I’ve written a lot about the ways my primal lifestyle has impacted me physically and spiritually, but I’ve only danced around the ways it’s influenced my body image and my relationship with food.
They’re tough topics for me to write about, actually. For some reason they feel very personal, even more personal than my poop schedule. But as is the case with so many big-deal things in life, I think this discomfort is an important signal to lean in. So here I go.
Eating is about so much more than just fueling our bodies — especially for women, and especially for women my age. It’s an emotion-filled experience, and the more I explore the world of primal living // nutrition // holistic health, the more I become convinced that the majority of us have a wacky relationship with food.
I hesitate to say unhealthy because who am I to decide what’s healthy for someone else? But I do believe it’s unnatural and often antagonistic.
What do I mean by that? Well, think about the way food is advertised the next time you’re in the grocery store:
Guilt-free. Fat-free. Low-calorie. Low-carb. We are conditioned to think about food in terms of what we should avoid rather than what we should take in. Food becomes an obstacle when presented this way. Advertisements contribute to a mindset of body punishing and food fearing, and turn eating into a constant exercise in self control.
I remember when the “food as obstacle” narrative started to creep into my brain. It was rooted in a desire to alleviate my digestive problems, but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t also motivated by a desire to change the way my body looked.
I should mention that medically speaking, I’ve never been overweight. And I can imagine that those of you for whom reaching a healthy weight is a serious challenge would find it petty and self-absorbed of me to claim that I’ve struggled with my body image. But that’s exactly my point: thanks in large part to the way we’re conditioned to think about food, very few of us escape the trap of self-critique and weirdness around food, regardless of where we fall on the “health” scale.
For that reason, I think it’s important for me to be open about all aspects of my relationship with food, not just the shiny ones.
But to back to the reason we’re all here today: calories.
The “calories in, calories out” mindset is comfy and reassuring. It gives us nice, round numbers to use as a guide, and allows us to feel a sense of control over the food choices we have to make every day.
But here’s the thing: as much as I’ve tried to convince myself otherwise, the number of calories I eat in a day tells me absolutely nothing about the way my body feels and what it needs to thrive.
Rather than helping me achieve my health goals, counting calories only discourages me from listening to the powerful internal messages that tell me which foods are serving me and which ones aren’t.
On top of that, on the list of factors that determine our physical health and body weight, calories are nowhere near the top. Hormone regulation, nutrient levels, digestive function, stress, and sleep are far more significant. (For more on this, I urge you to check out Liz Wolfe’s highly informative and highly entertaining book, Eat The Yolks.)
Shifting our foodviews (yes, I just invented that word) out of “Eat to Control” mode and into “Eat to Thrive” mode is a huge and crucial step toward achieving whole-body health. We need to see eating as the divine opportunity that it is: a chance to nourish, fuel, heal, strengthen, support and empower ourselves.
But after a lifetime of ignoring our bodies’ signals in favor of “more accurate” external criteria, this shift is not an easy one. For most of us – me included – it’s gradual, and it’s uncomfortable. Tuning back into our bodies’ internal wisdom means letting go of control and putting full faith in messages we may have spent years suppressing, or at least mistrusting.
Going paleo is helping me tune in by showing me how much differently I run on real food. For the first time in my life, I don’t even want to eat the food without the calories because I know there’s no point. It does nothing to help run my body better, and a lot of the time it leaves me feeling worse than before I ate it.
Now that I’m no longer wasting my time with flimsy non-food that doesn’t fill me up, my eating schedule is much more regular and blood sugar levels are finally under control. The hanger and craving-hunger that used to rule my life only make rare appearances nowadays.
Of course, hearing what my body is telling me is only the first step. The next step is to acknowledge those messages and make choices accordingly. This what I struggle with the most.
I still feel body anxiety, I still eat when I’m not hungry, and I still find myself searching for external reassurance that I’m “on the right track.” But more and more each day, I’m choosing to let my body make the decisions rather than my brain. I’m taking it meal by meal, and reminding myself that like any achievement in life, creating a healthy relationship with food is a practice. And quitting the calorie counting is the first step.
I hope my perspective can help bring you one step closer to finding peace with food. Thank you for supporting my vulnerability this week. It’s a tough topic to share, but a very important one.
Join me this week as I work on creating a positive internal dialogue around food. Here’s how:
- Before sitting down to dinner tonight, notice what’s going on inside your head as you decide what to eat. What’s driving your food choices? Are your thoughts coming from a self-critical or shameful place? Are you making value judgments (either about yourself or about the food you’re about to eat)?
- Crack open your journal and write those thoughts down – exactly as they appear in your brain. You may not even realize how hurtful and ridiculous they are until you see them on paper.
- Look at them on the page, acknowledge them, and then let them go! Consciously shift your internal dialogue away from a place of self-critique and into a place of love.
It’s important to remember that finding peace with food after years of unhealthy thought patterns is a process. But acknowledging that complexity and approaching it as a daily practice is the first step toward achieving balance. Each healthy intention you set will make the next one a little bit more automatic.