Go figure that the week after Thanksgiving has me standing on a bit of a soap box. Two years ago I came home from Intensive Residential Treatment for my eating disorder on the day before Thanksgiving. My first try at eating outside the safety of the treatment facility landed on the biggest eating day of the year. How’s that for a final exam. But it wasn’t my final exam – it was the beginning of my new life. I learned from that hard landing onto reality’s runway that I don’t have to live in fear of food, even when food is the focus of a day. It shouldn’t be the focus of any day. And yet even now, I hear comments from people about food all the time – in the teacher’s lounge at school, at Snap Fitness when I’m exercising, out for supper with friends, around the dinner table with my family. Let me tell you what people say that really bother me as a recovered eating disorder patient:
“I need to go burn off all those calories I just ate.”
“I shouldn’t have eaten that.”
“Do you know how many calories are in that piece of pie?”
“I”m going to have to go on a diet for a week after eating that.”
“I won’t tell you how much sugar is in that cake.”
“I’m going to gain weight just looking at that.”
I abhor hearing comments like these. Truly. I’m not being overdramatic, just real. Because comments like that are the lies that I’ve learned to shut out of my head in order to give me freedom from my ED. I hate food guilt. I’ve learned that there is no good food or bad food; there’s just food. We need food to survive. Yet, it is ingrained into our culture that we should feel guilty for eating a piece of pie. We should be ashamed of ourselves for eating chips when the crunch of carrots would be much healthier. We should stop eating M&Ms mid afternoon because all those calories add up.
I remember sitting on my couch tied to the Today show as they did segments showing how many calories in a burger from a certain restaurant verses the at-home version you can make using ingredients you can fake yourself out with. I used to be addicted to the food network’s Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives with Guy Fieri because I could drool over all the diner food he tasted while vowing that I’d never dare to put that greasy food in my own mouth. I’d bake delectable desserts for people while congratulating myself for never eating them myself. I’d experiment with using cauliflower instead of potatoes or egg whites instead of the yolks. I knew all the tricks. All of them. All. Of. Them. And I prided myself in being the healthiest eater on the planet.
What a fool I was.
I will tell you what I have learned of healthy eating. Healthy eating is not deprivation or trading out this for that. Healthy eating is balance – balance in types of food and balance in feeling satisfied. I learned not to get overly hungry and not to get overly full. When I was in treatment, my dietitian didn’t create my food plan based off of calories. I never counted calories. I counted tallies based off of food groups – grains (oh my word, yes, carbs), fruits, vegetables, dairy, protein, fats, and desserts. I ate a balanced diet of all sorts of food. My dietitian never said, “So I will teach you the right way to eat which means cutting carbs and eating only healthy fats.” I was retaught how to eat using food, plain and simple.
And before you make the argument that this way of eating only applies to me because I was recovering from an eating disorder, please stop. Because I don’t want to hear it. Of course I’d never condone eating nothing but desserts all day. Or a diet of only bread. Eating is about balance. Eating is about being hungry and being full. Eating is about enjoying the flavors and textures of food, but not obsessing over the amount of calories in each bite. I don’t count calories any more, and I don’t know if I could ever explain to you the freedom in that. When I find food guilt creeping into my thoughts, and anxiety squeezing my heart, I call on my intellect to overcome my feelings. “I feel fat” is just that – a feeling. I fall back on my tallies. I trust in what I was taught in treatment. I use logic instead of lies. Food is food. It’s not the enemy. It’s not the means to maintain control on my life. Food is the variety of nutrients God created to let all of the organs in our body function at the proper level to stay healthy and strong. The end.
And so. Use the hunger cues God gave you. Use balance in the foods he gave you. And enjoy a good meal. Enjoy a snack. Enjoy a dessert. Enjoy an apple. Enjoy a dinner roll with butter. Eat and then stop when you are satisfied. Respect the body’s ability to use what we take in for our good. Depend on balance, and then comments like, “I need to go burn off the calories I just ate” should never have to enter your mind, much less leave your mouth.
Find freedom in food for it’s own sake. Let’s break the cycle of food guilt.