Monday, November 8, 2010

Intuitive Eating Part 1: The Background

So, the food issue. You’ll notice that on my life list, I don’t have anything that says “lose 50 lbs” because that’s kinda not the point (even though I’d be thrilled to lose 50 lbs, I’ll be honest, since that’s what the effed up BMI says I need to do to be “normal”). What I want to do more than that, though, is heal my relationship with food.

See, food has always been a issue for me. As a small child, I wasn’t allowed to snack between meals, and sweets, candy, and even gum were severely restricted. When I did get something “forbidden” I would eat as much of it as I possibly could, until I made myself sick. Even as a small child, I would go to the grocery store that was a block away from our house and buy candy, stuffing it into my mouth as quickly as possible on the walk home so I wouldn’t get in trouble for eating it.

When I was a teenager, Mom started combining the “no fat” craze of the mid-90s with the strict fasting regulations of the Orthodox Church. She read Dr. Ornish’s book that promised that if you never ate fat, you would never get fat, and she combined that with the Orhthodox church’s fasting rules. Basically, the church taught that one had to “fast” every Wednesday and Friday, plus all of Great Lent (6 weeks in the spring), Great Advent (6 weeks before Christmas), the Apostles’ fast (2-6 weeks in the summer, depending on the calendar) and the Dormition Lent in August (2 weeks). Add in some off saints’ days and other fast days throughout the year, and Orthodox fast days account for half the calendar.

In the Orthodox practice we were initially taught, “fasting” meant abstaining from meat, dairy products, fish, eggs, oil, and alcohol for all meals. In addition, we were told that truly pious Orthodox only ate one meal per day on fast days. So mom took both of these ideas - the Dr. Ornish no-fat diet and the Orthodox church no-food diet - and combined them. We ate one meal a day, at dinner, when my dad was home, and it was almost always vegetables with rice or pasta. No oil (not even to saute the onions in - we used water for that). No avocados, no nuts, no beans. Just a big-ass heaping bowl of rice and vegetables.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with rice and vegetables, and people will point out that certain civilizations have subsisted on nothing but that. However, most societies add a bit of oil to the vegetables, or a bit of meat, or some butter to their bread - something that will allow for satiety. But we didn’t do any of that. Also, unless you’re talking about the diet of those who are in true poverty, most people eat more than once a day. So there I was at 14 years old, eating one fat-free, vegan meal per day for about half the year. That was not fun.

I would obsessively read cookbooks during the “lunchtime” where we weren’t eating. Almost as soon as Lent started, my sister and I were planning the elaborate meals we wanted once the fast period was over. When we went grocery shopping, we salivated over things like chicken breast and avocado and salmon. I lost weight, I’m sure, but I also became very moody, and to this day, I have a “reputation” in the family for having “blood sugar issues” because - SURPRISE! - my body doesn’t do well when I don’t eat.

Eventually, the fasting became less strict. We were again allowed to eat 2-3 times per day, although on fast days, the meals were still non-fat and vegan. That was better, since we were eating more regularly. But because food (or the lack thereof, really) was seen as a “spiritual” issue, it kind of took on a life of its own, and I beat myself up repeatedly for not being “perfect.” Orthodox Church has a ton of stories of saints who never ate (such as St. Mary of Egypt), and I thought I should be like that, too.

The reality is that my body did not do well on this constant cycling of food. Because, of course, once the fast was over, we tried to make up for the deprivation with elaborate feasting. I would gorge myself on cheese, and butter, and eggs and every other good thing I could think of. I was tyring to make up for days and weeks of hunger in one meal.

So, needless to say, my current relationship with food is seriously screwed up, although I can say it’s getting better. Slowly. In part 2, I’ll talk about Intuitive Eating, Self-acceptance, and HAES (Health and Every Size)

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