to my body.  I know my body needs more protein and I don’t believe for an instant that my body needs to eat when it is not hungry just to reach some mandatory caloric intake established to meet the dietary needs of the many.

I am not the many. I am me.  When I get quiet enough (i.e. when I stop listening to them and start listening to me), amazing things happen.  I reconnect with my body.  I feel my hunger and notice that not all hunger is the same.  Sometimes my hunger is dehydration.  Sometimes it’s boredom.  Sometimes it’s just an urge to have a savory or sweet something in my mouth, something that can be satisfied with a small snack rather than an entire meal. 

For some people, anger or fear or stress feels like hunger.   Sometimes loneliness or sorrow feels like hunger.   We feed our emotions with food when our bodies are not needing to be fed.

I am allowing myself to eat when I feel hungry but I don’t run to eat food every time I feel hungry.  I pause to experience this hunger that was denied me in Weight Watchers and which I would find impossible to experience if I were to eat the recommended 1444 calories a day I’m told I should be eating. 

I haven’t lost any weight but I have a renewed relationship with my body, a more positive attitude towards the foods I choose to eat, and I feel connected with myself in ways I haven’t felt in the years since I stopped listening to what I knew on an intuitive level and asked my doctor and other experts what I was supposed to do.  It’s only been a few weeks but this is working for me.  And my food hasn’t tasted this good in quite a while.