What diet culture (and finding intuitive eating) taught me about anxiety
Constant worry and fear have plagued me over the last year. Am I supposed to be with this person? What if something horrible happens and I don’t have enough money to cover the expenses of it? I feel like I’m dying…what if I’m dying? Quite a way to start a post, huh? All of these questions run through my mind multiple times per day and it started to take a toll on everything in my life. According to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America, 18% of the population (about 40 million adults) suffer from anxiety so I know I’m not alone in all of this. It’s the most common mental illness in our country. My guess is that if you’re reading this you’ve experienced anxiety or know someone who has.
Anxiety is very much real. We can’t deny that. The big question is are the thoughts that run through our minds true? Do they have validity? Spoiler alert — Tara Brach, a mindfulness practitioner and PhD in Psychology says that the anxious thoughts are real (we think them, we feel them) but they are not true (they don’t have validity). You now have the answer to all of life’s questions but if you keep reading I can promise some (hopefully) interesting stuff!
Switching gears for a bit to diet culture. It’s like someone you’ve known your whole life but you don’t even really like them and you feel like you’re under this awful grip when you’re with them (and not with them). Diet culture is the childhood friend that doesn’t need to be in your life anymore. Maybe she’s been a constant but she isn’t serving you any longer. In fact, she’s detracting from it and you realize you’ve been under the spell for far too long. After all, diet culture is built on selling fixes to problems that don’t exist so WE DON’T LIKE HER!!! You need to lose weight and be thin because that’s what diet culture says. It works so hard to make you believe that something is innately wrong and that you are not OK as you are. You may have been conditioned to believe these things and these thoughts carry on into adulthood. You wonder if you’re ever going to feel freedom and not think about food 24/7 and how many calories lunch was and if you exercised enough to “earn” dinner and maybe you should start paleo and god no you could never afford a bite of that cookie!! Diet culture is VERY REAL, just like that not so great childhood friend, but it’s not true. Or it doesn’t have to be. That’s where the connection comes in. The feelings and thoughts that we experience via diet culture are real and we’ve been conditioned to believe them. Once we open our eyes to the facts, we realize we don’t need to believe all of it. We don’t need to believe our anxious thoughts because they’re not real. What we can do instead is use those very terrifying moments to tune into the good shit (more on that later).
But first, how do we cope with this consumer driven environment that wants us to fix fix fix? How do we take responsibility for shifting the narrative?
The solution I didn’t even know I needed is something called intuitive eating. It’s a practice that can be used to learn to tune into your body’s hunger and movement needs and re-learn (if you’ve been dieting your whole life) how to feed yourself naturally without the use of restrictive diets. You eat when you’re hungry, you stop when you’re full. You eat some vegetables or protein when you’re body needs them and you eat a cookie when you want to (second time I’ve mentioned cookies. I really love cookies). If you’re reading this and you have yet to dive into intuitive eating it sounds so simple right? And you’re thinking, that can’t be real. Well, it totally is real and I practice it and am proof that it exists and that real live humans are doing it. Not only has intuitive eating taught me to eat according to my body (and not according to what society wants via the thin ideal) but it has allowed me to start living more intuitively across the board and tune into what my mind and my heart want as well. For more information on intuitive eating, a great place to start is 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating from the two women who created it in 1995.
To sum it all up in a nice big bow, diet culture and anxiety are not reasons to be scared (though that is certainly how we feel!) or to assume that this is just how life will be forever. They are both amazing tools to tap into what we really want and to question the things and the systems already in place. If something feels difficult or we’ve gotten into a pattern it’s OK to wonder if there’s a more gentle or a different way to experience or think about it. Attempting to come at your thoughts (your body, your appearance, your hunger) with curiosity versus judgement, shame and guilt is a good place to start. These are things that a lot of us have been taught from a young age or by the society that we live in so remember that and be gentle with yourself as you process all of it. It can feel strange to enter this shift and completely foreign to realize that our thoughts and our bodies are not threats but instead safe and perfectly fine. You want to run and hide but no need — sit into it. Journal, meditate, walk, cry, don’t cry, talk to a friend, watch a movie. Whatever you need to do to to undo all the stuff you learned to survive. Good luck my friends.