The Kyoto Connection: Carb Edition
Kyoto is home to many iconic Japanese images (see photographic evidence below), from the the golden Kinkaku-ji temple and the thousands of torii gates at the Fushimi Inari shrine to a thriving bamboo forest and a flock (?) of adorable monkeys. I was excited to join some weekend warriors for a few days exploring south-central Japan and thoroughly enjoyed my time taking photos and making new friends. Unfortunately, one of the most prominent elements of the trip was the incessant and persistent diet talk and body negativity. Not one hour lapsed without someone mentioning how they were trying to “be good” and not eat this or that, weight loss goals, weight gain, how fat they were/other body deprecating comments. In this group of nine fun, hilarious, capable, competent, smart women, THIS was the default conversation topic. This was how people were choosing to connect, and until recently, this is how I used to connect too.
I have been afraid of weight gain and obsessed with dieting and weight loss since I can remember. I would always avoid the word diet in favor of phrases like “being healthy” “making lifestyle changes” “getting back on track”…..etc but it’s all the same thing.
Literally one of my earliest memories (maybe age 5 or 6?) is sitting in the backseat of a car with with my friends who were sharing a bag of Cooler Ranch Doritos. I really really wanted some but first read the back of the bag and noted aloud there were too many fat grams for me to eat this food. I doubt I knew what number constituted the “right” number of fat grams (zero?) but I knew to look at that label first. I was told to stop it and just eat the chips. I did eat them… with guilt…like Eve partaking of the forbidden fruit.
During this time last year, I was living in New Zealand, counting my megabytes of cell phone data like the miserly Mr. Scrooge. With less time on the interwebs, I rediscovered my love of the good, old fashioned book. I had accumulated quite the collection of unread books on my phone, of which included Intuitive Eating by Elyse Resch and Evelyn Tribole. The primary tenet of the book is to completely eschew diet mentality and rules and make peace with food. But to do that, I would need to give up weight loss as a goal. That goal, by it’s very nature, undermines any part of nurturing an intuitive relationship with food since it’s all about external cues and control. This book really resonated with me but I just wasn’t ready to give up weight loss as a goal. I was about to cycle across a country and damnit all, I was going to lose weight!
And I did cycle that country. I cycled the hell out of it. I achieved a long-time dream that took a lot of grit and determination. Nevertheless, upon finishing I was struck most by this comment from a family member: “Wow with all that exercise I thought you’d be a little stick at the end of it.” I wasn’t a stick. I mean, I too was confused why I didn’t lose 50 lbs in 4 weeks. That’s reasonable right? (*eye roll*). I didn’t lose any weight. But I can tell you I still woke up every day with food guilt and thoughts that I should be eating “better” and eating less. I was cycling with 40 plus lbs of gear and water on some really tough terrain for 8 hours a day but in the back of my mind was this nagging voice reminding me that I was failing.
After returning to the States for the summer, losing weight still ever on my mind, I embarked on another diet where I was going to only eat potatoes for a month. I listened to a podcast interview of a man who ate potatoes for a year and lost a ton of weight and was totally sold on the idea. I made it ten days...and a bite of dry bread led to a ten day binge. Each morning I would resolve to start over but inevitably, I would cave in.
Then one morning, I woke up yet again to that familiar knot in my stomach, a hangover of guilt and shame, trying to find some kind of resolve to start again. I remembered the cycle of dieting described by Tribole and Resch in which a person restricts (even mentally by pseudo dieting—"I’m going to start over Monday”) and how that restriction INEVITABLY leads to a binge. "Oh my hell!!!!,” I thought, "That is EXACTLY what I am doing!!!" They were right. So very right. Dieting is the problem. Not me. I am not the exception. There is a multi-billion dollar dieting industry selling a product that research shows is ineffective at best and detrimental at worst. Sure there there are short term weight loss success stories (mine), but follow up years later and chances are those people have regained the weight and then some (also me). I have been colluding with that diet industry in perpetuating my own misery. And I was finally, deeply done with dieting and ready to revisit intuitive eating—for reals.
My type-A programming kicked in and it was all reading articles and books for a time. I read a book called Big Girl: How I Gave Up Dieting and Got a Life by Kelsey Miller as well as that author’s Refinery 29 column “The Anti-Diet Project.” She is hilarious and raw and real. She’s an example of a smart, capable, worthy woman who is gave herself permission to be enough and inadvertently gave me permission too.
Waves of relief washed over me the more I rejected dieting and let go of all of my rules about food (including but not limited to: no carbs, no sugar, low fat, vegan, vegetarian, no processed food, keto, paleo, count macros, count calories—obviously sustainable). I have spent my life living in a cage of food-related anxiety and I just unlocked the gate. To quote Elsa, “no right, no wrong, no rules for me. I’m free!”
As a caveat to this post, I am by no means a glowing example of body acceptance or body positivity. I have loads of that crap to work through, but in the process I don’t want to perpetuate a culture that is so very toxic. I don’t think my Kyoto experience is unusual. I would venture a guess that most women (and probably men) I know have grown up with dieting and body dissatisfaction modeled for them. Someone taught them to worry about fat grams on a bag of chips and convinced them their body was wrong. But I refuse to be part of it anymore. I don’t want a disordered relationship with food. I don't want disordered eating to be normal. I want to exercise because it feels good, not for the scale. I want to accept my body rather than hating it for all of the ways it doesn’t measure up to impossible ideals. I want to spend time with friends being creative and empowering one another. I want to travel without cataloging every carb. I want to have a family function (or hell, family pictures) without everyone criticizing the the $&*% out of their bodies. Every body is a good body! Every body is a worthy body! I am more than my shape, size, what I eat, or what I weigh. And so are you. So eff that weight loss nonsense. 2018 is the year of the anti-diet. Who’s with me?