One of the most profound things I ever did was stop restricting my food.
For so long it was a running dialogue
How much did I eat today? Is it too much? If I have more will it become too much? Let me just enter in my numbers. What are the people around me eating? What did they eat before that? Am I hungry? I think I’m hungry or I wouldn’t be thinking about food. What is hunger? I probably shouldn’t eat. I want to eat. Maybe just a couple bites. I have no self-control.
I remember asking a good friend how she knew when she was hungry. She smiled and said “I know I’m hungry because food just sounds really, really GOOD!”
She looked happy thinking about it, excited to get hungry, crave food and then enjoy herself. And me? I was talking myself out of nourishment until I had all but dwindled away.
I did not wake up one day and say, “I accept myself as I am now, and I am no longer going to be afraid of food!”
Instead, I woke up one day and had a bite of almond butter on some toast and cried. Then I did that until many months later I was able to wake up and make an entire full balanced breakfast with a shaky and nervous hand. Eventually, I expanded balanced meals into lunch and dinner and I gained weight. I hated my body for the betrayal, hated everyone around me for their sunny faces as they chirped, “you’ll be fine!!!!”
I backslid, then moved forward, backslid, then moved forward. I talked a lot about food. I exercised too much. I was better but not great for many, many years. Sometimes I was still doing really, really poorly.
I became a teacher. Despite never being quite well, I finished graduate school, I got my first big girl job and then droves and droves of teenaged eyes watched me. I thought, “What is this thing that I’m always trying to do to myself? This weakening?”. I couldn’t bring myself to restrict my food because it seemed silly all of a sudden. Inconsistent with the things I would say.
I picked up a barbell and it felt fucking freaky in my hands, even with hardly any weight on it. Lifting it a few times wrecked me, then made me feel strong. It left me enthused and starving, made it so that I couldn’t possibly question my hunger. I lifted the barbell again, and again and again. My students watched me every single day when I went to work and they said “Do you exercise?! You look strong!” I told them I lifted weights and that I was strong. I told them that every day I was eeking toward becoming more powerful.
My body changed, lifting all those barbells and eating all that food and so did my mind. I stopped counting calories, or minutes of my workouts, or days that I took to rest when I needed them. I strengthened my body all the time, and my students saw me do it.
I let them eat lunch with me so that they could see that I ate. They sat eating too, turkey and mustard wrapped in lettuce. They said they were afraid of weight lifting because it might make them big. I asked them why they needed to be small. They said to gain self-esteem they try to lose weight. They asked me how to get rid of belly fat. They said their favorite food was sugar-free Monster Energy drinks.
My students were wonderful. Their bodies were fine– more than fine! They were just getting to adulthood, just settling into what they would be. They did not need to lose weight and Monster Energy wasn’t fucking food.
I told them this, and they shrugged. They went back to quietly nibbling and I could see them thinking. Maybe they are deciding they don’t need to be so small! I’d think. Maybe tomorrow they will bring more to school than meat and lettuce.
I never backslid after I became a teacher because I felt my students watchful eyes even when I was alone.
Thanks to them, I eat when my body tells me to eat. I turn my head the other way when somebody’s weight loss is highlighted as a big accomplishment, something to celebrate. I still lift wights. I am happy enough with my body, but I’m even happier with my actual life.
I have things to talk about that don’t relate to food now, and that’s maybe the most powerful thing of all.