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!