Expanding the Conversation: Beyond Body Talk

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Each evening as my feet feel sore and my mind becomes numb I take some time to reflect on the events of the day. How did I spend my day; whom did I see; what did I learn? It's a time to look back just before my eyes drift to sleep, and to use the happenings of the day to help me grow.

Many years ago this scene was very different; I did not lay awake feeling thankful, passionate, or committed. Instead, I spent endless sleepless hours thinking about whether or not the day could be considered "good." At that time, good meant that I had listened to the eating-disordered thoughts. Good meant that the distorted, demonic part of my brain had succeeded in determining my behaviors and actions. "Good" meant that I was sick.

My day was quantified according to my eating disorder -- not only with regard to food, as the disorder surpasses simply food and weight. I thought about my performance and my behaviors and the actions, or lack thereof that kept me within my glass bubble that protected me from the outside world.

We each define our days as good or bad according to various markers. But why not hope that a day can actually be both good and bad? Why not search for some positives while accepting what may have gone wrong, what may have been uncomfortable?

One marker that continuously pops up in so many people's lives relates to food, calories, and exercise. There is a constant dialogue about adherence to dieting and weight loss that permeates the thoughts of self-judgment.

I can understand that when someone wants to lose weight or eat healthfully, the cravings can feel torturous, and thinking and talking about the dieting can help alleviate some of the frustration. I am someone who believes in healthy eating -- eating when hungry and stopping when full -- and including a full range of foods. I can respect what others do and even feel proud of friends or contribute to a conversation at times. But I am also fearful when I hear people excessively talk about weight and dieting, as if this rules their day. I remember a time when that was my life, and while not everyone who engages in this behavior has an eating disorder, I recall how much it consumed me.

There were endless calculations and lists, planning and attention that went toward my food and weight. My case may have been extreme, but this type of mindset exists for so many people at this time. One of the red flags of an eating disorder or disordered eating can be strict obsession regarding weight and food. But when you take a moment to think about it, this consuming attention and obsession that is given to food and weight can easily be used on other things.

I was told when I was younger that if I'm spending time talking about others or about any one particular subject excessively, it means that something about my life is lacking with regard to depth. I believe that this is the case with regard to excessive food talk as well; when we spend countless hours with food on our mind, finding new recipes and adding and subtracting, we can be using this time for so much more. Granted some time should be spent planning, especially if an individual is on a healthy diet; but the constant talk does not seem to be helpful for others or for ourselves.

Food is meant to be enjoyed. We use food as fuel but it should be tasty and savored, not viewed as a chore. "How much did you run today?" "How many calories did you burn?" "How many pounds have you lost?"

While this conversation is not inherently wrong, what about asking "How many acts of kindness did you perform today?" How about discussing the ways in which we feel good related to who we are as people, rather than what we don't eat?

There are many individuals who have a level-headed balance between the outer appearance and developing who we are as people. There is a common belief that our self-esteem is tied strictly to our appearance. It is time to challenge this understanding and work on who we are at our core.

I was recently in doughnut shop and the woman next to me ordered a doughnut hole rather than full doughnut. She told the barista, "I'm trying to be good." While she most likely meant "good on her diet," these types of messages are absorbed by our friends and by our children. We must be mindful who we may be influencing with our words and actions and the values we portray to others when our talk is excessive. Being good should depend on our actions, our choices, and our deeds, not on the number of calories we consume, or miles we run.


If you're struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorder Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.