I’ve been trying to get in touch with what nourishes me, without preconception.
Actually that didn’t take long at all, but if you want the detailed version, read on...
Worrying about what’s healthy, what’s unhealthy, what’s okay and what’s forbidden, what’s a treat, what has to be rationed, what can be eaten freely – all this gets in the way of identifying what you need. Preconceptions make us sick, as much as they make us healthy. So why bother with them at all?
What you need should never be rationed. And we all need food. I don’t care whether it’s for emotional reasons, for the pure nutritional makeup, or for any other reason you like. Systems of rationing make cravings worse and often make for complications later on.
What would happen if you gave up coffee without trying to correct your sleeping patterns? Pretty soon you’d start on the coffee again, that’s what. It requires investigation if you actually want to make changes. You can’t just cut shit out and expect it to all fall neatly into place. There is actually a reason that you eat what you do, the way you do.
You can’t start exercising and expect it not to make you hungrier. You can’t increase your activity and simply eat less without making problems for yourself later on. Cravings are your body’s way of saying something’s wrong – if you keep living like this we’re going to run into trouble.
You can’t burn 100 calories on the treadmill and think that equals 100 calories of food, because it doesn’t. Exercise changes you on a systemic level. It changes the way things work in your body. That shit needs to be nourished, and eating ‘the same’ numbers as what you burn isn’t going to work for your long term development.
Our ideas of what we should be eating, and our feelings for what would actually satisfy us, are usually different. At the start of the year – for whatever reason – I decided the following:
I had had enough with my frequent resolution to ‘eat well this year’.
I wanted to be able to freely eat whatever I like.
I wanted ‘what I like’ to also be what’s good for me.
As a diabetic vegetarian, when I realised the only foods I did not have some sort of guilt-complex relating to were vegetables and nuts, I realised my problem was not with food – it was with guilt.
Somehow I realised the way to make it through was to start by breaking every rule I knew. I still find both blogs and real articles on line all the time that break down my preconceptions. It turns out you can absorb more than 30 grams of protein at once. It turns out you can lose weight while eating carbs at night. It turns out you can eat large meals less frequently without destroying your metabolism. It turns out you do not have to eat breakfast if you don’t want to. I’ve known for a long time that fat is essential, even though everyone is scared of it. Low-fat milk spikes your insulin, so full-fat milk is less likely to give you diabetes. Fancy that. You should see the reaction you get when you tell people you eat cream in unrestricted amounts! The small, frequent meal approach seems to go hand-in-hand with low-fat. I discovered that increasing my intake of fat naturally reduced my hunger, so I stopped eating as frequently.
The point is, of course – we don’t know what we think we know. Through adherence to rules and regulations, we lose sight of what we truly need pretty damn quickly.
Of course, I started out eating pretty randomly, without structure, and experimenting with what made me feel good. Sure enough, there were lots of ‘forbidden foods’ I was eating. But I wasn’t out of control, I wasn’t gorging myself 24/7 (which is the fear that’s drummed into us), because I kept thinking about what I actually wanted. I was aware that I was going through a process and things were probably going to get ‘worse’ before they got ‘better’. I knew it was necessary because I was sick of thinking only about short term thinness-seeking results. What I most certainly was not indulging in was the blind knee-jerk disobedient reaction to oppression – eating whatever the heck I could cram in my face with no regard for anything.
I was focusing on what made me feel good. Being disobedient is hard work. This meant the inclusion of meats in my diet, that I had not really consumed for twelve years. It meant cream, butter and cheese. Whole glasses of milk, just to see what it was like.
Interestingly, I don’t crave sweet drinks – I never really have – but there was more chocolate, biscuits, and cups of coffee. I enjoy my coffee black and sugarless, and it always amazes me how the same thing – coffee – can be for some people a strong, bitter and complex experience (black, no sugar) and for others, it can be a dessert (sweet and milky, with chocolate powder on top).
I know more than a few people who, once they open a packet of [insert forbidden food here] can’t stop until it’s all gone. That’s not a problem with the food itself, or compulsive eating, it’s really a problem with restriction.
I am certainly not the first person to have gone through the process where removing restrictions resulted in me not compulsively eating the whole pack.
When you firmly know, with absolute confidence, that food is not in short supply, you stop eating compulsively. I stopped that kind of obsessive face-cramming (still working on not being ashamed of it), because I naturally discovered that the point where I didn’t want any more was real. It did exist, and my own desire could be trusted. After eating enough, my desire to eat more went away.
People often freak out, saying things like “if I remove all restrictions I’ll eat everything in sight!”
No, you won’t.
