I felt the shift sometime this past week, a familiar feeling, a learning received long ago but often lost and forgotten: eating healthy food so to prepare my body for movement instead of moving so I could eat anything and/or everything I wanted to. The first feels joyful, easy; the second feels functional and calculating, spurred on by fear and whiffs of shame.
I have long and winding vines between my body, food, and exercise. I suspect most of us do, both women and men. As I wrote in my morning pages the other day, we live a body-dissociated life in a body-obsessed culture. Speaking just for myself, I have lived most of my life dissociated, really, from my body and her wisdom. If the pathways to the body’s wisdom are feeling, sensation, responsiveness to clues and intuition, my family line has little interest in any of that. The body was something to be diagnosed, whipped into shape, controlled through will or regulation from outside. We don’t feel in my family, we conceptualize and dissociate from things too joyful or painful to contain. Because it is both—both joy and pain go missing when one learns to numb out. So from a very early age, I pushed my life experience up into my head, lived mostly from there. I will say that most of my innovative work arose from my feminine embodied self, scraping her way into consciousness, but she is relatively young, say about five years old.
What all this means is that food has been a source of solace and comfort, materiality and mothering, most of my life. When I did the daring act of diving off the high dive in elementary school, my reward was a candlelight sundae at home! (Ice cream, bananas, strawberries…a treat concocted by my father for whenever thunderstorms would come and the electricity would go off. It became a treat and a special event! Wise father that he was…). When I wanted to feel comfortable in my skin, soothing the shaky hungers that would come about 4:30 p.m. after my paper route was done, it was a McDonald’s hamburger or even Big Mac. Whenever something was scary or filled me with anxiety, some food would soothe the body. Friday nights at home alone watching TV instead of going out with friends? Chef-Boyardee beef ravioli, Jeno’s pizza rolls, and ice cold Pepsi, maybe potato chips. It’s no wonder I spent my young life dehydrated, eh?
All this input, as seventies’ salt and fat as it was, led to the need—outside demand, really—to control my body’s appearance through exercise. Running, biking, climbing trees came rather naturally as fun for me, until adolescence and the self-loathing that comes from neglect and religious shame. When my mother judged me to be lacking in my own self-control, when she judged my body as unfit and ‘too fat,’ then the shame dance began in earnest. Probably 6th grade. Movement allowed me the food soothing my lonely and fearful heart needed. Running for exercise and control of body ‘errors’ became a discipline of necessity.
None of this is very surprising for a woman and her body today. I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve not been overly seduced by diet crazes or extreme behaviors of eating disorders. I have my addictions—bread, mostly—and I have my cycles of craving and resolution—less now, that my hormones have altered my body’s rhythms. But food, emotional solace, and physical activity are always interlaced with fear, self-loathing, will.
Until the shift comes, of its own accord, felt from within. Like the shift came this past week. My body begins to love its movement, enter into its movement, for fun. Yes. For fun. It takes a while for my mind to fall asleep enough to let this happen. It has to happen, after all. You cannot will fun to be fun. But when it finally does happen, food becomes simply the means that allows my body to enjoy itself in fun, in exertion, in movement, in challenge, in community. Then…this free space opens up and food becomes emotionally unimportant and a curiosity without a kick. It is simply a step toward what my body wants to do, which is move. Too much or the kind of food that makes movement hard becomes undesirable. Craving, taste, emotion no longer drive me so. Instead, I find my mind wandering with anticipation toward…when do I get to move next? When is my next workout? Does Nala need to go for a walk in the autumn sunshine? All questions that spur a different way for me to be in my body, without fear or shame. Blessed be.
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