Recently, I was talking to one of my clients about the need to "deserve" food. This is a narrative I hear from a lot of people (and one that's reinforced by the culture at large). Truly, how many times have you heard someone tell you they deserve to have dessert because they did XYZ activity today. I can hardly go out to eat without overhearing someone say "oh come on, you deserve it!" whether it's to dessert, a second drink, a meal that they would consider "bad". I should make it clear that I fully support their decision to order any of these things if they want it but it has nothing to do with whether they deserve it (they do).
Tomorrow I'm leaving for my first real vacation in so many years, I can't even count. I'm heading to Las Vegas with my sister and our partners and I'm so excited for good company and good food. Besides the odd weekend away here or there (mostly for weddings and/or family events), I haven't been anywhere just for pure fun in so long. And it's a very weird feeling, mostly because I am always always doing something. Even on my days off, I'm cleaning or writing or working on my business or learning or doing something to stay busy. The last time I laid in bed all day and relaxed was when I was sick (which wasn't that relaxing at all). My partner is always poking fun at my inability to sit still. So going on a trip that likely won't involve any work at all (probably, maybe) is an odd (but good) feeling. There's also something different about this trip...
Historically, I haven't been very good at vacations. When I was younger, my travel anxiety was so severe that I couldn't really go anyway without throwing up (I was a lot of fun!!!) And then when I got older, I was so entrenched in diet culture that I couldn't enjoy the food I was eating or the sights I was seeing because I was so stressed out about calories and when I was going to make it to the gym. The last time I went away for an extended period of time, I was still pretty caught up in diet culture and as anyway who has been in the depths of dieting or disordered eating while traveling knows, it's not particularly fun. Honestly, is there anything more depressing than looking out the window at a beautiful place from a hotel gym? Is there anything worse than looking at all the delicious food options but instead, opting for something "lighter" or "cleaner" or whatever bullshit term you want to use to describe less-delicious food (not to say that all stereotypically "healthy" meals are not delicious- just that when you only allow yourself a very limited range of foods when you're surrounded by so many enticing options, it gets pretty sad). I thought that I was "in control" but in reality, I was being totally and entirely controlled by my disordered relationship to food. I thought that I was keeping myself in "check" but truthfully, I was just ignoring my body's inner wisdom and intuition.
My vacations (and life in general) were pretty rooted in deprivation. Rather than enjoying all the delicious and appreciating where I was, I was thinking about all the things I couldn't have or couldn't do because I was too worried about eating "too much" or not being able to go for a run. It makes me sad to think about it now but like so many other things about recovery, that sadness is tinged in gratitude. Gratitude that I can now order whatever I want guilt-free. Gratitude that I can pack a lighter suitcase because there's no need for workout clothes or sneakers. Gratitude in knowing that I can nourish my body and my soul, whatever that means for me in the moment.
Unlike every other vacation I've been on since I was about 15 years old, my prep for this vacation hasn't involve altering my food or movement at all. There's been (and will be) no restricting to compensate for all the tasty food I'm going to eat in the next week. There's been no extra workouts. There's been no trying to force my body into a size that it doesn't naturally want to be at just so I can look "better" in that dress. I'm not worrying about any weight I may or may not gain. I trust my body to take care of me. I trust that my body will know what to do if I eat more than normal. And that's the big difference between this and every other vacation: I trust my body to take care of me. I don't have to worry about what's going to "happen" to it because I know my body has my back (no pun intended?). So here's to a week of body trust, intuition and fun. What a radical concept!
Talk to you when I get back,
Cover photo by louis amal
I used to believe that I would never be able to have a guilt-free, stress-free holiday. I just didn’t think it was in the cards for me. I always thought that I would be forcing in an early-morning run before depriving myself of food all morning until the holiday dinner. Fortunately, the past few years I’ve discovered another way to do the holidays that make it much more enjoyable and allow me to focus on the things that really matter. Because I never even knew what such a thing would look like, I’ve decided to recap my Thanksgiving Day here. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday- my favorite foods, a focus on gratitude and seeing all parts of my family (mostly). Here’s what my day looked like:
Took the opportunity to sleep in after working the previous few weeks and goodness gracious, did that feel good. My body definitely needed the sleep and I was happy to be able to give it what it needed.
After savoring the deliciousness of the clean sheets and comfy blankets on the bed at my parent’s house, I finally got up and moving. I started my day with a coffee, strawberries (which were surprisingly good for out of season) and a toasted English muffin with peanut butter. I did my morning routine of breakfast, shower and getting ready except that while I’m at my mom’s house, it tends to take 12 times longer since we take a lot of breaks to talk.
