Monday, March 4, 2013

The Poetry of Normal Eating, Defined

NEDAwareness 2013. Everybody Knows Somebody.
Last week was National Eating Disorder Awareness (NEDAwareness) Week of 2013, the largest education and outreach effort on eating disorders in the United States. As a recovered anorexic (well, technically, a recovered Eating-Disorder-Not-Otherwise-Specified-ic) this week always swells my heart with emotion, and I take it pretty seriously; I could have used this kind of enthusiastic advocacy, information, and support in high school, maybe earlier. 


UCLA's Body Image Task Force is pretty awesome!
For my small part, I headed to Los Angeles to give at talk at UCLA, for "I Love My Body Week," run by the UCLA Body Image Task ForceThe students running the Task Force were phenomenal (big shout-out to Nicola S. for !) and I had a great time.  Most of my talk was in a Q&A interview format, but I had about 5 minutes at the beginning to plug NEDAwareness. I'd planned to narrate my experience developing and then recovering from my eating disorder, but at the last minute I had a change of heart. I decided to read a poem.  Admittedly, the poem I recited wasn't originally written as such, but the first time I heard it read aloud the words sunk into my heart with the intensity and emotion that has always defined poetry in my mind. 

The year was 2002 and I was in my first month of "Intensive Outpatient Therapy" at an eating disorder clinic near my college. I had just finished a group session of "calming" yoga (which was far-from-calming since the room was filled with palpably anxious young women, at least 1/3 of whom were quietly crying in Child's Pose while another 1/3 were trying to stealthily burn a shit-ton of calories by adding imperceptible calisthenic moves into our Sun Salutations. I was one of the criers). After the Corpse Pose grande finale (and some of us really did look like corpses) were all shuffled into our next therapy activity for a lesson on "normal eating."  

Normal eating? What the hell is that? I remember thinking. Okay, give me the "normal eating diet" and I'll follow it, I thought. I was good at diets.  But normal eating wasn't a diet. It also wasn't a list of foods, or "points," or food groups, or even levels of satiety that needed to be monitored "intuitively." Instead, it was this:

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 is trusting your body to make up for your mistakes in eating. 
Normal eating takes up some of your time and attention, but keeps its place as only one important area of your life.
In short, normal eating is flexible. It varies in response to your hunger, your schedule, your proximity to food and your feelings.

I won't dive into the details of why and how this "definition" (poem, I tell you. POEM!) shaped the trajectory of my recovery. Suffice it to say that I'd never been able to successfully eat "intuitively," but finally forgave myself for this after learning that normal eating takes some "time and attention" and that emotional eating isn't always disordered (indeed, mindful eating is all about pleasure and being in tune with your body!). 
Because when it comes to poetry, all you can do is TRY.
So anyway, at my talk last week I did my best to recite this "definition" of normal eating with the spirit of spoken word poetry. If I'd planned ahead, I would have worn a beatnik beret, brought bongos, and insisted on finger-snaps instead of applause. But, even without these poetic accouterments I think I managed to pull it off with the emotional effect I was hoping to cultivate. Regardless, I hope someone else out there finds it helpful. 
Now you tell me: What is YOUR definition of "Normal Eating?" Can it be defined? And what's your opinion of having governmentally defined "dietary guidelines?" 

25 comments:

  1. Thank you. Thank you. I will be sharing this with a client this morning. I am not coming from a place of a lot of knowledge -- hearing news snippets about various restrictions. I think it needs to be an individual choice and not a fan of government dietary guidelines. I think we need to promote healthy eating and love and care for ourselves and those around us.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Becky - I'm so glad you found it helpful. Best of luck!
      Kjerstin

      Delete
  2. Thanks for sharing these words! I think a lot about eating these days (writing a paper). Normal eating might have multiple meanings? The meaning of dietary guidelines might be advices for normal eating, however I understand them as advocating normative eating.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I totally agree that dietary guidelines advocate "normative eating." I just can't figure out whether this is overall good or not-so-good...

