Monday, August 4, 2014

What I've Learned From Ignoring My Body

Dear Imogen Lamport:

I know you don't run in my circles.  You don't seem to have run into Health At Every Size, or eating disorder recovery. Clearly you don't read Dances With Fat.  So when I read your seemingly random discussion of weight loss on your usually fashion- and style-oriented blog, I thought it was out of place, but I gave you the benefit of the doubt for the moment.

You are absolutely correct, you know.  Most people have to stay hungry to sustain weight loss.  They have to know hunger and embrace it and move through it.  For some people, it might just be the edge of hunger.  For others, it might be more.  You're also correct that our bodies don't understand that we generally have access to more food than any ten of our distant ancestors ever saw in their lives.  More food, safer food, it's lovely.  What a wonderful world.

However. I'm here to remind you that hunger is an important signal to the brain.  Hunger, pain, anger, sadness, sleepiness, these are all things we need to pay attention to.  Yes, as adults, it's important to be able to accept them at times, to learn ways to deal with them when we can't or shouldn't do anything about them.  Just as adults don't burst into tears in public unless they have absolutely reached their limits, we don't find ourselves binge eating unless something has gone haywire.  And powering through these very important signals is a fantastic way to take us to haywire, to take us beyond our limits.

Diet gurus- excuse me, lifestyle change gurus- champion willpower.  Even if in the beginning, as you said about your client's diet, they claim we won't be hungry, in the end they always circle back to "Just do it!"  But willpower is a two-edged sword.  Willpower is fuel for eating disorders, with the perverse pride that people get from doing what they know from experience sickens them.  Willpower is one of the things that keeps people with mental illness from getting help until their internal signals are on Red Alert and they're to the point of breaking down and hurting themselves.  Willpower must be tempered with wisdom to be worthwhile.

I know you didn't mean for your client to scream "THIS IS SPARTA!" and dive into eating disorders.  But your advice was dangerous.  I won't speak to your choices: you are the boss of your underpants, and that's fine.  (Although I will point out that putting "500 calories" and "not a starvation diet" in the same sentence will make nutrition nerds laugh at you.)  But advising a woman on a diet who's struggling with her hunger to embrace it is a hard thing.  She's at high risk of falling face first off that stupid, expensive diet into a bowl full of pie and ice cream and shame, and that isn't a healthy place to be at all.  That's not a place where she can nourish her mind and body. (Please note, I fully support pie and ice cream.  Just not garnished with tears.) Not to mention that you don't know her body: you don't know her medical conditions, her hunger, or whether she's actually getting the nourishment she needs from this one-size-fits-all deal.  If she needs food and she's not getting it, that needs to be addressed. But you're not her doctor; you're not her nutritionist; you're just shaming her for being naturally hungry.

And what does that make you?

I hesitate to answer that with anything other than, "A blogger with one less follower."

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