Sunday, 5 May 2013

Another decision made

Tw: diets, disordered eating &c.

Today I discovered this website. And it made me really angry. It's all about intuitive eating. Saying "fuck it" to diets, completely, totally. Accepting your own urges to eat three cookies or ten. To say "no" to boiled cabbage and "yes" to steak, cheesecake, camembert, whatever, as your body asks you to. To avoid eating habits and exercise habits driven by the goal of weight loss.

So, three things you may or may not know about me:
  1. Throughout my teens and adult life, I've varied only between "overweight" and "obese" by the BMI categories. Today, I weigh 183 pounds (13 stone 1; 83 kg) giving me a BMI of 28.5.
  2. I've basically spent the last 15-18 years on a slow journey from feeling very unhappy in my own skin to being very comfortable with my body and myself. I used to feel ugly, gross, dissociated. Not just because of the weight, but because I felt deeply unhappy in myself, and defined my body as a meatbag for getting my brain - the bit of me that mattered - from place to place. Now I live in my body in a more peaceful way.
  3. I have never, ever been a disordered eater. Holy shit, I've never really binged or purged or cut out a food group. I've never counted calories or tried to vigilantly avoid carbs or fats or whatever. I've never forced myself to eat my greens - I like vegetables (I like all categories of food). Food has never been the enemy.

I've never dieted - never committed to a diet, anyway - and I've always been happy about that fact
I look around at my beautiful friends and their dissatisfaction with their bodies. I read of women who feel the need to spend their lives in constant vigilance against themselves. I see and hear misery - unnecessary misery.
Front pages of non-glossy magazines alternating, week by week, between judging famous women for being too thin and for not being thin enough, and telling us that they're struggling, that these women are deeply upset, as if to deliberately reinforce the narrative that if you aren't the mystical "right size", the only appropriate - only known - response is to be deeply upset.
Women judged for what they look like and for what they eat. Moral judgements made about people's personal appearance and eating habits. "Fat bitch"; "skinny bitch". Adults referring to the eating of a cookie as "naughty", and refraining from doing so as "good". Men starting to experience the same pressures more and more.
A horrible classist negativity to people in poverty who are overweight or obese. Never mind that they're in circumstances that stretch their energies even thinner than their cash. Never mind that I can take cucumber and hummus to work and if it doesn't satisfy, drop a couple of quid on a sandwich to fill me up without blinking (a privilege they lack). And never mind that when my life or yours is as difficult as theirs - which is seldom - those are the times you "indulge" and they have to handle those challenges 24/7, for months or years or forever. Why can't they just eat well?

I see it all, and I think: Fuck That Shit. I've plumped for opting out of that culture. Do Not Want.

And yet. I like "wholesome" food, and I try to eat plenty of it. Vegetables, in particular. I've been trying to up my dairy of late, being as how I'm female and want to minimise my risks of osteoporosis down the line. If I have much in the way of carbs at lunchtime, I get sleepy at 3pm - just when I need to be getting a second wind to get another couple hours of good work done before clocking off - so I've been trying to avoid having substantial carbs at lunchtime. I've taken to having breakfast before work, and having a "graze box" snack at breaktime, to keep my energies high so I don't get lethargic or crabby or snappy with my students. And, quite frankly, I've been concerned about my sugar intake, since I drink a bottle of soda most days. So I've been trying not to have too too much sugar (though I opt for sugar in preference to sweeteners). And I sincerely want to know how what I'm eating is likely to affect me - what micronutrients and macronutrients I am and aren't getting enough of. So I asked a dear friend if there's an app she knows of which tracks this data, and she referred me to myfitnesspal.

This app is refreshingly upfront about being a weight loss tool, but I figured I could ignore that functionality and focus on seeing if I'm getting enough fibre, iron, vitamin A. Find out what proportions of protein, fat and carbs I'm taking in, and whether they vary much day to day. Seeing how much sugar I'm consuming and finding out easy ways to manage that.

