Food, Weight and the Perfect Body
An obsession about food, weight and the size of your body is a painful and engrossing activity and can become a way of life. There are many adults who have spent half their lives grappling with the issues around what is the ideal weight for me, how can I get there, how can I stay there, how can I look good and still eat the foods that I enjoy?
There are two central themes that emerge here. One is, what is your ideal weight? Is it some number on a mass produced chart or is it something more subjective? Perhaps we can say that when you feel healthy, energetic, physically attractive and comfortable with your body, then you are at your ideal weight. Each of us is entitled to determine this measure for ourselves. This is of course very difficult because everywhere we look we are being shown artificial, media-generated notions of what the human body should look like. This deluge of skinny stereotypes only reinforces our inability to realistically assess ourselves. The second theme that then emerges is, if we are not at our ideal weight, what can we do about it? Therein lies the subject of food and eating.
In first world countries where food shortages are rare, and most food items are abundantly available, the issue of eating has become, for many people, very complex and confusing. The primary purpose of eating, which is to nurture our bodies and keep us alive, has been lost. Consequently we eat for a host of other reasons that are often totally unrelated to the concept of nurturence
Let us begin at infancy. When a newborn baby is being fed it knows exactly when it has had enough and will pull away from the breast or bottle when satisfied. A six month old enjoying it’s meal of pureed pumpkin will close it’s mouth when full and even the most persistent of parents will probably not be able to get in another spoonful. The point here is that we are all born with an in-built mechanism that tells us when we are satisfied. Sadly, at some point, this natural instinct that we have gets interfered with and we often lose touch with what we need and how much?
Eating occurs for all sorts of reasons. Many are probably familiar with the term ‘comfort eating’. This is eating in response to feelings of boredom, loneliness and despair. Food can truly feel like a friend during difficult times and the mere preparing of food can give one a sense of control when other areas of one’s life seem unmanageable. Over eating can often take place because we are repeating old forgotten messages about not to waste and ‘remember , some children are starving’. This is all eating in response to messages other than the one ‘I am hungry, my body needs nutrition’. Eating for reasons other than true hunger leads to weight gain in many of us. We then start to become uncomfortable with our bodies and try to reduce. Often the method we choose to try and reduce involves some outside source determining what we should eat and how much. We might not have had much input into this ‘plan’ and end up feeling deprived. We continue for a while, become frustrated and bored and may start to overeat all over again in response to these feelings.
There must be thousands of people who yearn for a reality where they can eat the foods that they enjoy, achieve a weight that they are comfortable with and stay at that weight. What if this was actually possible? Well, maybe it is. Deepak Chopra, the renowned physician and author, describes the body as a “miracle of biological engineering”. He writes that nature has given us a physiology that is perfect and knows exactly what it needs. He believes that we should embrace the feeling of hunger and not be frightened of it. True hunger is simply a message from the body that food is required and that the body is prepared for the metabolism of that food. If we then eat something that is enjoyable and nutritious and we stop when we are satisfied, not bursting at the seams, we will not gain weight. By eating this way we can actually lose weight if there is indeed weight to lose. By getting in touch with our own unique needs for nutrition and responding to these needs accordingly, we then develop an internal locus of control for what we need and how much. This is an art which takes a little practice, but once we are truly in touch with our bodies in this way, we need never experience the discomfort of an externally controlled ‘plan’ that is imposed upon us.
In a nutshell, the message is to try and simplify the process of eating and reducing and to give hope to those of you for whom achieving a comfortable balance between body and mind seems unattainable. Eat when you are hungry, stop when you are still comfortable and don’t eat when hunger is absent.
For the other hungers that are currently being addressed by food, perhaps there are alternatives.