Don’t put a serving of guilt on that

CW: this post talks about diet culture and eating plans

Every two weeks I write something for this blog. I write for this blog because I am passionate about fitness and how it can enrich women’s lives. Particularly women who might not otherwise expect it to enrich their lives, or who have felt left out of the mainstream fitness community in the past. If I can inspire one other woman who doesn’t see the benefits of exercise, or see themselves as someone who is fit, to see themselves in a bit of what I say, and to incorporate more movement in their lives, and derive a sense of fulfillment from it, I would be a very happy person.

Sometimes I wonder why I should write about fitness and health, when there are so many other pressing issues in the world. Particularly, right now. When I see Covid-19 variants appearing is scary ways, people are affected by lockdowns, health scares, illness and death of loved ones, war, homelessness, racism, and so much more, what right do I have to take up space writing about fitness and health?

blog, blog, blog – blogging concept on a napkin with cup of espresso coffee – Nicole is wondering whether it is beneficial for her to be writing about health and fitness right now.

But then, in a lot of the learning I am doing lately, one of the things that comes up about dealing with all the aforementioned concerns, is building resilience. And part of building resilience involves making space for one’s own mental and physical well-being. So, while it might seem trivial to talk about these things regularly, in the face of other more important concerns, I do think there is value in considering how to maintain one’s own sense of well being, so that we are able to handle everything else coming our way, and also have the strength to be of service to others, however we can do so.

A woman is sitting cross-legged on a dock by a lake and meditating – possibly building resilience.

Why am I considering these things? Because I want to talk about guilt and diet culture. I am asking myself what value I can bring to this conversation? What right do I have as a white, able-bodied, conventionally average-sized woman, to talk about this further?

I’m not sure I do have a right. But I do have feelings about it. And I think that others may share my feelings, whether they relate to my social identities or not. And perhaps, what I have to say will help others with not feel guilty about their emotions. Which, as I say later on, is a useless emotion. Also, selfishly, putting my overly-analytical thoughts down on paper helps me work through them efficiently.

Who hasn’t been there? You’re on a Zoom call and colleagues are making idle chatter about what they are eating and not eating. One person might say they feel guilty because they had McDonald’s for breakfast. Another might be proud of themselves because they had overnight oats with chia and cacao nibs. And I’m trying to prevent my eyes from rolling.

Guilt is a useless emotion. It is often a default one. But, when is it helpful? Whether it’s someone feeling guilty while educating themselves about social justice causes, or whether or not they have called someone, or whether or not they should eat something, guilt is not the emotion that is going to inspire the person to make sound decisions.

Even though I have always been obsessed with food, I have never enjoyed hearing people talk about their eating plans. I don’t mind sharing a recipe or two. But I try not to assign virtue to what I’m eating and I don’t enjoy hearing others talking about their eating habits in this way. Sometimes this feeling is heightened. I might have been in a particularly sensitive phase and I wasn’t feeling good about my own eating or I was feeling good about where I was and I really didn’t want to hear the external noise.

When I say I have always been obsessed with food, I mean it in the sense that I am always thinking about what I will be eating next. This isn’t always in a “diet” sense. It’s often simply in an “I love food and planning what to eat next” way. I am chef-y about my food. I also try to balance nutrients. I listen to my body about what makes it feel good. I enjoy baking on occasion and I mostly enjoy giving it away to add a little sweetness in others’ lives. I have a keen sense about how to translate something I’ve eaten at a restaurant or elsewhere into something delicious on my plate. I remember vacations based on what I ate and where. I plan those eating excursions in advance too. My quest for delicious food can range from vegan, vegetable laden meals to an expertly made croissant, to a locally made cuisine. I might not remember the name of the town we were in, in Turkey, but I remember the name of the dish made by local women called gozleme. Not to mention the surprising bibimbap made by a local Korean woman living in a small seaside town in Turkey, after days of delicious, but repetitive meat skewers and veggies.

There have been times that my obsession about what I ate hasn’t been healthy. I’ve talked about some of my disordered eating in previous posts. But for the most part, I think I’ve objectively been steady about how I eat for a long time now.

Tracy wrote an excellent post about Why diet culture harms us. I enjoyed this post and I agree with many of the points Tracy made. But I was also left with some mixed feelings. Should I feel guilty that I feel better because I HAVE changed the way I eat in the last few months. If I’ve changed the way I eat and I feel better, does that mean I’m subscribing to diet culture. I don’t think so as long as I’m not proselytizing about what I’m eating, which I don’t think I am. And I am not interested in doing so. Some people have asked what I am doing and I will answer, but try to keep it related to how I feel and why, not about the weight loss that has also occurred, but which is not the driving factor. Tracy’s post talked about Health at any Size (HAES) and so does this wonderful article. Advocating for HAES makes a lot of sense to me.

I’ve mentioned my husband’s sugar was a bit high a few months ago. It was an opportunity to look at how our eating had been over the summer. Like many during the pandemic, we had been enjoying our fair share of comfort food. I still have a fond place in my heart for the Death in Venice Nutella Gelato! I have no doubt I will enjoy a bit here and there, in the future.

Because of Gavin’s lab results, the chef and wife in me set to work changing our meals. I felt inspired to eat the same way for two reasons (1) it’s easier if we are mostly eating the same meals, and (2) there is a strong incidence of diabetes in my family so I figured it couldn’t hurt.

It was important to me to do it in a way that I felt would be sustainable for us. There is a lot of consideration put into how satiating a meal will be. I removed the obvious, excessive, snacking. I changed the regular sourdough loaf I was making to a rye/spelt version. My husband hasn’t eaten rice, regular bread, etc. since we changed our meals. I don’t eat these things for the most part right now, except for the once a week sushi takeout. We do still eat potatoes, but mostly sweet ones. And we don’t go for seconds as much at dinner time. No drinking has been a factor also. I also tried some new recipes that we like for things like tortillas made from chickpea flour and cloud bread, which are mostly made from meringue. A lot of the things we’ve tried have been delicious and haven’t felt like a form of deprivation. Actually, I haven’t felt any sense of deprivation.

A picture of open -faced breakfast sandwiches made with cloud bread, turkey bacon and arugula and tomatoes

I’ve always resisted the low carb, low sugar trends. I am aware that there are studies that show people often can’t sustain these types of changes long term. Nor do many people want or need to make these changes. But for me, I have noticeably felt better. And my husbands blood tests came back normal after 3 months. And, because I’ve been trying to make things that are satiating, I believe this is sustainable for us right now. Being home all of the time actually makes it easier to manage what we are eating on a regular basis.

What also makes it easier, and potentially more long term, is I’m not placing value on our eating habits in terms of good or bad. We are eating this way because we are enjoying it and because of how we feel.

I am not saying these things to try to encourage anyone to make any changes.

The reason I am writing this is I don’t think one should feel guilty or proud or any virtuous emotion because of what they are eating OR because of how they are eating is making them feel. Does that make sense to you too?

Nicole P. is a bit tired and anxious about the state of the pandemic at the moment despite also counting her blessings. She tries to balance things with exercise, mental stimulation, connections and eating in a nourishing way. With no guilt.