Taboos around appetite

April 19, 2010

I’ve spent a lot of time in the last few weeks thinking about the taboos in our society centered around our natural appetites for food and sex.  Although we can intellectually dissect why these taboos exist (puritanical roots of American society, religious mania, the use of “being thin” as social discrimination, etc.) we can’t seem to let go of that sinking feeling in our stomachs when we do nothing more “horrible” than simply follow an appetite signal and satisfy it.

We all need to wake up – it’s 2010 here and not the middle ages!

Well, I for one have decided that I’ve spent the first 50+ years of my life either feeling guilty about and/or denying my appetites… and enough is enough!  What a painful way to live, always telling yourself what you “shouldn’t” do/feel/eat!  More than anything else I want to be guided by my inner sense of health and well-being and not be guided by society’s decrees about how I should look, what sex I should participate/not participate in and what food is “ok” and “not ok” to eat.  Of course it’s only people who are genetically programmed to be heavier when they eat like everyone else (me, for one!!) who are subject to judgement from outside when they put something in their mouths.  The “naturally slender” portion of the population justs giggles about it while they are enjoying dessert!  What arrogance…  :-(

It’s time to wake up, connect to your own inner sense of what is healthy and fulfilling and let the moral majority torture someone else.

There are many things about the society we live in which are unfair and dehumanizing, but one of the most virulent (for my taste) is the discrimination that people with my sort of body genetics deal with every day.  It starts off, of course, with the “naturally skinnies” screaming: “there is no genetic difference between you and me!  You just have to eat less/exercise more/give up dessert/cut down your calories/(add the insult of your choice here) and you won’t have to be heavier than I am!”  This is, of course, simply not true.  Those genetic terrorists, after smugly insulting you and telling you how you should live, go off and have a giant margarita followed by chips and salsa and a mexican dinner without gaining an ounce.  The fact that if you had that same dinner the metabolic consequences would be quite different completely eludes them.  The naturally thin in our society are allowed to be stupid and smug… simply because they are thin.

Now I don’t think that we should argue here about what it is that makes us “heavier and/or less athletically-built types” different; there are many different possible answers to this question and the true experts in the field debate this almost daily.  What is true is that we are not “lazy”, “weak-willed”, “without control”, (add – again- the insult of your choice here),etc.: our bodies simply respond differently to the food we eat.  We are by nature heavier than the others and are genetically not designed for 6-pack abs and athletically sleek bodies.  And we are being cast into the role of second-class citizens because of this.

I know that this is true because I am living proof.

I have lived many years of my life masquerading as a thin person.  Of course, in order to get and stay thin I had to strictly control my food intake and avoid large groups of food that everyone else who was naturally thin was “allowed” to eat.  And these restrictions got even more intense as aging set in (I’m 53).  In my early fifties I spent 2 years of my life masquerading as a thin person… but to get and stay there I had to eat nothing  but lean protein, vegetables, some fruit, a tiny amout of whole grains and some healthy fat.  That was it.  And I did it and felt angry, super-controlling and cut off from the rest of society.  Going out of my house became a “nutritional mine field” where I felt I was dodging metabolic destruction at every corner.  This was until I realized that the smug and stupid “naturally thin” people were congratulating my new body and my “willpower” while they were consuming pasta, glasses of wine and a cannoli!  They did not even see or understand that – in order to pretend I was one of them – I had to severly restrict my food.  They didn’t even take a second to think: “why is it that R. needs to basically stop eating in order to look like we do?”  “Could it be that heavier people are simply naturally heavier than we are and not bingeing, out-of-control swine?”

The society we live in allows the naturally thin to be smug, stupid and judgemental with impunity.  If we talked about ethnic minorities the way they talk about us we’d be in real trouble!

Of course I experienced the same situation with physical fitness.  At the same time I was starving myself to be thin I was also going to the gym regularly over several years and doing the same type of workout routines as everyone else.  And – believe me folks! – there wasn’t an abdominal muscle or bicep to be seen.  That’s because I am simply not genetically wired to have that type of body, regardless of what I do.  But our society would not sell all those gym memberships, protein powders and home trainers if we admitted this was true.  It’s much easier for the “haves” to castigate the “don’t haves” and feel superior and condescending.

