And today I am thinking about the ramifications of enjoying food. It started last night at a happy hour to send off one of my favorite coworkers to her next job, which should have been a really good time. Then someone took a group shot. And I saw myself. And I was shocked. I have become a pillow, and a very lumpy one at that. One of my friends was generous enough to claim that it was the sweater I was wearing, but this was clearly not the case. (But I love her for saying so anyway.) And it hung over me like a dark cloud of failure. How had this happened?
Many of us women have spent most of our lives dieting in some manner, or at least convincing ourselves that food is just fuel to keep us healthy and active but not to be enjoyed. I know I've spent a good portion of my life since puberty afraid of what would happen if I actually started enjoying food.
And this is not the same as eating for enjoyment. I'm talking about enjoying what you are eating, and what this can lead to. And I eat some highly enjoyable meals. And my worst fears have come true. When I regularly eat food that I enjoy and I consistently take pleasure in my meals, I am 15 pounds heavier and 2 sizes larger than when I chose the more Spartan "food is fuel" outlook.
But I also see things like anxiety, depression, and insomnia subside. My concentration improves, and so does my productivity. I am good with a normal 8 hours of sleep and do not feel the need to nap. The truth is, my slimmer, lighter self comes at a price - my overall sense of well-being. When I diet, I am cranky, and not just because of food deprivation. Mealtime is transformed from an enjoyable sensory and social experience to something to be dreaded, a minefield of bad choices and regrets. And this detracts from my quality of life.
When I was younger, I really did fear that my greatest assets were physical, and that once my beauty faded, so would my perceived value. So, the trade off of security for beauty seemed like a fair one. As I have gotten older, though, my perception of myself has changed, as has what I want my life to look like, to feel like. While in my own residual self-image, I am still 125 pounds (and I am always deeply troubled by reminders that this is not actually true), I also see the value in a consistent level of comfort, happiness, satisfaction, peace.
And maintaining this peace requires food, and food that I enjoy. I don't think I am alone in this realization. Which is why so many women my age appear to "let ourselves go". It's not just shifting hormones, changing metabolism, or genetics. I am not lazy or no longer concerned with my appearance. I am just concerned with so many other things as well, and the struggle to maintain a certain weight often seems like so much vanity when compared to my effectiveness at work or how well I am sleeping and getting along with others or the state of my home life.
It's difficult for me to accept my current girth. I was always anxious that enjoyable meals would result in this. But, I do not have those telltale symptoms of pending obesity that I exhibited when I joined Weight Watchers - there's no blood sugar issues or shortness of breath or brain fog and mental fatigue. My joints don't ache or cry out in protest when I engage in physical activity. And most of the time I feel pretty good - as long as I am eating home-cooked meals.
And I think that is an important distinction. What we eat most definitely impacts not only our health, but how we feel, both physically and emotionally. While last night's photo was a shock, I will not take the drastic actions of my younger self. I will continue to enjoy my meals and my dining experiences, just maybe in smaller portions. And I will accept that my long-term sense of well-being does not depend on me being a size 6.
And, in closing, here is the shocking photo from last night. I am on the left, raising my glass in celebration, healthy and happy and completely at ease.