Deprivation is not a concept I am unfamiliar with. Dieting is something that is deeply embedded in society. In the US, 80% of girls have been on a diet by the time they have reached the age of 10. I find this incredibly sad.
Making a decision about when to eat and what to eat doesn’t have to be difficult. However, diets teach us that we should be thinking more about these two basic things. As a result, food becomes an obsession for a dieter. It is all they can think about. I have been there; I know what it is like.
I found the need to start restricting what I ate from the age of 14 when I was in year eight. I started small, challenging myself not to eat certain desserts, then I cut out chocolate, then I cut out bread…. You see where this is going. I don’t even know what I was striving for.
Samantha Aamodt is a neuroscientist who shared her personal story of dieting in her Global TED Talk. In her talk she suggests that we need to live a less diet obsessed life and just eat intuitively.
As a neuroscientist, Samantha explained the way that our brains regulate our body weight. She said that the hypothalamus contains more than a dozen chemical signals that tell our body to gain weight and an additional dozen that tell our bodies to lose it. She likens our body to a thermostat. To keep our body weight stable it will respond to signals from the body by adjusting hunger, activity and metabolism. If a person loses a lot of weight, then the body will think it is starving and react accordingly. The body doesn’t understand whether or not you need to lose weight, so if you do lose a lot of weight you will become hungry and your muscles will burn less energy.
Dr. Rudy Leibel of Columbia University says that if a person loses 10% of their body weight, they will need to eat less forever in order to maintain that weight and be a ‘successful dieter.’ This means they must continue to eat less to maintain their weight loss. If they started eating more than the body will, like a thermostat, will want to return you to ‘normal’. This is why five years after a diet most people have regained the weight and why 40% of them have gained back more. To put it plainly, the most typical outcome of dieting is that in the long run you are more likely to gain weight than lose it.
According to psychologists there are two types of eaters. One type relies on their hunger (intuitive eaters) and others control their eating through willpower (controlled eaters). The intuitive eaters are less likely to be overweight because they spend less time thinking about food. Controlled eaters are much more vulnerable to overeating in response to an advertisement or a situation when food is presented in great abundance.
Samantha says that in order to restore a person’s relationship with their body they need to learn to eat mindfully. In the beginning, especially for a person who has been dieting for many years, this can be incredibly challenging. They need to begin to understand what hunger feels like. They need to understand what it means to be full. In the beginning it will be hard. Giving yourself permission to eat anything you want without guilt is a good way to start. This way you can work out what your body likes and reacts well to. As time goes on you will gain back control. You won’t feel deprived because nothing is off limits. You will probably find, as I did, that you don’t need to eat absolutely everything just because it is there and may not be there tomorrow. We are fortunate to always have food in abundance so listen to what your body wants each day. It will never be exactly the same. Understand that and trust that feeling.
Let me take you back to when I was 12. When we would have a family gathering there would always be a massive table of desserts. I would walk up to the table with a big plate (to fit more food on it) and I would get a little piece of everything. I would return to the table and sit there in pure joy and eat the amazing food before me. When I was 16 I would go up to the dessert table with a plate and fill it up solely with fruit and glance jealously at my sister eating the carrot cake I so desperately wanted. When I was 21 I wouldn’t even go near the table that had anything sweet on it and isolate myself. Now at 23 I am right back at that dessert table.
I wish I could say that now there is never a time I don’t love my body, because that would not be a true depiction. I do love my body 90% of the time but my history of restriction does find its way back sometimes.
Last week I was having a bit of a negative body week. This happens. I start getting critical again. I look at the same parts of my body that I used to criticize and start telling myself lies about my body and that I really should fix up a couple of areas. I know that many others in my position do the same thing.
Obviously when I was deprived I was a much smaller human. I was about eight kilos lighter than I am now. You could see the muscles on my arms and my abs. But who cares? Was I happy? No! The life I had then was absolutely miserable. I didn’t love myself.
Being self-critical creates so much stress in the body. Stress that it doesn’t need. When I do get those thoughts return to me I have a few things I do that put me back on track:
1. I don’t start restricting what I am eating – This for me would definitely lead to a downward spiral. Rather, I say thank you to God before I eat something and trust that my body will know what to do with it.
2. I take time to get into nature – For me walking somewhere near water is incredibly calming. It clears my head and reminds me of what is important.
3. I replace my negative critical thoughts with words of love and appreciation – Being grateful for what I have is one of the most liberating feelings. When I think of the many blessings I have in my life, anything small and critical is no longer important.
4. Think of your health and not the look of your body – The way you feel is so much more important. I know that now I feel so much more energy than I ever have before.
5. Take a detox from social media – Being a health nerd and foodie means that my Instagram has many fitness models peppered throughout the feed. Taking time away from these images reminds me that my body is not my goal and that empowering others to love and treasure the body they have is.
Yesterday was an amazing day for me. I started by walking around the local river to get myself surrounded by nature. I then met up with my boyfriend Bruno, his beautiful sister Joanne and his zia and zio for cannolis at a new shop that has just opened. We treated ourselves to a ricotta cannoli, a Ferrero Rocher cannoli and a beautiful vanilla doughnut. I can’t even explain the wave of joy that comes over me when I am eating dessert. It just makes me so happy, and when I am sharing it with people I love it is 100 times better!
Bruno, Joanne and I then went on a mini foodie adventure to collect all the ingredients we needed for our Asian feast. We spent the afternoon together laughing (I literally fell out of Joanne’s car face first…. It was pretty funny); preparing dumplings; stressing that we would get all the food on the table; and then sitting around the table surrounded by family and wonderful conversation.
For me that was just the day I needed. Indulgence is a beautiful thing. It makes me happy that I now can deal with my demons. I don’t allow them to have the power to control me. They are there to remind me of what is important in life, family and connectedness to others. My physical body does not define the person I am. I am defined by my heart and the way I treat others.
“When we give up the restriction mentality around food – you’ll notice how much better your relationship with food becomes. Also, you may find your tastebuds change – I actually prefer and crave healthier treats nowadays.” – Jessica Sepel, Nutritionist and Author.
I hope this post inspires you to look at your relationship with food. I hope it doesn’t control your life. I hope it is something beautiful you can share with others. You are worthy of living the life you love in every facet. Food is there to nourish us. Respect your body and what it needs. Take care of it. Speak kindly to it. Love it. Support it. Trust it.
Throwing it back to the day my sister and I discovered cannoli flavoured gelati... and it was good!