The myth that naturally heavier and less athletically built people binge their way to their “out of control state” is simply rubbish.  The truth is simply that when we naturally heavier people eat what everyone else eats in the same moderate amount range that the naturally thin eat we get heavier while they remain thinner.  The myth that thin people eat 3 cookies while we eat half the box is a lie.  Everyone occasionally eats a box of cookies or a pint of ice cream at one sitting.  It’s just that the naturally thin simply giggle about it, go off to the beach and leave us naturally heavier people to plan our next round of self-flagellation on the treadmill.  In my eternal quest to be like them I have met many binge eaters; some of them were naturally heavier and some of them were naturally thin.  The thin ones suffered the most because no one believed that they had a problem.  My reality was that the minute I gave up starving myself on chicken breasts and broccoli and ate a moderate, healthy, fun-filled and non-controlling diet my weight went up to the place my body wants to live and stayed there.  I was heavier than where my anorexic fantasies wanted me to be and looked like your average 53-year-old (oh my god; just looking “average”?!?!?) with a bit of a paunch but was not obese by any stretch of the imagination.

I simply refuse to participate in this madness anymore – it’s a privilege of being middle-aged and emotionally stronger than when I was younger.

I eat basically healthfully and normally, enjoying a dessert regularly and accepting my emotional eating when it occurs – just like the naturally thin people do – and accept the body that nature, age and genetics give me.  It’s a very freeing feeling.  I’ve been so used to decades of self-castigation that it really took a while to get used to accepting myself.  At first I sort of missed the whip and chains; when you’re imprisoned for life after a while you no longer recognize that there are other, more loving realities out there.  But the freedom and the acceptance and the self-love started to come, albeit slowly.  Now this is a reality worth working for and much more valuable than figuring out a new way to starve myself!

It’s amazing, looking back at things, about how obsessed I used to be about the size that was printed in my clothing.  I didn’t feel very good about who I was (thank you, mass media and the dieting industry!) and the only way I could find some self-esteem was to be a certain size that I deemed to be “acceptable”.  Why that size was always one or two sizes below the size I could comfortably reach never really seemed to be the “warning sign” that it should have been.  I was so focused on these numbers that my future gravestone should have read: here lies R.T.; he had a 36 waist for 2 weeks in 1972.

Another important revelation that I had in this arena was when I moved to Germany for an extended period of time.  Imagine: all the sizes there are different!  Could I live being a 60?  Was that “better” or “worse” than a 29?  And what about my sweaters which were XL in New York but XXL in Cologne?  I realized how futile and life-wasting my focus on these subjective numbers was.

So, my brilliant advice on this one is: buy the clothes that fit well and look good, regardless what the tag says.

I know that there are many people like me out there who have 4 or 5 different sized wardrobes in their closet and are afraid to admit it.  I’ve decided to stop worrying about it and realize that this is as much a part of who I am as the color of my eyes or the shape of my face.  The clothing size I am wearing at any particular time is a function of so many things: my age, the state of my health, the time of year, my genetics, my hormones, my relationship to food at the time… plus at least a dozen additional variables, all of which are basically not under my control.  To try and pretend that I can have all these issues – and my body size! – under my absolute control is time-consuming, absurd and self-destructive.

I think that every one of us needs to dig down deep inside and find out what is wrong with our self-image when we find ourselves enslaved by the number on a blouse.

Eat real food

April 6, 2010

This is the first of many posts which will give simple, practical advice for getting off the diet bandwagon and living a realistic life in a realistic body.  Some of the ideas might sound super-simple; some might sound ridiculous.  But they have worked for me and I am happy to share them with you.

The first simple idea is: eat real food.  Now you’ll probably think: “what does he mean by that?!  Is there ‘fake food’ out there?”  Well, I hate to tell you this, but most of the stuff your average American eats would not classify as real food.  With real food I mean food as close to its natural state as is possible.  Eggs, apples, butter, chicken, oats, whole wheat, olives, walnuts, carrots, yoghurt, cheese, brown rice… well you get the idea.  Depending upon where you live and how you organize your eating committing to eating real food could be a difficult task.

This is not about dieting and this is not about restricting your portions.  It’s also not about skipping dessert!  This is about fueling your body so you can remain healthy.  Change your eating to eat as close to 100% real food as you can and your life will change.  It’s a simple as that.  There are some serious pitfalls, though:

Flour – although you can find flour which is real food, most flour used in the products we Americans eat is dead.  Do you want to test this idea?  It’s very easy.  Buy some wheat grain and grind it up into flour.  It smells, tastes and feels fantastic!… and nothing like the flour you get off the supermarket shelf.  Freshly ground whole grain used right after you grind it is real food.  The other stuff is not.  This is the hardest part of a “real food committment” to follow.  I live and work in parts of the world where I can easily get real grain products, but they are very limited.  I limit my bread products to German-style breads, which are more “mashed grain” than they are flour.  For making cookies I work with oatmeal and freshly ground whole wheat flour.  With corn products I try to stay away from commercially processed corn flour.

