In my first post, I wanted to shed light on the unfortunate mindset that plagues so many of us, especially around the new year. The idea that we should be different. That who we are right now is not good enough, pretty enough, successful enough, or thin enough. The last conversation was centered around weight loss (as it is the most commonly reported resolution) but make no mistake, the struggle for enough is pervasive, regardless of the perceived flaw.
In this post I want to highlight the conditions and influences that encourage the growth of this debilitating mindset. The reason for this again, is not a digital spilling of my guts, but rather an attempt to open up community, empathy, and understanding around a common but private, emotional struggle. Everyday, girls grow up into a world where face and body are celebrated above spirit and substance. This culture is then supported by the mothers, aunts, friends, cousins, and sisters who buy into this societal norm. Of course, as a young girl it was easy for me to block out the collective issue and see myself as a lone victim in this private struggle. A self-centered issue like body image leaves little room for considering the plight of others.
I’d venture to say that my pain (and those who share this pain) often centered around appearance because,
1. I’m female and from the earliest of ages, we are informed that how we look determines our worth.
2. It seemed apparent to me as a child that I was not worth much (that’s a twisty turny story… ), therefore I needed to change my appearance to emotionally and socially “move up” in the world.
Who else relates to this feeling? I see that hand.
Beyond appearance, I can attest that my worth was attached to performance in a lot of areas. School, sports, art, pretty much anything you can judge with praise or punishment.
My fear of loss, abandonment, exclusion, or disappointment due to a bad performance led me to avoid A LOT of potentially positive experiences. The threat to my worthiness was too great. For example, let’s explore the fear of childhood team sports where you stand in a line and get picked based on popularity, ability, size, etc. How about attention from boys or the pre-teen politics of gaining and losing of friends based on social standing? These are not experiences unique to my story. Any human being can attest to the emotional gauntlet that is growing up. Unfortunately, for some of us, this very typical coming of age ceremony ends up being intricately linked to our overall sense self-worth.
The appearance issue has definitely been something that has stuck with me well into my adult years (until recently, thank God). And as a child, without much knowledge of health, wellness, or any real sense of self, you end up absorbing the (limited) knowledge and advice of the culture, your family, and your friends.
At a certain point the realization that WEIGHT and APPEARANCE were linked suddenly dawned on me. I had generally always felt like a large kid. I suppose you could say that I was destined to grow a bit larger during my adolescence (with a german-austrian heritage and a nearly 7-foot-tall father). Once I started really growing, I was probably a head above most girls and we won’t even mention the unfortunately late growth spurts of boys.
As I transitioned into high school I also became aware of the popular weight-loss solutions of the time; salads, low-fat, diet pills, running and just not even eating at all. These ideas, steeped into the zeitgeist, did not shift much throughout high school. I think fortunately for my sake, I didn’t have the conviction to try to be a low-fat, salad-eating, runner. So I just continued to eat in line with the roller coaster of my feelings and along with that, continue to feed the sense of body-hate.
In my late teens I began to adopt some healthier habits like forgoing soda, dairy, and fast food; mostly for digestive reasons. Those changes were a positive shift, but to someone who loves food and uses is as a means to not feel bad feelings, fast food got replaced by other things really easily. Granola bars, starbucks drinks, jamba juice, cereal, and cookies were all regularly consumed. A real shift in my health perspective didn’t really come until the beginning of my college years when I started becoming more active. Things like volleyball class at community college, taking dance lessons, doing crunches in my bedroom, going on hikes in the local mountains. It wasn’t until I started reading a book called Ultramarathon Man, by Dean Karnazes, that I really got a sense of the power that I held over my fitness and health.
I began to run.
Never self-described runner, I thought… “if this guy can run 300 miles without stopping, then I can run a few everyday.”
And so it went… I began running, eating “healthy” (the SAD version of low-fat, whole grain, minimal calories). Again, a super ineffective strategy with a deeply established marriage of food and emotional instability.
My healthier habits did improve things as a whole. That is, until I entered a really difficult season of life which left me with little options other than eating away the bad feelings again. I came out of that season at my heaviest (which was documented in the last post).
A few years later and my weight began to stabilize again. I discovered a severe gluten-intolerance, and by removing the offending grain (to the best of my ability) I lost about 10 lbs. of inflamed water weight. This led me to become even more interested in changing my appearance through diet and exercise. Here’s where I became a loyal listener to the Jillian Michael’s podcast whilst whirring away on the elliptical machine at the local globo gym. I guess you could say I was “fitter” than a sedentary person and I knew a lot more about “diet”.
Eventually I got into riding my bike to and fro, along with a newfound love of rock climbing. This was a real catalyst in my view of health. Rock climbing gave me muscles. I felt strong, capable. I impressed myself with this athletic pursuit, never once before fancying myself an “athlete”. At the same time, I gained more conviction around the evils of gluten as well a processed, packaged food. I sought out fresh foods. I began to cook some things for myself.
Then, I moved to San Diego. I ran, I biked, I climbed, I had an active job. I ate mostly gluten-free, dairy-free, red meat-free, and relatively low-processed sugar (unless I was “having a moment”). And yet I was still stuck at the same weight I had always been (since age 15). To any outsider it would appear that I was doing the right things and eating the right food but still left struggling with my weight and appearance.
