By: Erin Naimi, R.D.
As a nutrition therapist, one of the ways that I practice what I preach, with certain clients, is by sitting down and having meals with them. Modeling what it means to be a normal, healthful, and balanced eater is a very important part of our relationship - and that means that we will eat whatever needs to be eaten, together (from Pizza to Kale to Chocolate cake) until that particular food can be experienced as normal, safe, and simply food. Meal sessions are intended to help introduce, what is discussed in sessions, into each individual’s personal reality. For some people this is a fairly easy and simple process, and for others it’s quite challenging and anxiety provoking- thus, my job: to help work through those anxieties and get to a more peaceful place with food.
In an ironic twist of events, this week, for the first time, I found that I was the one squirming with discomfort at a meal. I felt terribly as I sat across my client, knowing that I was not being the supportive model of normalcy that I generally am…Though I knew I was failing her, I simply could not get myself to eat more than a couple of bites of the delectable looking waffles (pictured above), that I had intended to eat- in full.
Let me back up a bit…. the challenging waffle experience I am referring to involved my client, a lovely woman who I’ll call Jill. Jill and I agreed to have this meal together, in my office, so that we could work on “normal eating”- which in this case meant: being able to complete 2 regular waffles + the fixings she normally added, together, for lunch. No big deal, right? Well, it all sounded routine enough until I was informed that the doughy, buttery, buttermilk waffles I had been anticipating were actually substituted with two extremely dense Vegan, Gluten-Free, Buckwheat Waffles… with a side of goat’s yogurt à la mode!
I tried to keep an open mind… “How different or bad could they be? Jill seems to love them,” I thought to myself. For the first time I felt the tables had been turned as I watched Jill comfortably consume her food in a seemingly enjoyable manner, while I sat cringing, trying to convince myself to take another bite of the earthy dense bitterness that sat before me. Though I am all for healthy alternatives, this went beyond my palate’s threshold for acceptable substitutions. In staying true to my no B.S. policy, I could not fake it and I could not stomach another bite of those waffles either. As I sat with Jill, I was incredulous as to how someone who is not vegan, nor has a gluten allergy, could subject herself to such a displeasing meal, and why??
Situations like this are all too familiar nowadays as people on a quest to be “clean and healthy eaters,” start labeling foods that are perfectly healthful and delicious as vilified offenders.
Before I continue, let me say in Jill’s defense, she may in fact really enjoy those waffles, and that’s ok. However, I’m not certain that she would like them just as much or would continue to chose them if she felt just as comfortable allowing herself to have the regular buttermilk version instead. That remains to be seen…
Also, I do understand and strongly encourage individuals with known food allergies to avoid foods containing those particular ingredients that they are indeed allergic to- whether it be gluten, dairy, nuts, or anything else for that matter. However, there is a stark difference between restricting oneself because of emotional discomfort vs. the dire physical discomfort and medical consequences that will ensue due to actual food intolerances.
That being said, I can appreciate and recall all too well how easy it used to be for me to convince myself that I absolutely adored certain foods that tasted absolutely ….well, not so delectable. In my late teens and early twenties, when I had my own eating problems I convinced myself to eat and “enjoy” lots of things I would never go near now (fat-free baked goods, non-fat rubbery cheese, dry tasteless egg whites, yuk!). I also convinced myself that many of the foods I relished were bad, fattening, and unnecessary. I made myself believe that going to the gym 2-3 hours each and every day, was not only necessary and but fun too! .…and that all those people who thought it was excessive were just plain lazy! Unfortunately, I also had countless people who admired and encouraged me for those behaviors, which only further validated my distorted thinking that I was doing a good thing- the right thing!
Yes, I really bought into it. All- Of- It. I drank the Kool-Aid because like so many, I was afraid and didn’t know how else to feel ok in my body, and when good enough was actually enough. I felt completely helpless about how I could control it-as though my body was a voracious beast that needed any controlling at all. That’s what brings me the most remorse- that I bought into the myth and wasted so much of my precious time and energy ruminating about calories, my body, and all the days, hours, and minutes spent at the gym.
Like the previous, younger version of me, so many of the men and women I encounter believe that if they can eat just enough “clean foods”, if they can work-out enough, get their bodies under control enough, then finally everything will be ok, and all the Vegan, Gluten-Free, Buckwheat waffles and the hours spent running, spinning, and sweating will have paid off. But it never does. Does it? If it ever did, in fact, pay off people wouldn’t continue to chronically struggle and diet and restrict themselves. They wouldn’t continue to fear the wrath of hunger when it surfaces from the underbelly of their concaved and toned abdomens.
Let’s consider how it is that so many young and old, talented, informed, ambitious, creative, evolved, male and female minds have been deluded by the warped ideas about food and a quest for thinness. All of which is pursued under the guile of “privilege” rather than it’s organic form as: Deprivation. We have been brainwashed into believing that we will be better for it, healthier for it, happier for it- that others will love us more for it… for all the restriction and hunger we have endured, are we anything more than hungry, for it?
Far too many people have bought into the idea that being able to control or dismiss one’s appetite is a skill or talent rather than what it simply is- abusive. The notion that withholding needs and pleasure from ourselves is somehow a virtue in our culture seems very similar to the religious propaganda used to indoctrinate impressionable minds in other cultures. In particular, I think of how Islamic women are convinced that donning a burka is their right and privilege as honored and protected women. They too have come to believe that by covering themselves from head to toe, and concealing their bodies, that they are somehow better off for it, will be more fulfilled and honored in their lives for it- that they will make others happier for it. I do not judge it; I just question whether or not it’s true.
I imagine the majority of women in the world gawk at the imposition of having their privileges and bodies veiled. They may even feel pity when crossing paths with other women covered with a burka. Yet the idea of veiling their needs and reducing their hunger down to an acceptable size or a number on a scale seems perfectly sensible.
It’s not a simple process to untangle. In fact the process of reclaiming our freedom and our hungers and the privilege to be in a body- a body that is healthy, mobile, and intact, with needs and desires that should indeed be acknowledged, is quite complex.
Nevertheless, it is a process worth enduring and a freedom worth attaining. For every bite of yummy goodness that I am able to enjoy without remorse, for each day that I am able to appreciate my body for all that it’s done and all that it will continue to do, and for each moment that I may glance at my body and actually feel pleased rather than disgusted at what I see- I am grateful that I endured my own personal process and have come out the other side of the veil.