CW: This piece reflects upon my personal experiences with food and food choices, with discussion of body size, diet culture, and challenges with body image. My goals may not be your goals. It is not intended as advice.
I had a moment of personal revelation this summer. I noticed something important about my self-talk. I wonder, can you pick it out?
When I went for a run and it wasn’t feeling good, I told myself, “It’s ok. I can do a walk-jog today. In fact, maybe I need to adjust my plans so that my Saturday run is always a walk-jog. I’m often just not feeling it on Saturday mornings.”
Sometimes, when I was lifting weights, I wasn’t having fun. I was tired and wanted to do something else. So I told myself, “Do these two exercises, give them all you’ve got, and then go ahead and move on with your day. At least you did something.”
I noticed that oftentimes I would get a little shaky in the morning between breakfast and lunch. It felt like low blood sugar, like I’d run out of steam and my body wasn’t managing it well. Each time it happened, I told myself, “It’s only been 90 minutes since breakfast. There’s no way I’m hungry already! Just ignore it. I will have lunch in a few hours.”
Did you notice it?
When I was struggling with my running or lifting, I accommodated my changing needs. Taking care of my fitness continued, but it was modified to help me manage stress, fatigue, and other limitations of the moment.
But when it came to my meals, I wasn’t being as flexible. I didn’t believe that my plan wasn’t right for the moment. I tried to force my habitual meals to be alright instead of trusting my experiences and the data my body was giving me that it wasn’t meeting my needs anymore. This was clearly diet culture seeping into my thoughts, motivating me to limit my food instead of trusting the signals my body gave.
And maybe it’s not a big surprise that I found some increased diet mindset creeping in these days. My body has been slowly getting larger over the last few years. Nothing dramatic, but at several life changes in the last handful of years (marriage, hysterectomy, worldwide pandemic), I’ve gotten just a little bit bigger. I’m now a full clothing size larger than I was before my wedding. And while intellectually I fully recognize that it “shouldn’t” matter, there are moments when this unintentional, slow increase in size bugs me.
My quality of life is not at all hampered by my increased size. It doesn’t impact me day to day in the slightest. I can still run, my joints don’t ache any more than they did a size smaller, and it may even help me with my lifting to be a bit bigger. However, I wonder if I’ve unconsciously “tightened up” my eating in response to increasing numbers? Have I stopped trusting in my hunger signals due to my discomfort over slowly getting larger?
So, I’ve made a new commitment to myself this last month to nutritional self-care. I have been running experiments to find out what balance of foods to eat that help me to feel really good, even when it means eating more than I’ve previously been accustomed to eating. I’ve noticed when I’m hungry and trusted that it meant I needed to eat more. I’ve checked in with myself at the end of meals to make sure I’ve genuinely eaten enough and to stop when I’m satisfied. I’ve been more flexible with my meal timing, eating more frequently some days when it seems like I needed it, instead of forcing myself to wait until the next designated eating time. And I’ve been making sure to eat dessert when I decide I want it instead of first trying to deny my appetite.
So far, these experiments have succeeded in making food and hunger less of a stressor in my life. I’m realizing that it had become a low-level, persistent focus, and now I’m thinking about food far less often. That shaky feeling between meals is gone. I’m also finding that I’m more at peace with my reflection when I feel better taken care of in general. My size very likely may continue to change. I’m still working on being neutral about that. But in these extraordinary times, I welcome any moment of peace I can find. Honoring my hunger, feeling really satisfied with my meals and between them, sounds like a wonderful kind of peace to give myself.
Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher. She can be found eating salted caramel chocolate cake, picking up heavy things and putting them down again in Portland, Oregon.