Content note: body image, body shame, disordered eating, diet & exercise
Purpose: This series has been a long time percolating in my mind. It has taken me a year to decide to write. The writing process has taken days. I think this will become an important resource for future #FitFriday posts as I continue to examine the messages students of all ages internalize about women, diet, nutrition, and fitness, and how it can severely and negatively influence their lives indefinitely.
In which I expound on why I quit a BeachBody program (because it perpetuates disordered thinking and unattainable, unsustainable ideals)
Reason 3: The Food
Oh, man, the food. The number of times I had to read Oh my gosh, I can’t believe how much food we get to eat! while I sat at my desk with my stomach screaming at me was maddening. The number of women who proclaimed their excitement with the words This is not a starvation diet! echoing the promotional materials made me want to scream How little have you been eating until now?! I was twenty pounds over what I envisioned as my “ideal” weight, and I was still in the lowest calorie bracket. And my stomach was constantly gnawing at me.
The meal planning categorized food into different “colors” and provided a container for measuring each kind of food. I was allotted 3 greens (vegetables), 4 reds (proteins), 2 purples (fruits), 2 yellows (starches), 1 orange (dressings and seeds), 1 blue (cheese/nuts), and 2 teaspoons (oils/fats) a day. I’m a cheap-ass vegetarian. I eat a lot of inexpensive proteins: beans and brown rice, lentils, whole grains, quinoa. I don’t eat meat or fish. I don’t buy protein powders or expensive meat replacements. The food proportions were what slayed me. The idea was that if it fits in the container, you can eat it. No measuring or counting calories or weighing. Except many people in the support group were still counting calories and sharing that going over 1,200 calories was freaking them out. And we had a handy conversion list for “hard to fit” foods, which honestly made me (and a lot of other women) fairly obsessive. Well, it played on our already obsessive and disordered tendencies toward food. An English muffin was 2 Yellows, not 1. One banana counted as two Purples. I could have exactly 12 almonds (a Blue) for a snack, but sunflower seeds were an Orange. Beans and lentils and quinoa counted as Yellow starches, not Red proteins, which was a problem: I’m a starchivore, and I could only have a total of one cup of starches a day. To get that much protein, I had to start using protein shakes (which I will cover more in Reason 5: All Shook Up) and expensive meat replacements. For me to do Taco Tuesday with my 12-Step group, I had to “save” both my Yellows and my Blue for dinner, and then only eat one taco with a whole wheat tortilla and only beans (no rice) and have guacamole (Blue) and no cheese.
I hadn’t made the connection between cheese and migraines yet, so I was eating cheese in an attempt to stave off hunger. But only certain cheese were listed on the Blue page. I turned to the recipe group on Facebook for support and ideas. Several women had asked why blue cheese was not included on the list. Several other women answered: Because blue cheese is not gluten free. Several people chimed in that it was not a gluten-free diet. But when the question reappeared a few days later, the response was the same, this time with links. I thought it was just a lack of reading comprehension at the time, but now I’ve experienced enough fear of gluten (from non-Celiac folk) to suspect that some of these women were so wrapped up in their own disordered rules about food that they missed the whole picture.
So I was hungry. I was hungry to the point of distraction. I went to the “support” group for support. In a connection back to Reason 1, some Untrained Personnel suggested I add an extra Green during my day to fill me up without adding calories, but to make sure it wasn’t something like carrots because calories. When I asked if anyone struggling with the same thing had moved up to the next calorie bracket, I received a pretty resounding No! because this program WORKS and why would I mess with something that WORKS and if I did that it would SABOTAGE my goals.
Speaking of sabotage: forget about treats. I could use my teaspoons for olive oil when I was cooking, or I could use it for a treat. I could have a teaspoon of peanut butter, or almond butter, or chocolate chips. No cheat meals, though. And a teaspoon is not a treat to pretty much anyone I know. The attitude about treats and cheats reminded me of a blog post by Dr. Yoni Freedhoff during the 2013 season of The Biggest Loser, when teen contestant Sunny was given a tiny tangerine for her birthday.
I see these messages played out over and over in various contexts: Women should be trying to lose weight, count calories, cut calories, cut carbs. Some foods are bad. Some foods are very bad. We don’t deserve to enjoy our food, and if we do, we should apologize for it or compensate for it.
In the anti-diet group, we eat the food.
I am still a vegetarian. I avoid the foods that trigger migraines and the ones that are allergens. I have made sustainable changes to my diet. But I eat a lot of starches. Pancakes, waffles, quinoa, popcorn, cereal, oatmeal, rice, beans, lentils, pasta, English muffins, potatoes. I eat proteins and fats, too. I don’t eat treats every day, but when I do, I eat the whole doughnut, and I don’t apologize for it. I eat in moderation, in a sustainable way that works for my lifestyle. Usually from a plate. I don’t measure my food in a colored container.
I just eat the food.