One of the topics that often circles through FA circles is a healthy skepticism about any dieting lifestyle change rhetoric that too strongly embraces that associates heaviness with addictive eating. Such skepticism is well-founded in part because fatness looks to be a way more complicated and individualized phenomenon than can be captured in a simple “calories in > calories exercised off” equation.
The other Very Good Reason to be skeptical is the cognitive dissonance around classifying a substance that is essential for the maintenance of life as an addiction — as if food is somehow like other addictive substances (like alcohol or drugs) that can be completely excised from life.*
This in large part is noodling around my brain again because of an insightful post over at Kataphatic.** It will be very hard for me not to quote the post in its entirety, but I’ll do what I can to pull out a passage or two that really started my wheels turning.
Katie was writing about the Candidacy Guidebook that lays out the steps on her path towards ordination as a deacon in her church, and specifically about a passage that discusses the need for substance abuse counseling for many individuals “who become dependent on alcohol or other drugs or food.”
Katie’s initial response is charming enough to warrant a healthy quote:
So here I am, reading along, thinking, “yep, I’m with you here, it’s not healthy for ministers to become dependent on alcohol or other drugs or… food?
Wait what? (cocking my head to the side and raising one eyebrow)
Does that really say FOOD?
Are they really saying that as a minister I am supposed to become super human and no longer be dependent on food??” [ . . . ]
So what they really mean is “emotional dependence.” Not just “dependence” period… because suggesting that we could become “dependent” or “addicted to” something that is actually necessary for our survival is just… silly, right? No one in their right mind would suggest otherwise! Right?
haha… hah… *sigh*
Katie goes on to thoughtfully examine notions about emotional dependence on food, suggesting that comfort food could perhaps more readily be classified amongst a whole host of self-soothing behaviors that are okay in moderation but could become problematic if taken too far. She also cautions about some of the dangers she sees that can stem from placing too much of an emphasis on “emotional eating” as something to self-monitor and judge oneself for.
It’s all very wise and heart-centered and I encourage you to read it all. But, in a narcissistic it’s-all-about-me moment, I’m going to riff off of her closing words:
But just because you’re fat, or just because you “emotionally eat” from time to time, doesn’t mean you have a disordered relationship with food! God has purposefully chosen to make this thing we need—food—bring us pleasure, draw us closer in community, and give us emotional comfort in addition to satisfying physical hunger. Let us be thankful for the good gift of food, and its ability to enhance our lives in such a complex and beautiful variety of ways!
I find real comfort here.
I’ve shared earlier about some of the ways it’s a tough summer for me. In addition to these upheavals (good and grief-laden) in my personal life, I’m still in my first 6 months at a new job which is rather demanding, and I’m starting coursework to begin the long road to an MBA. So in the midst of all of this, yes, I have been taking occasional refuge in the macaroni and cheese.
I know intellectually how FA activists work against the symbolic opposition of the “good fattie” (someone with pristine nutritional and exercise habits who remains fat) vs. the “bad fattie” (someone with imperfect eating and exercise habits). But as I’m trying to find my own voice in FA circles, I can feel the weight of internal pressure about how I’m not being a “good example” of Fat Acceptance, and I’m not being any sort of example for the idea of Health at Every Size. Talk about cognitive dissonance.
As I’m trying to find my own voice in FA circles, I can feel the weight of these internal pressures. But I can also tap into a growing sense of internal resource and acceptance that helps me resist such pressure. That helps me understand how turning to comfort food is an entirely natural way to respond to all the pressures and changes going on in my life. (One might even call it a healthy response, as compared to other self-soothing behaviors that got a little bit out of control in my life a decade or two ago.)
Perhaps best of all, as I continue to find my voice in FA circles, is the way that I don’t have to stand alone against the voices of internal pressure. Instead, I can be part of a community from which I can draw wisdom and support. Like I did from Katie’s post.
