So, on our IEWIN Facebook page, we talk about ‘letting go of foods that no longer serve you’. That could mean not eating certain foods anymore. So am I unconsciously continuing to promote diet culture and restrictive eating?
Hmm… let’s explore.
When we first set up IEWIN a few years ago, I was fresh out of FA – the food addiction branch of Alcoholics Anonymous. I’d spent 5 months practising as close as I could get to total abstinence from flour and sugar in all forms. I ate weighed and measured meals, free from anything unprocessed, pre-agreed with a sponsor. In my personal opinion, that’s about as close to restrictive eating as you can get, although many members spoke of feeling free within the FA programme. I wasn’t feeling very free, but when you’re living the painful reality of an eating disorder, finding a supportive community with uncompromising boundaries is a huge relief. I will always be grateful for the ways that FA held me in my recovery journey.
In FA, we talked about how some of us react to stimulating foods like alcoholics react to alcohol. We can’t regulate these substances safely. Even small amounts can send us spiralling into binge town. And this had been my experience too. Certain foods, ingested regularly, just sent me crazy.
Fast forward a few years. I am living outside the parameters of FA. I’m giving myself complete and total freedom to eat whatever and however I want. Any food, any quantity, any time. Scary, huh?
Gillian Riley has some great work on the psychology of restriction, why we can never fully comply. Our moralistic thinking always gets us in the end. Our ‘good girl’ turns ‘bad’, we smash the bars of the prison of our own making, we rebel. We all know how it goes – the weekend blowout, start the diet on Monday mentality.
Our unconscious mind knows the taste of freedom, and will not leave us in peace if it gets even a whiff of restrictive thinking. And if we associate the taste of freedom with the permission to eat a ton of food, until our belly hurts, then that’s what we will be compelled to do.
So restriction and diet mentality doesn’t work. We are asking for radical acceptance of all foods, all ways of eating. We do not tell anyone what or how much to eat. Ever.
And yet, on social media the debate continues. A post on a recovery group the other day bemoaned the ‘clean eaters’ and the ‘demonisation’ of sugar. Ending diet culture means we can surely relax and enjoy our super-charged-chocolate-muffin-cherry-syrup-coloured-sprinkles-unicorn-sparkles-pop-tart ice cream sundae, right?!
There are some things I need to say about this radical acceptance of ALL foods.
Today, our food environment is laden with chemical stimulants; foods artificially engineered to overstimulate our taste buds and override our bodies’ inherent wisdom. Yes I can choose these foods. Yes I can eat these foods. I can choose to take crack cocaine too. No substance is inherently moral or immoral, it’s just a substance. But the people and corporations who made these substances, what intention lies behind their production and consumption? What purpose do these foods have?
In aboriginal traditions, wandering tribes encounter foods as they travel around the bush. An edible plant is found, an animal is hunted. The tribespeople meet the food, and before they pull the root from the ground, they ask:
‘Are you ready to be honoured for the purpose of your being?’
In this way, they acknowledge the nourishment the earth provides. We meet the sacredness of the act of taking something we need from Mother Nature.
Do you think that giant food corporations are really sending food out into the world for your nourishment, your wellbeing, your joy? What is the purpose of their being? Michael Pollen doesn’t even call them food anymore. He prefers the term ‘food-like substances’. I feel the same. Walking into a newsagent’s the other day, meeting a wall of colourful packaging, I felt (not thought, felt) – this is not food. There is nothing here for me. Nothing at all.
Advertising gives a good indication of what purpose the food companies would like you to associate with these food-like substances. It’s party time! Let’s get some… it’s a family meal! Let’s have some… This is a lovely happy food that will promote connection and fun and satisfaction and sexiness! Hurray!
The real purpose of their being is to be consumed in ever larger quantities. A way to guarantee an ever increasing quantity of consumption is to engineer substances to override our natural feedback systems that regulate our appetites. Make this broken feedback loop a habitual way of responding to the world and you’ve got yourself an addiction. ‘Once you pop, you can’t stop!’
So all this ‘all foods are good foods’ – I don’t buy it. But I also don’t buy into our obsession with ‘clean eating’ either. I live in the world. My body is perfectly designed to eliminate some of the dirt we encounter along the way. I can’t live in a cave surrounded by kale and spiralised courgettes. But I also can’t handle the stimulation of the modern supermarket, packed with stimulating foods that send me spiralling in ever widening circles away from the wisdom that sits in my gut.
So, if you can handle the stimulation of a modern western diet, good for you. I wish I could, life would certainly be easier and cheaper that way. Eating genuinely nourishing food is often inconvenient, lonely, and usually more expensive than the crap they throw at us.
Here’s the good news – your disordered eating is a wonderful sign that your sensitive and wise body wants to thrive. My eating disorder demands that I load up on plant-based, whole foods. It’s a fierce protection against the barrage of toxic food out there. Try it for yourself. Spend a week eating flour and sugar products. I did, in Italy. And when I came home all I wanted to do was go on a rampage on the streets of Brighton and eat all the things. Less fun than it sounds.
You must come to your own conclusions on this. Feel in your body the way that these foods hurt you. Don’t turn away. Don’t hide from your internal experience. The headache, the raging craving, the dry throat – did a plant food ever do that to you, my darling?
The transformation is subtle but profound. What begins as a moralistic restriction of ‘I really shouldn’t eat this’ becomes an embodied sense of ‘I don’t want this inside me.’ This food feels dead. This food hurts my bodymind. This food is part of a system of overconsumption that hurts my planet.
A mantra I took from all the way back in FA: Thank you Goddess, that’s not my food.
There are other ways that this feeling of ‘that’s not my food’ has played out in my life. In all my years of vegetarianism (since the age of five, when I became conscious of the link between animals and meat), I have never once strived to not eat meat or fish. It is not food to me. Just like babies are not food. Plastic bottles are not food. Shoes are not food.
No one needs to fight with themselves to not eat shoes, right? This is what we are moving towards. The integration of a truth that aligns with who you are.
Unpicking the addiction is a messy road. Navigating an environment that incites constant consumption is a messy road. Returning to the wisdom of the felt-sense of your body is a messy road. But it’s a road that’s worth walking, if you want to be able to respond with genuine freedom of choice, rather than moralistic imperatives, when met with certain foods.
Give this a try. Next time you’re met with a stimulating food that you think will be just super exciting and yummy and divine and heavenly, be present to that food. Be with the journey of your bodymind. Do you like feeling so hyped up, so driven and compelled? Do you like the taste sensation in your mouth? Do you like the feeling of needing more and more? Do you like how this food sits inside your internal space? Maybe you like some of this experience. My guess will be that you won’t enjoy all of it. On balance, did that ratio of pleasure/pain work for you? Mental note for next time you meet this food. Store it in your wisdom bank of conscious experiences.
It’s a tall order. We’re asking for genuine presence, awareness, an ability to stay with reality. Food-like substances generally don’t grant this ability, in my experience!
So when I’m asking myself if I could let go of some foods that don’t serve me, no I’m not talking about weight loss. I’m not talking about restriction. I’m not talking about dieting.
I’m talking about meeting the reality of the culture I live in, the food I eat, and the ways I unconsciously hurt myself.
Meeting reality is some deeply spiritual stuff!
Does this make sense to you? Please share away if it does. Let’s get a conversation going on how you feel about letting go of foods that no longer serve you… if you choose to…
Happy adventuring my friends!