For what seems like my entire life, I have struggled with overeating and not liking my body. That can’t actually be true, since I remember being five years old and definitely not caring about things like that, but by age ten, I’d definitely decided my body wasn’t attractive.
I ate food to calm myself, to stuff my emotions down, and to avoid connecting with myself. I got caught up in the flurry of hating my body, trying to change it, and focusing on what I should/shouldn’t eat. That kept me successfully distracted from myself for years. I was too busy to feel emotions, connect to my inner wisdom, or any other such scary notions.
I also used food to help me find joy. Because I wasn’t allowing myself to feel a full range of emotions, real joy eluded me. I had to focus on its distant cousin, pleasure. Now I’m not saying pleasure is bad. In fact, it’s one of the best things about being alive. But pleasure without joy is empty and hollow. The delicious taste of a crunchy bite of cinnamon toast is a moment of pure delight when it’s both pleasurable and joyful.
Eventually, through the mind-body skills, I came to a much more peaceful relationship with my body and food. I felt good about my body, I listened to what it wanted to eat, and I took delight in the taste and variety of everything I ate. I felt joy. I felt sadness. I felt anger. I felt contentment. Finally, I was alive – living fully in my body and working with it instead of fighting it. There were still times when I grabbed a snack instead of feeling an emotion, but I wasn’t trying to be perfect anymore. I had found an equilibrium. Less self-pressure, more listening to myself.
Then, I got pregnant. For the first two weeks, I was ravenously hungry. I ate everything in site. My mind started to freak out. “You’ll be the fattest pregnant woman ever!” it shouted. “Aaaagh! Stop eating for two – you don’t need that much!”
So, in other words, I forgot everything I know about listening to my body.
Wise body was stocking up. Right after those two weeks of nonstop noshing, I was smacked with constant, never-ending, nausea. I am not exaggerating. I spent so much time lying on the couch that I began to blend into it – a moaning, groaning couchy lump. My mom would come visit and talk to me while I lay there, half-alive. I did a lot of writing and other work from my lump position, or in bed. Sometimes I sat up for meetings. That was the extent of my exercise, other than the occasional nauseous walk.
Needless to say, food lost all of its pleasure and joy. Everything smelled revolting and tasted awful. Yet, if I didn’t eat a little bit every couple of hours, I actually felt worse. So I resorted to force-feeding myself and eating while feeling nauseous. I am not sure there is actually anything more revolting than that experience.
For the first time in my life, I could have cared less about food. I dreamed of fasting. I longed to just drink juice for a week. But my body kept up its demanding schedule of small meals every 2-3 hours. Needless to say, I did not gain any weight during the first trimester of the pregnancy. Those first couple weeks of ravenous eating served me well, though, because I didn’t lose any weight, either. I just maintained, which gave me peace of mind. At least the baby was getting nutrition.
Around week eighteen, the nausea began to leave. Bit by bit, I started to feel better. One day, I woke up feeling really good. I was scheduled to go to lunch with a friend, and lunch actually tasted delicious. It was miraculous!
Then, later that day, I felt this strange feeling in my chest. I noticed an awful sour taste in my mouth. Confused, I consulted my pregnancy books. Diagnosis? Heartburn and indigestion – apparently a common pregnancy companion.
So yes – I enjoyed literally one meal before being plunged into a new digestive hell. To relieve the fiery pain in my chest, I had to strip my diet of all yummy things, including garlic, citrus foods, spicy foods, mustard, tomatoes, and more. Even with every possible heartburn remedy on board, I was only able to feel somewhat normal, and food still didn’t taste or sound that great. Mostly everything tasted a bit sour, like old milk. Every now and then, my body would grumble for more food, but the pleasure element had disappeared completely.
I finally surrendered to the idea that food would be nourishment, not joy, for the duration of this pregnancy.
In surrendering, I found an element of peace. It seemed do-able, this 9-month takeover of my body. Yet, it still felt and feels strange to not enjoy food at all. I reflected on the irony of spending a lifetime trying not to gain weight only to now find it difficult to gain weight when I need to. After spending years healing my relationship with my body and learning to listen to it, I now find it absolutely in charge of this pregnancy. I simply sit back and do what it says. My mind has absolutely no say. If I eat something because it simply sounds fun to my mind, my body demands in no uncertain terms that I stop immediately. Sugary foods, processed foods, snacky carbs – all those things I used to enjoy are now not even remotely appealing. You couldn’t get me to eat a Dorito for anything, because my body would immediately reject it.
Since healing my mind-body relationship, I’ve given up diets and strict food plans. I’ve taken away all restriction from my eating. I don’t avoid gluten or dairy like I used to, I’m not a vegetarian, and I eat “bad” foods that are processed or sugary. Overall, with this non-restrictive approach, I find that my body drifts toward what it needs and we don’t have fights. I don’t overeat very often and I don’t eat piles of things that my body doesn’t want. We’ve found a peaceful medium.
This current pregnancy diet is not a mind-imposed experience. I am not eating in this strict fashion because I think it is good for me, or I’m afraid of gaining weight, or I’m afraid that eating certain foods will exacerbate a pain syndrome. (Those are all things I’ve done in the past.) No, I’m eating only the foods that work in my body because my body is insistent about what it needs and wants. After so many years of mind ruling body, now body is ruling mind. It’s a funny switch. I’m comfortable now only because I surrendered and stopped fighting with my mind.
I tell you this long story because I’m smack in the middle of a new journey, a new learning curve with my mind-body relationship. I’m right in the middle of the learning process, and I’d love to take you with me. I’m fascinated. I’m amazed. I’m seeing the food and body image thing so differently now.
I look forward to someday having the pleasure and joy of eating return. I now see it not as a frustration or an addiction, not as bad or good, not as a siren song or temptress, but even more as a beautiful, joyful part of being alive. I can still have joy and peace and contentment in my life without the joy of food. I can still feel perfectly good and I can still love my life.
But there is something to be said for the spice of life – literally. Taste and texture and deliciousness are to be enjoyed and loved, because they are a part of living. A part of taking care of our beautiful bodies. A part of being physical in these beautiful bodies.
It’s a strange experience, my body being hijacked by baby. I salute to its demands, and I do not argue. My body is infinitely wise. In some ways, it’s kind of nice to be completely and totally, one-hundred-percent free of emotional eating right now. I am gaining a new perspective. I can separate out nutrition needs versus emotional needs with ease. I can see the purpose of loving food without using it as an emotional tool.
I can also see just how confused our relationship with food can be. What if it was so simple – ask your body what it really needs, verify through trial and error that you’re hearing its messages accurately, feel emotions when they arise, and then take immense pleasure in the taste of every bite you eat? Toss in a few non-essential foods that just sound fun each day. Done.
I’d love to hear from you about where you are on your food and body-image journey. What if you were in my shoes, and nothing tasted good at all? (Trust me – though you may wish for it, it’s not all its cracked up to be.)
I’m inviting you to enjoy a bite of food today, with all your taste buds, all your senses, every ounce of delight available, and immense joy. Just one bite. Do it for me. I’m living vicariously through you.
Even better – do it for you. Take pleasure and joy in the gift of eating. Let yourself love your food and yourself, for at least one bite today.