Tuesday, January 18, 2011
FOOD NOT FADS
Western women are at war with their bodies. We're obsessed with our weight; it's sort of a mass psychosis fueled by the media with its slinky supermodels, and undernourished, heroin-chic pop divas and movie stars. Back when the first Bridget Jones movie came out, a male colleague of mine complained that Bridget "only wants to get married." He was missing the big picture. The majority of women in Western culture, whatever their ethnicity, sexual persuasion, or actual body type, believe absolutely in two things: that they are too fat, and that no one will ever love them because of it. Bridget's attempt to find love by reshaping her body is a seminal experience millions of women share.
Like most females, I was on some fad diet or other from about age 13 up into my early 30s: high protein, no carbs; all carbs, no protein; the grapefruit diet, the cube steak diet, the Scarsdale Diet, you name it. But the trouble with dieting is as soon as you start depriving yourself of foods you like, you suddenly can't stop thinking about them. (Pizza! Pasta! Popcorn!) When you divide your eating life into two separate entities— on or off the diet—you're liable to eat twice as much as normal when you're off the diet, and endure twice as much self-loathing when you grudgingly go back on it.
Of course, on none of these half-wit regimes did I ever alter my weight on any dramatic level. But the tyranny of the scales used to dictate my mood for the rest of the day, and since I somehow never seemed to wake up in the morning 30 pounds lighter than I'd been the day before, my moods tended to be pretty foul.
So what's the solution? Here's what worked for me: throw away your bathroom scale. Ours broke years ago, and it's extraordinary how liberated I've felt ever since. It may sound like killing the messenger, but as soon as we got rid of the scale, my unhealthy obsession with my weight went with it. Which is not to say I started chowing down like a stevedore: just the opposite. As soon as formerly forbidden foods were no longer off limits, I stopped craving them so much, and started eating more sensibly. I found out you can eat whatever you want, as long as you pay attention to how much you're eating. It also helps to start moving. Most days, Art Boy and I take a walk around the harbor here in Live Oak, to see what the otters and sea lions are up to, and soak up some rays (if there are any). It's not drudgery; it's fun. It's not a diet; it's a lifestyle. "We eat therefore we walk," that's our motto.
True, we live in a slothful, overfed society, and anyone whose health is threatened by serious obesity owes it to herself to control her weight. But for the vast percentage of us hovering somewhere between anorexia and full-tilt obesity, it's much more effective to give up the useless and unhealthy cycle of dieting, learn to accept who we are, and get on with our lives, already.
All this occurred to me leafing through a copy of "Shut Up, Skinny Bitches," the new anti-diet book co-written by my friend and Good Times editor Greg Archer. Okay, the title is a tad flippant, but Greg and co-author Maria Rago, PhD. delve into the psychology behind women vs weight, explore eating disorders, and address the inner hungers that we try to satisfy with mere food. Having just picked up the book, I'm heartened to find entire chapters devoted to "Shut Up About Hating Your Body," and "The Scale Is Not Your God." Here-here!
Me, I'm the proof of the pudding. Once I gave myself permission to stop worrying about my weight, I discovered I had better things to think about than food. When I accepted that Nature did not intend me to be willowy, when I was able to make peace with my body and stop blaming it for all my perceived problems, I was free to go out and live my life with a lot more gusto. This body has served me well, in good times and bad, and I find I'm no longer interested in pummeling it into submission. And as soon as I stopped denying myself those so-called forbidden foods, I was no longer haunted by unattainable visions of, say, bittersweet chocolate, or Gayle's ciabatta. Every now and then, I eat some. And guess what? Life goes on.
Greg will be debunking diet myths and reading from "Shut Up, Skinny Bitches" at Bookshop Santa Cruz Thursday night, at 7 pm. Forbidden foods are promised, so get there early for a ringside seat!