A big treat for our family of four was fresh-baked doughnuts from the bakery on Sunday morning.
When I was 4 years old, I woke up early one Sunday morning, found the bag of jelly-filled doughnuts (called Bismarks) and ate one as I rode my tricycle up and down the sidewalk in front of our house while the family slept.
Because it tasted delicious, I consumed a second one as I rode my tricycle outside. By time the rest of the family woke up, I had devoured 5 of the 6 bismarks intended for the family’s breakfast.
As I’ve mentioned before, I had been taken to the University of Michigan Hospital in Ann Arbor twice by time I was 16-months old because my mother said I would eat forever if she had let me. I don’t know the precise reason for my voracious appetite, but I already weighed 42 pounds (twice the size of a child that age).
The physicians assessed that there was nothing wrong with me. “Take your baby home and love her,” the doctors instructed. I don’t know who decided, but I was put on a diet at 16 months of age. I think I was perpetually starved from that day forward. Maybe before.
This much I know. If a toddler is taught to tune in to his or her body (intuitive eating), that child could never consume that many doughnuts and not feel full. A child who is nutritionally fed and securely loved could not eat that much without getting physically sick unless there was a serious physiological malfunction or humongous psychological disparity.
I also suspect that my parent could not have been heedful of responsive feeding – verbal and nonverbal hunger and fullness cues that a caregiver notices when feeding their babies so that they respond accordingly.
Instead, it became a moral issue where I was pummeled with shame, guilt and anger. What I heard was, “You’re a selfish pig. Shame on you.” At an early age, I learned that it was wrong to be fat and wrong to be hungry.
Now I know that my fat body was not my fault. If you grew up fat, it wasn’t your fault either. As psychologist Dr. Dan Ratner states in a YouTube video Generational Trauma, (https://youtu.be/se9auyz3MeM ), “The parent is responsible for the child 100 percent. The kid is influenced by the parent, not the other way around.” He further explains that parenting is hard, that they make mistakes, but that doesn’t let them off the hook for those mistakes.
If you grew up fat, stop blaming yourself. You do not need to walk around feeling ashamed of yourself or the size of your body. Accept it and focus on the person you want to be now.
People today think intuitive eating started with two registered dietitians, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, in 1995, who wrote a book, Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Anti-Diet Approach based on their experience working with clients. But I was exploring this concept via Gestalt Therapy in the 1970s.
Fritz Perls, the founder of ‘Gestalt therapy’ encouraged his patients to understand their lives by the way they eat. He believed that if you paid attention to how you relate with food, you would learn how you live your life.
I took a Gestalt workshop in the 1970s based on this concept. We were to be curious about our food and how we ate. Did we eat fast without smelling, tasting or enjoying it? Did we avoid food like we might avoid confrontation or other uncomfortable feelings? Were we constantly focused on what we would eat next rather than what was in our mouth at the moment? What was the texture? Did we like the food or were we using it to distract ourselves?
Be curious was the theme.
I specifically remember how I got in touch with my anger while eating a hard, crisp, Delicious apple. It triggered some anger issues that were occurring at that time; I wanted to bite someone’s head off.
At another time I got in touch with strong resistance to the suggestion that I pay attention to my food without any distractions. I liked to watch TV while I ate. What was this resistance?
Noticing that I wanted to ignore my food brought up the painful feelings of being treated “second best” in my family. I ignored food the way I had felt ignored. Indeed, intuitive eating showed me how I related to myself, my body, and life.
Furthermore, I started the first Overeaters Anonymous group in Grand Rapids, Michigan in the late 60s. Their “dieting methods” at that time were dreadful, based on denial and deprivation. You could eat nothing white, such as, white sugar, white flour, white rice, white potatoes, etc. When I fell off the restrictive OA wagon, I went on a huge binge and gained back all my lost weight plus more within 6 months. Sound familiar? I had been starving an already starved person and my body needed more nutrition.
It was after that OA debacle that I decided to use the Gestalt method. I allowed myself to eat whatever I wanted. I felt so utterly deprived after denying most foods, I ate four big bags of M & M Peanuts over the course of a few days until I got sick on the candy. As I listened to my body, I slowly started to eat in moderation and chose nutritious foods. I also started to lose the weight I had gained after being on a restrictive diet.
As Linda Bacon writes in her book, Health At Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight, “maintaining the right weight for you is about respecting your hunger and trusting your body to guide you in doing what’s best.”
The basic idea is to tune in to your body and listen to your hunger cues. You might go on a few binges before you learn what your body needs, but trust that your body knows what’s best for it. In doing so, you will learn to:
- Reject a diet mentality that is unhealthy and sets you up for failure.
- Feel your feelings without abusing food.
- Honor your feelings of hunger and know when you are full.
And enjoy a doughnut or two on your intuitive eating journey.
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