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