I’ve been in recovery from my eating and exercise disorder for 7 years now. Living in recovery means several important things for me; First and foremost is that I no longer conflate the size and shape of my body with my worth as a person. (Woo hoo! That is a big fucking win, let me tell you) Second is that I no longer restrict food in order to make my body smaller (another reaalllyy great reason to celebrate!) and Third is that I no longer participate in exercise as a form of weight control or punishment (ahh pleasurable and desired movement only… delightful!)
While all of this healing continues to feel like absolute freedom for me in my life, getting to this place was neither quick nor easy. Healing childhood wounds and breaking free from the non-stop, stifling culture of thinness and fitness has taken time, much introspection and heaping doses of courage. AND the effects on my mental and physical wellbeing and most especially on my ability to be present and loving in my relationships has made the effort more than worth it. There is no question that the constant focus on my body and the war I was waging against it was stealing my life.
So given all that I have to celebrate on my body liberation journey thus far, the following admission may come as a surprise to you;
Sometimes I think about signing up for fitness challenges and clean eating programs.
It’s true, I get roped in. Tugged on. Poked at. Pushed off balance. Confused. Most of the time, the thought is brief and fleeting and I end up back on the solid ground of my own body’s truth in a very short period of time, but I feel it only fair to let you know that it happens, that I still get stung on occasion by the poisonous tentacles of diet and fitness culture. Despite my mission to use my writing as but one voice in the chorus that is currently leading the charge to support fellow humans in finding liberation from restrictive eating and punishing exercise, I fully admit that I sometimes find myself questioning my own narrative. Shit, I think it would be almost impossible not to in our “health” obsessed, fat phobic culture.
There are days where every single message related to health or the human body I come across seems to be one of shame and fear mongering, messages very often rooted in all kinds of oppression. Most weeks the conversations I overhear at the coffee shop, experience in my clinic space or see on social media are ones that reinforce the damaging message that being thin and fit is the answer to every single one of life’s problems. Spoiler alert; I tried it and it’s not.
I will tell you that when my pants get tight, (and they sure as hell do because my body is not and never will be a damn machine!) it can feel pretty darn tempting to simply throw up my hands and toss back a shot of the koolaid that most everyone around me is drinking. After all, I’ve been conditioned to do just that for 40 plus years.
Sally’s doing Whole 30. Barry’s counting macros. Jane signed up for a bootcamp challenge….and on and on. And then come the kudos. Way to go girl! You’re getting healthy! Such will power and control!
It’s Every. Fucking. Where.
And so with all this bombardment, it’s truly not surprising that despite all the work I’ve done, I occasionally hear a small voice in my head that whispers,
“Maybe I should be doing that too?”….
The truth is, the diet and fitness neural connections in my brain are still present. It makes sense given that I spent over 40 years forging and then grooming those connections into a streamlined electrical super highway. These pathways of restriction don’t just crumble overnight. What does happen to that super highway over time however is that it gets much much quieter the less traffic there is on it and as a result it becomes much easier to manage when one lone vehicle does decide to take the old, out of date road.
(This is the part where I say, "Hang in there! It's a practice and it does get easier, I promise you. Set backs are normal and expected when attempting to extract yourself from a belief system as insidious as the thin ideal but you can break free.")
The cultural story we have about food and exercise has not yet changed. There is no doubt that it is chang-ING but there are still relatively few diet and fitness outliers out there compared to the legions of “thin and fit is it!” preachers we see in our media feeds. We cannot ignore the fact that we live in a world that idolizes the lean body and demonizes any body that’s not that. It’s hella difficult to shield oneself from that! Especially when the “your body is wrong” message is consistently communicated under the guise of concern for one’s “health”. (And there’s a whole other blog post brewing on that topic as well!) The good news is that this does not mean that it’s not possible to choose a more peaceful and loving existence individually within our bodies and in our relationships with food and exercise. Cultural shields can be erected and triggers can be managed and I’ve learned that it all drastically lessens in intensity the longer peace has been a viable option.
So how have I learned to combat the voices around me that sometimes trigger those old out of date ones still lurking within?
Step one: I notice my thoughts and the reactivity that’s present. I become the watcher of my reaction and simply register that I am contemplating diet and overexercise ideas AND I do this with compassionate curiosity. “Isn’t that interesting that I think I need to sign up for a 30 day bootcamp challenge. Why am I thinking that would be beneficial? What am I hoping that would do for me in this moment? If I pretend that this isn’t actually about my weight, what might it be truly about?”
Step two: I pause and find my centre. Not the centre of someone else or of the culture that is broken, but my own. Very very often when I find myself contemplating some form of self harm through dietary restriction or exercise, I find that I have actually left my own energetic self and jumped into someone else’s beliefs, energy, or fear. My centre knows my truth. And when I’m solidly in myself it’s so much easier to see through the lies of what I think a small body will get me. Often times for me, this re-centering process will involve spending some alone time out in nature, doing some journaling, listening to music or simply giving myself a day off from my to do list.
Step three: I ask myself what I know to be true on my journey so far. The longer I’ve been in recovery the easier and quicker it gets for me to move out of diet and fitness triggers. After 7 years on this path, I now know very deeply that the answer to whatever is happening for me when I’m ruminating about my body rarely ever has to do with the need to change it . The desire to lose weight or be fitter is usually a symptom that something else may need my attention. It’s typically a call to move inward for a bit and have a look at my self care process or the balance of my life. Obsessing about food and exercise never once made my life better.
Step four: I call upon community. I pull up an article or listen to a podcast that helps re-affirm my truth. Even the most stalwart of body liberation warriors need help and support sometimes because…well because the culture. I have several people, websites and podcasts bookmarked for just such occasions and they save me repeatedly. I’ll share some of my favorite bad ass body liberation warriors with you in the links below.
Christy Harrison MPH, RD, CDN- Food Psych Podcast
The Militant Baker
Made on a Generous Plan
Be Nourished with Hilary Kinavey, MS, LPC and Dana Sturtevant, MS, RD
Lori Race is a Registered Acupuncturist, Health & Wellness Clinic Owner and Master Certified Life Coach who loves to have conversations about self-compassion and how to apply it to real human lives. In her work with patients and clients, Lori uses a combination of Life Coaching tools, Acupuncture and heart centred human connection to help people begin seeing themselves and others through the lens of compassion and understanding. Lori is currently working on a book about the impact of creating meaningful movement practices (aka exercise with intention and connection) on our society’s current body and fitness consciousness.