I’ve eaten pretty healthy ever since I discovered in my early 20s that a diet made up mostly of ramen noodles and gummy candy made me feel like shit.
When I got into personal training, I learned some nutrition basics and focused on what I considered “healthy,” which meant less processed food, lots of fruits and veggies, healthy fats, natural fiber, and tons of protein.
The thing is though, I also thought “eating healthy” meant eating as little of these foods as possible while still feeling full and satiated.
I took for granted that being lean is healthier and better, so while I never actively “dieted” (aka not the way I defined diets back then) I always aimed to be at or slightly under my caloric needs for the day.
It wasn’t just me, though. This was totally normal in my world of fitness and wellness. Other than a few gym bros who were trying to pack on mass, everyone I knew ate with more or less the same goal in mind: just enough to feel full and energized, while maintaining or reducing their body fat percentage.
As you read this, maybe you’re thinking “well yeah duh, that is the goal.” Maybe that’s even how you eat (or strive to eat) right now. It’s certainly what every single fat-loss coach, program, and article will tell you!
But nowadays I’ll be damned if I think the goal of life (or eating!) is to control or lower my body fat percentage.
The thing is though, it worked.
Over the course of years, I more or less maintained my body weight while lifting heavy and eating just enough of the “right foods,” and my entire body transformed. I was super lean, I had abs, I was strong AF, and I never felt deprived or sluggish.
I felt like I was winning! This was what all women want, and I was actually doing it! I helped my clients do it, too, and then they felt like they were winning!
It wasn’t until I started studying Health at Every Size and Intuitive Eating that I realized how fucked up of a relationship to food we have here in the US– and especially the fitness industry– and started questioning this entire line of thinking.
I never developed an eating disorder and I never felt shitty or run down like a lot of dieters will report. I felt and looked good, but I became aware that there was a glaring misalignment between my moral compass and my behaviors.
My values and ethics were at odds with the way I was eating and training. I was out there in the world teaching women that their bodies don’t define them, that all bodies are good bodies, and that the anti-fat bias in our culture is bullshit… all while actively making choices multiple times per day intended to avoid gaining even an ounce of fat.
So I switched the way I ate and exercised, by removing the implicit goal of getting or staying lean.
I loosened the reins of what made for a “healthy” meal and let myself eat things that I had previously considered “unacceptable,” because they didn’t have the right ratio of protein, fat, or carbs to stay lean.
Instead of waiting to get really hungry and stopping right before I got completely full, I ate whenever I wanted, to complete fullness or even beyond. Instead of choosing lean meats, I ate rich, fatty ones. Instead of steamed and grilled, I opted for sauteed or roasted or even fried.
In short, I learned how to eat for reasons other than “fuel” and “health,” and I shared with my following why I was intentionally letting myself gain weight. (A story that actually went viral, because apparently it was so shocking!?)
I let myself eat for emotional comfort, for self-soothing, and for instant gratification.
I snacked in between meals, on whatever I wanted. I hopped back on the sugar train, and didn’t limit my cravings for candy or baked goods. As I traveled the world, I made it my goal never to turn down local goodies in favor of “healthy” food that I understood. (Seriously– when I lived in Thailand I had no idea what I was eating most of the time, let alone if it was healthy.)
Obviously, as you can imagine, I did gain some weight throughout the years of this experiment, and learning to get comfortable with that was the whole point.
I often had to check back in with my moral compass and beliefs, when my softening body made me uncomfortable, when I had the urge to be stricter with my food or training again.
Being leaner/thinner/smaller is not good.
Being fatter/bigger/softer is not bad.
My body size and shape don’t mean anything about me.
I was programmed to see bigger bodies as less attractive, healthy, desirable, and worthy of celebration and belonging than smaller bodies, but that’s an outright lie.
I would repeat these things to myself while eating an unidentified pastry, reminding myself that mental and emotional health are a part of health, and I was tending to my heart and mind.
Then I’d take a photo of how tight my clothes were getting, and post it on the internet with what I was learning. 😉
Eating just enough to stay lean or get leaner is not the relationship to food I wanted to have, and even more so, as a body image coach and body positivity advocate, I knew I needed the deep old remains of internalized cultural programming that “lean = good” and “fat = bad” to finally, truly, burn itself out.
It took years of experimenting, a ton of introspection, and endless practice, but the experiment was ultimately a success.
I am no longer afraid to gain weight, to be fat, or to get “out of control” with food, because I feel deep in my bones that none of these things affects my self-worth in the slightest.
I also now feel completely up to the task of helping my clients fight their own internalized fatphobia, having fought and conquered my own.
The experiment has been over for a long time, but I was still traveling and eating with the “fuck it” attitude when I realized a few months ago that this is actually no longer serving me. I felt called to step back into my masculine/disciplined energy with my training, and to eat in a way that supports my physical and spiritual health again.
So I made some changes to the way I feed and train my body, led by intuition and the deep, strong, somewhat spiritual need to vibrate higher and reclaim something I lost during this whole phase of my life. At the moment, I’m focusing on more whole grains and plant-based foods, less sugar and processed foods, and less alcohol.
The nice thing is that this time around there’s no moral attachment to eating one way or another. While I can already feel myself shedding a bit of body fat (especially around the belly area from a lack of booze!) I have literally no attachment to how eating this makes my body look.
Food is just food, and weight is neutral.
Eating can be about health, fuel, and self-care, and it can also be emotional comfort, coping mechanism, pleasure, celebration, and social ritual.
Eating can be a portal for healing, self-love, and self-acceptance.
Eating can be a way of communing with others, yourself, or god/the universe.
What I know for sure is that the point of eating (and living) can’t possibly just be about controlling body fat levels.