Monday, March 18, 2013

Why "eat when you're hungry" is Just Ignorant Advice



I wrote an important post in 2009 shortly after I started back into dance but before I had gone to any trainings. It asks the question, "do eating disorders ever really go away?" (Read...it's about the constant falling off the wagon and getting back on...)

And even now? I would answer, sadly, that they do not.

It gets so much better, of course, but unlike an alcoholic or a drug addict, I cannot give up my addiction substance. I must eat. I must confront that part of me every single day, many times a day.

Most days, even now, I have to plan my food intake. I do not count calories. I just pay attention to how many fruits, veggies, and servings of protein I am putting into this body. Meaning, I make sure to eat ALL the meals and then some.

I watch out for red flags like avoiding foods that are "bad" (as opposed to watching out for my very real allergens), skipping meals because I am "too busy," denying myself more for fear of "too much." Other red flags include: tiredness, insomnia, grouch/very short fuse, severe anxiety, emotional lethargy. All of those things are signals from this body that I am not taking care of myself, eating well, or getting enough water.

On top of my own vigilance, Marcy usually asks me what I have eaten or plan to eat, and she is in charge of creating our (super duper healthy yummy) dinner menus for the week. I would just open the fridge and kinda pull out whatever if it were left up to me.

So what the HECK is this all about? Am I just lazy? Stubborn? Refusing to be my best, most healthy self?

None of the above.

This is about broken connections.

For decades -- DECADES -- I have tried to ignore my hunger for fear of getting FAT. Yes. I said that. That is what I was taught -- DO NOT BE FAT. As if weight has something to do with integrity and goodness and worthiness. (And of course, there was no thin that was ever thin enough.)

There were times in my life when I was at the lowest point with this body. When I hated everything about it and the idea that it got hungry or had needs was utterly disgusting to me. I took pride in my ability to "get through the hunger pangs" and come out the other side, not feeling a damn thing.

The disconnect then spread. I did not know I was dehydrated for most of my life. I did not know when I had to pee. I would start to get very angry by the end of the day and realize that I had not once used the bathroom.

I walked around feeling as if "I" were a shadow that floated two feet outside this physical container.

This body felt like dead weight.  Ugly, dead weight.

To shorthand all of this, I explain it this way to people: My hunger and thirst mechanisms are BROKEN.

They gave up long ago, realizing that I was not listening. They are still somewhat broken. Marcy STILL will point out that maybe my mood is from needing some food...and it always is.

As hard as I try to remember, there is nothing like the body being able to tell us when we are in need.

Remembering cannot replace, not really, the basic biological function of heard/felt messages.

So...this brings me to the title...when nutrition/food gurus/coaches say that the best approach to food and water is to eat and drink when you are hungry, I think, Hmmm...that lucky person has never had a disordered relationship to food. Lucky them.

But that advice just adds another layer of shame for the (mostly) women out there who no longer have this capacity.

We need better advice and more help than this off-the-cuff casual approach, and I would love to see more compassion and understanding and less ignorance in the field of health and nutrition.  If you are working as a health coach, this is your job...LEARN.

Too many women's lives depend upon it.

Eating disorders don't just belong to teenagers and they don't just disappear once we grow up.