      Delete
  3. I find some food enjoyable, but growing up without much extra money has taught me that food's main purpose is to be nutritious. I may eat 1 or 2 enjoyable (read: guilty cheat) meals over a span of 2 weeks, but have gotten so used to eating food for living that I find it difficult to endulge often.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Interesting perspective and experience here! I've heard from other people growing up without a lot of resources that they were treated to inexpensive fast food and junk food during childhood, which sounds different from your story.

      Delete
  4. I like to think of it also as "mindful eating"

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes! I prefer that term. For a long time I kept hearing about "Intuitive Eating" and was always angry with myself for not being able to eat without some planning and "mindfulness"

      Delete
  5. Remember when we were kids and we never thought about it? We ate when we were hungry and stopped when we were full. Eating was just something we never gave much thought to beyond a simple, "I'm hungry." I wish I could get back to that space.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I (personally) like "mindful" because then it also reminds me to think of the quality of the food I eat - would I rather have a small piece of really good chocolate and amazing fruit, or a giant piece of bad cake? But I still really like the statement above as it is written -

    ReplyDelete
  7. I love this! I learned normal eating while pregnant-if I ate above what Andy felt I should be eating, a swift kick to the bottom of my stomach & BAM, no more excess I got a lot better about eating to satisfaction & not fullness after him
    Normal eating makes it seem run-of-the-mill & not some big fancy concept that's too hard for the average person to achieve on a daily basis. I like normal.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I love hearing stories about how pregnancy helps some women to finally feed themselves well!

      Delete
  8. I've always wanted to have a month to run an experiment - eat when I'm hungry and sleep when I'm tired, with no obligations getting in the way. I wonder how that would feel?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I've done this and it's pretty awesome. That said - no kids and I work from home... So it's probably easier for me than most. And it's still hard!

      Delete
  9. @ Kjerstin are you of Swedish heritage?

    ReplyDelete
  10. Julie, I imagine it would be pretty amazing feeling! Once I move all (2 of) these kids out, I'm going to do that.

    ReplyDelete
  11. I've tried, but I've never made it past two days without something I have to do messing it up.

    ReplyDelete
  12. I like eating alot all the time! I'm way under weight! I need to gain alot of weight!

    ReplyDelete
  13. eating till your full but healthy food for your metabolism just a thought

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. A good thought! I wish it were that simple but our environment (and genetics!) also plays a part I think....

      Delete
  14. My daughter just told me about her eating disorder last night. For her it's just that she's never hungry, and doesn't like much food at all. Even after we go to the grocery, it's like there's nothing she wants to eat. She's lost weight this year, and she's in 8th grade. I'm not sure what to do.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I know this must be a really upsetting time, but you have one thing going for you: your daughter TOLD you about her struggles. This is so important, since many people hide their disorders until it's too late. Here's what you need to do: call your daughter's physician and make an appointment. Tell the Dr. your concerns, but let your daughter meet with her doctor alone. After the appointment, follow the doctor's recommendation, whether it be seeking a therapist or working with an eating disorder treatment center. If you feel that the doctor is under-reacting, then find a therapist or treatment center for a second opinion. GOOD LUCK!

      Delete
  15. In good times, eating is like a great hobby to me - I do it when I feel like it, I enjoy it a lot, and when I've had enough I've had enough and care about other stuff. In such times, eating healthy stuff comes naturally, but some sweets every day do too. Oh and I love talking about it, like I love talking about my other cherished hobbies. Like, the taste of this delicious chocolate pie, the perfect consistency of a potato gratin, etc.

    Any attempts to regulate my eating lead to obsessive reactions - I spend lots of time and energy thinking about food, worrying about my weight, that makes me feel unhappy and dissatisfied, therefore I crave more sweets which make me feel guilty and obsess about weight which makes me crave more food etc. - not good, not normal, not satisfying.

    A few months ago, I decided to completely stopped using scales, as I realized putting a number on my body made it a permanent cause for monitoring and regulating. I'm fine with mirrors most of the time, as I like dressing up etc. But when I go on kayaking or cycling trips and there are no mirrors for some days, it really feels liberating! So maybe I should try that for longer stretches of time...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I've heard of many women ditching their scales. More power to ya if you can! Love it. I can't do it, unfortunately... my mind plays tricks on me and having a scale around helps me stay in touch with reality.

      Delete