On Sunday, I changed my clothes twelve times.
It was one of those days where nothing seemed to go right. My husband and I had argued about something trivial. The house was a mess. I had a long list of emails to catch up on. And I suffered a humiliating fall in front of my kids while playing tennis. Earlier in the week, I had bought a pair of jeans from Urban Outfitters, a store whose clothes seem better suited for long-limbed gangly teenagers than a middle aged mom such as myself. They were slim cut with a playful polka dot print and ended right at my ankles. I wanted these jeans to work for me. I wanted them to make me look laid-back and relaxed and youthful. I wanted them to turn me into the wistful models in the Urban Outfitters catalog, with their long straight hair and penchant for standing on cliffs in the middle of the desert staring out blankly at nothing.
I slid the jeans on and paired them with a selection of tee shirts and button-downs and thin knit sweaters. Nothing worked. The jeans constricted around my stomach and thighs. I felt myself becoming anxious. I changed and changed again, until clothes piled in a depressing heap on my bed. I felt fat. I know fat is not a feeling, but that was all I could think about. I was old and fat.
I had eaten a big meal out with my husband the night before, a meal I couldn't stop thinking it. The food was luscious - the kind that features butter as both a main ingredient and a garnish, and I felt guilty about eating it. I felt like the jeans were punishing me for it. It was hard for me to even decide if I'd liked what I'd eaten because the meal was so indulgent. I couldn't separate the guilty feelings I had from eating foods I classified as "bad" with whether I had even liked them in the first place. The jeans only made my confusion more pronounced.
There is so much discomfort about food and what normal eating is. We worry about our weight and qualify foods into "good" or "bad" types. We count calories and carefully monitor what we do and do not eat. We might shun foods that are actually good for us in an effort to avoid weight gain. Whether we count points, calories or fat grams or keep a food journal or observe and restrict ourselves in other ways, the message is the same: Following the rules is more important that actually tasting or even enjoying what we're eating. So it's no surprise that we lose touch with our bodies, and get iffy about signs that we're even hungry or full, and feel guilty when we do eat. Sometimes, once a meal is over, we often don't realize how much we ate. At the end of the day we might even struggle to recall what we put in our bodies.
Yesterday I came across an article which quoted Ellyn Satter, a renowned eating and feeding expert and a registered dietician and therapist. I love Satter’s definition of normal eating:
Normal eating is going to the table hungry and eating until you are satisfied. It is being able to choose food you like and eat it and truly get enough of it -not just stop eating because you think you should. Normal eating is being able to give some thought to your food selection so you get nutritious food, but not being so wary and restrictive that you miss out on enjoyable food. Normal eating is giving yourself permission to eat sometimes because you are happy, sad or bored, or just because it feels good. Normal eating is mostly three meals a day, or four or five, or it can be choosing to munch along the way. It is leaving some cookies on the plate because you know you can have some again tomorrow, or it is eating more now because they taste so wonderful. Normal eating is overeating at times, feeling stuffed and uncomfortable. And it can be undereating at times and wishing you had more. Normal eating is trusting your body to make up for your mistakes in eating. Normal eating takes up some of your time and attention, but keeps its place as only one important area of your life.
In short, normal eating is flexible. It varies in response to your hunger, your schedule, your proximity to food and your feelings.I worry about enjoying eating. Especially during times like now when I find myself trying more foods I've previously been uncomfortable with. I feel ashamed that I like to eat, and wish that food was just neutral to me. But enjoying food, as Satter writes on her website, is healthy.
Eating is supposed to be enjoyable. For too many of us, eating represents trouble. We feel guilty if we eat what we ”shouldn’t” and deprived if we eat what we ”should.” We eat more than we think we should, and we worry about weight. Surveys show that when the joy goes out of eating, nutrition suffers.I don't have a very refined palette, but honestly, I adore food. I love the memories certain foods have for me - latkes at Hanukkah and cookies during Christmas; a particularly memorable piece of strawberry creme cake devoured during my 26th birthday while living in Brooklyn; the sushi my husband and I ate during one of our first dates. But of course, because I’m a woman, and because I’m a woman who grew up in an era of food awareness, in a household that reinforced dieting, I can't love food without reservation.
What's your relationship with food? How often do you feel guilty after eating? Do you categorize foods as "good" or "bad"? Do you ever feel confused about what normal eating is?