I know, I know. Where’ve I been? Working (The Mary Sue keeps me too busy to blog during most of the day), Incredible Girl-ing, applying for this year’s writing fellowships with Adam (and revising the scripts needed to do so), and for the past week, I’ve been trying to pay closer attention to my health by participating in the Fit Girls’ Guide 28-Day Jumpstart Challenge, a program I heard about through a friend that’s designed to get you eating cleaner by cooking healthier food, and doing regular exercise. The battle for health and fitness has always been a difficult one for me, but here I am, trying again, because I know how important it is not only for my health, but in order for me to live the kind of life I want to live. Also, I need an excuse to try and cook more, because I’ve always wanted to, but I’ve also always been lazy. 🙂
My schedule during Week One last week was uncharacteristically busy, which meant that I was waking up, working, and had some sort of meeting or obligation in the evening that I’d come home late from and have to get to bed right after – meaning that I had no time to make any of Nerdstrong‘s classes, or do the prescribed FitGirls 30-minute workout on every day save one. Still, my food game was pretty much on point, and even though I ate things that weren’t on program, because I was eating out at these meetings/obligations, I made healthier choices for the most part, and I was proud of myself. The Jumpstart is a group challenge, meaning that you’re part of a community sharing with and encouraging each other on Instagram. You’re supposed to take pictures every day – of your meals, of your workouts, etc – to hold yourself accountable and to allow from encouragement from the group, and because I’m me and like to share, I also shared the photos and progress on my Facebook and Twitter in addition to Instagram, because why not?
Well, here’s why not.
Not a week into the program, I had a couple of well-meaning friends, acquaintances, and family members commenting on how I could improve. They were supportive of my efforts and want to see me achieve my goals, of that there’s no question…but not a week in, and people were already giving me suggestions as to how I could be doing things “better.” And as we live in a society that encourages people to constantly be dieting, everyone has their own “thing that works,” their own tips and tricks that they swear by. Never mind that everyone is different and has different metabolisms, body types, personalities, schedules, issues with food, etc. So many people felt comfortable giving their two cents in an attempt to “help.” The thing is: I never asked. It’d be one thing if I were crowdsourcing weight loss advice online, or if I’d gone to any of these people directly and said “Hey, I see you’ve done something that really works for you, can you tell me about it?” But here I was – already doing a thing – and even that wasn’t enough to deflect commentary on what I “should” be doing, or “could be doing better.” This has happened before, during other attempts of mine to get healthier, but it wasn’t until now that I really noticed how negatively it affected me.
After a couple of those moments of unsolicited advice, I started to feel down and say “Fuck it” in my head. I decided to stop sharing my progress on Facebook and Twitter (limiting it to Instagram), and over the weekend, while I didn’t overeat, I also wasn’t particularly concerned about what my meals looked like or how “clean” they were.
Could I just ignore people’s unsolicited advice? Sure, I guess. But here’s what people really need to understand about people dealing with being overweight. As I’ve written about before, people are overweight for any number of reasons. Sometimes it’s genetic. Sometimes, it’s just sheer lack of mindfulness coupled with our society’s tendency to deliver us food fast, and with the most amount of calories for the least amount of money. And sometimes, people overeat because they have an eating disorder.
As I’ve written about before, compulsive overeating, or binge eating, is a disorder the same way that anorexia or bulimia are. And so it’s not just a matter of “eat less, exercise more.” There’s other stuff going on, and one’s relationship with food is very different than it is for those who don’t deal with that. Yet, just as well-meaning people make the mistake of telling someone with anorexia to “just eat something,” while ignoring the myriad psychological things that are going on, people feel free to tell people who binge eat either what to eat, or when to eat, or when not to eat, without taking into account that individual person’s needs, wants, or issues.
