Friday, June 18, 2021

Food Freedom

I give thanks for the food freedom I now know is possible, palatable, even practical. What do I mean by food freedom?

Peaceableness in body. Steadiness in being in my own skin. Relief from endless food discernments and decisions.  Any philosophical inquiry into what we actually mean by freedom will specify the sense of being free from and being free for (whatever). In those terms, then, I now know freedom from a lot of things -- cravings, billboard or marketing triggers, expectations of others imposed upon me with respect to what food means for them, presumed to be for us. I also know freedom for a lot of other things -- physical play, increased sense of fun or levity, a high level of energy for my entire day and embodied movement with less and less shame or guilt, whether internalized or imposed upon me by another. It took me a long time to find my way here, but I am so very grateful for the food freedom I now know and get to experience every day.

One of the pathways that began to open the way for me here several years ago is called the Whole30, which (I was surprised to be reminded recently) is probably where the use of the phrase first landed in my own vocabulary. Melissa Hartwig and Dallas Hartwig’s book, The Whole30: the 30-Day Guide to Total Health and Food Freedom, came down from my shelf recently. I was looking for some new healthy food combinations I could find to spice up the order and content of our summer meals, and I startled at the subtitle. I had not remembered their use of the phrase. The book itself doesn’t have much to say about it, but Melissa Hartwig has a video in which she describes what she means by the phrase food freedom. I recognize the steps in her words that got me here, even as there is a sense of ‘moving beyond’ into my own experience, my own words.

“You are in control of your food instead of food controlling you,” she begins. “
No more uncontrollable cravings. No more feeling like you’re a slave to sugar or carbs. No more prowling through the pantry at 10:00 p.m.” Instead, food freedom means “you are making conscious and deliberate decisions about your food.” 

I appreciate her words and recognize the wisdom within them. They describe my own experience, at least to a point. Because I also feel a weariness in her words that I do not experience in my day to day. She speaks the truism that food freedom for her is making conscious and deliberate decisions about food. She offers a pathway there, in our cultural intersections where food-choices abound, and maybe only 10% of them are healthy. 

Is it worth it? 

Do I want it? 

These are the two questions she names within food freedom living. She’s basically asking what impact will this food have on my body--in ten minutes, in an hour, by tomorrow morning, or even into next week? Is it so special that it’s worth it? Is it so delicious that it’s worth it? What will the impact be, on my body?

These are the questions I also listen to when I’m in a social situation with my husband, necessary in his job. Or when a celebration weekend is coming and nostalgic-special foods are desired to observe the festive day. The consciousness and deliberation in decision-making is a pathway to food freedom. But it’s incredibly wearying as well. Particularly when we are bombarded from without by others’ food-insecurities or struggles in a high-marketing, high-consumption culture.

What I’m taking delight in for myself is the unexpected arrival into a space or habit whereby I don’t even desire or crave what’s difficult for my body to digest. Where the decisions I make about food each day are so free that I don’t even have to discern. It’s no longer that I am consciously choosing or being deliberate about food choices, but that the high sugar, high carbs things don’t even appeal to me anymore. I’m not deciding it’s not worth it as much as not even noticing an interest in having to choose.

Before this sounds all cut and dry, I so do have my area of consciousness and deliberate decision making, each week. My husband and I are foodies, and he’s loved learning about all kinds of cocktails in these recent (and lengthy) pandemic-bubble months. I was one of his only bubble-mates so regularly faced invitations to cocktail hour! The drinks themselves were not that high in calories or sugars or carbs, but they do lower inhibitions for old habits of munchies and hors’d’oeuvres. So...I learned that an ounce or two of vodka can go a long way in an evening with three cans of seltzer accompanying it over time. I’ve learned cocktail recipes actually control amounts and ratios, because you have to be precise in the creation of a Poet’s Dream, for instance. (isn’t that a great name? Easy for a poet like me to accept that celebratory beverage). Recipe cocktails are better than an eye-estimated Old Fashioned.’s not that I’m never weary in deliberating, but that occasion is really the only time where I get to practice differentiation (doing what my body needs and desires, splurging from time to time) and participation (communing alongside my husband and our friends, from time to time), both at the same time. The rest of the time, I take delight in the food freedom I now know, held in a community of fellow-travelers who love CrossFit intensity, who also navigate home and restaurant food choices within a commitment to health.

