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.

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