Food, Whole30, & Me

Note: This post contains information about disordered eating that some may find triggering.

For as long as I can remember, I've been thinking about food. 

These thoughts have ranged from your standard, "My God, is there anything better than a warm bread basket?" (no, obviously not) to more complicated notions, like the never-ending belief that an extra indulgent weekend of eating needed to result in diving into a diet on Monday — a constant game of addition and subtraction in my head. A ceaseless series of "if, then" negotiations in my brain regarding what I ate, and how much I ate, and how I would respond to all of those choices after. 

I've never had an eating disorder, but it doesn't take an expert to recognize a lot of my former (and still, sometimes, current) thought patterns as red flags for disordered eating. I'm 24 (almost 25, but let's not go there) now, and I've met and talked to enough women to recognize that these kinds of mental (and real life) conversations are not unique to me. They're embedded into everyday culture, after all. Phrases like, "I'll be good next week," and "I'm only eating salads for lunch next week" to justify food choices are part of the everyday lexicon of female friendships as much as anything else.

Something about being taller than pretty much everyone I knew made me hyperaware of my size (and size fluctuations) as I went through my teens and early 20s. I was painfully conscious of taking up space and obsessed with anything that would shrink me, or even just let me blend into a group of people. I was determined to be smaller, and I was envious of those that were. I can still recall feelings of being bitterly angry towards girls who could "eat anything;' it would take me many years to realize that I could eat anything too. In high school I counted calories, using apps that still sit (though unused) on my phone today. At my smallest, I still wanted to be smaller. And when I went through periods of time where I, somehow, wasn't thinking about food, I often felt guilty afterwards — like I had given up on something.

This is all a very long way of saying: when it comes to food and I, it's been complicated as hell. Through work (both therapy and the fact that I literally work somewhere that is very body positive), I've slowly broken down some of the disordered thought processes above. But here's the thing that no one's paleo lifestyle blog or food freedom website or Whole30 Instagram story updates (including mine) is often talking about: It's really, really hard. Through all of my experiences, the one thing that has remained true is that learning how not to diet is remarkably harder than any diet ever was.

Like I've mentioned, this year is about focusing on the things that make me happy and content, one thing at a time. For me, I knew this meant spending time working on eating intuitively, healing my relationship with food, and cooking more meals — experimenting with flavors and recipes. To start, I decided to do a Whole30. It's important to note that I recognize that Whole30 is, in may ways, not any different than any other diet. The first time I did one, about two years ago, my goal was to lose weight (even though the program does not encourage this). I know this is what Whole30 is for a lot of people, and that it's hard to not view it that way. In that sense, I can recognize that it could be triggering and dangerous for other people. But, for me, Whole30 is something that started as a way to lose weight, but became something else. For me, it isn't about restriction, but about clearing my mind to recognize how foods (all foods) make me feel. For me, it was the first thing ever that made me think about that in a healthy, balanced way. For me, it was wonderful — but I want to be clear that the only reason this is is because it was the first thing that let me focus on how I felt rather than what I weighed. This won't be the case for everyone, and that's OK. 

Somewhere over the course of the end of 2017 I lost track of eating intuitively and started just eating what made me feel OK emotionally. This, for me, is bad news. So, when I started out this year, I aimed to do another Whole30 — to make myself focus on eating mindfully and cooking again. But I didn't stick with it. And, for once, that was totally OK with me. I realize this isn't the point for a lot of people, but it became the point for me. Through cooking more at home, and focusing on what made me feel good rather than following a set of rules, I ended up finding a personal balance that made me feel good. No parameters or rules, just a balance that felt right for my body. This ended up looking mostly like paleo (which is why you probably see a lot of Whole30/Paleo-ish recipes on my Instagram), but with room for bagels and dumplings and other things I love. To be honest, though, I recognize how harmful labels like Whole30 or Paleo can be for people, so I hesitate to label it as anything at all — because at the end of the day all it is eating food that makes me feel good.

Cooking relaxed me, and being more aware of the foods that made me feel my best helped me feel more in control of my mood, rather than the other way around. I didn't obsess on the types of foods I was eating or wasn't eating, and simply kept asking myself what made me feel good. And, for once, what made me feel good wasn't limited to what would make me feel good emotionally, but what would make me feel satisfied, energized, comfortable. I slowly started to break down the idea that to eat well was to eat with a goal in mind — and that goal was to be smaller. Truly believing that is something that takes work. And Month 1 of this year of non-resolutions was about really focusing on that work, and carrying it throughout the year — and writing about it all. That, too.

Writing about food and eating is, at its core, incredibly vulnerable. It somehow feels more shameful to talk about trying to learn how to eat intuitively than to say something like, "I was so bad last weekend," about what you ate and how. That, at its core, is the reason why I've always struggled with finding the balance that feels best for me. Talking about it doesn't feel natural. It's easier to stay quiet when you're embarrassed that you're constantly at battle with something that so many people seem to not even think about every day. But, talking about it does help. So I'm here to say that sometimes figuring out food & you is hard. Food & me is still hard, sometimes. Maybe it will always be, to a certain extent. But right now, I feel good. And I'm working on it.

For the first time maybe ever, I find myself excited about food, and cooking, and recipes in a way that doesn't feel entirely motivated by weight loss. It's a whole new world, basically. And in many ways, writing this, and talking about it is harder than anything else. But much like this year of non-resolutions, healing a relationship with food is about doing the work and talking about it honestly. So I'm here, talking about it — mostly for me, but if you've been in this same place, for you, too. 

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This year, I'm spending each month focusing on one small thing. No numerical goals. No specific bench-markers or numbers to hit. Just one small thing each month. This is month one. Read about why I'm doing this for 2018 here

Olivia MuenterComment