* I do not mean to minimize how hard it can be for an addict to cut alcohol or drugs out of one’s life. I merely wish to make an obvious contrast between the theoretical possibility of letting go of a substance like alcohol — which has no inherent physical necessity for human life — versus the notion of giving up food — which is necessary for life.
** Allow me to pause for a brief squee over how terrifically inspired I am to know that there’s a blog out there writing about Fat Liberation Theology. Squeeeee!
8 thoughts on “Addicted to Life”
Honey, they can have my mac and cheese when they pry it from my cold, dead hands.
Eat it three meals a day every day? Of course not. If nothing else, that would be insanely boring.
Eat it now and again because it makes you feel loved and comforted? Why the heck not?
Besides, in times of crisis or upheaval there are far worse things to reach for than a bit of pasta and cheesy goodness. Or a chocolate chip cookie. Or whatever food makes you feel a bit better. You know, sort of like the way I put down my social history tomes and Great Novels to read a couple cheap mystery novels or a favorite fantasy from my childhood when things get really rough in my personal life.
An occasional meal or a bit of less than intellectual literature does us good. So does recognizing that these things aren’t the end of the world.
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Thanks for this thought-provoker. It inspired a post on my own blog today about the Good Fattie and why I actually feel guilty when I do anything that might be considered unhealthy. I think I’m still struggling to get past the idea that I have to earn acceptance instead of demanding it. There’s still this voice in my head that I have to live a healthier lifestyle than I would if I were skinny, just to ward off blame. That’s bullshit of course, but it doesn’t stop that little voice from nagging. I suppose part of FA would be shutting up all those voices which come from societal conditioning and do what we feel is right for us. If that involves mac and cheese, that’s nobody’s business to judge. We don’t have to justify our existance.
I actually ended up back tracking here from JoGeek’s post and have to say you’ve just brightened my day. “I can feel the weight of internal pressure about how I’m not being a “good example” of Fat Acceptance, and I’m not being any sort of example for the idea of Health at Every Size. Talk about cognitive dissonance.”
YES. I feel this all the time. And I’ve been struggling with feeling as though any week when I don’t get out to swim or when I have Non-Healthy meals more than once that I have somehow gone over and fallen off some non-existant HAES wagon or something… as though for some reason my only and best purpose in blogging is in holding myself out as an example…but that ISN’T the point as you’ve so wonderfully put it here. The point you’ve helped me clarify for myself at least is that; as JoGeek’s post addressed too; behaviors and looks do not foist some sort of moral ramifications, manifested by means of outward health and no one has the right to judge the choices or lifestyle of another. Whether that person never touches mac and cheese, eats it only once in a while or thrills to its taste every day; we are all deserving of existence and the rights to it.
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Oh I so hear you on this good fattie/bad fattie thing. I struggle with feeling like the bad fattie because I prioritize my time in ways that don’t often elevate spending hours exercising or cooking “perfectly healthy foods.” I also do not have a perfect bill of health–in part due to genetics, and in part due to the emotional shame that kept me from wanting to do anything remotely resembling exercise in public for the vast majority of my life. I’m getting better about that, but I still haven’t gotten down to the 24-hour fitness to check out the pool, which has been on my summer to-do list since June, because I’m scared it will just be a bunch of chiseled thin folks working out there and I’ll feel ashamed. I am in just as much need of the hope and courage I’m trying to convey through my blog as it sounds like other folks are!
I was so honored and delighted to get your link to this post over at my blog. I share your joy in being able to be a part of an online community that is so supportive and affirming :).
It’s interesting because there seems to be this willful igorance peddled about in our culture: only the fatties have “emotional eating.”
People do. Period. And that includes the thin, fat and everyone in between. It’s absurd and ridiculous.
This common accepted prejudice that the mere size of our bodiea (not just fat, but thin too) can tell us exactly what “acceptable” eating behaviors we have, is just so disgusting.
Excuse me for the ranting, but it is so refreshing to see blogs like this, where there is a safe space to air out this pain of discrimination and prejudice. I honestly feel oppressed as a fat woman.
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