Okay, I’m going to really open up here, so get ready. This past month my family and I have been participating in the Whole30 dietary reset plan. I don’t usually do diets because after a childhood filled with dieting, I don’t really believe in them, but I did some research and this program seems different. The idea is for 30 days to eliminate the most common food groups known to cause inflammation, digestive issues, headaches, allergies, etc. What remains is a core diet of protein, healthy fats (yay avocadoes!), vegetables and fruit. It is very restrictive, but is not intended to be a long term, sustainable way of eating. After the 30 days, the eliminated foods are reintroduced, slowly, to determine what, if any, reactions might occur. Knowing how your body reacts with certain foods helps you to make good decisions about what to eat and when. Sounds pretty straightforward, right? Well, yes…and no.
I started this plan at the suggestion of my strength trainer. I’ve always suspected I have some food sensitivities and during the recent quarantine, my habits have become, shall we say, sloppy? When I mentioned it to my husband, he decided to try the plan, too, and so did my son and daughter. I’m not sure how they have all processed the program, or what they’ve learned, but for me it’s been fairly eye opening. Once I recovered from the detox of sugar, alcohol, grains, glutens, etc., I was able to reflect on other issues. How do I feel before and after I eat? How do I feel during meals? Lots of thoughts bubbled to the surface and some painful memories.
As a child I was fairly average size; definitely not a skinny kid, could be described at times as a tad chubby. One year at my annual checkup, the pediatrician gave my mother a 1200-1400 calorie a day diet for me to follow to lose weight. I must have been somewhere between eight and ten, maybe could have lost a few pounds, but overall not terribly heavy. But I followed the diet. Deprived of sweets, small portions, limited bread. I don’t remember the results, but I’m sure it worked to a point. Then there was the Weight Watcher experience, which I did with my mom who was also overweight. And sometime later, as I got closer to puberty, the doctor prescribed diet pills. Diet pills!!!! For a pre-teen girl!!!!! By the time I was 13, I’d slimmed down, like most of the other girls. But those diet and body image messages have stayed with me all these years. I had an ulcer when I was 14 and spent two weeks in a hospital for tests when I was 16 because I was experiencing chronic stomach aches. The result: “spastic colon,” which is basically saying I was a typical, anxious, teen who felt everything in the gut.
I am fully aware that my parents and my pediatrician made what they believed were decisions in my best interest. And I am also aware that I’m not alone in this experience. My younger sister, who was not placed on a diet, most likely observed my experience and has struggled with body image and eating issues. She recently confessed to me that she is terrified of being fat. Most of my women friends of a “certain age,” if they’re being honest, likely have a similar story to tell. The media during the 60s and 70s was filled with images of skinny, Twiggy-like models. Actresses were required to be skinny. The whole notion of the female form was objectified, sexualized, demeaned. The idea was to become as small as possible, for what???? To disappear? To not realize our full potential as people, regardless of our looks? To appease the insecurities of the male dominated culture? Okay, okay, I need to calm down.
I have had anxiety about food and my body my whole life. I am about to turn 62-years-old this week and I still feel burdened by a childhood that, while happy and privileged, left me loathing my own body. I have been pregnant and given birth to three babies, breastfed them for a total of three years of my life. I have danced on stage, run 5k races, hiked, swam, lifted weights, practiced Pilates, carried my children in my arms, carried groceries into my house and helped carry my mother when she was ill. I am a freakin’ miracle! And yet, when I sit down to eat a meal, I get a stomachache. At a restaurant I am paralyzed by indecision. Do I order what looks good, or what is healthiest? What actually is the healthiest? How will I feel after I eat? Even at home where I do most of the cooking, I am insecure about what I, myself, should be eating. I spend a lot of time thinking about these things. I am envious that my husband can go merrily through life eating whatever he wants and if he puts on a few pounds, oh well, he’ll just take them off again. For him, eating is just another thing he has to do. And while his body has aged and changed through the years, eh, who cares? He has most of his hair, he wears the same size pants and looks pretty great! Why can’t I feel like that????
So, where do I go from here? I’m not sure. Over the last few weeks I have experienced what it is like to eat without pain. I have learned how to determine if I am really hungry for a snack, and if so, what is something that will fuel my body. I have worked hard to analyze how food makes me feel. I still have a lot of work to do. I’m scared to reintroduce the foods I’ve eliminated because I don’t want to once again experience pain when I eat. But, that’s the next step in this experiment. I don’t want to continue to be afraid of food. Afraid to get fat. Afraid of pain. I don’t want to feel shame because I didn’t make a, “good,” choice. I want to truly enjoy food and eating for what it is: nourishment for this miracle of a body. I want to go through my day without worrying about meals and how I will feel. I want to continue to prepare healthy, enjoyable meals for myself and my family. I want to be grateful for the body I live in and the good health I enjoy. I want this next ride around the sun to bring me freedom from the fear of food, peace with my body and most of all, continuing good health.
Let’s touch base next year and see how it goes. In the meantime, stay safe, stay healthy, wear a mask and wash your hands!
About Barbara Dab
Barbara Dab is a journalist, broadcast radio personality, producer and award-winning public relations consultant. She is the Editor of The Jewish Observer of Nashville, and a former small business owner. Barbara loves writing, telling stories of real people and real events and most of all, talking to people all over the world. The Jewish Observer newspaper can be read online at www.jewishobservernashville.org .
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