I am back to a work place where there’s no company canteen, shops or restaurants nearby which means most of my co-workers bring lunch with them for their 30 minute lunch break every day. I worked at a clinic before with diet cooks provisioning clients and staff alike but now it’s back to tupperware and simple lunch solutions and therefore one item above all has re-appeared on all my co-workers menus:
Cottage cheese. That easy to pack, cheap and filling white stuff that’s not only low on calories but low on anything really, including good fat to fuel your body. I made a cottage cheese check last Thursday during lunch break and all of my female co-workers were eating exactly the same type of lunch: salad with cottage cheese. And a few crackers (because the other stuff is fucking depressing).
This isn’t the first time I noticed the omnipresence of cottage cheese in the corporate world, either. Some years ago I had a gig at a consultancy in Zurich’s rich industrial center and every damn lunch break both the over-dressed men and women were listlessly nibbling at cottage cheese and rice crackers. They didn’t even add vegetables or fruit or the like, they only had processed items. My fitness heroes.
According to one research referenced in the “Food Matters” movie documentary of 2008, processed salad dressings make up a significant amount of executive women’s necessary daily caloric intake in industrialized countries. Everyone was taught to fear and avoid real food and worship unfulfilling greens, lowfat products and sugary smoothies from their teenage years latest and of course they’re all familiar with the rules: If you mean to make it big in the corporate world and earn your share, you have to look healthy. And looking healthy equals being slim, no further questions asked. If you’re a woman of average height that means you shall not cross the universally accepted UK size 10 limit. Men face similar issues and smaller paychecks for being too short.
Your answers are already there (but they ain’t great for business)
While there’s a conversation to be had over health and obesity, instilling the fear of food in children from an early age is one of the most harmful forces within modern society today. Having grown up a girl, my first encounter with dieting was through my mother as it so often is. Already in third grade she put me on a diet (she was dieting herself at the time) because I was the tallest girl in my class and also turned out to be the heaviest (duh?), after my teacher decided to put everybody on the scale one fine math morning. I look at old pictures of me in elementary school and can only marvel how anyone could put me on a crash diet. I wasn’t overweight according to our physicist either but my mother was afraid for me and fear is rarely rational.
I am far from the only woman with such an early dieting story and I hate that I was made self-conscious about my weight and started fearing certain foods from such a young age. I grew up with contradictory, confusing food messages from school, from home as well as the media and to this day, I am surrounded by food lies about fat and carbs and calories every time I go grocery shopping. Our modern society started gaining a lot of weight when the food industry decided to really get rolling with low-fat and fitness foods in the 80ies and today some big industries only exist because people have become so out of touch with what is supposed to nourish them. Fat money.
This kind of stuff can drive you to the brink of madness. There have been periods in my life as a student and also later when I completely lost touch with myself and my body. The voice within was drowned out by all the conflicting messages and the constant fear of gaining weight or not being thin enough, even when I was sporting a smooth size 5-6 which is slim for my body type and height. Talking about BDD…
The thing is, I don’t actually need a size chart to know my body’s needs; I don’t need posters and magazines to tell me when somebody is too slim or overweight or how to exercise more. I need neither look at absurdly skinny models nor fat ones in order to identify the right balance for myself and a healthy life. Nobody does.
If I can drown out the noise and go back to listening and being honest with myself, I know fully well what’s good for me: I know when I’m stuffed or when I overdid it, I feel better and more sated after a freshly cooked meal than a convenient one. I have more energy during the work day when I made time for breakfast and when I add a bit of fresh fruit during those morning and late afternoon work hours. I don’t sleep well after late-night snacks. If I can’t pronounce it, it’s likely better in small amounts. I know I should probably do something about my fitness if I sound like a dying rhino running up a flight of stairs. And I know it’s time to lose a few pounds when my favorite jeans won’t fit anymore or my thighs cause painful friction. Who can tell me any of that but me?
Our body is telling us everything we need to know, the rest is Vanity Fair bullshit and ka-ching!
My new relationship with food: no stressing!
I love food, heck I don’t even dislike cottage cheese as long as it isn’t my go-to lunch option. I grew up around some amazing grandma cooking and I cook most of my meals from scratch when possible. I travel a lot and exploring foreign food traditions and delicacies is big part of the enjoyment. Food is awesome – and eating is supposed to be enjoyable, fulfilling not just filling!
There’s also the whole stress component: all this added stress around our food choices and eating habits is doubly harmful. Stress causes our body to process and store food differently, we’re hungrier and we gobble it down rather than taking the appropriate time to eat. It really all dawned on me one day how often I ate fast meals or snacks without noticing, either because I was absent-minded, hated what I ate or felt guilty for not eating what I hate. Stress stress stress everywhere seeping into my system!
But no more: Screw temporary diets, screw media messages about fitness and exercise, screw size charts. Screw the what-the-hell-effect and the shame it brings, screw destructive fat-shaming. Your body holds a natural wisdom, so listen to it and above all: be patient with yourself. If you’re over-weight right now or feel over-weight, either way the solution can never be to hate food or stress yourself out (for whom are you stressing anyway?). Give yourself time to learn anew, find out which foods literally make you feel happy and energized – start there! Don’t deny but allow variety and allow yourself to indulge or fail without that what-the-hell-effect taking over full force. It may well be the only thing standing between you and your success.
Taking time and not giving up after “missteps” is generally how people successfully change eating habits and disorders. Banning perfectionism has become an important exercise for me personally. My relationship with food has changed for the better when I discovered that I can actually “eat anything” if I eat without stress (or guilt), including things I used to deny myself. Rather than gorging down a huge bowl of socially accepted green unsatisfying stuff with lots of sauce, I’ll order whatever I crave; more often than not it’s a wholesome choice too because my body actually wants red, yellow, green and brown on my plate. Unsurprisingly this has led to eating less overall, as in snacking less, because I don’t feel I’m wanting. My natural diet is varied and I’ve stopped over-eating when I stopped denial, as well as mindless eating which is probably the biggest culprit of all.
It’s a good place to be at, if not a safe place. Old habits die hard as do internalized fears but I am more aware of them now; I know perseverance is key to starving them out and I refuse to re-enter that unhappy relationship with food. Food is our body’s fuel and the body is not divorced from the mind. Food is also part of countless social interactions and situations in our daily life. I want to enjoy this part of my life and I want to “be present” when I eat, be it by myself or with others. Life is too short to keep missing and fearing such a big and delicious part of it, surely!