It’s been a while since I’ve blogged about my relationship with food. I wrote about my desire to eat intuitively instead of counting calories in February and then about my failure at doing so in March. After those posts, Travis and I went on a weeklong vacation in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, with my parents, brothers & significant others, aunt & uncle, 3 cousins, & 1 of their girlfriends, where I proceeded to overeat at every meal, despite my best intentions to keep things under control. Not only that, but my stomach was upset every time I ate for the next 2 weeks. Not fun.
After our vacation, my triathlon training began in earnest. I went gung-ho into training, so much so that I lost all motivation to do anything else. I went to work, trained, ate and slept. I didn’t want to grocery shop or cook. I didn’t want to blog or read. I just wanted to sleep and eat. I mention this because while training for the tri, I cut out my usual indulgences (ice cream and wine) for the sake of training but since I was burning anywhere from 300-800 calories in a single workout, I was eating a lot. Not more than I needed at the time but just more than I had been pre-training. Calorie counting was a joke. For me, my appetite fluctuated so much from day to day and workout to workout that I just ate when I was hungry and tried to make those foods ones that would help my training.
After my first tri, I realized that training had taken over my life. I love cooking but I had resorted to making Easy Mac and frozen pizzas for dinner. Something had to change. So I decided that I would do as much training for the next tri as I could without having it take over my life. Some workouts were missed or shortened but I was making real food for dinner. Travis was glad to have me back. My tri time may have suffered but I am not in it to win it anyway. The winners in my age group are WAY faster than I am so I would have major improvements to do if I wanted to be competitive. Do I want it that much? Not if it means it takes over my life.
I really don’t know what changed during that time. Maybe I became more adept at listening to (and responding to) my body’s signals. Maybe the eureka moment about my priorities helped cement my feeling about calorie counting being a waste of time and not glorifying to God. Maybe tri training took my mind off food obsession just long enough for me to conquer it. I really don’t know.
But I do know that my relationship with food is totally different now than it was back when I wrote those initial blog posts. I almost don’t want to admit it, for fear of jinxing it and having it go back to the way things were. In my post about wanting to eat intuitively, I wrote,
“Growing up, I had a fast metabolism and never worried about what I ate or how much. I just ate whatever I wanted. If I wanted a doughnut, I ate a doughnut. If I wanted a chocolate milk and PB&J on a bagel for lunch every day for months, I ate it. I was free from worry about food.
I envy those days. I want them back. My life now is consuming with thinking about food.”
I can honestly say that I have those days back and my life is no longer consumed with thinking about food (although, like the typical woman, I still do think about food quite a bit!). I am no paranoid about gaining weight. I don’t obsess over every little calorie. I don’t feel guilty eating a cookie…or two. I don’t feel the compulsive urge to eat everything on a buffet table before it’s gone. I can pick at my food. I can leave something on my plate when it’s not as good as I thought it would be.
For me personally, this is earth shattering. Even though I wasn’t overweight, my childhood and teenage years were frequently punctuated with eating so much, I only wanted to lie down afterwards. During my first year of college, when I was smoking pot every day and binge drinking every weekend, overeating practically happened every day. I gained 20 lbs in 3 months.
My sophomore year was the first time I was obsessed with exercise and counting calories. I lost all the weight I had gained my freshman year but my focus on weight killed any happiness that would have given me.
That struggle obviously lasted long after I became a Christian, since I was still struggling with it back in March of this year (and I’ve been a Christian now for almost 5.5 years). And I hate to say it at risk of sounding cliche, but reading the book Intuitive Eating really changed my relationship with food. I would definitely recommend it to anyone who has had issues with food.
The authors start small and work up to the big picture. First, they tell you to get rid of the “One Last Diet” mentality. No diet is ever going to help you reach your natural body weight without you constantly monitoring what you eat. Diets provoke feelings of guilt and deprivation, which is why they never work long-term. Rather, by giving yourself completely unrestricted permission to eat anything, anytime (as long as you’re actually hungry), you destroy the power that food has in your life. You may not experience it right away but you will get to the point where you can turn down food or eat food, not out of guilt or adherence to rules, but because you honestly want to.
I experienced this most poignantly at Thanksgiving this year. We had eaten the Thanksgiving meal and an hour or so later, were going to have pumpkin pie. My former self would have eaten pie regardless of how full I was. But this year, I honestly did not feel like having pie because I was still full from dinner and would not be able to enjoy the pie as much I would be able to if I wanted until I was less full. So I had a cup of coffee instead.
What? Is that me making those decisions? Since when don’t I want pie?
Another instance was last night at Travis’ company Christmas party. It was at a bowling alley and the party package included appetizers like sliders (which I absolutely love) and pizza. Usually, I pig out when surrounded by food. But I didn’t last night. I ate just the right amount and when I noticed that I was getting full, I stopped eating. Maybe that sounds normal for you but it is a huge step for me. And not only am I more at peace with my body now than I have ever been as an adult, I have even lost 5 lbs! The weight loss is totally a bonus though because even if it hadn’t happened, I love feeling the freedom and joy in not being dominated by food.
I’ve been listening to sermons by Tim Keller recently and he often talks about the Greek word “epithemia” which means “overdesire” or “epidesire.” My epidesire for pleasure and happiness used to reveal itself in food. I used to (subconsciously) think that food brought happiness and that eating lots of good food would make me happy. As it turns out, it doesn’t. It actually just makes you more miserable.
And that’s not a surprise. Because true happiness and joy come only through having a relationship with Christ. Regardless of what we try to use to fill the void in our souls, whether it be food, sex, drugs, moral deeds, or material possessions, we will always come up empty at the end of it, inflated with a superficial joy that pops whenever a tough circumstance rears its ugly head.
I may not fully understand how I got here, just like I don’t fully comprehend how God sanctifies me, but I do know that it has brought me joy and turned my focus back to God and His priorities. And that is a beautiful thing.