This is a question that one of my group participants e-mailed recently, with the subject line “Nosey question.” Since I’m an open book, especially when it can help someone, I am answering the question not only for her, but for all of you as well. I believe the answer is important. Thank you for asking Ms. Nosey.
You are not the first person to wonder about this. I think a lot of people are initially skeptical about whether or not I can really understand their struggle with food. I really do understand, so the question really is “How can a thin, fit woman understand what I’m going through,” right?
I am happy to tell you! First I will directly answer your question, and then I will answer the question I think you really wonder about – How can Kim get it?
No, I have never had an eating disorder and I have never been overweight. That’s the simple answer, but that’s not the important, meaningful answer.
The more complete and meaningful answer is that I can relate because I have felt (somewhat) controlled by food, (somewhat) obsessed with it, (somewhat) negative about my body, etc. As a female in our culture, I have been influenced by all of those values that came from family, friends, and the media. Like all my friends in high school and college, I dieted – even though I was never overweight!
It just made weight maintenance (and loss) more confusing and frustrating. At my highest weight, I was about 8-10 pounds more than my current (natural) weight. At one point, I briefly weighed about 8 pounds less than I do now. Both were uncomfortable lifestyles. At the higher weight, I was either hungry or stuffed, but never lost anything – and my eating wasn’t healthy. At the lower weight, I was more consistent, but I was hungry ALL the TIME and not getting what my body needed. In both cases, I thought way too much about food and cared way too much what the scale said. This is no way to live!
I really want people to know that this is not an issue of size entirely. It is a cultural thing – a dysfunctional one – mostly affecting women. It affects people of all sizes, since it starts with perceptions and beliefs, not necessarily reality. There are far more people (mainly women, but some men too) with longtime ongoing disordered eating patterns and unsupportive thoughts about their body and food. They fly under the radar. This is called “normal” in our crazy dieting culture. It is well within the norm of being a woman in our dieting and appearance-conscious culture. This doesn’t make it healthy, nor does it promote a peaceful, happy life.
I frequently hear it in public places, like a Starbucks or at the mall, and there isn’t even an attempt to be discrete when talking about (“normal”) disordered eating patterns and (“normal”) dysfunctional body thoughts. They talk matter-of-factly about how “disgusting” they feel and the latest crazy plan they are trying, as if they were talking about what color to paint their living room. But to most people, many of whom are in the same boat, these conversations don’t sound disturbing. In fact, the diet-talk and body-bashing may well sound similar to their own chit chat with friends.
I know this was long (!!!) but hopefully you hear the passion I feel for the topic. I learned through experience what worked, and that has given me strong opinions about it – that are now being supported by lots of research. I was lucky. I somehow did what I now teach, and slowly things changed in my head and my body. I have been the same weight – except during pregnancy – for more than 3 decades. It has not been a large effort, I am never deliberately hungry, and I didn’t stop eating anything. Your body just knows what is a manageable weight. We work on the thoughts because that’s where the complications arise!
More than you expected in a response I’m sure, but I hope it helps.