I got to my dad’s house where I was having Thanksgiving dinner and helped him prepare (which mostly means I sat at the kitchen counter and talked to him- moral support). The only part I had to prepare was the salad (which is really the least important part on Thanksgiving)- spinach, feta cheese, toasted pecans and pears. I snacked on some veggies and cheese & crackers since by this point, I was getting pretty hungry.
Dinner time (even if it’s only 2pm, I always refer to the meal on Thanksgiving as dinner). Thanksgiving foods are my favorite so I got a little bit of everything- turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, a roll with butter, corn and salad. Even though the salad was delicious, I wasn’t really in the mood for it so it was the only thing left on my plate. What can I say? I am all about that stuffing.
My grandmother traditionally brings a banana cream pie to whatever holiday we have but this year, my stepmom ended up making it so I had a piece of that before heading over to my partner’s house to have dessert with his family. Not the most Thanksgiving-y food but it is one of my favorite things!
By the time I got to my partner’s house, I was ready for dessert round two. I had a slice of pumpkin pie and a sweet potato pie bar (I don’t know exactly what it was but it was good). And because they still had some veggies and chips out, I snacked on those while I played games with his family.
I didn’t end up leaving my partner’s until pretty late and I was tired- but still a little bit hungry by the time I got back to my parent’s. I grabbed two chocolate chip cookies his grandmother made (I’m fortunate that they sent me home with a plate of dessert) and headed up to bed.
And that was my day! There were no workouts, no food stress and lots of dessert. It took me a long time but I'm so grateful that I can enjoy the holidays now without food shame or obsessing over calories. Especially since this means I could have a pizza night with my friends the next night and then another full Thanksgiving dinner on Saturday. Food isn't the main event during the holidays but it is easier to enjoy this time of year when you're at peace with food and your body. Wondering how to get there? Check out my holiday group coaching and sign up now! It starts next week and if you struggle with food this time of year, you definitely don't want to miss it.
For all my American readers, I hope you had a great Thanksgiving and for all my non-American readers, I hope you had a great weekend!
The other day, I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts (not food/health/body positivity related) and the guest they had on that day was someone in recovery from an eating disorder. It’s the first time I’ve heard this topic addressed on this particular podcast (though it dominates many other podcast conversations I listen to) so I was interested to hear how it would go. The two women who host the podcast are comedians, though the podcast is about sex positivity so they’re very familiar with women empowerment. Still though, the topic of eating disorders seems to be outside their wheelhouse so I was curious to see how it would be addressed.
The guest was an actress/stand-up comedian who had a history of anorexia. I won’t go into the inappropriate questions that got asked and inappropriate jokes that got made on both ends- I’m not immune to the unseemly jokes that sometimes happen in comedy; I get it. I also understand that this is an issue that I am very close to so my bias is strong. But the one thing I do want to unpack is how they talked about recovery.
The guest said multiple times that she was “in recovery” while acknowledging that it will likely be a lifelong process. However, when the hosts (inappropriately) asked her what she eats, she was still cutting out some pretty major food groups. When they asked more specific questions, it was clear that she was still following some pretty strict food rules.
Look, I’m not here to disparage this poor woman. I have boundless compassion for her. So many of us (myself included) have been in that place. And I’m truly happy for her if she feels like she’s in a better place than she has been in the past. But I think it does a discredit to eating disorder recovery and to everyone who is looking for freedom from dysfunctional eating patterns to imply that what she described is recovery.
Recovery is not cutting out food groups.
Recovery is not having stringent rules around food and exercise.
Recovery is not laughing about how you would never touch a certain food.
Whether it’s from an eating disorder, disordered eating or chronic dieting, recovery is so much more than that. It alarmed (though not necessarily surprised) me that such a dangerous description of what eating disorder recovery is was described on such a popular podcast.
So what does recovery and food freedom look like?
It’s allowing yourself all foods. It’s knowing that you can have as much or as little as you want. It’s nourishing yourself without rules. It’s opening the fridge and knowing that you can have whatever you want. It’s knowing you can eat all of it now but also that you can save some for later. It’s tossing out the list of “bad” foods and recognizing that it’s dangerous for foods to be attached to morality. It’s going out to eat and knowing that you can order whatever you want. It’s not beating yourself up when you eat past the point of fullness and it’s having compassion for yourself when you do. It’s knowing that no matter what decisions you make about food, it doesn’t define your worth or who you are as a person.
It’s easy to get to the point where you feel like you’re doing “good enough” with food- when you’re not necessarily restricting, but you’re not truly allowing all foods. When you’re not as obsessive as you once were, but you still get nervous about going out to dinner or eating without knowing calorie counts. I’m all for celebrating the small steps along the way, but I think it’s so important that we don’t stop there. That we keep taking steps towards total food freedom so that we can live our lives without letting food control more space in our brains than it deserves.