Think about your last meal. Were you actually there? Were you at the table, tasting your food, smelling its aroma, feeling its texture as you chewed and swallowed? Or were you in your mind, mentally lining up the next thing on your to-do list, composing …
What’s real story behind chronically weighing, calorie counting and dieting? In Journalism 101, we learned the importance of the Five Ws (and one H) in gathering information. Answering the Ws (and H)—who, what, where, when, why (and how)—is considered essential in understanding the full story. What would happen if you applied them to your weight loss goals? Some Ws (and an H) to consider:
1. Who is it that wants to lose weight? Who is the “you” that’s dieting? Another way to ask this is, who are you, inside your body? The bottom line is, your body is a place for your soul to live. That’s it. Should it be comfortable, healthy, happy? Absolutely. But losing 10 pounds is not the call of your soul. It’s the call of your ego.
I once knew a woman who could light up a room just by walking through the door. Her eyes literally sparkled. When I spoke to her, her attention was so fully and completely on me, that it was as if no one had ever spoken before. I knew she would remember every word I said–and she did. She was so vibrant, deep, warm, compassionate, that it was a very long time before I noticed she was what some people might call “heavy.” Actually, I don’t think she ever noticed she was what some people would call heavy.
Likewise, I knew a woman who was wildly self-assured, sexy, vibrant, alive. She was in her mid 40s, tall, big boned; she weighed close to 185 pounds, and she literally turned heads walking down the street. Her secret: Inside, she loved herself, she was healthy and she felt good. That was enough for her. She knew who she really was, and that her body was comfortable, well-nourished–even if it wasn’t petite.
2. What would happen if you never lost weight? We set so many conditions on our love for ourselves. Unconsciously (or not) one of those conditions may be our weight. “I’ll feel better about myself when I’ve lost 20 pounds,” or “If I can just get rid of this last 5 pounds, I’ll be able to get on with my life.” As far as you know, this is the only life you have, and it’s happening right now. What would happen if you lived it right now, as you are, weighing what you do and wearing the size you wear? Can you love yourself anyway? Pause here, take a deep breath, close your eyes, and ask yourself that question. See what comes up. If the answer is “no,” it may be that learning how to love yourself is a bigger priority than losing 20 pounds.
3. Where do you want to be in ten years? Answer that question, and you’ll have a better sense of your reason for being here. Write down where you’ll be in terms of physical health, family, relationship, spiritual practices, career, home, travel–whatever comes up for you. Chances are really good that “I’ll be X pounds lighter” will come up on your list. That’s okay. Just recognize all the other things that are on your “where I’ll be” list.
How much time, mental energy and passion are you devoting to those aspects of your life, compared to counting calories and obeying the bathroom scale? Maybe you can see where weight loss falls on your list of dreams, goals and visions, and maybe you can assign it a different priority. Losing weight is not your life’s work. Your life’s work is to love, to serve, to be honest, to develop personal integrity, to be kind, to raise healthy children, to grow spiritually, to adore yourself. Which is not to say you can’t choose to shed some excess baggage. You’ll just do it with a sense of perspective.
4. When will it be okay? I once worked with a man who slaved tirelessly to lose 15 pounds. He exercised obsessively, starved himself, became a fanatic about supplements, drank diet soft drinks and coffee throughout the day to blunt his appetite, even took up smoking to blunt his appetite. Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? But here’s what’s really crazy: once he lost 15 pounds, he wanted to lose another 5. (I should pause here to tell you that the term “crazy” was his, not mine). He felt that being 5 pounds under his goal gave him a buffer, in case he gained a few pounds back.
I realized then that, no matter how much weight he lost, he wasn’t going to be satisfied. It would never be okay, because it wasn’t about his weight, or his body. It was about his sense of self; he was depressed and dissatisfied with his life, and no amount of weight loss was ever going to make that okay.
When will it be okay for you? Ask yourself that question, then listen softly and quietly for the answer. It might surprise you.
5. Why do you want to lose weight? Ask yourself with gut-level honesty: why do you want to lose weight? Is it because the doctor told you your weight was harming your health, or because that little red two-piece swimsuit went on sale at Neiman Marcus? Is it for your wife, your health, your ego, your high school reunion, your best friend’s wedding? Is it because you’ve decided the ten extra pounds around your middle no longer serves you, or because you still want to fit into the size 4 jeans you wore in your senior year of high school? Once you’re honest with yourself, you can decide just how important it is to you to lose weight and where it fits in the grand scheme of your life.
