Before and After: Mindful Eating and Body Image
Today I’m holding a viewing of the movie Embrace, a documentary by body image activist Taryn Brumfitt.
It’s about her before and after story. In her case, “before” was not liking her sculpted, model-ready body, and “after” is accepting and loving the softer version it became. And now she’s trying to help others accept their bodies as they are.
It got me thinking about my before and after. The full version is in my book, but I thought it might be helpful to revisit in brief how my life has changed since discovering mindful eating.
Including how I feel about my body.
It amazes me that my before is now 18 years ago. Long enough for a baby to grow to voting age. And yet, I can still remember what it was like, all too clearly.
My relationship to food was so disordered. I had such shame around what I ate that I stuck with “good” foods in front of others… then ate all the “bad” foods as soon as I was alone.
Or sometimes I might eat those forbidden foods in the anonymity of a crowd. Food from places like Burger King and Pizza Hut, or things like chips, candy, and cookies. But only if the crowd was people I didn’t know.
And I never made eye contact. Because I knew they’d judge me.
How could they not, when my family did? And when I judged myself so harshly?
That judgment wasn’t only about food. It was also about my fat body.
I hated it. I didn’t even really accept that my body was mine. It was just something I was stuck with.
I did like my hair. And my hands. My hands mostly because they let me write. Gave me an outlet for all the shame and anger and despair swirling inside me.
But otherwise, I felt embarrassed about how much space I took up when I rode the bus to work. Or when I drove, the way the seat belt dug into me when it strained around my body. How quickly I got out of breath after even a few stairs.
And don’t even get me started on clothes shopping! I know it wasn’t designed as torture, but it often felt that way.
I’d heard rumors of women who were okay with their larger size. Who didn’t obsess about what they ate.
It sounded lovely. But I couldn’t imagine it ever applying to me.
Once I started eating mindfully, everything changed.
I stopped eating in secret.
I started eating more nutritious foods because I liked how I felt after having them, not because I was “supposed” to.
I didn’t feel like I had to take something out of the candy dish at work every time I went by it.
It was so freeing. That alone would have been wonderful.
But I also got an unexpected gift. Mindful eating changed how I felt about my body.
From the outside, it would be easy to think that embracing my body came with losing weight. And I can’t argue that being a smaller size helps with some of the day-to-day activities. Also with clothes shopping, even though I still don’t like it.
But that’s not how it worked. I started appreciating my body pretty much from the start.
This is how it went. In order to be mindful about food, I had to pay attention to my body.
Was it hungry? Full? What kind of food did it want? How did it feel after eating?
I found it impossible to be that attentive to my body and not care about it.
And pretty soon, I started thinking of it as part of me. Something I claimed – and felt okay about.
Even without losing more than a few pounds, I came to accept and care for my body. And I was so much happier for it.
Now, that appreciation is as much a part of me as my earlier hatred. The same way that I now eat with the goal of feeling good, not being good.
And that self-judgment?
I still like my hair, and my hands. But I also love my legs, although they won’t win any prizes by current beauty standards. Same with my stomach.
They’re bigger than some people think they should be. They have stretch marks and loose skin.
But that’s okay. Because my legs carry me where I want to go, mostly without complaint. (Coming down a mountain is still iffy, but that’s expected.)
My stomach helps me eat mindfully, when I listen to it.
And both provide a soft spot for small children and animals to cuddle.
As for food, I don’t worry anymore about eating in front of people. What they think isn’t my concern.
If they judge me, or try to guess something about me, that’s their issue, not mine.
I share this to let people know it is possible to love food and your body, even if it takes a while to learn.
And like Taryn Brumfitt, I hope this is something more women can embrace.