The secret here could be said to be "hidden in the sauce" of how CrossFit works--communally, collegially, competitively (for some). Several times a week, I surround myself with folks who are intensely committed to fitness. I pick up tips of the trade and new ways to prepare foods, which then circles back to supporting the community for me. It’s not a mindfulness or deliberation alone, in other words. It’s a communal culture that encourages good health and increasing fitness. As each decides for themselves. No shame, no blame. 

The end result has been a peaceableness and steadiness in my body, my life, which then allows me to be present to all that is around and within me. I rarely get triggered into feelings of shame or guilt anymore, at least with respect to body-image things. Awakened heart, some of my teachers call it. 

I know from the outside this way of being with food looks like a hugely willful and highly controlled-from-outside discipline or difficult regimen. I often get the comment that I must have huge self-discipline, or that the person talking "doesn't have that much willpower." I don’t experience it that way at all. By now, it's not my willfulness or even that much discipline anymore. It was a journey of discipline to get here, with coaching and community support/learning. But over time, even my husband with whom I eat the most often, who eats vastly different than I do now, honors and even does his best to support me. It can be hard to have willpower regarding food in our overculture, unless you surround yourself with those who are living into your own choices, values, with you. So no...this way of being with food--no sugar, low carbs, rich healthy fats and proteins and veggies--is not a mind-trip or superhuman willpower. I find that it gives freedom from all that swayed me into anxiety and fear, and freedom for so much more in my life than I knew was possible to enjoy. 

That’s what I mean by food freedom. 

P.S. I just found another Melissa Hartwig listing that I also live into myself...but 'nuff said, for me.

Food Freedom ...

... is about indulging when it’s worth it, passing when it isn’t, and never feeling guilt or shame for doing either. about taking morality out of food, and recognizing you are not a “good” or “bad” person based on what’s your plate.

...means you never again feel powerless over food. You don’t obsess. You don’t get anxious. You aren’t stressed.

... means that food is FUN again. It means you feel free to play around with how much, how often, and in what quantity while still looking and feeling exactly as awesome as you want.

... means you don’t restrict needlessly, or binge heedlessly. You make conscious, deliberate decisions around food, and sometimes you say yes, and sometimes you say no, and both are totally okay because you chose it.

... doesn’t mean you’re a perfect eater or always make the “right decision", always stay on track, or never fall back into old habits.

I like the whole-life living overview of this, particularly the emotional components with food that are so prevalent in my own early formation and stress-responses, which often would include food.

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Socialization's not all bad after all...

Socialization is a funny thing, I’m finding, and not all bad for the fitness journey I’ve been on.

It’s funny for me to be toting socialization because it tends to be a pejorative word in my line of work, or at least in the way I do my work. Many of my seminary-faculty colleagues are socialization-heavy, in my view. It speaks to the status quo, to prioritizing the Tradition (always with a capital T), to the way we’ve always done it, to the conservative power of the community to shape human behavior in predictable and definable ways. Most socialization-heavy folk, in my view, are rigid out of fear, need for security-stability, willfulness to hold onto what-was instead of being with what-is... Not surprisingly, I’m a transformation girl, myself. I’m interested in tradition (small ‘t’) growing and changing, welcoming innovation and healing through new ways of trying/doing something that improve upon the old. Not eradicating the old, of course, just improving upon it. Of course, folks who don’t want to be improved upon see me as against Tradition. I don't like it when others try to improve me, so I get that, but...I am as I am. Transformation's more interesting.

Schools are vehicles of socialization, though we also want them to be places of discovery and transformation. School today is where young (older?) people go to learn how to be in collective settings, to know how to speak quietly in the library and scream on the recess playground, to learn the rudiments of reading, writing, arithmetic, to learn critical thinking and problem-solving. We also want them to try new things, of course, but usually only things we adults have thought of before, or
know to be safe, etc. Older people go to school to learn a profession, to be shaped in a discipline of study, to learn a set of skills that will nurture and provide sustenance and hopefully even delight in their lives. By the time older people decide to return to school, sometimes they/we just want to “get the certification” or the “driver’s license” to do something we/they already know we/they want to do. Theological education can be that, or it can be a lively container in which someone learns new ways of seeing the sacred, the world, our relationships within us and our world(s). I can usually spot the socialization-students within the first week of class. Socialization ultimately provides the script by which we become the human beings we are familiar with already.

