I went into 2018 determined to change one of the most influential relationships in my life: my relationship with food. I’ve written before about how food is a major stressor for me, both from a nutritional/medical standpoint and from a body image one. Every meal poses multiple threats: will this hurt my stomach or otherwise cause some unexpected physical side effect? will it make me fat? will I have to not eat something later today because I ate this already? will I regret eating this so much that it’s not worth the mental agony in the first place? Blah blah blah. It makes me miserable, and so my big goal of 2018 was to shut down that paranoid, overly critical voice in my brain. I would continue making good food choices based on what my body needs and can or can’t handle, but I would stop making choices based on things like calorie count or whether a food could be deemed “good” or “bad”.
This doesn’t mean I started eating junk food for every meal, of course (though I wish!). Since my body already has trouble with processed foods and anything high in fat, grease, oil, or sugar, my diet is pretty healthy by default. What it does mean is that I started allowing myself to actually enjoy foods that weren’t “bad” for me in a nutritional way but would be considered so by most diet coaches. For me personally, this mostly meant carbs. Bread, pie, crackers, pretzels, muffins, cereal, scones, all those delicious foods you’re supposed to run screaming from because oh god, they might ruin your flat tummy I ate with the conscious effort to enjoy guilt-free. Same with cheese, peanut butter, honey, dried fruit, all those deceptively healthy foods that are secretly high calorie and therefore a dieter’s trap. With every bite of homemade banana bread slathered with peanut butter or chunk of wheat bread accompanied by cheese and an apple I made myself consciously recognize that I am inherently allowed to eat these foods. Not “allowed because I exercised that day” or “because I skipped lunch”, but allowed because I can eat what I want. Period. End of story. My worth as a person isn’t based on how many calories I ingest per day and life is too short to spend agonizing over every bite. If I want to eat a muffin I’m going to eat a goddamn muffin.
So what happened? Well, I gained fifteen pounds or so. I gained so much weight, in fact, that I’m the heaviest I’ve ever been – which should be a personal nightmare come true, but you know what? The world didn’t end. Literally nothing changed in my life except my stomach is a little flabbier (that’s where all my weight gain goes) and maybe a few items of clothing don’t fit as well as they once did. But that’s it! I’m as healthy as I was a year ago, if not healthier, and whatever extra chub I’ve gained hasn’t caused me any emotional, financial, or interpersonal ruin. I’m not sure anyone has even noticed, really, except for my wife, and my doctor didn’t comment on my increased weight when I went in for my yearly physical. Like I said, nothing has changed in any significant way… except I’m happier and mentally/emotionally healthier than last year. My enjoyment of friends and family time increased exponentially once it wasn’t hampered by constant food anxiety; I actually ate what I wanted to over the holidays; and I’ve allowed myself foods I avoided for literally years. Nothing changed except I feel a little less crazy, which, with a brain like mine, feels quite the triumph.
My efforts in 2018 didn’t cure me of my body image issues, of course; that shit is so deeply rooted inside me that I’ll never be totally free. What matters, though, is that I’ve made progress. I’m much kinder to myself when it comes to food and that’s allowed me to better appreciate when and what I eat, and with whom I share those meals. If the price of that lesson is a few extra pounds, I find I don’t mind that much. They say “a moment on the lips, forever on the hips”, meaning your enjoyment of food is fleeting and therefore inconsequential compared to the lofty pinnacle of success that is being skinny, but that phrase doesn’t take into account that the memories of those moments are also with us forever. When we eat consciously, and especially when we make meals into a time of friendship and joy, we’re nourishing ourselves in a different but just as important way. That’s what I want to focus on, not an elusive number on the scale.