Sunday, March 25, 2012

Eating: A Necessary Evil?

By now, if you've read any of my other posts, you know that I'm trying to re-adjust my thinking to follow the precepts brought forth by the Health at Every Size (TM) movement.  The three major ideas that H@ES promotes are:

  • Accepting and respecting the natural diversity of body sizes and shapes.
  • Eating in a flexible manner that values pleasure and honors internal cues of hunger, satiety, and appetite.
  • Finding the joy in moving one’s body and becoming more physically vital. 
I've talked a lot about the first and the third, discussing how important it is to accept people for who and what they are rather than what their body size is (large OR small!).  I've also talked about my still ongoing search to find forms of movement that I enjoy enough to do on a regular basis.

I have slacked a bit, however, in talking about the second thought.  I haven't talked much about eating and how it fits into First World Society as a whole, and how it fits into my life in particular.

Eating is viewed in many ways as a necessary evil.  We have to eat to survive, but it is so easy for our eating to become a source of self-hatred and frustration.  We are constantly bombarded with conflicting messages about food, eating, and our relationship with both of them.  We see commercials running back to back promoting the current weight loss trends with long, loving shots of gooey cheese or rich chocolate or whatever food item / restaurant they sold that air time to.  There are even entire television networks devoted to food.

We're told to "eat right and exercise", but no one seems to really know what "eat right" means.  One minute we're told to use margarine instead of butter, and the next minute we're told that butter is healthier than the hydrogenated oils used to make margarine.  Eggs are to be avoided due to high cholesterol one moment, then touted for their high protein the next.  Drinking too much is bad, but everyone should have a glass of red wine every day.  Don't eat sugar because it will rot your teeth and give you diabetes, but artificial sweeteners will give you headaches and can lead to cancer.

It really is amazing that we manage to eat anything at all with all of this being shouted at us from every direction.

And then there is H@ES, which has what I consider to be among the most important words in their philosophy about eating.  What are those words, Dear Reader?  Well, quite simply, those words are "flexible", "pleasure", and "satiety".

Look at the whole statement again:

Eating in a flexible manner that values pleasure and honors internal cues of hunger, satiety, and appetite.

Nowhere in that statement do you see any discussion of the "right" foods to eat or the "right" proportion of nutrients, or the "right" number of calories.  It simply talks about eating in a way that is flexible, pleasurable, and satisfying.  I KNOW!  Doesn't that just blow your MIND???

So let us look at these words for a bit.


To me this says quite simply that I should resist the societally-ingrained urge to categorize foods as Good Food and Bad Food.  There is no good food, there is no bad food, there is only food.  And if I stop listening to what the deafening wave of voices outside of my body keeps telling me, I will learn what it is that my body needs as well as what it wants.  Furthermore, if I let myself have what I want, when I want it, my body will tell me that it wants what it needs to sustain it at top form.  You see, one of the main reasons that we tend to think of things like ice cream as treats is that we don't allow ourselves to have it whenever we want.  I strongly suspect that for most people, if you allowed yourself to have ice cream whenever you wanted it, you would reach a point where it is just another food and something that you would eventually want only once in a while.
Thus it stops being a Bad Food, and becomes food.  Just food.

Our bodies aren't stupid.  They know what we need, and when we stop fighting them and start listening to them, what we eat becomes more balanced.  We've just forgotten how to listen.


Food is pleasurable.  There is nothing wrong with that.  Please re-read the words in bold lettering just before this sentence again.  That's right, there is nothing wrong with food being a pleasurable experience.  As a matter of fact, it SHOULD be a pleasurable experience!  We should make more of an effort to turn mealtime into a pleasant experience rather than gulping our lunch down at our desks as we work, or mindlessly shoveling food into our mouths as we watch TV.  There should be less eating while we drive, and more drive to enjoy what we eat.  I'm not saying that you shouldn't have a cheeseburger and fries (back to that whole Good Food / Bad Food thing), because cheeseburgers and fries definitely have their places in life.  What I'm saying is that you should take the time to sit down and really enjoy that cheeseburger and those fries.  Let yourself focus on the soft bun, the sweetness of the ketchup as it hits your tongue.  Think about the meatiness of the burger and the salty sharpness of the cheese.  Enjoy the tangy crunch of the pickles, the salty crisp outside and the fluffy hot inside of the fries.  It should be appreciated!
(I'll wait here as you run out to your favorite burger place.  Don't close the browser window, just pick up where you left off when you get back.  *goes and plays Star Wars: The Old Republic while she waits*)

Back now?  Okay, good!  I hope that you took your time and really tasted what you were eating, savouring those pleasurable flavours.