For me, binge eating has a lot to do with control. I’ve noticed that the times in my life where I’ve eaten the most are the times when I feel like my life is the most out of whack, and food is one of the few things I have any power over. So, whenever anyone tells me what I should eat or not eat (and I didn’t ask them, and they’re not a medical professional), my reflex response is to eat whatever I damn well please. My response in these instances has gotten better. I don’t sneak food the way I used to, and when I eat “whatever I damn well please,” I’m better equipped to stop mid-stream or to make choices that are only partially unhealthy (ordering fried food at a diner) and not completely unhealthy (going to 7-11 and buying a pint of ice cream, cookies, and a package of cupcakes to eat on the walk home). Still, the impulse is there. I don’t know that it’ll ever not be there. All I can do is figure out how best to handle those moments when they crop up.
However, there’s something all of you can do. If you really want to support someone who’s trying to get healthier with regard to food – KEEP YOUR SUGGESTIONS AND OPINIONS TO YOURSELF UNTIL YOU’RE ASKED. By all means, cheer people on – I have amazing friends and family who are constantly rooting for me, and even the folks who’ve given me the unsolicited advice have cheered me on, and I’m so grateful for that. A kind word goes a long way, and the phrase “you can do it!” never gets old. But keep your suggestions on how they can improve, or what they should or shouldn’t be eating to yourself unless you’re asked for your opinion. You’re not a doctor. I don’t care how many diets you’ve been on, or how much weight you’ve lost, or how much research you’ve done on the internet. All that shows anyone is what worked for you. Everyone is different physically, and everyone’s specific food issues are different.
Me? I can overeat ANYTHING. If all I have is salad stuff in the house, I’ve been capable of making 3-4 salads in a row, piled with ingredients and dressing. I’ve been able to have several bananas in a row. I can pound back yogurt like it’s nobody’s business. So, what I’m trying to work on is repairing my relationship with food – all food. Which means that it’s unhealthy for me to categorize foods into “good foods” and “bad foods,” because anything can be a bad food for me. So while yes, I’m trying to get into the habit of cooking healthier food, it’s not so much about eating “good foods” so much as it’s about rewiring my brain to recognize that I have even more food options than I’ve ever given myself, and that I should explore them. It’s not about a deprivation mentality, it’s about having all the options in the world and then choosing what makes your body feel better. And yes, my body feels better when it has more nutrition and less ice cream. But that doesn’t mean that ice cream is completely off the table. It just means that ice cream can’t be THE SOLE REASON I LIVE AND BREATHE. (BTW – I haven’t had ice cream in a good long while) It’s less about telling myself what I “can’t have” and more about just being more mindful of what I eat, and making every choice a purposeful one. Am I actually hungry right now? What will actually satisfy me as opposed to just being a temporary food Band-Aid. And also, it’s OK to like food. Food isn’t “just fuel.” It’s not. It has cultural significance, it’s comforting, it’s a part of all of our celebrations and observances, and that’s okay. The thing is, there are people who can have it be that, and are capable of stopping eating when they’re full, or who don’t constantly think about the next time they’re going to get to eat, or who don’t feel the need to secretly stuff themselves with baked goods when no one is watching. And there are people who do exactly those things.
I’m one of them. Or rather, I used to do those things, and I now do them less and less as I find different ways to cope with things and actively pursue things that make me happier than any food ever could. And I’m not trying to blame the people who give unsolicited advice. After all, I had these problems long before you told me I should lay off carbs, or how many fruits I should eat. All I’m asking is that you understand that I’m simply working on trying to have a normal relationship with food. With all food. I’m trying to eat in a balanced way as a habit, and I’m taking steps to learn what balanced means. I ask you to understand that your well-meaning advice could be the very thing that triggers another binge for me. And I ask you to understand and trust that if I need help, I will ask for it, difficult though that is.
And, I wanna thank all my wonderful friends and family for all their support! I want you to know that even if you’re one of the people I’m talking about, I know you have my best interests at heart, and I’m so grateful that you care! 🙂 And to those of you who’ve been non-stop fonts of encouragement, THANK YOU, TOO! Knowing that I have people in my life who love and care for me is actually one of the things I focus on to remind me that I don’t need to eat to feel full. 🙂