Tuesday, 1 November 2016

5 Ways to Beat Food Guilt

Some of my favourite childhood memories are rooted in my tastebuds. Going out to the arcades in the evening with my grandparents and coming home to a plate of cheese and crackers. Family holidays bundled in the back of my dad's car playing 'who can eat a sugared doughnut without licking their lips'. Walking to my mum's allotment and eating all the strawberries I was supposed to be picking as the sun set in the background. Settling down with my brother and sister on the sofa on a Friday night after we each picked the packet of crisps we got to eat while we watched Friends. Food was comfort. Food was fun. Food was pleasure.

And then the guilt seeped in. Slowly I learned that my appetite was shameful. That food was something to fear, not enjoy. That I had to earn my calories, burn off the fat, be careful of the sugar, weigh, measure and write down every bite. Food stopped being the simple pleasure I knew it as, instead it became the thing that could make me fat. And I learned young that fat was the worst thing I could be.

Our relationship with food has been royally fucked up. Every meal comes with a side order of shame. Every bite has to be calculated and considered. And you know what? It's exhausting. That constant voice telling you you've already eaten too much, you didn't even work out today, it's really not worth it for the calories. The cycles of dieting and binging. The nights laying awake going back over everything that passed your lips. The punishment the next day for the dessert you shouldn't have had. The regret. The fear. The guilt. Raise your hand if you're tired of it! (or just, y'know, think about raising your hand). Enough is enough. We deserve to eat without an internal war raging in our minds over every meal. It's time to beat food guilt. And this is how we're gonna do it:

1) Get Rid of 'Good' and 'Bad'

We all know what 'good' and 'bad' foods are. The good foods are usually green, fat free, and low calorie. The kind that you see in brightly coloured arrangements on Instagram sprinkled with the must have health food of the moment (seriously what even are chia seeds?). When we eat them we feel virtuous. We go to groups and sit in circles boasting about how 'good' we've been. We make promises about how 'good' we're going to be this week. We know that we're doing the right thing. Even if we can't stop thinking about cake.

Then come the bad foods. The ones we worry about people judging when we put them in our trolleys. The ones we secretly stash and binge on when the 'good' foods just aren't good enough. The ones that we start spending every waking moment fantasizing about 3 days into our latest diet. The ones we hate ourselves for eating.

We all know what those foods are. But we don't realise how much damage we're doing to ourselves by splitting food into those two categories. Because food isn't good or bad. Food is just food. When we talk about food in those two terms what we're really saying is that we are good or bad. We're believing that the amount of calories, fat, sugar, macros, carbs or anything else we consume is what makes us a better or worse person. We are judging ourselves morally by what we put in our mouths. And that's not okay. Cake is not sinful. Kale is not saintly. And we need to stop referring to them (and ourselves), like they have the power to define who we are as people.

The next time you start thinking about how 'bad' you were at the weekend or how 'good' you need to be, remind yourself that food has no moral value. You are more than what you choose to eat. And you are allowed to honour your appetite.

2) Lose the 'Make Up For It' Mentality

FOOD IS NOT SOMETHING THAT YOU CONSTANTLY HAVE TO EARN OR BURN OFF. You don't need to punish yourself for what you've eaten. You don't need to use exercise as a form of torture to undo 'mistakes'. And you sure as hell don't need to skip meals to make up for eating more than you think you should have. It is okay to eat more than usual some days. In fact, it's normal.

Our 'make up for it' food mentality is mirrored all around us in society. We go on cleanses that promise to undo the damage of our over indulgence.We see gyms as places to 'work off' our food, rather than build our strength or stamina. One of the most popular diet plans is based on fasting and feasting, encouraging us to eat whatever we want, as long as we make up for it by starving ourselves 2 days of the week. Nobody seems to realise that this mentality, taken further, is bulimia. Of course 4% of all American women end up binging and purging in their lifetime, they're only applying the lessons we're all taught about food.

Stop the bargaining. Stop the punishments. Listen to your body - if you've eaten a larger amount than usual and you're not hungry again for a while, that's fine. But don't ignore your appetite in an attempt to repent for your indulgences. Don't turn movement into a miserable form of self discipline. You don't need to make up for what you've eaten.

3) Cut Out the Communal Guilt-fests

Let me set the scene:

You're standing in line at your local coffee shop, trying to hold back your drool while you stare at all the freshly baked desserts you won't allow yourself to have. You hear the woman in front of you - "They look so good but they're so bad, I can't." Another chimes in "I know, I've been such a pig this week. Salad for me!". The women laugh knowingly, you laugh too. You know all too well.

Our collective food guilt and body loathing is one of the most common things we bond over as women. We spend hours talking to each other about our diets, bemoaning our flaws, rejecting each other's compliments and detailing all of the things we ate and how awful we are for eating them. In fact, it's almost expected. God forbid we say something positive about our bodies or enjoy our food without making some kind of apology for it. It is incredibly sad that our sense of female community is so bound up in shame and self hatred.

