I often come across misinformation about dieting and disordered eating. Cherry-picked data is everywhere, as are stereotypes and assumptions.
For instance, when people talk to me about my yoga and advocacy work around eating disorder recovery, I often hear, "Well, why doesn't a person just eat?" Or: "That person doesn't look sick..." (Nobody needs to "look sick" to deserve something better!)
I understand the psychological lore of "just eating." We've all heard it before: calories in—blah blah blah.
But then, I remember: "Just eating" is a myth!
Food is a big deal on many levels.
The idea of "just eat" only makes sense in a world without social, cultural, familial, and emotional ties to food. (We do not live in that world.) It would make sense if food intake did not effect our brain chemistry and emotional bodies. (Food effects our chemistry!)
We need to remember that consumption patterns are laced into our socio-cultural-emotional bodies. Simply: eating (and disordered eating) is seldom about just food. Nowadays, eating is tantamount to (not) speaking.
Nowadays, eating is identity.
We have to feel our feelings and nourish our bodies.
Still, we need to eat. Multiple times. Everyday. So, how can we decouple physical hunger from identity? (Maybe, it's best to question why the two got paired in the first place, but I digress...). Through my own experiences, I can tell you this—physical hunger is real and has a distinct feeling.
Physical hunger may manifest as lack of focus. It may rear its head as a change in energy. Sometimes, hunger appears as a change in mood. When we reconcile our physical hunger with food, we return to biological stasis and we can continue our day. Remember though: satisfying your physical hunger will not always change your feelings. We have to feel our feelings and nourish our bodies.
Take time today. Notice what hunger feels like for you. Notice how your temperament and energy changes when you properly navigate your physical hunger.
Identity hungers in a different way. Identity hungers as a social need or a feeling that isn't being addressed. We do ourselves a disservice to feed these desires with food!
You are NOT your plate.
Sometimes, we don't even realize that we're feeding our identity hungers. First, we need to remember that who we are is separate from what we consume. Having recovered personally from an eating disorder, I can tell you that often manipulation of our diet is a reactionary response to a denial or manipulation of an unrelated need.
When I was anorexic, I needed to feel seen. I needed to feel loved. I played roulette with my plate instead of asking my people to remind me that sometimes feeling overwhelmed and feeling lost is normal. So, I used my plate to "test" how much I mattered.
Then, by manipulating my diet, I created a biological reality that effected my ability to focus and communicate from an authentic place. Eventually, I could not see where I was outside of my food behaviors because my brain was just looking to survive. Somehow though, life came back. Life came back through a lot of hard work and a willingness to recognize that both emotional and physical hungers are real. I had to lose things—including the 'diet'.
Food talk is the new weather talk.
Diet(ing) talk has become so normalized it moonlights as an identity in and of itself! We speak and self-identify based on our consumption patterns. This identification is maladaptive, because it invites us to mistakenly fulfill multiple needs (physical, emotional, basic) within our relationship to food.
All needs are not for plating!
Sure, there are times when it's appropriate to nourish ourselves with food. For example, when we have physical hungers or defiencies, nutrition helps! But, the over-identification of ourselves with our consumption is a slippery slope!
You are not your vegan / gluten free / paleo / ______ diet. You are you!
Diet is the new black. At any given time, one in four people are on a diet. This makes me sad, since I've seen too many diets propagate as maladaptive response to external stimuli. The truth of a diet is this: one will not find more love if one weighs less; one will find more love when one feels more (self) love. The relationship between you and you is what needs to change. Not how much dairy you consume! Remember, diets do not define anything other then what you put in your body on any given day.
So, eat healthfully. With love. And, be you!