Sadie, Eleanor, Leslie, Becky (Junior Bridesmaid)
“Women are trying to change the shape of their lives by changing the shape of their bodies”, wrote Susie Orbach, author of the seminal book Fat Is A Feminist Issue. My family was no exception.
As the third generation, I, too was in partnership with my mother around dieting, lamenting how we had to deprive ourselves of foods we loved, all in the service of being thinner and yet we were still left feeling like constant failures since no diet “worked”. We would hide eating “bad” foods from our spouses. I remember one day when my daughter was 7 months old and my mother came over around lunchtime. We really wanted pizza, so went to a local place and enjoyed ourselves. When we finished, Mom said to me “Don’t tell Daddy and Paul what we had for lunch. We had salads.” And that’s what we told them later that night when they joined us. How awful that we felt ashamed and humiliated when enjoying our time – and our food – together.
A few years later I was introduced to Susie Orbach and the Women’s Therapy Centre Institute which she co-founded. I learned about the bruising cycle women go through of eating what they want, trashing themselves for doing so and then depriving/punishing themselves through dieting and then at some point breaking out because really - how can anyone live in a cage - denying oneself from what one wants? And then the cycle starts again. Maybe this time with a new diet, the magic will happen and this one will work. Susie declared that “diets don’t work”. I couldn’t believe that I could lose weight, take care of myself, not diet and feel comfortable in my body. This was seismic: the idea that women can identify when they’re physiologically hungry, feed their hunger with food that feels appropriate for the hunger and stop when full. This concept of eating when I want and what I want, enjoying the pleasure of food most when hungry – was mind blowing. No diet should be telling us what we want to eat, how much and when. If you’re hungry – eat. Eat what you want to take care of the hunger and stop when you’re satiated – not necessarily when you’ve eaten 3 ounces of something because that’s what the diet says.
I will talk more about this in later posts, particularly how those of us who are now older, still carry this endless cycle of dieting and trashing ourselves as we find our aging bodies morphing into something we can’t always control. Our thoughts about our body image never go away – in some ways it gets harder as our bodies naturally change with age. I’m not always living with a non-diet, accepting approach. I still live in this culture with so few role models of aging women who accept the signs of time. I have Spanx for when I dress up and sometimes I still want to believe that a diet and deprivation will work. But I also know that listening to what my body wants – eating until I’m satiated and stopping at that point – is the best way to take care of myself. If I really ask myself what I want to eat because I’m hungry, I will make the right choice. If I’m eating and I’m not physiologically hungry, I have to question what else is going on when I’m looking for food – what is the feeling state driving me into the kitchen.
It's often difficult coming to terms with our aging bodies and what they may no longer do – like lose weight easily. I will be exploring what happens to our bodies physiologically as we age in future posts.
To read past posts about my grandmother and mother, go to www.LeslieMFaerstein.com
How are you dealing with aging, body changes and how you see yourself?