How one woman found yoga, eased her inner hunger, and started loving herself. Follow Kimber as she shares her journey to loving her body, the joys and sorrows of yoga teaching, and venturing into the wilderness of writing and publishing.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Put a Stop to Food Judgments

A friend who’s working on loving her body told me that whenever someone comments on her food choices or how much she should or shouldn’t be eating she becomes defensive. She wondered if this was a normal, justified reaction or an extreme one she should work on.
Here’s the short answer: nobody should judge what’s on someone else’s plate. 
There’s something about our culture’s obsession with perfection and weight loss that’s turned many of us to street corner experts who feel entitled to comment to anyone nearby: “You’ll always be fat if you keep munching that cheeseburger/cake/doughnut/etc.”  Funny how the same reasoning doesn’t apply to a “normal-sized” person eating the same thing. 
But we can’t judge someone based on two flimsy facts: what they’re eating and what they look like.   
For all you know, they might be a weight-lifter, a dancer, or they might simply have a genetic make-up that results in their body looking exactly the way it looks, no matter what they eat or how much they exercise. 
We experience comments like this whatever size we are: our friend who says, “Oh you got the blue cheese dressing, I can’t eat that, too fattening.”  Friends like this can really suck the enjoyment out of a meal.  What you choose to eat is not up for public discussion or debate. 
Eat what your body loves to eat, do exercise your body loves to do, and don’t feel guilty about it.  
No one has the right to judge you or make you feel bad about your body.  You don’t have to take on anyone else’s neuroses about weight and eating. 
Ragen Chastain, who writes one of my favorite blogs, “Dances With Fat,” talks about the perils of Eating While Fat (EWF) and suggests the correct response to an unwelcome comment from a stranger about food is: “You are way out of line and you don’t know what you’re talking about.  How dare you?  Move on.”  Indeed, this response sounds defensive.  But hey, if you say something to this impolite stranger now, you might save some other person from having to endure the same rudeness later.  Think of it as performing a public service. 
That said, there’s a deeper concern. What about when you’re defensive when you’ve asked someone for their opinion? 
Years ago, when first trying to figure out why I was hungry all the time, I asked a nutritionist friend of mine to look at my food choices.  Boy, was I defensive.  Seriously, I had asked her to evaluate (read: judge) my eating habits, and when she did exactly what I asked her to do, was I mad!  Pissed!  Furious!  How dare you tell me to eat differently!  Even though I’m paying you to do just that….
Yep.  Something was screwed up.  The real problem wasn’t that I felt judged by someone else. It was that I was judging myself, giving myself a hard time for everything that I put into my mouth that wasn’t perfectly fresh, non-fat, sugar-free, organic, sustainably harvested, non-violently grown by fair-trade angels or locally unionized leprechauns.  Which basically meant nothing I ate met the strict standards I set for myself.  I was judging myself constantly and anyone else’s judgments (even the professional dietician I was paying) just amplified the self-criticism beyond any tolerable threshold. 
I would always feel painfully defensive about my food unless I stopped judging what was on my plate. 
My inner judge would never be satisfied, no matter how perfectly I ate, leprechauns and angels aside.  How do you stop judging yourself for what you eat?  The Buddhist practice of lovingkindness is a good start (I’ll cover that in an upcoming blog), but one sure-fire way to circumvent the inner judge is to eat for enjoyment. 
Close your eyes, feel into your body, and ask your body what it would really enjoy eating.   
Don’t be satisfied with the old cookies in the cabinet or the stale pretzels on top of the fridge.  What does your body really want?  When I ask my body the question, “What would you enjoy eating right now?” my body almost always comes back with images of ripe fruit, steamy greens, crisp salads with lemony dressing, and roasted beets.  Fresh eggs, juicy tomatoes, and goat cheese also make the top of the list.  My body almost never asks for anything in a box or a can.  Go figure. 
Find out what your body would genuinely enjoy, then make it or buy it, and sit down and enjoy every bite.   
When your body stops enjoying it, stop, and enjoy digesting it.  If you have a hard time figuring out what your body would like to eat, stand in the produce section of the grocery store, or better yet, in the farmers’ market, and ask it again.  Keep asking it until it answers you.  You might be surprised by how clearly it indicates its desires once you start tuning in. Listening to your body sounds simple, but it’s easy for your body’s needs to get lost in the hubbub of daily life.   
Listening to your body requires a commitment to yourself to pause and ask, over and over again, what it needs, and to listen to and feel for the answer.   
And then to be willing to meet those needs everyday.  Eating without thinking is easier, but much less satisfying and enjoyable. 
Then the answer to anyone who comments on your food—stranger, friend, dietician, inner judge, leprechaun—is “This is what my body needs right now.  I’d trust my body over your advice any day.”  
If they seem interested, you might ask them how much time they spend listening to their own body’s needs.  You might spark a change in their relationship with their body, too. 

