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  • Writer's pictureJackie

What's Love Got to Do With It?

Feeding Yourself Like You'd Feed a Loved One

Happy Valentine's Day, plus a few! Today, I jump on this opportunity to mention LOVE and feeding ourselves in the same post. Let me explain why I'm compelled to discuss love in direct relation to eating habits. It's not because "food is love" (which it is sometimes) or because we indulge a bit on this holiday. It's because eating and love— self love, specifically—share a complex connection, one we don't often explore.

Why this topic? Two things happened recently. Riding in the car with my 21-year-old daughter, I listened as she shared a tweet from a strict, young fitness devotée with a body of steel, who decreed: "There is NEVER a reason NOT to track calories." This vaguely horrified both of us. Why, though? Isn't it important, if you're holding yourself to a weight loss goal, to maintain accountability? Don't most plans involve some kind of food log? Won't you fail if you stop tracking habits & progress? Maybe, but...

It was the "NEVER" that jabbed at us. And the fact that there was no bodyfat on this particular tweeter. (Admittedly, it was probably also the collection of other very rigid fitness dictums she's posted.) Here's what welled up in me most: a kind of sadness that this beautiful, young woman has locked herself firmly into diet culture; anger that she urges other women, including my kid, to adhere to this kind of thinking; frustration that bodyweight remains a competitive characteristic in our culture; and a longing for more tenderness when it comes to the way we approach feeding ourselves.

The second thing that happened came like a response from the universe on the very next day. I found myself listening to an episode of the podcast, The Happiness Lab (with host, Laurie Santos). This one featured Andrea Wachter, a renowned psychologist who teaches people how to "feed themselves as if they're feeding someone they love." Wachter has specialized for 30 years in disordered eating and diet culture. She beautifully & grittily explains how and why people should get off the "diet riot roller coaster," a term she coined for the painful weight loss struggle many of us engage in—because she herself has LIVED it. (I highly recommend you not only check out this episode but this excellent podcast in general.)

What does it mean to "feed yourself as if you're feeding a loved one?" I've been turning this question over for a week and using it to shape my own food choices. In Wachter's view, you might ask yourself, "Is your choice nutritious, delicious and eaten in moderation?" Sometimes it may be mainly nutritious, and other times mainly delicious. Sometimes your selection ticks both boxes. Mostly, you will eat until you're satisfied and not stuffed. Immediately, I appreciated the flexibility and kindness ingrained in this approach.

Being in harmony with our bodies doesn't mean FORCING weight loss through some punishing diet plan for the rest of our days. It doesn't mean wearing a hair shirt of guilt and shame because we failed on such a plan. Feeding ourselves like we'd feed someone we love means treating ourselves with respect, empathy, and understanding. I keep thinking of feeding my toddlers two decades ago. I chose really nourishing foods that they LIKED, sprinkled in some decadent treats, urged them to try new things, provided reasonable portions and let them stop eating if they were full, asked if they were really hungry when they wanted chips 10 minutes after having chips, and then took them outside to run around A LOT. Am I doing this for myself all these years later? Sometimes but not always. And some days, not at all. This Valentine's Day seems a perfect time to start doing so more often, to be fluid and kind and to feed myself as lovingly as I fed those babies.

HOW do we do this regularly, though? I found one of Wachter's suggestions to be revelatory: Learn to approach food in terms of how it will make you FEEL, rather than how it will make you LOOK. She points to the fact that we often overeat, filling our stomachs, when we really long to fill our spirits, and says, "If you're truly filling your spirit, you feel better afterward, not worse, and not regretful." Here are a few practical tips I gleaned from her discussion:

Make a spirit-filler list of ways to fulfill yourself that leave you feeling better afterwards. Let it be a long list, everything you can think of that lifts you up—perhaps warm baths, walks in nature, playing a sport, laughing at a movie, chatting with a friend, reading, praying, dancing, and so on.

Rule things out to determine what you really need in this moment. Are you actually hungry? Do you need food or rest or connection or exhilaration or something else?

Be more mindful in general—yes, when eating, but actually all the time. Pay attention and care for what your body and mind are truly needing at various times throughout the day. Much of our eating is mindless and automatic. Tuning in regularly helps people find balance.

Specifically, pay attention to the way you treat yourself and speak to yourself. Would you say the things you say to a loved one?

Stay aware of the cultural forces that make just about ALL of us feel like we "should be on a diet." Dare to break this norm.

In this season of sometimes sappy love, may you be blessed with much of the genuine kind, coming as much from within as from without. Happy Valentine's Day.

Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels


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