I opened one of my favorite catalogs the other day, so psyched for a new season of workout clothes (and hopefully some good swimsuits). The magazine habitually asks their models some trivia questions and includes them in the shoot, and the Letter from the Editor discussed how most feedback they get from readers is about how the models must be superwomen. The Editor asked us to imagine what some of our answers would be to these trivia questions. These models are real women, with real lives, and every woman is capable and worthy of answering these questions. Everyone has an interesting answer.
Awesome, Editor. I’m digging it.
And then on the very first page of the magazine, the model listed her biggest strengths: Training polo ponies.
And her biggest weakness: Mac n’ cheese, Phish food ice cream.
I think my jaw actually dropped when I read that. How can food be a personal weakness? That’s the same as saying breathing air is a weakness! Why is this magazine vilifying appetite and food?
But of course, none of that was the intention of this catalogue or the model. This idea of being weak around food is so ingrained in our culture people think it’s really true that food is their personal weakness. This model was giving an answer that was true for her, and that would be recognized by readers.
When someone says that food is a weakness, what they usually mean is that they feel like they lose all control and willpower around this food. So really, they think they have a willpower problem, and this food is the culprit.
When I hear this logic, I hear distrust and suspicion of appetite. I hear fear of hunger.
They are afraid of being consumed by their hunger, that if they acknowledge it, they’ll never have control ever again. Or maybe they are afraid that there is not possible way for them to be sated, that they could never eat enough to be filled.
It’s hard to live life if you’re afraid of yourself.
I don’t believe that willpower even comes into the equation when we’re talking about food, weight, hunger, and nourishment.
I believe that the heart of these issues is desire, appetite, fulfillment, and trust.
Of course these issues are treacherous and tender. We’re talking about soul here.
Feeling the icy kick, the endless waves
Reaching around my life, I moved my arms
And coughed, and in the end saw land.
Somebody, I suppose,
Remembering the medieval maxim,
Had tossed me in,
Had wanted me to learn to swim,
Not knowing that none of us, who ever came back
From that long lonely fall and frenzied rising,
Ever learned anything at all
About swimming, but only
How to put off, one by one,
Dreams and pity, love and grace, —
How to survive in any place.
– Mary Oliver, “The Swimming Lesson”
If I tell you you don’t have a willpower problem and call on you to eat whatever you want, whenever you feel like it, that’s me telling you that the ocean into which you’ve been unceremoniously dumped is actually not treacherous, that you’ve been wasting your time trying to swim, when you really should sink (and drown) into reality.
Instead, let’s take baby steps, with plenty of encouragement.
Would you be willing to imagine that you don’t have a willpower problem?
You don’t have to believe it, you don’t have to know what comes next.
I’m only interested in knowing whether or not the idea even appeals to you.
Who would you be without thoughts of resisting your hunger? Who would you be if you trusted yourself to honor not only your physical hunger, but your emotional hunger as well? Who would you be without the idea of “bad” food and “good” food? Who would you be if you knew that what nourishes you has nutritional value?
How do these thoughts land for you? Exhilarating? Panic-inducing? We’ve had this paradigm for a long time, that the body somehow is not trustworthy, that if we don’t manage it it’ll run amok. It might seem safer to keep the “rules.”
Wherever you are is ok. What’s true for you? Would you be interested in a reality where your hunger isn’t a weakness? Where your appetite isn’t threatening to derail the life you created? What would that look like for you?
Did the rose
Ever open its heart
And give to this world
It felt the encouragement of light
We all remain
– Hafiz, “It Felt Love”
Could you think about your hunger for a little bit? Geneen Roth writes beautifully about food as a microcosm for life, and what might happen if you ate what you really needed when you were hungry:
The amount [of food] that you want is often not as much as your body wants. Ask yourself what you are feeling and why you want to eat more than your body needs. What is is that you want from food beyond its nourishing your body?
While it’s true that eating nourishes you visually, tactily, ofactorily, it does these best when you are hungry. When you are not hungry, you are using food “to glue your life together between hungers.”
What are you wanting from food? In an ideal world, what would that relationship look like? What are the roadblocks that stand in your way?
Take some time and think about what you want.
It’s soul-making. How does food fit in? How does weakness fit in to desire? What does weakness around food really mean for you? Where did it come from?
How do you want to relate to hunger and desire?
Tell me. xo