Love Your Body Blog Part 70

Friday, June 1, 2012

You Are Not an Object

Yesterday I got to catch up with an old friend, sharing our lives over the last ten years and savoring each other’s presence.  I told her about the Love Your Body work that’s been my passion for several years now, and she mentioned that she’s never had any problems with body image.  Ever.  At all.  It’s completely mysterious to her. 
For those of us who have struggled with body-image issues our whole lives, people (especially women) who have always felt ease in their bodies are the proverbial “unicorns”… something magical you’ve heard of but never seen.  
Yup.  They exist.  My life is full of body-image conversations and every once in a while I meet a woman who says, “What you’re doing sounds cool, but it’s not relevant to me.  I’ve never disliked my body.  I don’t entirely understand why anyone would dislike their body.”
My theory about my unicorn friends, the big difference between them and me, is simple: they don’t objectify themselves. 
They don’t look at themselves from someone else’s point of view.  They don’t take on that critical, judgmental, outside point of view that’s impossible to measure up to.  They don’t compare themselves to airbrushed images on billboards and magazines.  They don’t judge their bodies based on their appearance, but appreciate their bodies’ health and well-being.  We can learn a lot from our unicorn friends. 
Unicorns have problems too.  They judge themselves about their performance at work, they have divorces, anxiety attacks, lose their keys, get lost in the big city, and take wrong turns down winding country roads. 
That’s life, right?  It turns out life is hard enough without treating ourselves like a vase at a yard sale, pointing out every flaw and crack every time we look in the mirror. 
We end up treating ourselves like a potential buyer evaluating a horse.  “Hmm… rounded shoulders, ribs can be felt but not seen, fat deposits along the withers…this pony’s been overfed.”  It’s exhausting to treat ourselves this way all the time.  It can ruin your whole day.  Maybe even your whole life.
You are not a pony. Your body is not for sale.  No one has the right to judge or evaluate it.  You are an amazing human being, so much more than the reflection in the mirror could ever show.
You don’t have to treat yourself like an object ever again.
But once we’re caught in the habit of objectifying ourselves, how do we stop? 
1.      Notice when you’re looking at yourself like an object. You gotta catch yourself doing it.  Look in the mirror and notice the first critical thought that comes to mind.
2.      Ask yourself: Says who?  Whose thought is that?  Whose point of view is that?  Who am I comparing myself to and why? 
3.      Remind yourself: this body is my friend, my home, my life’s companion.  It makes everything in my life possible.  Judgments are not welcome or necessary.  My body is not an object.  It’s a vibrant living being that deserves  love. 
4.      Feel your body from the inside.  Is it happy?  Is it enjoying life?  This is what truly matters.

Your body is not for the consumption of our consumer culture.  It’s for your enjoyment of life and the pursuit of your dreams. 
Once you’ve given up treating your body like an object, all that energy you used to spend giving yourself a hard time, you can now use to write your book, start that business you always wanted to try out, and finally finish the art project you’ve been dabbling with for years. 
You’ll still have problems.  But you’ll have a lot more energy to work with them. 

Love Your Body Blog Part 69