More and more, we’re being exposed to the idea that health and weight loss is more than just a calories in versus calories out equation.
But that doesn’t stop the majority of us from keeping an eye on what we eat, how much and when. It doesn’t stop most of us from doing the mathematics on what will and won’t add up to kilos on or kilos off. We push aside our desires in favor of a controlled diet, devoid of the inherent body wisdom we hold, but feel we really can’t trust.
Instead we opt for a controlled diet in which there’s a magical balance of food amount, macro-nutrient composition and meal timing that will deliver us to health and happiness. I argue it’s this control which is actually road-blocking our health and happiness, and it is that shifty body wisdom and unfathomable desire that may actually hold the key.
I dieted hard and trained even harder for years. The lower I felt, the less I ate, and the more I did. A second gym session here, a run there. I got heavier, then lighter, then weaker, then more tired. I tinkered with spreadsheets of daily body weights, calories, fat and carbohydrate grams in a bid to get the equation right. Surely, somewhere hidden under all the mathematics was my answer on how to become the person I truly wanted to be. The next macro-nutrient ratio was going to be the golden one!
The more the loop repeated, the less I felt I was, and the more tired I became. I was so attached to my little blue and white spreadsheet of macro-nutrient percentages and balances, I forgot what it was like to feel my own needs. I forgot about pleasure, and I detached from any ounce of body wisdom I held about what was right for me moment to moment, day to day. Afraid that I could not be trusted to do what was really right for me, I gave over my power to Microsoft Excel.
Then one day, I was forced to hit CTRL + ALT + DEL. My body gave way. It had enough. It was the only way to break me out of my loop. Enormous fatigue, digestive dysfunction, liver toxicity and gut infection left me unable to follow my spreadsheet. It left me having to follow nothing but what seemed to be the bipolar ebb and flow of bodily symptoms. Some foods worked some days, and then hopelessly failed the next. I couldn’t find a rhythm, I couldn’t find the pattern! There was no formula I could follow anymore.
From that day I was thrust into what felt like dietary chaos, I have never used a spreadsheet or a food diary since. Initially I clung onto the checks and balances in my mind of exactly how much fat or carbohydrate each food I was eating contained, exactly how many grams of what I was allowed to have. For as long as I clung, so too did the fatigue, the gut issues, and the feeling like I was just not enough.
But eventually, without my little spreadsheet, I just couldn’t hang on to all the data in my head. It trickled away from my memory, and interestingly enough, my symptoms floated away with it. I had a realization—perhaps my control of diet was the exact thing blocking my health.
We get so frightened that if we relinquish total control of what we ingest we’ll go entirely overboard.
We’re afraid that our diets will go from one extra banana, to way too many nuts, then we won’t stop at one cupcake, one dessert, one small packet of potato chips. We’re afraid we’ll turn into some desirous, unstoppable monster, growing larger and larger with every moment we follow our bodies, and not our heads. Funny enough, it’s usually the opposite. The more we follow our bodies, the more in tune we are with satiety. The more we get in our heads, the more we want.
Desires, bodily sensations and impulses are totally valid direction. The body is not some detached thing to be distrusted. It is intimately entwined with us, our soul, and with the direction life is calling us. How can something so connected steer us in the wrong direction?
The more we distrust the body, working from our mental calculations of what we think we should eat, the more disconnected we become from its wisdom. This is the real situation in which we tend to overeat, binge and go ballistic—when we disconnect from the experience of eating and our body’s signals of satiety.
But the more I’ve followed my body wisdom about what to eat, what not to eat, and when to eat, the better and healthier I’ve become. Yes, I’ve had days where I’ve been guided to ice cream, and on those days, I enjoy and revel in the pleasure. More often than not, my body thanks me as I slowly finish up the serving, and that’s enough.
I can no longer remember how many grams of carbohydrate are in a banana. But I can tell you what that perfectly ripe banana tastes like, and how if you mix it with a little almond butter, salt and a cup of tea it reaches near divinity. And rather than feeling like a glutton, I feel more powerful, and more satiated than ever.
From my own experience, and that of everyone I’ve seen, staying in our heads and controlling the cost/benefit of everything we eat on a daily basis only leads in one direction…more control, more “no”, and around the loop again we go. And eventually, just like in my case, the body always invariably steps in to break that loop. It presents you with a situation in which there is suddenly no other option but to trust its guidance. I have only ever seen this go in a good direction—a road on which we have more self-trust, self-love and self-comfort and (not) coincidentally, greater health than ever before.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Assistant Editor: Cami Krueger / Editor: Travis May
Photo: Pixoto user Alexander Makarov