Yesterday I began Jamie’s FREE four-week Good Life Holiday Challenge, having been subtly, but consistently, encouraged by my dear friend Melissa to ‘just try’ Intuitive Eating, and having seen how much Jamie helped another dear more-than-blend of mine. It seemed like as good a time as any… and y’all know I’m a sucker for anything free.
Already I’m glad I did it, because what I’ve realized from just one day is simply how far I’m come.
Sure, there are missteps and setbacks still. Sure I have overeaten, restricted my eating, and fixated on knowing I was going to be faced with pizza at night since I wrote the Behavior Change Journal I’ve been sharing with you (there, and here, and here…oh, and here).
I’ve also eaten when I was hungry, even if I was hungry all the live long day. I’ve eaten three pieces of Mellow Mushroom pizza from the freezer in one sitting and felt nothing but good about it. I’ve also stopped in the middle of my third trip to the fridge and said, “Hold up now, missy….are you REALLY hungry?” and just….stopped.
So, yes, I’m in a good place. I feel good about where I am, and optimistic about where I still will go.
That being said, I’ve got one or two more entries from my Behavior Journal to share, if you care to read them. I realize this one might be a little touchy since I talk about the comparison trap of the blog world, but I don’t have a huge readership anymore, and I’m not worrying about offending y’all who are reading…because you are the ones who know me best and where I’m coming from.
October 22, 2013
I keep talking about how screwed up ‘we’ are when it comes to normal eating, and how overthinking everything and the diet mentality seem to be universal, at least inasmuch as Intuitive Eating is now seen as innovative because we’ve diverged so far from instinctual, innate behavior.
But who is this ‘we’?
‘We’ would seem to be a very large portion (if not almost all) of the female population. This concept of disordered eating and ‘eating disturbances,’ at least in their mildest form as defined by the literature—restricted food intake, compensatory exercise, excessive restraint, dieting mentality—are rampant in the culture. This is not just an individual behavioral issue, but a socio-ecological one. I am not trying to avoid “victim blaming” in saying this, as I do not blame media, magazines, or advertising for my screwed up relationship with food.
I see pictures of myself and recognize that I am healthy. I know that I don’t need to be on a diet, nor eat as though I am on one. It is my choice to read fitness magazines. It is my choice to exercise. I choose to look at pictures of food, read recipes, learn about nutrition; my knowledge perhaps makes me prone to being hyperaware of what I’m eating, but these are the choices I make, and I make alone.
However, I do think that social and ecological factors should be examined in their relationship to the development of a diet (or restrained eating) mentality in the female population (and perhaps, to a lesser extent, male population as well).
In some ways, I think that the more immediate influences in this model—those in my interpersonal, social network—are the most promoting of healthier attitudes and approaches. My family, as I’ve mentioned before, eats normally, perhaps consuming too much chocolate on occasion, but not restricting or even truly dieting. I’ve had no models for this disordered behavior growing up. My family talks about their next meal while still finishing the first one, and loves to celebrate occasions with food, but this love of a good meal is something positive, bringing us together. [I actually credit a love of cooking for helping my father and I grow out of the awkward, angst-ridden teenage girl years with a good relationship.] My grandmother was a dietician, my sister is studying to be a nurse (and holds a nutrition degree), and for the most part we are all very knowledgeable about healthy eating. We rarely went out to eat growing up and still hardly ever eat decadently. Butter lasted a long time in my house.
My friends were the same. They had a very healthy attitude towards food. I actually cannot think of one friend of mine through high school and college who has ever fixated on needing to lose weight, spend hours in the gym, or go on a diet. Perhaps like attracts like, and I have always found people interested in maintaining a healthy–but not obsessive–lifestyle through good food and moderate exercise. Sure, there might have been pizza or brownies (or Baked Cheetos in college) consumed with abandon on occasion, but that is normal (as is a love for frozen yogurt that we also ate in exorbitant quantities).
So where did it all shift for me?
I hate to say it, but as that interpersonal and organizational ‘layer’ blurred together into the group of friends (real-life, and those I’ve only ‘met’ via the internet) I’ve made through blogging and the “Healthy Living Blog” community of which I’ve become a part, the line between healthy and perceived ‘healthy’ became blurred. I had found an expansive social network of women, all very similar to me, who were interested in healthy food and inspired me to exercise.
I developed new norms and expectations for behavior, by comparing myself to this virtual ‘organization.’
Granted, I’ve also found true friendship and support, culinary inspiration, encouragement for embracing my true identity, and the motivation to actually love movement. I’m not pointing fingers or blaming anyone, but I lost myself into that world for awhile.
Keep moving to larger layers in the socio-ecological model ‘onion,’ and I could make a case that those group ‘rules and regulations’ (entirely unwritten) are influenced heavily by the norms of the larger community: in this case, the media images and ‘thin ideal’ that study after study have proven to influence eating behavior in women and adolescent girls.
Not everyone has a blog, but nearly every woman has seen a glossy magazine cover, or a movie featuring the cultural feminine ideal. Even the concept of ‘strong is the new skinny’ is, in some ways, just driving disordered exercise and eating behavior.
Is there a way to tackle this from a public policy or societal perspective? Right now it seems like policy makers are involved by being uninvolved. I’ve read a lot about this issue. I know that some countries have banned the use of models in advertising if they do not meet BMI requirements, and there are calls for placing age limits on the purchasing of laxatives (for bulimia prevention) and restrictions on diet pill advertising similar to the restrictions on tobacco advertisements. Would any of those policy changes actually prevent the development of disordered eating and diet mentalities in women? I’m actually going to be a bit pessimistic and say ‘no.’ I think that changing a cultural norm requires a whole lot of community-focus cognitive shifting, and I’m not sure how to get there.