Enter Gabrielle Reece.
For years, Gabby has maintained a relatively fixed position on my list of heroes. She’s intelligent, independent, athletic, and gorgeous. And the more began to read her online contributions or watch interviews, I felt more and more in alignment with her attitude and message about womanhood, health, and success. I began reading her autobiography, The Big Girl in the Middle (it’s out of print but check out her new book here), which chronicles her early life from childhood into her professional modeling and volleyball careers as well as the beginning of her relationship to famed surfer, Laird Hamilton. This book singlehandedly catapulted some of my core beliefs into a new, more positive space. I began seeing value in myself because of who I was and the power I possessed through my personhood, not just my looks, performance, or weight.
Immediately following this realization, I stumbled across Mark’s Daily Apple and the Paleo™ (‘Primal’ a la Sisson) Diet. I began to look at health through a more scientific, evolutionary lens. I was actively researching solutions to my digestive health issues, which ironically are likely tied to my anxiety-ridden and food-obsessed history. Sure, I still wanted to look good but by this point in my life I had gained a fair amount of self-confidence and I was interested in seeking out wellness because it interested me beyond the number on the scale. I had a real conviction that we as humans could live a more fulfilling, exciting, and enjoyable life just by changing what we ate and how we moved. And the decision to go to culinary school was birthed out of this conviction. I wanted to teach others how to live healthfully while continuing to feed my interest in the subject.
I also got to my lowest weight during this period. And I did it without really trying at all. I wasn’t “dieting” or weighing myself regularly or overly caught up in counting macros or calories. I had even stopped running and opted for more yoga, walking, biking, and interval-style workouts. I made a decision to start supporting my body in a way that made sense.
This is why I ended up starting whole foods-centered business. It’s not because Paleo™ is the answer to all physical, ecological, or societal problems. It’s far from a singular prescription for healthy human living. There are many ways to eat, live, and move healthfully. Many people can and have truly regained vitality through vegan/vegetarian/raw/Mediterranean diets. Ultimately, the goal of The Clean Plate is to inspire healthy living through eating REAL foods that properly support the body and mind. That being said, healthy living will only get you so far.
That’s what I learned in the first part of this struggle… the story I just shared. I had to learn how to nourish myself physically before I could open myself up to emotional healing and onto a more practical and purposeful transformation. We’ll leave that for the next installment of The Weight Series. Which now seems like kind of a misnomer. I’m sure you are beginning to see that it really isn’t about the weight at all.
Food is important, but it isn’t enough.
Exercise is important, but it isn’t enough.
Your soul (spirit/aura/self/vibration) will go on long after your body has finally bit the dust. Me thinks it would be a disservice to not expand the idea of wellness to include our ultimate experience as humans, which is to be of service through the giving of our time, our resources, and our abilities. In order to be more effective and contributing human beings, we need to learn to move beyond the goal of health and into a goal of service. And with that, I leave you with a quote from an interview with athlete Timothy Van Orten from the Rich Roll podcast.
I realized even then that this is just the first step… I have to gas up the car but I don’t think about the gas. As soon as I swipe the credit card that’s it, my conversation about gas ends and I get in the car and drive. But with food, for some reason we keep thinking about the gas, we keep talking about the gas and people get stuck there. You know they change their diet and then they’re stuck and they haven’t moved to the next step. Which is, change your life now. What’s important to you? What matters? Okay you filled up the tank, great! It’s high quality gas, but what are you going to do with it? What kind of life do you want? Do you want a life where you just talk about food? Is that what’s important to you? Or do you want to use that fuel to do things in a way you haven’t been able to before because now you’re more properly nourished…you’re not numbed out by the food…you’ve gotten rid of many degenerative diseases caused by malnutrition from the standard american diet. Now you’re operating at a higher level, what are you going to do with that?
Rich Roll adds to the conversation:
Food is a super important aspect of this process. I believe it’s the best place to begin the process of transforming your life. But it’s also easy to get overly caught up in the dogmatic aspects of diet and nutrition. Unnecessarily boxed in by labels. Overly focused on details and minutiae. This presents a treacherous social, political and internal minefield that can result in truncating long-term growth potential. Because when we obsess on our plate at the exclusion of objectively redressing the many other very important areas of our lives that warrant focus and attention, our overall development towards full actualization is arrested.
I didn’t clean up my diet so I could get stuck pontificating on the various types of dark leafy greens until all my friends fled for the hills. I cleaned up my diet so I could raise my energy levels, shift my consciousness and direct my newfound lease on life towards continual growth and expansion. A search for greater meaning, purpose and answers that will hopefully occupy me for the remainder of my days here on Earth.
Optimal nutrition… is a great step in the direction of optimal wellness.. But that is all that it is – a step. Hardly the be-all-end-all. Because wellness encompasses so much more than food. Far from the end of inquiry, think of quality nutrition more as a right of initiation that will repair your physical body, raise your vibration, elevate your consciousness and take you on a wild and unexpected journey towards healing, a sense of purpose, greater authenticity and actualization that will be unpredictable and challenging but ultimately astounding.
Food for thought. (see what I did there?)