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Food Awareness and Why I never diet

July 18, 2018
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I don’t believe in diets. Not because they don’t work. I didn’t try. However, I can tell you what exactly I did try. I tried to fight with food. I tried to ignore it. When it didn’t work, I overate. I suffered because of it. Then at 16, I became an exchange student in the USA going straight to Massachusetts from a rural town in the South of Russia.*  In the USA everybody was telling us about the culture shock we were bound to experience, how traumatic it could be, etc. However, nobody told us that…

…America has a “unique” approach when it comes to food, and that obesity is a national problem. In just one month I gained 10 kilos – me, a tall and slim teenager who’d never had problems with weight no matter how much and what she ate. Depression came along with extra kilograms. That’s when I had to face the food subject and that’s when I started fighting it with all the means I had in hand.

Rule #1: fighting doesn’t help. The only thing that helps is self-love. It’s not about narcissism or self-adoration, it’s acceptance of what you are with all advantages and faults. And that is a separate subject for a whole dissertation.

In 2008 yoga came into my life, and my attitude towards food started gradually shifting. First I stopped liking fried cutlets, then any kind of cutlets, then I started experimenting with meat – “to be or not to be.” Since I come from the Caucasus area, any dish that doesn’t contain meat is not taken seriously. What do you mean – a dinner without chicken in the sour cream sauce or a picnic without barbecue?

But yoga did its thing: some things simply disappeared from my menu. I can’t say it happened overnight or “forever” and here I come to the Rule #2: if my body wants to eat something whether it is meat or sprouts, I need to provide. How do you exactly understand if it is my body telling me or if it comes from my clever but conditioned mind? This is what I do to make sure: I close my eyes, imagine, visualize this specific food and chew it. Do I still crave it? Then I better have it.

In my experiments with food I went from one extreme to another. There was a period of “comfort” eating. Then there was another period when I didn’t eat anything after 6 p.m. Then there was a time when I didn’t think much about food. That’s where I would like to direct your attention to and explain something.

Food is not a cult, at least, not for me. However, awareness about this relative indifference towards food didn’t come overnight. The first “signal” was a trip to the writer’s conference in the Key West Islands in Florida. I wanted to go to this two-weak marathon heaven for writers and journalists so much that I won a stipend that completely covered all my expenses including food, stay, the conference and workshop on storytelling. But as my beloved says, everything is a package, so there was one disadvantage in this spectacular event for me: the subject of the conference was “Food in literature.”

So, the famous writers were taking turns on stage to speak about food, how they are writing about it, what they are writing about it, etc. Even Julia Child’s editor was there to share her memories that became the base for the famous Hollywood movie “Julie and Julia” with Meryl Streep as a leading actress.

But when the same writers started exchanging recipes with the audience, I started silently howling. I was bored, slightly depressed, so I decided to visit Hemingway’s house to meet his six-fingered cats. That’s when I realized completely (and it became a Rule#3):

food is a pleasant thing for me that sustains me and helps me to be strong and healthy, and that’s it. After I finish my meal, I forget about it. I don’t reminisce about how tasty the Baskin Robbins ice-cream was (I mostly don’t crave ice-cream), I don’t remember my mom’s pancakes even though they are delicious, and I don’t dream to end up in Italy specifically to try their famous Napoli pizza. I treat food with respect it deserves, I don’t like to throw it away, and sometimes I even like to cook it. But I am not living for it.

Some other values came along over time which I would like to share with you. For example, there is a Rule #4 that came into my life after reading Charles Eisenstein’s book “Yoga of Eating.” In short, he said that we eat what we watch, listen to, talk about during the food consumption. For many years I’ve been eating in the company of my favorite American TV series (the serial killer Dexter was among them). Now I am changing that habit. It’s taking its sweet time but I do believe that eventually my awareness wins. By the way, this way I get satisfied with food much faster and it sustains me for a longer period of time.

Let’s go back to the dieting. This word immediately sends me into depression. Just one thought about limiting myself in something brings back the memories that I’d probably inherited from my ancestors. Even if it’s corn I don’t particularly like, if I can’t have it, – I immediately want it. So, in order not to stress my body too much, I use the Rule #5:

I cancel all the diets in my life – Kremlin diet, one-day diet, Atkinson diet, fruity diet. Again, it’s not because they don’t work. They don’t work for me, period. I am telling myself that I deserve any food that my body really wants. And that’s it, the stress gives way to the relaxation, and I stop throwing myself at a piece of cake. Because I know that any time I want it I can have it. This feeling of freedom gives me additional wings. I am also currently experimenting with fasting for 16-24 hours at a time per week, and so far I see it as a very healthy and liberating technique that saves me from a lot of troubles. So far so good!

All in all, I am vouching for awareness. Along with awareness I get the weight which is right for my body, and I develop taste for food that brings me health and nourishment. I don’t fight with food and my body anymore. Food is my ally and my body is a favorite vessel that deserves the best. And even if I am eating “forbidden food,” it’s only because this phrase doesn’t exist in my vocabulary anymore. If my body craves it, then it’s needed.

*It’s very far from Moscow, that’s how I explain it to people who think that Moscow is what Russia is all about. It’s not 🙂.