6. How will shedding pounds serve the world? We’ve already touched on how it will serve you. Now, take it to a deeper level: how will losing weight make a difference in the world around you? Perhaps being lighter and slimmer will boost your health, and make you feel more confident, inspired, energetic and passionate; in turn, that will positively affect your children, your mate, your co-workers. There’s no right answer here; it’s just about being aware and exploring possibilities, and perhaps understanding how your own personal goals fit into the grand scheme of life.
I recently spent a lovely week on the farm where I played out my childhood summers. Sitting in the kitchen, I was awash in memories of my grandmother stirring a pot of collard greens, putting up pickles, cutting peaches for a cobbler, shelling peas into the big tin pail that still hangs in the curtained pantry.
My cousins were there, and we spent our days as we had in childhood: riding down dirt roads on the tailgate of a pick-up truck, casting our lines into the local fishing hole, and gathering around the kitchen table in eager, puppy-like anticipation of dinner. My most beloved aunt now took the place of my grandmother, but the meal was much the same.
As I was waxing poetic about the field peas and hot cornbread, one of my beloved cousins looked at me and said, with genuine curiosity, “I don’t understand getting so worked up about food.” When I nearly dropped my forkful of fried okra, she explained “I think eating is a nuisance. It annoys me that I have to stop what I’m doing because my physical body requires fuel.”
I had to wonder: does it make sense to get worked up about food? Admittedly, my viewpoint is skewed. As a food writer and intuitive eating coach, I spend my days creating recipes, researching food, teaching cooking and nutrition classes, and helping people explore their eating habits. But still. I don’t think I’m alone. As a whole, we’re just generally all hot and bothered by food. We’re seduced by it’s loveliness, enraptured by its flavor and aroma, dazzled by its health-giving properties, and wistfully smitten by its rumored ability to make us wrinkle-free, toned and lean, ten pounds lighter by Labor Day and possibly immortal.
I went to the bookstore today, to browse the magazine racks. In the food section, the spreads were like centerfolds: lushly saturated with color, glossy with sauces, the food looked almost indolent. The cover lines read “Desserts to die for,” and “Decadent dinners.” Adjacent to this were the Healthy Living sections. These were the headlines on the magazines there: “Fat-loss formula.” “Your weight minus eight” “Be thinner in 30 days.” “Foods that fight fat.” “The best cancer-fighting foods.” “Blast fat.” “Fat-melting foods.” “Lose 10 pounds this month.” “Glycemic index for weight loss.” “Four-week slim down.” “Drop two sizes.” “Eat more, weigh less.” Later that evening, when I fed our household animals, I noticed that the cat food box read “What cat wouldn’t do anything to be set loose in a deli?”
For the most part, we Americans are just impossibly worked up on about food. It can “blast fat” and protect us from cancer, and a cheesecake is worth dying for. We are alternately tormented with food porn and then chastised for eating it. We would even sell our feline souls to have free run of a deli.
It wasn’t like that for my grandmother. Stewing tomatoes and okra, chopping mustard greens, shucking corn–she saw food as utilitarian stuff that just happened to taste good. She fed it to us children, so we would grow healthy and strong, and made blackberry pies because it was the best way to use the bucketfuls we’d collected during the day. There were no tangy pomegranate molasses glazes or pungent harissa sauces; it was good, solid food, fuel for the bodies working on the farm. As far as I knew, she never counted a calorie or tried to melt fat (except in her cast-iron skillet), and she hadn’t a clue about the glycemic index of collard greens. But almost everything she ate came from the farm, and she lived to be 96, in robust good health until the very end.
I wonder what would happen if we stopped being so worked up about food? What if we stripped our meals, our clothing size and the numbers on our bathroom scale of their supposed power to extend our lives, fix our problems, and make us thinner, happier or somehow better? I wonder if not getting worked up about food, and being more matter-of-fact about our meals, is one of the first steps on the way to eating intuitively.
Loving and enjoying food, truly appreciating the seductive pleasure of a well-crafted meal, is a vital part of life. But when we start obsessing about it, giving it disproportionate power over our health and happiness, that’s when we disconnect.
When we’re frustrated by the mundane troubles of our daily lives, food is the fastest, easiest, path to pleasure and gratification. It’s always available, it never says “no,” and it’s instantaneous: who wants to spend an hour in quiet meditation, when five minutes at the pastry counter will yield the same results? Food is pleasurable, but it’s not a spiritual experience. Whether you call yourself spiritual or not, there’s a part in each of us that longs for a connection to something beyond ourselves that we can’t name. And whether you see food as a nuisance or think a cheesecake is “to die for,” it won’t get you to that connection.
What’s your relationship with food? Do you see it as an occasional necessity, or as a route to health, self-love and your overall happiness? Be honest with yourself. And please comment; I’d love to hear what you have to say.