Monday, January 16, 2012

Damn skinny friends

I've said to my friends and family before that someone with a history of an eating disorder must be completely recovered before entering into a nutrition Masters program, or else they'd lose it. I say this because studying nutrition forces you to talk about food and weight all the time, and means being surrounded by people who have their own ideas about what to eat and how to stay fit, and if you're not confident in your recovery, it would be easy to be influenced by them and slip back into destructive thought patterns and behaviors.

Even though I wouldn't say I ever had a full-blown eating disorder, my past struggles with body image and disordered eating behaviors make this statement ring true for me as well. So far I've handled it fairly well. I try to ignore the extreme diet regimens championed by some of my classmates ("sugar is evil!", "eat raw foods only!", "OMG, can you believe she ate a candy bar?!", etc.), and I resist the urge to compare my body to others'. I assure myself that I know the true path to staying healthy, both mentally and physically, and while my diet and body shape may not be perfect, this philosophy works for me, and I think it can work for many others.

Even though I only started Winter Quarter a week ago, I can already tell that a certain lab will present some interesting challenges for me personally. On the first day of class, I was less-than-pleased to find out that we had to do a "24-hour diet recall" with a partner, meaning I had to tell my vegetarian, practically-no-sugar-eating friend and classmate what I had eaten in the last 24 hours. While I survived this exchange surprisingly unscathed, the next step, in which I had to report my height and weight, was not as easily tackled. Her numbers were, of course, more favorable than mine, and I have to admit that it stung a little. I felt inadequate that I couldn't be as thin as she is, and then I was further upset by the fact that I cared. I'm supposed to be this intuitive-eating, body-loving, free-from-dieting advocate...why should something this trivial upset me?!

This only reminds me that I will never be perfect when it comes to this intuitive eating thing...I will constantly be on this journey, and have to deal with situations that challenge my resolve throughout my entire life. This won't be the last challenge I'll have to face (in fact, I'm already having a mini panic attack thinking about the "anthropometric measurements" we'll have to take of one another in a few weeks...can't wait for one of my inevitably-skinnier classmates to know my waste size and body fat percentage!), but I know that if I keep reminding myself of the principles of intuitive eating, and keep on practicing positive self-talk, I can get through anything.

This all sounds very intensively introspective (I just read it!), but I don't think there's anything wrong with acknowledging your negative thoughts. In fact, I think it's a good thing, because unless you do, there's no way to actively counter them. Even if I weren't in a Master's of Nutrition program, I would still be confronted with images and messages that might make me feel bad about myself, and I think that being aware of how things make you feel is the first step to changing your reaction to them. You can't always control what's around you (dieting messages, people who are thinner than you, etc), but you can change how you react to them, and therefore how it affects you.

As I said, I'm not perfect at this "eat with your gut" thing. All I know is that if I had had to deal with a situation like this 10 years ago, I may have fallen apart and considered going on some crazy crash diet. Now I'm able to share it with you and even laugh a little at my expense. I'd say that's progress :-)

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