Maybe you will at first, but if you’re aware that you’re going through a process, if you’re aware that this food isn’t actually in short supply, if you truly know that you aren’t going to starve if you don’t eat everything in sight right now, then you’re actually going to be okay. You aren’t ‘out of control’, you’re working on developing yourself.
Maybe it comes down to whether you’re an optimist or a pessimist. Do you believe – if we remove all the shoulds – you’ll naturally gravitate towards what is good for you or do you believe we will always seek out what harms us?
If you naturally gravitate towards that which is nourishing – what does it matter if every now and then you eat something that isn’t good for you – without judgement? Without preconception? What is really going to happen?
There is no such thing as ‘should’. All you need is a little awareness. Save your guilt and regret for something that matters.
I regret excessive adherence to dietary propaganda, and not investing in my own awareness and self-discovery sooner. But I’m not hard on myself about it, I’m just working on it now.
Even at the start of this process, I found I’d be craving the ‘good’ food along with the ‘bad’. I was wanting to eat green leafy vegetables at some point during most days. Also I was aware from previous experiments that adding or removing chocolate from my diet for a period of time actually had zero noticeable impact on my ‘weight’.
I think I exhibited signs of disordered eating. It’s very common. I don’t think I had an Eating Disorder in Capital Letters, but recognising something was awry in my relationship with food was very important.
I tried to remove my preconceptions, and I was able to embark on this process because I always believed that – deep down – our bodies want what’s good for them. If there’s anything we’re wired for, it’s our own survival. Why do you crave sweet, fatty food when you’re dieting? Because your body needs energy. It’s the job of your cravings to keep you from starving. That’s what they do. There’s a reason for them, and it’s a good reason, not a bad one.
You’ve got ‘self-destructive’ tendencies? The feeling that you want things to be better for yourself is proof that like me, you want what’s good for you. Failure to adhere to a diet is not self-destructive - it’s the exact opposite. You eat to prevent starvation. We are told lies as if they are true, but it’s the opposite that’s true. Cravings ensure that you continue to eat, despite how much you are told you should be eating less. What would happen if – in a society obsessed with thinness – we didn’t have cravings? We would all make ourselves very fucking sick.
It’s not the diet that’s good for you. It’s not placing preconceived restrictions on what you can eat that’s good for you. The ‘diet’ is what does you harm.
Eating what makes you feel good, and not eating what makes you feel bad is not a diet. It’s responding naturally and truly to your body’s needs, with awareness, not prejudice. This is what’s good for us, and it’s entirely different to conforming to someone else’s agenda.
What’s good for you is seeking inside, and discovering what you truly need, free from preconceptions.
This is a hard path, developing your awareness. The easy path is to do what you’re told, ‘suck it up’ and be tough, all while chanting the calories-in-calories-out mantra, and remaining ignorant. Keeping grounded in what’s actually good for you requires vigilance, it requires you to think for yourself, it requires you to actually think about what you want, not what you’re told you should have. It requires you to pay attention to how you feel on deeper levels than you are used to. And it means when someone accuses you of being lazy and undisciplined, you secretly know the truth that you did not sacrifice your own good judgement for the sake of popularity.
Eating whatever you want is anything but taking the easy way out. Again, we are told that lies are true, and the truth is lies. Eating what you want isn’t easy. There are no rules you can follow, there is no path mapped out – you have to find the way for yourself.
This is what I mean when I say we need to focus on what nourishes us instead of what depletes us. If we focus on what supports our development, rather than what interferes with it, what you’re putting in rather than what you’re taking out – maybe we’re still pandering to some sort of propaganda, but at least we’re moving away from the diet mentality. Working out what is good for you is really hard, when we’re being told – all the damn time – that we don’t know what’s good for us, we can’t be trusted, and if given half a chance we’ll all eat our way to an early grave.
Where did the low-fat craze of the 80s get us? What has that resulted in? Shouldn’t we all be thinner now, because we ate the low fat ice-cream instead of the double cream?
And what about carbs? Do you really think they’re evil? And why the hell do so many people say ‘carbs’ when they actually mean ‘grains’ or ‘sugar’? Very few people actually mean carbs when they say carbs.
Of course, when I explain this process to people, they often say something like “yes... so you eat green leafy vegetables, then? That’s healthy. And chocolate too?”
So either I have to explain it all again, or I give up. What’s with the judgement? That a food is irrevocably good or bad? Is sugar always bad? Really? You can’t think of any situations where it might be important? Are green leaves always a good food choice? And the key to health is supposed to be what specific foods I eat? What you eat is your business, and what’s right for you is damn well going to be different to what’s right for me.
What rules are you following that really don’t apply?