Healthy Eating Is Eating Freely - NCS Grad, Choe
(Warning: I don’t discuss specific behaviours or numbers in this article, but I do mention eating disorders and my own experience.)
I’m going to eat ‘healthier’ and workout more. That’s what I decided, over a year ago, with the sole motivation to gain some control during a stressful time in my life. Now, I’m in recovery from anorexia nervosa.
Subliminal messages encouraging weight loss, restrictive food habits, and excessive exercise allowed my disordered behaviours to be normalised as ‘health-conscious’ for a long time.
Given that recovery involves actively disobeying these messages by gaining weight, and that the survival response to malnourishment is to focus on nothing but food, it’s no wonder I’ve developed a heightened awareness and hatred for diet talk. Whether it’s relentless discussions of healthy eating at the dinner table, ads for weight-loss or ‘guilt-free’ products online, or a friend labelling entire food groups as good or bad – you’ve probably experienced diet culture.
Did you know that BMI, a common measure of health in medical settings, was invented by a mathematician and astronomer? In 1998 the USA, with no new scientific backing, moved the boundary for ‘overweight’ by two points. How reliable is this measurement, if it can be adjusted seemingly at random?
Did you know that your body has its own ‘set point’ and that this is a weight range to which it will return itself? Or that doctors in the USA have been known to be more reluctant in giving obese patients screening tests, and so these patients are 65% more likely to have a significant undiagnosed condition?
Neither did I. Until I had to recover from an eating disorder and undo years of fatphobic conditioning.
You’ve been told weight loss makes people happy. It doesn’t. Companies, the celebrities they sponsor, and people profiting from that machine, will tell you whatever they need to, to make you pay up. But the truth? Trying to control our guilt by actively disobeying the nutritional needs of our bodies is as unhealthy as it gets.
During my disorder and subsequent weight loss, I was just following my rules. I was on my way to happiness, right? Well, as it turns out, wrong. My energy levels, bone density, organ functions, cognitive reasoning, ability to focus, think, laugh… they all took a hit.
This has led me to the conclusion that any diet - or ‘lifestyle’ as they’re getting called now - is not going to let you lead a happy, healthy life when it lets calories, gym time, or the number on the scale control you.
I would argue that the only way to achieve that freedom that we think comes from weight loss, is to disengage from the shame.
Here are some tips that I’ve found helpful for doing this:
- Don’t comment on other people’s food choices, and stand up for yourself if someone shames yours.
- Don’t compliment weight loss, as this contributes to the idea that a bigger body is a problem to be solved. It could also be upsetting if the change has come from disordered habits, or lack of appetite due to any physical or mental illness.
- Don’t engage in discussions about diets, workouts, or weight, and call others out on the damage they could be doing to others around them.
- Listen to all your cravings. You always have unconditional permission to eat what you truly enjoy, and by trusting and nourishing your body, you can put all your thoughts into things that really matter.
- Throw away the scales. Your relationship with gravity is unimportant.
- Unfollow any accounts focused on diet, fitness, or appearance, and shape your feed to be food and body-positive instead.
And above all, don’t go on a damned diet in the new year! Health is freedom, and freedom is enjoying lunch with friends without worrying about the macros of your meal.
Please seek medical help if you think you could be suffering from disordered eating - you don’t have to be a certain weight to be ‘sick enough’, nor do eating disorders have a specific ‘look’ in regards to size, race, gender, or age.
Thank you, Chloe for your thoughts on this important topic. As ever, we do encourage you to seek help if you think you might be suffering from any of the issues mentioned in this blog. We recommend you go to your local GP or visit Mind for further guidance and support.