Fats – fats are great for you, very healthy and do not make you obese… but you have to use real fats.  Most American supermarket foods are made with hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated fats, which gives them a practically unlimited shelf life but also kills them dead.  Dead fats will make you fat and sick but real fats will give you great health and a reasonably-sized body.  We all know good examples of real fats: butter, extra virgin olive oil, avocados, nuts and nut butters, etc.  Vegetable oils are a problem because most companies which produce them kill them to give them good shelf life.  You want to test this one as well?  Go to a health food store and try and find real corn oil, minimally processed.  Smells, tastes and looks nothing like the “corn oil” you get at the supermartket.  One is real food and the other one is dead food.

Sugar – this is really simple: real foods that contain sugar naturally are just fine. Sugar (in any of its forms) by itself is not real food.

I try to go for an 70-90% real food content in my food.  This is because I want to live a reasonable, normal, low-stress life and it is not possible to do real food 100% of the time.  But how many of us do the “all or nothing” thing?  If I can’t get everything on my plate “real” and “perfect” I might as well eat a pound of fudge (as I’ve “blown it” anyway)!  This personally gets me nowhere fast.  I aim for a high percentage of real food in my diet and accept imperfection because it allows me to have friends, family and a normal social life!  It also allows me to have a realistic body size – not perfect, not the smallest body size I could have… but a real-istic body size.

My name is, at this point, pretty unimportant I think.  That’s because my story mirrors that of so many others out there.  I’ve been morbidly obese.  I’ve been thin.  I’ve been at various stages of “in-between”.  After 40+ years of dieting, bingeing, overexercising, hating myself, using therapy and groups to control my body, measuring my value by the size tag inside my pants, etc., etc. (we who are part of this group know “the deal”) a few months ago I had a personal awakening when I realized that it was time to stop.  Stop the entire deal.  Because it wasn’t me and I wasn’t being guided by my inner voice.  I was being controlled by societal forces outside myself that weren’t healthy, rational or affirming – even though they proclaimed that they were criticizing me and offering me “guidance” for my own good.

 At first it was pretty scary.  Who was I if I wasn’t the eternal “body construction site” that everyone had a say in remodelling?  What did I believe if I wasn’t going to buy the traditional big-business approved wisdom about what is “right” and what is “wrong” to do/eat/think?  But then there came a soft and warm feeling of freedom.  I could be me.  I could accept my body exactly the way it was and focus on keeping it healthy and happy with my own definitions of “happiness” and “health”.  No one else had to agree or participate.  I needed no one’s approval to do this. 

 A very interesting journey started… and I realized that I didn’t have to go on this journey alone.  There were others like me “out there” who could share and profit from my experience.  Today my weight and level of physical health are realistic for my age, health history and physical condition.  My relationship to food is realistic for the world in which I choose to be a part of.  My level of exercise is realistic for what my body can do… and especially for what it cannot do.  I’m a Bodyrealist… and I feel very good!

The reason I am here and writing is simple: I’ve had enough.  Enough of participating in the diet/food control/body control mania that has taken over our country.  If I see one more naturally thin and buff “nutrition coach” tell me on a TV show how easy it would be to look and feel like him if I would only follow his simple advice I’ll scream.  I am not like him, I wasn’t born with the same genetics as he was and he is really stretching his area of supposed “competence” by believing that he can be a sort of “nutrition and exercise guru” for we, the “uninitiated” flabby masses.

It’s time to inject some realism and common sense into this discussion.  A “Bodyrealist” is someone who is ready to realistically look at who they are (physically, genetically, emotionally), let go of shaming and unrealistic fantasies about who they might become if they only “tried hard enough” and develop a way of looking at food, exercise and overall health that is sane and real.  This is not about giving up on yourself.  This is not about coming up with delusional rationalizations in order to eat a dozen Twinkies.  This is about real life in a real person’s body and how to make this life realistically healthy and happy without succumbing to the anorexic Hollywood concept of what it means to be a human being in the 21st century.  I am definitely not the first “Bodyrealist”, but I want to start a public movement to adopt “Bodyrealism” at the healthiest and sanest way to live life in the midst of the unrealistic and damaging body control mania that has taken over our society.  I will post daily on the many different facets of what I think living a “Bodyrealistic” life entails and hope that you will join me on this journey.  I hope it will be freeing and truly health-full. Wish me luck and feel free to come along for the ride!

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