A few weeks ago I was hiking with a friend. It was a beautiful day, we were climbing a steep track to seek a magical vista. It’s the kind of afternoon I live for.
Along the way, we stopped for a drink. At which point, she offered me a piece of chocolate. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love chocolate. I have no problem eating a lot in one sitting if I feel like it. But in this moment, I didn’t. “No, thanks,” I said.
“Are you sure?” She rejoined. “It’s healthy.”
I declined again, politely, but it grated. It bothered me, all the way up that beautiful mountain.
The truth is, any food will kill you if you eat enough of it.
Even water, fundamental to life, will sign your death warrant, you if you drink enough at one time.
So how could she possibly know if that chocolate would be healthy, for me? It certainly wouldn’t have been healthy if I’d just polished off four bars in the preceding hour. It would have been plain unhealthy had it contained an ingredient I was allergic to.
Eating what your body doesn’t want, in fact, might be as unhealthy as it gets.
My body didn’t want chocolate at the point it was offered, regardless of its organic, raw ingredients. My friend, if you think about it, was asking me to over-ride my bodies appetite signals, with a mental position about ‘healthy’.
But why would she do that?
One reason might be that, if you look, you’ll find ten sources of encouragement to manage and control your body before breakfast. But almost nothing pointing to its magic.
So her comment is not surprising. At the same time, her comment wasn’t harmless.
Dig a little deeper into the result of these constant invitations, and you’ll unearth a connection between what we eat and how stressed we feel. When we eat something we are told is ‘unhealthy’, our guilt ricochets up and we feel like stupid hopeless losers.
Hello, stress. Let’s face it, this is a completely natural and normal response to any type of restriction when it comes to a fundamental need. Restrict air flow, or safety, or love – our body goes into fight or flight mode. Failure to give our body the food it wants (rather than the food we mentally decide it needs) is exactly the same.
Instead of examining the stress that restriction puts on us, the most common reaction is to try and be ‘healthy’ again.
But, this time, with more willpower and enthusiasm.
We hit the juice bar, do the raw salad lunch and eat organic steamed veg with tofu for dinner. Even if, underneath it all, we are hankering after something else. Particularly, if, underneath it all, we are hankering for something else.
After all, we have been reminded a million times already this week that our body is not to be trusted. No sir. It needs to be controlled.
So, naturally, we try to shun ‘food’ thoughts from our minds. We say no to dinner with a friend because she just doesn’t eat clean enough. We choose the ‘right’ food bar for lunch. We go about our business being a good person.
But it’s hard to be this regimented. Because it’s stressful to have to eat what’s right – on paper – and ignore the call of our bodies wants. And that kind of stress, as we know full well, is plain harmful to our health.
So what is a healthy way to think about food and our bodies?
We can start by saying no to diet culture (perhaps it should be called restriction culture). We can seek to understand what our bodies want us to feed them. Remember, food is neither inherently good nor bad. How healthy something is for us depends on the context of our particular body and situation.
Know that the health benefits of eating to suit your ‘body’ not your ‘mind’ will decrease stress because it will connect you with which foods work for you and which ones don’t.
Help build a culture that believes healthy food choices are predicated on one factor: Do you want to eat this or that right now, or not.
Your body desires it, therefore it is a good and healthy choice. Imagine!
It will signal the end of body shame, disordered eating & restrictive behavior.
It will signal the start of freedom, peace, aliveness, and way ‘healthier’ bodies.
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