We have better things to talk about. We are more interesting than what's on our plates. We have more important things in our lives than what size we're wearing or what workout we have planned. And I hear you - those conversations make us feel less alone sometimes. But they don't make us feel any better, because they just reinforce our obsession. So change the conversation. Call out the toxic comments. 

Earlier this week I was out with my friend Joeley at an event with sparkly pink glitter doughnuts laid out on the tables. When another woman told us that they were incredible but not worth the calories *knowing look of shared internal battle between desire and diet culture induced shame*, Joeley simply laughed and exclaimed 'what are calories?!' before taking another doughnut as we left the room. It was magical. And the doughnuts were delicious.

4) Break Up With Diets... For Good

If you've read this far then this one must be obvious by now. Everything we know about food guilt, we learned from diet culture. Before we started spending all of our time and energy worrying about weight loss and hating our bodies, food was simple. Our relationship with food got fucked up when all the rules about what we should eat, how much we should eat, and when we should eat it to be our best, thinnest selves came crashing in.

The diet industry relies on guilt. As long as you are dieting, you will never get rid of your food guilt.

5) Intuitive Eating for Every Body!

Intuitive eating is the key to food freedom. It's all about listening to your body, honouring your appetite and knowing that no foods are off limits. It allows you to get back in touch with your hunger cues, learning to recognise when you're truly hungry, when you're full, and what your body is really craving. So much of what we eat is prompted by outside cues - what we think we should eat - that we lose touch with our most basic instincts. Intuitive eating lets us find them again. 

Basically, it teaches us how to eat normally again, without all the pressure of diet culture making us feel like monsters for getting hungry. And if you have no idea what eating normally even is anymore, this quote from Ellyn Satter explains it perfectly:

Normal eating is going to the table hungry and eating until you are satisfied. It is being able to choose food you like and eat it and truly get enough of it -not just stop eating because you think you should. Normal eating is being able to give some thought to your food selection so you get nutritious food, but not being so wary and restrictive that you miss out on enjoyable food. Normal eating is giving yourself permission to eat sometimes because you are happy, sad or bored, or just because it feels good. Normal eating is mostly three meals a day, or four or five, or it can be choosing to munch along the way. It is leaving some cookies on the plate because you know you can have some again tomorrow, or it is eating more now because they taste so wonderful. Normal eating is overeating at times, feeling stuffed and uncomfortable. And it can be undereating at times and wishing you had more. Normal eating takes up some of your time and attention, but keeps its place as only one important area of your life.

You can search for intuitive eating books online, Health at Every Size is a great one.

Most importantly, we need to learn how to give ourselves a damn break. We need to stop basing our entire self worth on our daily calorie counts. We need to stop believing the lie that what we eat or how much we weigh have any impact on our value as human beings. We need to refuse to spend any more time tearing ourselves to pieces for not being able to live on chickpeas alone. We are allowed to eat. It's time for us to break free from food guilt. Because in the words of Marylin Wann, life is too short for self hatred, and celery sticks.

I'm gonna go order some pizza now.

Friday, 7 October 2016

Why Aren't There More Thin Bodies in Bopo?

It's time to straighten this one out.

One of the biggest criticisms body positivity faces is that it excludes thin people. Most of the popular accounts or activists are people with bodies that are seriously curvy, visibly fat, or at least a little bit chubs (oh hey). So occasionally a thin person, noticing this, says that they feel excluded, usually with something along the lines of:

"I thought body positivity was supposed to be for all bodies, why aren't there more thin people on your account?"

And their observation is pretty much right, there aren't that many thin people reppin' bopo right now. The big players in the bopo world are mainly plus size models, fatshion bloggers, curvy activists and fat (fat) acceptance writers. There isn't a whole lot of skinny going on - but there is a reason for that, and it's a really important one too.

But before we dive into that, I need to make it clear that all people can and do struggle with body image issues, whether they're fat, thin or anything in between. Even people we see as physically 'perfect' battle the same internal demons about food and weight as the rest of us. Some of the most iconically beautiful female figures of our generation have struggled to accept their bodies - Demi Lovato talks openly about her battle with eating disorders and body image, Kim Kardashian has spoken about sitting in the bathtub in tears because she hated her curves so much, and even Beyonce apparently dislikes her ears (and we all know that Beyonce's ears are gonna be as flawless as the rest of her). Seriously, anyone can hate their body, regardless of how they look to the outside world. And every single person's struggle with body image is valid, important, and worthy of being heard.

