For a lot of folks in eating disorder recovery (or recovery from diet culture), facing your “fear foods” can be revolutionary! If you’ve kept yourself from eating “cheat foods” or “fear foods” that incite feelings of guilt, shame, unworthiness, and failure, then it’s no wonder you might feel liberation and freedom when those same foods become neutral. Here, I talk about the food rules, why they’re not helpful, and fat phobia. Part Two covers something called Diet Land and Donut Land.
In eating disorder recovery, one of the goals is to make food and movement (among other things) neutral. That is, a donut has the same level of satisfaction and value as a salad. Doing an intense fitness class holds the same value as a slow, restorative yoga class. In other words, the value of food and activity comes from what your body determines what it wants and needs (not your brain or the “shoulds” you hear from society).
When foods and exercise live on a hierarchy, we make it easy label things as “good” or “bad.” Then, when we engage in “good” or “bad” things we start making ourselves feel “good” or “bad” about ourselves based on those actions. So, for instance, if we eat a “good” food, then we might feel worthier or praise ourselves for having willpower. If we eat a “bad” food, then we might think of ourselves as “bad,” feel shame, and berate ourselves for all the bad things we’ve ever done (cue the shame spiral).
Has this ever happened to you?
When we put all foods and movement on a level playing field, we can let go of the notion that we’re moral or right for doing certain things over others. We also make room for joy and freedom because there’s no punishment for breaking arbitrary food and movement rules.
“But Kate,” you say, “What about when I stop using those rules? Am I going to gain a lot of weight and feel bad about myself?”
My response: I want you to ask yourself if you’ve always felt “good” when you’re consumed by following a “lifestyle plan” that makes you feel guilty for going off plan. Do you actually feel good about yourself when you constantly think about food or the next mealtime? How do you feel when you notice tiny body changes out of your control? Most folks I know tell me that they feel worse about themselves when they’re constantly trying to be “good” and follow their food and movement plans.
You see, when we follow these rules, we actually make it harder to listen to our body’s natural wisdom. (Yes, your body has natural intuition and wisdom!). Everyone’s body has different needs. Engaging in food and movement rules makes us lose touch with our own natural hunger cues. Hunger makes it harder to think, recover from exercise, increases moodiness, and contributes to isolation. It’s really hard to know what your body’s needs are when someone else is telling you how to eat or when to work out next.
Your body naturally knows when it’s hungry, the kinds of nutrients it needs, and when it needs movement. When was the last time you checked in with your body about these kinds of needs instead of listening to “experts” (or your eating disorder) that suggest ignoring your body cues? Do they know your body? Are they living in your body? Do they know what kind of life experiences your body remembers?
Not trusting our bodies can make us feel disconnected, anxious and sad. Lack of body trust contributes to believing we’re bad, then acting violently towards our bodies. (Violence takes the form of diets, eating disorder issues, binging/purging, restricting, weighing, over-exercising, obsessively counting calories, etc.).
Looking outward for approval (i.e. not trusting ourselves) leads to believing we’re not worthy, restricting nourishment, self-harming, or letting people take advantage of our bodies and minds. If we self-sabotage and distrust ourselves enough, then we become easier targets to letting others treat us the same way through toxic relationships.
Here’s another layer to the story: Your worry is rooted—by no intentional fault of your own—in fat phobia.
Not only do eating disorder and diet rules decrease body trust, they serve to keep people compliant within a fat phobic culture. That’s right. Society uses scare tactics to keep people reaching for the “thin ideal” sold to us by diet culture. Diets are a glorified eating disorder program.
The thin ideal makes billions for the diet industry, pharmaceutical companies, doctor’s offices, the wellness industry, and even our government who sponsors studies about the “war on obesity” which are also backed by Big Pharma.
In your own diet and eating disorder recovery, consider how much you’re recovered. Do you still fear gaining “too much” weight or losing a certain amount of weight to be socially acceptable? If so, that’s fat phobia talking!
Take a minute to think about all the ways you’ve been following the “rules” of diet culture. If you’re feeling like an over-achiever, then write about it. Consider how you’ve internalized the “thin ideal” and fatphobic cultural norms. What kind of trusting relationship would you like to have with your body?
Stay tuned for Part Two where we get into the details of Diet Land and Donut Land (yummy!).