you ain’t necessarily misbehavin’

Why is this question of nourishing ourselves so difficult? We all know there are some basic concepts surrounding the care and feeding of the human being, but unfortunately, we are not equipped with an owner’s manual. Therefore, as we move through our lives requiring food for both emotional and physical survival, we respond to our needs with some twist based on our own experience; and clearly some confusion often occurs along the way.

Looking at this question might enable us to have more compassion for ourselves and others in this realm where there is so much self-loathing and self-recrimination. There is probably no other activity that we do with so much community and yet such isolation as feeding ourselves. In the emotional terrain of eating, no feeding decision is made because we are a bad, weak or disgusting person. I use those words because that is how people feel and describe themselves.

As a nutritionist I sit in small rooms hearing people’s stories about their relationship with food, eating and their bodies. These stories are spilling over into the “street buzz” of daily conversation as people are being increasingly consumed by a fear of food and a shame and loathing of their bodies. In workshops, I lead an exercise asking people to write down a negative thought they have had about their body that day. I then ask them to write a good quality about themselves that is not related to body image. Reconciling the two is hard to do. Realizing that such wonderful people could be feeling so badly about themselves is enough to make anyone cry.

The power and capacity for these feelings to diminish the human experience is profound and insidious, yet we rarely consider how complicated is the source of the issues. However, such consideration provides an important perspective and may shift where we point the finger. By separating out those aspects related to self-nourishment that we have control over, from those that we don’t, we can perhaps alleviate some of this suffering and can enhance prevention efforts which may be more effective than current remedial strategies.

To understand the distinctions, and to get just a glimpse of how many factors there are, entails a look at human development. Much of our food tendencies begin while we are still pickling in the brine of our mothers’ wombs. Our chromosomal template influences not only our adult body size and shape but more subtle biological processes as well. How efficiently our metabolisms will burn, how our brains will interpret satiety, and how and where we will store fat is all rather pre-programmed on one’s personal dance card—imprinted essentially when sperm meets egg. Our ability to resist a piece of chocolate cake is apparently even coded in our DNA. Some individuals are genetically better “resisters” than others. Who knew, right?

Likewise, women have more sensitive taste buds than men. That second X chromosome can translate into a tendency for food distaste and picky eating that is formed before we are even born. Other aspects of the maternal milieu–or in other words, our intrauterine environment–including our mother’s diet, blood sugar regulation and calorie availability also will have an effect on our own taste inclinations and feeding behaviors after we are born. Our first eating experience really happens at Mom’s Diner. Pretty crazy.

And that is just the beginning. I will continue with where our path next takes us later. For now, just chew on this, and in the spirit of loving ourselves, consider how such an appreciation of how we have arrived where we are through very little fault of our own, can translate into some gentle acceptance instead of the usual flagellation with figurative wet noodles–be they whole wheat, gluten-free or basic semolina.

I do not intend to suggest that we  absolve ourselves of responsibility for our health and eating behaviors, or that we should just throw in the towel, but perhaps such a reflection can help us to accept ourselves more for who we are, and to put a lid on the negative self speak about our bodies. Such scolding and negative reinforcements will never lead to positive change.

Let us return food to its own natural place and let us reclaim our birthright of health. Remember that there is a beautiful light that shines in all of us. Believe that it is there.  Keep trying. We can create a new reality for ourselves.

Continued post:  you ain’t necessarily misbehavin’-part 2

In health, Elyn

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