The fellow I studied with defined transformation as the force that helps human beings become who they/we could become in the future, with imagination, creativity, and wonder. He placed the journey of human becoming solidly between the necessary forces of socialization--learning how to survive in human collectives and the natural world--and transformation--delighting in being a child of God, able to imagine, create, take delight in the mysteries and gifts of being a body in our world. Transformation is what happens in the Sacred Flow of life. Transformation is the unexpected, the scandalously abundant, the surprisingly Grace-filled Gift, etc.

So this transformation girl is today going to tote the wonder of socialization, alongside the gifts of transformation: I completed the Murph challenge yesterday, with time left to spare before the time-cap of 60 minutes. CrossFit ‘boxes’ across the nation (world?) often honor national days of remembrance with a particular ‘hero WOD,’ a workout-of-the-day that is specified and named after a fallen veteran or officer whose life was lost in the line of duty. Many boxes do the Murph Challenge on Memorial Day: wearing a 20-lb vest or body armour, run a mile, then 100 pull-ups, 200 push-ups, 300 air-squats, then run another mile. Scaling options are available, as in any CrossFit workout, and the community comes together to complete the workout. Post-COVID now, this was the first time our box was back in full force for the Memorial Day workout. Coaches & some arrived early to do the challenge before the rest of us arrived at 9 a.m. to complete the workout.

All of this has everything to do with socialization in a CrossFit way. There is a predictability of the Murph Challenge on this day. There is the way you are supposed to do it, accompanied by other ways you can, so more of the community can participate. Folks coming in know the ‘rules of the road’ and how to participate. All the marks of socialization.

I’ve only done CrossFit for a little under three years, so this was only my third run-through. The first time, I arrived a little unsure of what all would be required of me. I was new. I teamed up with 3 or 4 partners, and we did the work in pretty short order. I realized I had more umph in me, so I added a mile run on the end of that day’s fitness. The second time was in COVID lockdown, so no one came to the gym at all. I was already socialized enough to know the Murph Challenge was “a thing,” however, so I found a scaled way to do it in my own garage: bent-over rows with 18 lb DB, push-ups, air-squats, and run to the middle-school sign and back at the start and the finish. I made sure my husband was away at work that morning, and did the whole thing in my garage. 61 minutes, or so, but including a run downstairs to get a box-fan. It was HOT! So this time, I repeated the way I had done it before, except worked out with the community at the gym/box, 20 lb dumbbells. Another mark of CF socialization: do the same workout and try to beat your earlier time.

It’s the predictability, the continuity, the community that keeps me steady in my own fitness journey. Learning how movements are done, and done healthily and well. Learning ever-deeper nuances as one skill-level is mastered, like pairing one’s breathing-timing and tending to core-stability once you have the barbel technique down. It’s the socialization of the whole that creates the container for the individual to grow, to strengthen, to challenge, to celebrate too. That I can celebrate about socialization.

And there are funny side-effects of all this in life outside the gym/box. Recently, my college sent out a notice that they were rectifying a gender-injustice within the varsity sports norms operative when I was there in the late 80’s. Men would get varsity letters for playing a varsity sport; women’s sports at Carleton did not. I had been a soccer player through the first years of high school, then gave it up to focus on band and academics. I entered Carleton without considering joining a sport. By junior year, however, events converged for me to join the women’s soccer team. It became my life, my community, my web of friendships. I wish I had played from freshman year. senior year, I played on the varsity team some, but I was by no means a starter of the team. I remember the assistant coach, Kristen (though she went by Sten), sneaking me a first-year C pin, which was the women’s equivalent of a varsity letter at the time. It meant the world to me. 

Today, once again, I understand myself to be somewhat an athlete, given my love of and discipline in the CrossFit streams. So I wrote the Alumni Office--which I probably would not have done if I weren’t a CrossFitter now--and requested my varsity letter. It arrived in the mail last week, complete with a certificate in my name.

Socialization is not all bad after all. It’s nice to have achieved within the spectrum of some norms I have come to value anew. I love the fact that it’s a C too. For Carleton, of course, might just go onto a jacket and mean CrossFit for me. Perfect.