Photo via here
I’m back from Amsterdam and had a great time! I’ll post all about that later, but today is the last on the weekly Feminist Fashion Bloggers (FFB) posts for Women’s History Month. Don’t worry though if you’ve enjoyed them, we will continue on with this project, just at a slightly less speedy pace of one post a month.
Today’s theme was for the FFB bloggers to talk about a feminist and/or fashion related thing we learnt from someone else, something that changed the way we thought about something or the way we behaved. The idea had initially been for the FFB lot to reflect on what we had learnt from the weekly posts, but then so many people joined that we thought we’d go more general. I really really would like to do some reflections on all the things I have learnt from the other FFB bloggers, and hopefully I will find the time to do so, but since I’m just back from the trip that will have to wait.
So instead I was inspired by Terri’s excellent FFB post last week to talk about my relationship with food, and specifically about Susie Orbach’s writing and how it helped me re-learn to eat. I shall explain!
Susie Orbach is a psychoanalyst who specialises in eating disorders, most famous from her 1978 book, Fat is a Feminist issue, and for treating Princess Diana’s bulimia. I’ve read both Fat is a Feminist issue and her most recent 2009 book, Bodies, which takes many of the same issues and updates and expands them. There are so many ideas in these books, including the move towards bodies as projects, but today I just wanted to focus on one, which has been so important for my own life:
The idea that what is often called the obesity epidemic and the rise of anorexia, and which Orbach calls disordered eating to highlight that the two developments are sides of the same coin, is because most people have completely lost any sort of natural relationship with food. In today’s society, we are bombarded with messages from all sides on what to eat and what not to eat. On the one hand we should control ourselves: fat or sugar or whatever is taken out of certain foods and they are sold to us as diet foods, while on the other we should give in to desire: fat and sugar is added to other foods which are sold to us as indulgent treats.
With all this overstimulation we just don’t know how to eat any more, we have lots all sense of what is normal, and we turn to diets and food plans as external rules to give us the structure. But of course, 95% of diets fail, that’s how the diet industry works, it doesn’t want to make itself obsolete, and even if we do manage to stick with it, we end up spending a ludicrous amount of energy, and in many cases money, on something that should be the most natural thing in the world, eating.
Susie Orbach – via >here.
Fat is a Feminist issue is actually a sort of self-help book to help us get out of this state, to reconnect with our natural, self-regulating appetite. And this initially involves ignoring everything you know about food, any rules, whether its ‘no carbs after six’ or ‘breakfast like a king, dine like a pauper’ or even just general meal times, and just eat what you want to eat when you want to eat it. Truly listen to your body and then do whatever it tells you. And if that is chocolate mousse for dinner or oysters for breakfast, then eat chocolate mousse for dinner or oysters for breakfast. But also, listen to your body when it tells you it has had enough. Don’t ever overeat. Don’t finish a meal to be polite, don’t eat a salad you don’t want so you can have some ice cream. If you want the ice cream, just have the ice cream.
The books suggests you may want to warn your friends and family your eating could be a bit all over the place for a while, but in a few weeks you should establish a natural balance and your body will start demanding things that actually make sense nutritionally and also weight wise. Some of the people used as case studies initially put on a bit of weight (especially when they had started from a position of constant dieting), but everyone eventually settled into a steady weight for the long term. Which incidentally, is exactly what has happened to me.
My relationship to food has not been easy. I am naturally prone to overeating, I eat when I’m bored, I eat when I’m worried, I eat when I’m happy too. Food is a major part of Dave and I’s relationship, we cook together and eat out together and I do see food as an expression of love. So I’ve always been on the bigger side, and I was a chubby child. But I’ve also gone through two pretty major periods when I was younger of eating very little and very limited things (think apples, fat free yoghurt, and orange juice, nothing else) during which I lost a lot of weight and did God knows what kind of long term damage to by bones. I was never diagnosed as anorexic, but that was pretty much what it was. So it’s been hard getting to anything resembling a balance.
But I did. I never did anything as dramatic as some of the stories in FiaFI, but the ideas in that book helped me a lot in understanding and addressing the psychological needs behind certain food cravings (which I haven’t talked much above, but is a big part of the book) and just listening to what my body wants. Which has turned out to be the ‘right’ things anyway, a mix of things and lots of fresh fruit and veg. I have a major sweet tooth and love both cake and baking, but I always get my ‘five a day’ without even trying. When I’m hungover, I crave fruit smoothies, not bacon sandwiches or chips. I did put on some weight after I stopped trying to be ‘sensible’ by external rules (‘sensible’ being the current code for dieting) and just ate what I wanted, and the weight I stabilised at is slightly higher than I would ideally have chosen. But it is a healthy weight, one that I am happy with and one that I maintained for 7 years with no effort, thanks to the magic of the self-regulating appetite.
A slight disclaimer, in case this all sounds too good to be true, it is a little bit. As most of you will know, I’ve been going through a bit of a stressful time recently, and I am still not out of it, and this has expressed itself in some comfort eating and I have put on a few kilos (you may have noticed in the outfit photos). It’s been lot harder to listen to my body tell me what it wants and when it is full when I’ve been constantly preoccupied with bigger problems (and since Dave has similar comfort eating tendencies). But I know this phase will pass eventually, and I am still healthy and in touch with my body, and at least dieting is one thing I don’t have to worry about.
What do you think? Have you had similar experiences? Or are you on a diet/food plan? I know there are a few bloggers out there on weight watchers (who Susie Orbach tried to sue under the trade descriptions act at one point, according to one article)!
Incidentally, if anyone is thinking of reading any Susie Orbach for general interest, I would recommend Bodies over Fat is a Feminist Issue, which does feel quite dated now. Bodies is more a sociology book and less of a self-help one, which I do prefer. There are so many ideas in Bodies, not all of which I 100% agree with, but it’s definitely worth a read.