What’s your food and body and exercise autobiography?
Any client of mine has been asked this question – and for good reason. Growing up in this world we collect messages and experiences, like putting coins in a piggy bank, ultimately setting the stage and writing the script for how to perceive and respond to life. Naturally, many messages and experiences we receive, especially around food, body, and exercise, are saturated with diet culture propaganda.
So I ask, what’s your food and body and exercise autobiography?
It’s a loaded question, for sure. Break it up some…tell me, what was your first food memory? What was food like at the lunch table in 3rd grade? What were family dinners like in 6th grade? What did you feel in your body when you experience puberty? Entering high school, what were your peers doing with food and did it influence what you did? So on and so forth…
I find time and time again that when life changes, our relationship with food, body, or exercise changes. Usually, but not always, these autobiographies show a start of a diet lines up with a start of something new. A new job, a new hardship to navigate, a new college life, a newly found singleness, a new engagement, a new baby…
I have a few theories about why this is.
- We are taught that entering into some new we must be our best selves, and that your best self is your smallest self.
- We may believe that following a set of rules gives us discipline, something to actively improve ourselves with.
- We may feel overwhelmed and dieting can provide distraction, numbing, or a sense of community.
Life, to me, feels a lot like whack-a-mole at times. And while I value peace, my piggy bank of collected experiences tells me to firstly value security. Security at my best self looks like healthy boundaries and allowing my loved ones to help me. Security at my most struggling self looks like overwhelmedness, plowing through life’s tasks, seeking control and independence. I can look back at certain moments of my life feeling like I was in a sweaty and muddy game of whack-a-mole, swinging my club as hard and as fast as I could to stop pesks from popping up. I get tired, I get really worn out. Similarly, in life, circumstances are always popping up in the best and hardest ways. Reaching for weight loss may seem like a solution, but no diet can put life at ease. No specific jean size can slow life down. No number on the scale can provide peace. Weight stigma is real, it’s undeniable that our world makes living in a larger body difficult. And a smaller body doesn’t make all of life easier – both things are true.
In this post, I talked about body image and engagement season. That season was so, so hard for me. I found myself sitting with thoughts about wishing for a smaller body some nights, even with years of eating disorder recovery under my belt and as a full-time non-diet dietitian. I am fully committed to intuitive eating and pursuing body peace and still!!! I found myself struggling with body image in that season. It was because life was changing, we were navigating some really hard things, and part of my piggy bank of experiences reminded me that in hard times past, manipulating my body helped these heavy and chaotic feelings. It was also because my emotional coping tool box felt empty – between a pandemic, feeling far from family, and planning a marriage…oof. I was worn down. And that’s how diet culture does it. It promises help, comfort, confidence – maybe delivering those things for a period of time, but ultimately leaving you a bigger ball of chaotic and heavy feelings. I share this to validate: it’s not wrong to wish for a smaller or more comfortable body. Body image work can feel very uncomfortable, but in my experience it brought me more comfort than sitting with body dissatisfaction. In this work, one thing I know for certain is that bodies change. They change regardless of if we’re happy with them or not. They change regardless of our weight loss or anti-aging efforts. I also know that life changes. We are not promised a life without challenges, nor can we slow down time. Life continues to move forward, your body taking you through it every step of the way. As you contemplate the narrative of your autobiography moving forward, here’s my gentle reminder to you, friend – life changes and so do bodies.