I used to think eating for joy was being a glutton; consuming things I hadn’t in a while, eating more, eating way past capacity.
I used to think eating for experience was having a buffet style meal, regardless of venue or company or occasion. Ordering the “worst” thing (most decadent) on the menu, the largest entrée (and consuming then because this was the only time allowed for this kind of eating), and dessert. Always, dessert.
I used to think eating was an all or nothing, binary activity that on certain days of the week and on certain days of the year, you went all out and then picked up the pieces after – like “everybody else”. But only on those days – never any others, and never for no reason. You had to have a reason to eat outside of the gluten-free, fat-free, dairy-free, preservative-free, wheat-free, sugar-free box. Always.
Today, that is not my definition nor my experience in eating for joy, or how I want eating to be anymore. Today, eating for joy is a daily, sustainable, engaged process I partake in fully. It is something I do not only for fuel and energy, but something I look forward to and genuinely love doing. And I don’t need to go out to a restaurant to do it.
It is not something governed by a calendar day or event. It is not something to be placed under a microscope for perfection or rigidity. It is not graded, tiered or tied to my person. It is no longer gluten-free, fat-free, dairy-free, preservative-free, wheat-free or always sugar-free. Ever.
It is a part of my life. It is how I energize my body and activate my brain. It is how I connect with other people. It is a topic of conversation. Today it is a magical ride, and a fascinating experiment. It is a leveler and it is lifelong. It is a non-negotiable part of my day and will be forever.
So that’s why I choose to and can bring it – this experience – to me, every day. An experience that doesn’t need a date or an occasion. An experience that can be right now, just because. And I am learning that the more often I bring it to me, the less often I feel compelled to go outside of myself to find some kind of excitement, “joy”, or relief from life on life’s terms.
We went out to dinner with my side of the family last night for an early Thanksgiving, and it was the first time we went out in awhile that I didn’t know exactly the numeric quantities of the food I had chosen ahead of time to order. I second and triple guessed myself, not liking not knowing and fearful that it wouldn’t be enough or that it might end up being too much. I ran it around my head before I eventually surrendered through prayer and showed up with the intention of being mindful and open to the experience. I soaked in being available for my mom in her wheelchair. I soaked in the gorgeous decorations at the restaurant, and the number of people still willing to dine. I soaked in my dad and his amazing, dry sense of humor. I soaked in my brother and his wife. I soaked in the staff and their masks and the children.
And I soaked in my anxiety about eating unknown things and unknown amounts. Because I didn’t think I’d get enough of my main meal, I opted to eat a little something beforehand. It didn’t sit right – my choice to do something other than planned. I watched my anxiety, and I honored it and stopped and pushed it aside. It wasn’t delicious, and I decided to trust what was coming. I’m so glad I did – it was everything and more. And I ate it all, felt comfortable, and moved on. I didn’t need to sample everyone else’s plate although I had some bites of my mom’s leftovers. 2, to be exact. The difference spices were amazing – I am not a fan of Indian at all, but it was a really cool experience.
I noticed my counting in my head, trying to true up the math as to whether or not I ate what I was “supposed” to that day. And then I got busy. I helped my mom with the bathroom and noticed how awesome I look and feel at 35 in the mirror while I waited for her. (Said with pride, not arrogance – I couldn’t get dressed for years or leave the house so today it is a gift to do both with ease). And then we went to say goodbye to our friends moving across the country.
And I forgot. I forgot about the food. I recognized what I’d say to anyone else. I recognized that I wasn’t a glutton, didn’t make myself remotely uncomfortable and enjoyed the experience. I recognized that it’s not my fault that my default way of thinking is still self-deprecating and doubtful at times. I recognized that it’s not my fault that I get overly consumed with food, quantities and the like. I measure my food – all of it – and that is freedom for me today. I also eat whatever I want – literally, so long as it fits the measurement and honors my recovery. I love this way of eating. It has proven to be the most effective way to keep up with the gym, performance and aesthetic goals all at the same time and honor my sobriety from food and harmful eating behaviors. It has enabled me to expand my palate and eat moderately, every day of the week. Which is why going out to dinner isn’t as big of a deal anymore.
I don’t need to choose a binary option. I don’t need to eat “good” or “bad” or wait until Saturday to eat something I want. I get to eat this way every day. I make meals that I want to eat, and meals that honor my sobriety from food. I plan them all ahead so I can get my groceries, cook and commit. And let it go.
I also have miraculously lost the desire to hurt myself with food. Remember my opening line here? “I used to think eating for joy was being a glutton; consuming things I hadn’t in a while, eating more, eating way past capacity.” What is joyful about that? NOTHING! Nothing is joyful about being a glutton or eating past capacity. Nothing is joyful about grading your eating experiences or waiting until you’ve “earned” something to enjoy it.
I’m so … humbled. And grateful. And having this experience gives me trust going into Thanksgiving. I’ve gone back and forth with confidence and fear, and right now today I feel really hopeful and secure. Safe. I have a support network, and tools. I have my food planned – my normal macros for the day, a lighter breakfast and lunch, a small snack to bring in case dinner is delayed, and dinner with Mike’s family that includes all of the staples but not all of the house. Friday, I resume my normal eating, and Saturday is still my biggest calorie day but just more of the same stuff I always eat.
More of the stuff I want to eat. More of the stuff that I don’t have to earn on Monday to eat on Friday. More of the stuff that takes the edge off and prevents me from the deprivation-reward roller coaster I always belted myself into this time of year. More of the stuff that brings me closer to my truth: that my body is not the enemy, and neither is food, and neither am I.
Happy Thanksgiving, everybody. I love you.