So why does it sometimes feel like body positive spaces aren't celebrating thin bodies the same way that they're celebrating fat bodies? The simplest answer is to just look around you. Thin bodies are celebrated everywhere we turn, they fill our TV screens, they dominate social media, they grace the covers of millions of magazines, they sell us everything from toothpaste to designer jewels, and their prevalence helps to uphold the message that the only way to be beautiful is to be thin. And it's been that way for a long while. The 67 Project by Refinery 29 recently estimated that although 67% of women in America are plus sized, only 2% of the images of female bodies we see in the media are plus sized. The overwhelming cultural message of the last 100 years (give or take a Marilyn Monroe or two) has been that thinner is better and that the rest of us need to spend our lives chasing thinness or hating ourselves forever. Our culture already celebrates thinness, it's ingrained into everything we know, body positivity was made to be the counter-culture.

The aim of body positivity has always been to give representation to the body types that aren't recognised as beautiful or valid in our culture. In other words, the body types that the media doesn't want to acknowledge actually exist - fat bodies, bodies with 'flaws' like cellulite and scars, rolls and blemishes, people with different skin tones (women of colour especially, since mainstream media has always been incredibly whitewashed), disabled people, older women and members of the LGTBQ+ community. Basically anyone who has a body that does not fit the conventional beauty standards of today - that is who body positivity was made for.

Bodies that fall outside the thin ideal specifically have taken centre stage because obsession with our weight is something that affects nearly all of us, including the people who belong to other marginalised groups as well. The thin ideal is so widespread in our culture that none of us get out unscathed by the pressure to conform to it, body positivity gives us a way of escaping that pressure. Bopo itself has roots in the radical fat acceptance movement - in the 1970s a feminist group called The Fat Underground brought size prejudice to the attention of the world (and did awesome things like storming Weight Watchers meetings and asking the leader to provide a single shred of evidence that dieting is effective (which of course they never could)). Fat, queer women of colour fought damn hard over the years to be recognised, to be seen and heard and to refuse to have their identities invalidated. So it's understandable that when a thin, white, conventionally gorgeous woman comes along and says that she feels excluded from the movement, despite the fact that the media has excluded everyone BUT her for decades, people get frustrated. It's kind of like one woman being given a whole cake every single day while the woman next to her lives off the crumbs, and when that second woman finally gets a little slice of cake for herself the first woman wants that too. Mmm cake.

The body positivity we have today is an extremely watered down version of what it once was - even my existence in the community proves that. I totally recognise the privilege I have - I don't face the same prejudice and discrimination that the people who fought for this movement did, and do still experience. I know that the success of my account is largely because people think I haven't taken it 'too far' aka. 'too fat' (you can read more about that here). I do believe that there is a place for all bodies in this community, but we have to be respectful of its roots, its core values, and not turn it into something that it was never intended to be. Weight Watchers claiming to be body positive is a perfect example of this movement being torn to shreds and co-opted by the very people the movement has always been against - you cannot make billions convincing women that they need to lose weight to be good enough and then claim to be body positive (no matter how different WW is now than it was, it still profits from our insecurities and pedals the message that thinner is better).

Recently more members of the bopo community have recognised the need to branch out more fully into fat acceptance, and to see it as a distinct from the bopo we have now. Visibly fat women in our culture face a completely different experience in the outside world than those of us with smaller bodies do. We might have equal internal body image issues, but how the world treats us based on our appearances just isn't the same, and fat acceptance specifically focuses more on those injustices and forms of discrimination based on size. I fully support the fat acceptance movement, but I understand that I don't really belong in it. And I can respect that 100%.

So do thin women belong in the body positive community? I think they can. Like I said, we all battle body image issues, and thanks to photoshop the ideal bodies we see in the media don't actually represent any of us anymore. And in the eyes of diet culture we're all flawed, thin and fat alike. Which means that we all need to reclaim our bodies and speak out against unrealistic standards of beauty. Not to mention the fact that the current cultural ideal is super curvy, super toned, hourglass bombshell - leaving even naturally thin people behind and creating a whole new set of insecurities about being too slim. Body positivity is about teaching us all that we're good enough exactly as we are - thin people are included in that as well. As long as we recognise our privilege and don't distort the true meaning of the movement, the more the merrier.

And let's be real for a minute - the body positive movement is not claiming that thin isn't beautiful. It's not trying to push the current ideal out entirely. It's not saying that 'real women have curves' and using body shaming to lift one group higher than the other. It's simply saying make room for us all. Let us all be seen. Let us all feel beautiful. And thin people have to realise that their bodies have been occupying that spotlight for a damn long time, and that maybe it isn't such a bad thing if a movement comes along that tries to even out the playing field a bit. They're welcome to join in too, as long as they don't try and turn it into the same oppressive standard that people come to bopo to escape from. Don't bring the diet culture. Don't bring the message that one body type is better than the other. What you can do is bring your insecurities, your 'flaws', and your want to be seen as more than just a body. Together we can all help to dismantle the idea that we're not good enough exactly as we are, no matter what size we wear.