I've never written about this before, but when I was in high school and college I had a mild eating disorder. Nothing extreme, but a basic binge/purge cycle, although the purge was through excessive exercise. I would have been bulimic except that I couldn't make myself throw up. And I tried. Believe me. Thank you, strong Russian stomach. But it was fairly pervasive and took up a ton of my attention and energy. I'm writing about this now because as an adult I have no obsession with food and body image whatsoever, and as a feminist I think we really need to see this oppressive, anti-woman dilemma for what it is: um, an oppressive, anti-woman dilemma.
It's the holidays, and invariably friends have started to bemoan -- along with the anxiety about the anticipated home-for-the-holidays political fights and child-rearing-criticism to come --the expected weight gain. Here's what I know. And I had to learn it, so I am writing this because I hope it helps others. Eating and being healthy and fit are completely natural. Babies know it and if we don't screw up our kids too much, they know it. Beauty magazines don't. Your best friend probably doesn't. And your parents are your parents, so whatever you learned there, therapy was invented to undo. (Across the board, probably.) But this is about eating.
When I was 20 or so, I found a book called Eating Awareness Training by Molly Groger. It is out of print because it was so against the grain of the times, and the culture that I just couldn't endure. But it's the cure for us. It's ridiculously simple. Eat when you're hungry. Stop when you're full. Eat what you want. Don't reward, punish, or really even pay a damn bit of difference to your thoughts about it all. Use your BODY to do its job. The book uses a 12-week retraining sort of program, though she's adamant that it's not a program or diet. It's just learning to listen to your body. She uses a scale of 1-10. One is starving to death, 10 you fall into a drooling coma, you're so full. Generally shoot for eating from a 3 to a 5 or 6. Eat when hungry, stop when comfortable. Seriously. That is it. It's how we were built to eat and live.
Look, of course there are exceptions and difficulties. I watch what cholesterol-inducing stuff I eat because I have horrible cholesterol, and yes, I try to be a vegetarian for political reasons, but when I'm feeling exhausted, I eat some damn protein. When I eat a lot of cheese I have salmon for my heart the next day if I feel like it. But seriously, I don't think about this crap. I haven't gained or lost weight -- except, obviously, when I was pregnant -- in 15 years. And I'm not "one of those lucky people" who doesn't have to worry because I have a killer metabolism or something. I am a lazy piece of crap many weeks of the year (read: this week), and I just don't want as much food during those times so I don't gain weight then, either. Am I sounding annoying? I'm sorry if I am, but seriously, I want to stress that I'm not lucky or special. This is everyone's birthright, and the culture has done everything possible to mess with our minds about this. Men, too, but women more. I mean, we can see Philip Morris for what it is, convincing us to smoke. So why don't we feel an incredible urge to attack our fashion magazines for making us crazy? Why are we still buying them?! And why are they still messing with us? They are run by strong, sometimes feminist, women. Let's hold them accountable. Write letters. Send them a bathroom scale smashed to pieces. Or brownies!
When I was in college, my girl friends and I talked a lot about dieting. Now, we talk about girls' schools in Afghanistan, we talk about "legitimate rape," we talk about the fact that New York is underwater and climate change will continue to get worse, we talk about our children and our aging parents. We talk about why the fuck the Obama administration restricted the morning-after pill.
Do you know the diet industry --and we're not just talking Diet Coke sales here-- is a $40 billion industry annually just in the U.S. alone? We are griping over taxes going to support wars we don't believe in, and lack of money going to our schools, but we are doing this with our own little pocketbooks and neurotic anxiety. What if we all decided to take any money we spend this year on diet books, pills, liposuction, diet foods, cleanses, and gave it to our kids' schools? That same amount of money would literally cover the budget cuts for this year. Or give it to Planned Parenthood, or a woman's political campaign, or your aunt Bessie who's losing her pension and is fairly odd and annoying and loves to bedazzle her hats with words like "Create!" and give them to you but you kind of love her anyway. Or, Jesus, give the money to ANYTHING else!
That's my suggestion for this holiday. Start looking at what you've bought into. Get some therapeutic help to look at why you overeat. Make a decision that you are just not going to give it all the attention you normally do. EVER AGAIN. Learn how to judge when you are full and stop there. Don't let family or anyone guilt you into eating more. Take half your meal home from the restaurant if you're full. Listen to your body, not the culture. And then take all that energy and let's fix some shit.
For more by Katie Goodman, click here.
For more on emotional wellness, click here.
If you're struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders helpline at 1-800-931-2237.