That Wellness Article (or “I still don’t know how to eat”)

The wellness industry is the diet industry, and the diet industry is a function of the patriarchal beauty standard under which women either punish themselves to become smaller or are punished for failing to comply, and the stress of this hurts our health too. I am a thin white woman, and the shame and derision I have experienced for failing to be even thinner is nothing compared with what women in less compliant bodies bear. Wellness is a largely white, privileged enterprise catering to largely white, privileged, already thin and able-bodied women, promoting exercise only they have the time to do and Tuscan kale only they have the resources to buy.

Finally, wellness also contributes to the insulting cultural subtext that women cannot be trusted to make decisions when it comes to our own bodies, even when it comes to nourishing them. We must adhere to some sort of “program” or we will go off the rails.

Jessica Knoll, “Smash the Wellness Industry”

I’ve seen this article shared a few times (but most importantly by my friend Pam).

Like many of my friends, I liked this article because it resonated. And, like many others, I felt compelled to share it also because it resonated. It articulates sentiments that I have often struggled to put into words.

***

I recently brushed against my own history with disordered eating and dieting in a way I hadn’t experienced in a long time. I started working with a nutrition coach under the guise of “losing some body fat” after a few relatively inactive months of recovering. My body needed some time to heal from overtraining and subsequent injuries, which also meant that it needed to look a little bit different than what I’d gotten used to for some time.

We started a small cut, reducing my calorie intake just a little to see how my body responded over the past month and a half or so. We weren’t seeing any changes, so we tried going a little lower. Even though it was, numerically, a minor change, within days I was sitting in a cafe with my partner near tears because I didn’t want to be stressing about eating a sandwich out. But I was.

I reached out to my coach who suggested we nix the whole idea of cutting. Clearly, she said, I didn’t appear to be in a mental space for a cut. (Which, with my ongoing move, travel schedule, and general life stuff, was accurate.)

In hindsight, though, I felt frustrated. Particularly with myself. I knew better to know that “looking a certain way” is not a goal that works for me – and one that I thought I was well past. It does not motivate. Instead, it tears me down. After taking all the mental effort to talk myself into a few months of recovery, why, then, would I decide the next best move was to cut back on the much-needed fuel and nutrients my body needs to get better?

***

As someone who lives in a privileged body – and who has spent a lot of time working on my relationship with food, both with professionals and personally – I am still all too surprised each time I stand face-to-face with my food issues. “I thought I was past this,” I told myself. I’m not sure which “this” that is. The “this” of not desperately wanting to be perpetually smaller or the “this” of being afraid to see my body change, particularly if it shifts into a direction that is not socially acceptable. Or both.

Sometimes I think about how I actually don’t know how to eat. I’ve had so many rules and regulations for most of my life. What does it mean to eat well? How can I be healthy?

In university, I wrote an undergraduate thesis on doulas and childbirth. So much of my research touched on how little society trusts women to know our own bodies, the ways in which our experiences can be validated through little comments and dismissals every day. We’re taught that we need to be told how to take care of ourselves, everyone knows better than us.

This lack of permission to be authoritative in our your day-to-day life carries over into the most absurd areas, like eating. Literally something you need to do to survive. I should know how to interpret when my body is hungry and what it wants to eat, but I don’t. I don’t trust it.

But if I don’t trust my body, who will?

***

I’m so annoyed to rehash this same conversation with myself. I’ve made progress. A lot of it. I don’t want to forget that because another side of this conversation is the fact that women are often pressured to feel perfect before we can celebrate our victories.

Nevertheless, I’d love to not think about it anymore. Not in the sense of “not having to think about food because I can eat all the junk food I want and not gain weight.” I mean, I want to really, truly understand which foods feel nourishing to me and eat them. I want to feel healthy, active, and well-rested every day. I want to feel at peace with my plate.

I’m part and parcel of a fitness industry that fails to serve many people. I want to find the community and expertise I need to develop these skills that I should have developed years ago, rather than questioning my self and my body. I want this to become a trend. I want rest and recovery and eating lots and lots of foods that feel good to be considered healthy.

In other words: I really liked that article.

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