On this #NaturallyMindful Monday, I want to share a bit about my journey with physical nourishment, both as it relates to my health and my social consciousness towards the environment. This post feels raw to me in terms of spirituality, as I don’t think I’m at a place where my spirituality is fully integrated into my eating behaviors and vice versa. Rather than pretend that I’ve arrived at some place of awareness and higher knowledge, I intend to create a dialogue about the struggle many of us have with eating and food and narrate where I’ve tread thus far.
I was a relatively normal weight as a child and don’t remember any particular issues with food. Everything changed when I hit puberty. I was an early bloomer and started to gain a bit of weight. Given my need for control, I decided to put an end to that right there. I started eating 500 calories a day and dropped below 100 pounds. I gave up most meats during this time as a way to avoid having to eat food others were cooking. Then I began a kind of binge-purge cycle as starvation set in. I was eventually shamed into eating more after my family discovered my purging, but my relationship with food and my body was still completely distorted.
The Junk Food Vegetarian
Once I went to college, I became a lacto-ovo vegetarian. There were very few vegetables involved in this affair. Mostly I ate pizza, cereal with chocolate milk, and bagels with cream cheese. You know, all the food groups! I gained weight and spent a lot of time thinking about my next meal. A positive development here is that I started cooking for others and discovered they liked my way of preparing food.
More Beer, Please!
I started drinking during college and this tipped me into obesity. I would eat three meals a day, go out and get wasted, and come home to cook an entire meal at 2 am. My weight went up to over 200 pounds. I’ve always thought of this as my “happy time,” because I was so out of touch with myself that I didn’t have as much anxiety and depression as I normally do.
I also reintroduced meat into my diet, brilliantly eating a multi-course meal at Chili’s including ribs after fasting for three days. There was much pain from that stunt, but I was living it up. I would consider myself to have been addicted to food (and abusing alcohol) during this time. It “worked” to make me feel better temporarily, but would have caused serious health problems if I’d stayed at that point. I think some of the chronic conditions I have now were likely started by or at least exacerbated by my behaviors.
Balance, Balance, Balance
For at least a decade, I began a hilly ride up and down the weight charts and through diet after diet. I lost 80 pounds at one point, then gained 30 back, and kept going up and down. The positive side of this ride was that I was eating an amount that was closer to what my body needed, and my weight swings became somewhat less dramatic over time. I started to eat less sugar as well which helped to reduce some of my cravings. When I religiously counted my calories, I lost pounds and maintained my weight. As soon as that stopped, the pounds came back.
The other change during this time is that I established a regular exercise routine that I have now followed for four years or so and think has become integrated into who I am. I use workout videos five times a week and walk my dog at least three times a day. As a result, I’ve gained muscle tone and improved my physical stamina.
This is where I’ve been at for about a year now. I became so tired of counting calories I decided to see if I could maintain my weight by “listening to my body.” It hasn’t worked that well as I’ve gained around 15 pounds total, but I have learned some things. One is that my health conditions like GERD, IBS and possible gallbladder issues actually cause me to overeat. I will start to feel sick and have unconsciously learned that eating a little bit more, especially if it’s carbs, will temporarily stop the pain. I’ve also learned that there are certain foods that lead directly to digestive problems, including alcohol, animal fat and fried foods. I get so sick from these foods that I’ve dramatically reduced my intake of them. Lastly, I’ve started cooking breakfast and eating it more mindfully and slowly than at any point in the past. I would love to be able to extend this to my other two meals as I think then I’d be set!
Eating the Earth’s Way
The latest part of my journey has been to begin to consider consciously both myself and others in regards to my diet. I feel torn about eating meat as I know I could not kill certain animals like cows on my own even if it was the only way to get a burger. I am at the point of giving up red meat because of this. I plan to spend a few months observing my relationship with fish and poultry to see if those are items I can live without or if I need them to maintain some semblance of a reasonable diet (aka to avoid Junk Food Vegetarian Part 2).
I also plan to take an account of what foods are “safe” for me to eat with my medical conditions and engage in more creative meal planning to try to incorporate more of a variety into my diet. Having a large portion of healthy foods trigger severe GERD makes something like a salad more challenging than it otherwise would be. I suspect there are additional ways of preparing foods that would work for me if I was willing to put in the time to try them.
The last goal I have for myself is to continue to listen to my body instead of trying to force myself to lose weight. I’m still in a range that wouldn’t cause serious health issues, especially with my level of exercise, and I think coming into a right relationship with food while eating mindfully would be life-changing. As I develop my spiritual life, I hope there is a mind-body-spirit synergy that centers and settles me into an evolved way of making food- and eating-related decisions.
I feel somewhat silly taking anyone who’s read this far through all this. At the same time, I remember at many points feeling like I was the only one who had these issues because most of my friends seemed to struggle less than I did. I do know that a history of trauma predisposes people to an increased risk of difficulties with food and weight. Many people who see food and weight as a battle to be won. I’m trying to view it instead as a relationship to develop, one in which listening, kindness, grace and perseverance will hopefully result in a sense of goddessing my food choices and eating habits.