Body Change: A Manifesto
How many of you have been on a diet?
How many of you have been miserable for, oh I don’t know, 90% of the time you were on said diet?
*raises hand again*
How many leaves of lettuce or pieces of tilapia have you suffered through, thinking, with each bite, “there’s got to be a better way.”
*raises everything, because OH MY GOD I’D RATHER EAT GLASS THAN TILAPIA.*
Let’s get real for a second.
The health sphere talks all day long (these days/for now) about everything “not being a diet, but a lifestyle,” and “relax into the process,” and, “just trust yourself.” We highlight that “diet” is bad because it’s temporary, and we should be thinking about “the way we eat,” which is a sustainable method of sound nutrition over time. All sentiments with which I agree.
But we’ve turned “diet” into a four-letter word, ignoring the part where, if we’re unhappy with our bodies and the way we eat hasn’t been working for us, then, well, how are we supposed to trust ourselves with the way we eat? How are we supposed to relax our way into it, when it’s felt overwhelming to be stuck for the millionth time and not knowing which superfood is the one we’re missing?
I used to be one of those who abhorred calorie counting and arbitrary numbers. I still do hate indiscriminate numbers, but I’ve changed my tune a little on calorie counting in the last year or so. It took a dedicated period of counting exactly nothing (but where I was still internally counting for a large part of it. You’ve been there, admit it.) to really get a handle on binge eating disorder and let go of wrapping my self-worth up in my food choices. I had to be able to approach counting from a perspective that was purely observational (“How much am I eating? What’s it doing for me? How do I feel, energetically, digestively, and psychologically?”) rather than judgmental (“I’m a giant POS for liking chips and cereal.”). Moving from a place of self-flagellation to a place of curiosity wasn’t necessarily easy, but we’ll learn how to get a handle on it together here.
Once we get there (and if you’re already there, kudos, because it’s a great place to be and where the magic happens), I advocate a short-ish period (usually 3-4 months) of tracking to see where we are and what’s going on. How can we know what to change (what lifestyle we want, the process to which we aspire, the self we’re supposed to trust) if we don’t know where we are, right?
Then we can see what’s happening, see how we feel about it (and its associated results), move on, and change our minds.
Yep, you’re free. Free to choose whatever diet and then to later change your mind about what that means and adopt the way you eat (which doesn’t have to look like the method anyone else in the world uses). You don’t need to explain yourself to me or justify your food choices.
I’d urge you to consider, before you begin, the different diets you’ve been on, and examine why they’ve failed.
For many of us, they fail to take into consideration our psychological preferences (if you tell me, “no chips ever again,” the first thing I’m going to do is buy a bag of Utz Salt & Vinegar chips, hoard it for a day I feel like, “I’ve been so good!” and eat the whole thing. Like a crazy person. Because I am, when you tell me I can’t have my favorite snack in the world ever again.). We’re miserable eating a bunch of foods we don’t like and staying as far away as possible from the ones we do, gripping the steering wheel and putting on our blinders and ignoring what brings us joy in favor of some thin, dry, made-up fish and sad, limp, soggy asparagus (I love asparagus, for the record, but limp asparagus is a crime against humanity.).
No wonder those haven’t worked!
I’m not a big fan of “diet hopping” for the sake of diet hopping. If one week you’re Paleo, then it “isn’t working,” so you go Whole30, which “doesn’t work,” then you hop on the keto train, which “won’t work,” you’re really shooting yourself in the foot. Our bodies respond to consistency, so we’ve gotta give each approach to eating some time. What I AM okay with, though, is changing your mind after a few weeks: thinking of each diet you’ve been on, what can you take from each approach that worked, that served you, that made you happy and got you results, and what can you ditch? Not that you need my permission, but there’s no sense adhering to something that you can’t digest, that isn’t helping achieve the body change we desire, that’s making our guts bloaty, and that’s generally miserable.
You haven’t found a bunch of diets that don’t work; you’ve found a bunch of methods that aren’t for you. What should we do in the face of that? Refine and progress. Keep the good stuff, ditch the bad stuff. Move on without the dramz.
For a moment, consider that what we’re really doing when we “go on a diet” is utilizing a tool to get to a goal. It’s a means to an end.
Allowing for that, our goal is the goal (as in, the diet is not the goal; the dress or 400lb deadlift or feeling at peace is the goal.). And the tools we have (current pattern of eating) are not the right ones for the job (we can’t hammer a nail with a phone charger), so we’re looking to find the right tool for the job. Nothing over which to get too distracted; we just need to find the one that’s good enough for us to use consistently to get the job done. With me?
Gathering all this data, a year or so ago, after reading one from Dr. Brooke Kalanick (good resource for female hormones, particularly PCOS and Hashimoto’s, but also general mindset reading, if you’re into that.), I created my own body change manifesto. Rather than a bunch of rules, I wanted a way of approaching food that made me feel empowered, rather than defeated; that gave me permission to explore, rather than ascribing to any particular 12-week plan; that looked at me as a whole person, rather than just the foods I eat. Going back to the concept of active acceptance, knowing that we can choose to accept our bodies while still wanting them to change, our thoughts surrounding food become different: they become a declaration of independence, guidelines to our goals with a healthy dose of freedom. If you’d like to know what that would look like, mine is as follows:
1. I add more foods to become more. I don’t restrict foods to become less, to hide from my fear or my feelings, or to shrink. I focus on adding as many foods as I can that make me feel good and sustain the activities I enjoy: vegetables, protein, fruits, carbs that aren’t bullshit (cut the tortillas, the regular consumption of chips, the fries, etc., because those are filler foods. Add the beans, the corn, the rice that powers through workouts).
2. I am worthy, exactly as-is. No diet will make me a better daughter, a better partner, or a better person. I am worthy of love, acceptance, and belonging, at this body fat percentage, at half of it, and at double it. At no point will my eating move from exploration and the accomplishment of goals to a quest for acceptance (by myself or others).
3. I will be mindful in my consumption. Portions are important, and eating to the point of feeling sick is not a place I will inhabit any longer. I will ask, “does this nourish me? Will I feel satisfied from this? Will this make a difference? Am I eating because I’m hungry, or because I’m avoiding some other feeling?” before unplanned meals.
4. I declare that enough is enough. Enough dieting, enough foods I don’t enjoy, enough eating a vegetable for the sake of eating a vegetable when I’m not hungry…is enough. What struggle is worth the squeeze? I will only consume “diet foods” mindfully when they fit into the context of my larger body change and performance goals and when I enjoy them.
5. I assert that I am important. Self-care extends from an exercise practice to the foods with which I choose to nourish myself to everything in between. I don’t just take care of myself to be a better foil to others on this world; I take care of myself, because I am important too.
6. I proclaim that dieting and exercise are fun! None of this matters if it’s terrible. The point is to improve my life, not extend my years of misery. Eat, move, explore.
Those 6 principles have guided juuuust about every choice I’ve made in the last year since I wrote them. It’s been truly life-changing, actually moving the needle on my goals rather than keeping them in the sky as lofty, hopefully-reachable (but something I don’t believe will ever happen for me) ideals.
AND SO, I’d call you to create your own body change manifesto! Comment and let me hear it. Or, if you’re feeling feisty, post it on the Facebook page.