So I got it and started using it. And it was interesting! Gosh, the yogurt I can get at school has rather a lot of sugar in. Whoa, actually, I'm apparently way overconsuming sugar. And underconsuming protein (the app set me a goal of 71g a day - yet I've found information online suggesting that women shouldn't be banking much more than 40-50g a day). And there's my calorie goal, right up where I can see it every time I enter a foodstuff. But apparently I'm getting next to no iron. Or vitamin A. It sadly doesn't track all the micronutrients I'm interested in, but never mind that. If I enter a half-pound british beef rump steak, that - apparently - contains zero iron. Hmm, I was under the impression that beef was an iron-rich food! I guess the folk populating the (admirably complete) database of foods care more about calories and fats than iron and selenium. And so my attention drifted to what was available: the energy content of food.

First, sugars: my daily "goal", set by the app, is 38g. To put this into context, one banana, an unsweetened yogurt, and a glass of carrot and orange juice - a healthy breakfast, by my reckoning - puts me on 41g sugar for the day before 8am. Ah. Never mind that my GDA is a more attainable 90g… I'm consuming more than that too… but it seems a bit orthorexic to me to cut sugar down so drastically that an apple, a banana and a yogurt (I'll say again: unsweetened) fills your entire allowance for the day. Being more aware of my sugar intake has benefits - I know to reach for a typical yogurt or a cereal bar if I want a quick boost, rather than a light snack - but these guidelines seem dangerously constraining.

So I started paying attention to calories. That didn't take long! (the first day I entered was Tuesday this week - 6 days ago)
When you "complete an entry" for the day, it predicts how much you'd weigh in 5 weeks if that were your regular intake. I can also reassure readers that if you consume less that 1200 calories a day it warns you both that putting your body into "starvation mode" is counter-productive for weight loss, but also that it's "difficult to receive adequate nutrition at these calorie levels". But I also now know that if I stick to a banana, an apple and a yogurt each day, I could weigh 165 pounds by mid-June, and that's a freaky and unsettling notion.

On Thursday, I entered my foods on quite late… and was "over" on calories. But I'd not eaten the cookies I'd bought yet, so I gave away a cookie and a half out of the three-cookie pack I'd bought at Subway. I commented, as I hung out with my friends that evening, that I'd somehow transitioned into being on a diet. I wasn't sure how I felt about that. I want to be fitter, stronger. I can certainly see advantages to being at least a little slimmer - maybe one or two dress sizes. On the other hand, if I lose more weight (this is as slim as I've really been), then lots of lovely clothes won't fit me anymore. And I really, really like my wardrobe. But more than that, I fear getting sucked into that culture. Into feeling a conflict between what my body's telling me it needs and what my smartphone's telling me would be naughty. Into analysing foods to the exclusion of experiencing them. Into resisting and resisting and then letting go and eating a whole bunch of cookies and then feeling shit about myself. Feeling weak. Into food being something to monitor and control; into food being the enemy. But I had a new skirt on that made me feel quite slender, and I was enjoying it. So, ok. I'm on a diet now.

And then I read this website. And I felt really angry. I was properly pissed off - with myself. I don't believe that my weight is medically unhealthy, nor a sign of immorality, nor a thing that renders me unattractive. It's not something that needs correcting. And so, I'm back to where I was before: should something tell me that I should restrict my eating in any way, shape or form, I say: Fuck That Shit.

Dieting apps? Fuck That Shit.
Staff at the gym, when inducting me, recommending cardio during my weights sessions to burn calories? Fuck That Shit.
My boyfriend making jokes that if I eat a lot after going to the gym is undoing the hard work? Fuck That Shit.

I eat to nourish myself, listening to my body and my emotions. I've never binged. I exercise to strengthen myself, to feel fitter and more powerful. Not to burn calories.

And it's "naughty" to pull someone's pigtails. Eating a cookie is a fucking lifestyle choice.  Fuck All Of That Shit.

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