There will be days when you find yourself wanting to savour a crisp, green salad.  There will be days when you find yourself wanting to enjoy the cold, creaminess of gourmet frozen custard.  There will be days when your body decides that it wants to sink your teeth into a thick, juicy steak (or tofu patty...whichever you prefer).  Let it.  Appreciate every bite of whatever it is that your body is asking you for that day, that hour, that minute.  No guilt, no Good Food, no Bad Food, no beating yourself up.

And appreciate when your body says, "No thanks, I don't need anything right now."  Which leads into...


Based on the word "Sate" which has several definitions.  The one most applicable to my discussion today is:  to satisfy (any appetite or desire) fully.

I'm not talking about stuffing yourself so full that you can't move.  Every day should not be Thanksgiving!  What I'm talking about is satisfying yourself, which is something else that we seem to have forgotten how to do in our First World existence.

Again it comes back to learning how to listen to our bodies.  Learning when our stomachs have reached a point of satisfaction rather than waiting until we have to loosen our belts or we start to feel sick.  We have to learn how to pay attention as we eat, and to notice when we've gone from hungry to satisfied without being overly full.  

I can tell you that after I had my gastric bypass, I had no choice but to learn how to do this.  There are very messy and unpleasant, sometimes even painful, results if you overestimate how much you can eat at any given meal.  But really, we don't want everyone to undergo invasive surgical procedures to grasp this concept.  It would be better if people just start paying attention.  You know, while you pay attention to the tastes and textures of the foods that you're eating, also pay attention to how your body feels as those foods enter your system.  I think that you will find that by eating consciously, by allowing yourself to be aware, you will get more of a kick out of your meals AND your eating habits will slowly regulate themselves into a pattern that is most natural for you.

Since I got laid off (which is part of the reason there's been such a gap in my postings, as I had to deal with everything that goes along with being laid off first) I have found that my eating habits have drastically changed from what I assumed was my "normal" way of eating.  For me this involves eating a lot more in the way of whole foods, fruits, vegetables, and so on.  Please note that I am NOT saying that this is how everyone should eat.  As far as I'm concerned, everyone has the right to decide their own eating habits, whether that is a diet based on whole foods, or one based entirely on boxed macaroni and cheese, or something in between.  Not my call! 

But what I have found is that I have time to prepare meals from scratch every day, and that I'm able to eat the leftovers for lunch the next day, and that I can sit down and really enjoy my meals rather than shoving breakfast down my throat without tasting it so that I can get to work, and then eating my lunch at my desk while I work, and then feeling beat when I get home so just going with what is easiest rather than what I may really want. 

Oh...and being more aware of when I am actually satisfied and stopping before I feel like I've overeaten.  You know...satiety!

I know that this has been a long one, and bless those of you who have stuck it out and read to this point.  I hope that perhaps my thoughts and words here have given you pause, and maybe even gotten you to think about how you eat.  

Food is not the enemy that the Weight Loss Industry wants us to believe, nor is it the saviour that the Food Industry wants to promote.  It is, quite simply, just food.  Not good, not bad, not our downfall, not our security blanket.  It is crispy, creamy, savoury, sweet, salty, umami, charbroiled, ice-cold, fuel-providing, flavour-giving food.  We should appreciate it for what it is, and stop ascribing vice and virtue to it.
Eating food is not a necessary evil, it is a necessary pleasure and joy.  Something that we should be more aware of in our lives.'s what's for dinner. :)