Your Body Talks: Eating According to Your Body's Needs

 My mom can attest to my picky eating habits. Since a young age, me and food have had a weird relationship. My old reliable has always been cereal. If the thought of eating food made me feel nauseous, I ate a bowl of cereal instead. 

Eating has always felt like a chore. Even at a young age, I sat at the dinner table long after everyone was finished eating. I stared at my food wishing it would just absorb into my body rather than me having to chew it. I had meals I loved and would eat religiously. I loved McDonald's and mac & cheese. If we had hotdogs for dinner, I would always ask for them to be cut up with ketchup on the side. My food could never touch. It had to have its own section on the plate, even now I separate my food with a fork. I despised finger foods, they made my hands all greasy. I kept a wet wash cloth beside me at the dinner table to wipe the sticky feeling off my hands. I thought I would outgrow my eating habits and my general distate for food. But as I got older, my relationship with food stayed the same.

Health classes during high school made us track the food we ate and the calories with it. I despised these exercises. The health teacher marked off points if you didn’t have the “correct” serving of fruits and vegetables every day or if you exceeded your calorie count. I stress ate five servings every day of various fruits and veggies to get an A on the assignment. Afterwards I felt sick. Once, a health teacher remarked that women should have curvy bodies, emphasizing the curve of the woman’s waist with his hands. He explained how we could obtain those curves- by eating healthy and drinking water of course. Exercising for sixty minutes every day. Even at my peak of athleticism as a dancer, I never achieved those curves. I was failing, right? 

The older I got and the more I traveled with friends, I realized I would never be a foodie. Upon arrival to NYC for the first time, my friends exclaimed how excited they were to try various resturants and authentic foods around the city. I wanted to barf. I just wanted to know I had my old, reliable food. I hated wondering what food I would have for dinner, I wanted to know.

At age eighteen, I was diagnosed with body dysmorphic disorder. It's a condition that causes you to obsessive over the way you look and with it, the food you eat. I realized how many obsessive thoughts I was having over my body. Had I gained weight? Was my hair falling flat? Did my eyes look too puffy? Did this shirt make my boobs look too big? It was a relief to finally know that my strained realtionship with food had a name and a face. I let go of the guilt I punished myself with. I wasn't abnormal, I just had a condition that made my life a little bit different. It was treatable.  

I knew the transition to college would be difficult. I would be away from home, placing stress on my already fragile nervous system. I would also be away from the food that made me feel comfortable. I decided to stock my dorm room with food. My favorite foods. My guilty pleasures. My Special K cereal and Gushers. My dorm room had all the essentials for the days when eating was a chore. I focused less on weight gain and more on nourishing my body and mind. I ate till I was full. I had double dinners. I ate ice cream four times a week. I ate salads when I wanted to, not when I was “supposed” to. 

Living in a new place with new food showed me the importance of choosing food that feels right. I had a buffet of options from pasta to orange chicken to salad. I let my body choose what it wanted and needed rather than what I thought it "should" have. Before, I would have felt guitly for eating the ice cream rather than the salad. But as I became comfortable with gaining the "freshman fifteen", I realized my body felt better than ever before. I still ate the essentials but on my own terms. There was no health teacher making me eat five servings of fruit and vegetables a day. My body chose when I needed carrots or cucumbers or strawberries. In fact, I began eating strawberries with yogurt for breakfast every morning, but because I wanted to. Because I enjoyed it. I let go of the guilt that plagued me and let my body speak.

And this change in my eating habits wasn’t a magical, overnight change. I was lucky to have friends and family who encouraged me to eat what felt right. My mom, even four hours away, still made sure I was okay. She checked in on me and supported me, and cooked me the best meals when I came home for the holidays. She always texted before I came to ask what I was hungry for. Looking back, I realize how comfortable that made me feel. She was letting my body speak. I found a partner who called me beautiful even when I was stuffing a plate of nachos in my mouth. He encouraged me to eat even when I thought I didn’t “earn” it. I learned that food isn’t something you earn by exercising, you eat because your body needs it because it makes you feel good. Eating is an experience to be enjoyed. 

My next check-up at the doctor I had gained ten pounds. The version of myself I knew six months before would have been terrified at that number. My doctor was happy to see me gaining weight, he’d been a bit concerned with it before I started medication. 

Here’s what I’m saying. The Internet, the news, random “studies” on Facebook tell us what we “should” be putting in our body. This may cause cancer, or this will lead to Alzheimer’s. Food is complicated and as a student journalist, I’ve learned that food studies are pretty unreliable. My professors have steered me away from reporting on food studies because there simply isn’t enough evidence to suggest one food will change the entire course of your life. I’m not saying don’t eat your fruits and veggies because those are important. And I imagine only eating Doritos could increase your risk for heart disease. Eat your food in proportion. One serving of ice cream is not going to steer your whole weight loss journey off course. Skipping your salad in lieu of fries won’t increase your risk of heart disease. 

I’ve learned that the most important food lesson is listening to your body. Your body knows what it needs. Craving milk? You might need some calcium. Life is too short to eat only what the Internet deems “healthy”. Find what works for you. Whether it's keto, or going vegan, or eating ice cream four times a week. Eat two dinners or skip breakfast. Do what works for your body because everyone’s body is different and needs different things. Don’t listen to the health gurus who beg you to join their new diet promising you astonishing weight loss results. Social media has made us belive we must be skinny to be happy. But I can tell you from experience, at my skinniest, I wasn't the happiest. Just follow what your body wants and needs. Eat the food that makes you feel good, your body talks, if you choose to listen.

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