Happy hump day — or Raw Wednesday, as it’s known here on Choosing Raw.
The other day, I was speaking with a client who has struggled—as so many women do—with cycles of dieting, guilt about food choices, and body hatred. Over the course of our session, she had a revelation. “I love to eat,” she said. No sooner had she said it, than she recognized the enormity of those words. “I guess that’s a really big deal for me to say,” she chuckled, “because I’ve spent so much time trying to pretend it’s not true. And it’s something I’ve always felt so ashamed of.”
She’s not alone. For many, many women, nothing is more difficult than to admit to having an appetite. It may be OK to say we’re hungry after a workout, or because we haven’t eaten all day, or because we were super busy doing this or that, but rarely will a woman feel 100% comfortable admitting that she’s hungry for no other reason than that she desires food.
In case you haven’t seen it mentioned on other blogs, it’s National Eating Disorders Awareness (NEDA) week. What does this mean? Well, according to the National Eating Disorders website , it means this:
Our aim of NEDAwareness Week is to ultimately prevent eating disorders and body image issues while reducing the stigma surrounding eating disorders and improving access to treatment. Eating disorders are serious, life-threatening illnesses — not choices — and it’s important to recognize the pressures, attitudes and behaviors that shape the disorder.
According to me, it means this: it’s a great time for us all to pay a little extra attention to the very real and painful consequences of eating disorders, and for us to show extra compassion to those we know who are suffering. It’s also a great time for us to do our part in battling these all too common and constantly multiplying afflictions. How? Well, we can show sympathy or understanding to someone who’s battling the condition. We can bravely and boldly share our own stories. We can set a good example by trying to live healthy lives, in which we seek out and maintain a positive and reasonable relationship with food. We can inspire others to enjoy meals by coming up with innovative, nourishing, beautiful, and balanced meals. Perhaps we can inspire others by taking a fun and joyous, rather than competitive, approach to physical fitness. Whatever your strengths are, whatever you have to give, you can find a small way to give it.
Back to desire. In Hilde Bruch’s The Golden Cage–which is, in my opinion, one of the finest books on eating disorders–the author posits that eating disorders have a great deal to do with the willed suppression of desire. They involve the negation, the defiance of appetites: appetites for food, for sex, for physicality. Women are particularly susceptible to this tendency, she argues, because we’ve been socialized to keep our desires within tight bounds. Historically, and even now, we’re encouraged to be chaste, restrained, clean, and austere: we’re not encouraged to be carnal, or, at the least, our carnality isn’t as socially embraced as male carnality often is. Sadly, we women (and some men) have become all too adept at denying our appetites, our hungers, our yearnings.
While I battled disordered eating, this urge was an enormous part of my illness. I’m often asked if what I wanted from the disorder was to be thin. The answer, naturally, is yes: of course thinness is what I wanted. But it was, in retrospect, only a surprisingly small part of what I wanted. When I look back on those years, I see that a lot of what I wanted was to quash my own needs. Overcoming this–connecting with my hunger for food, for sex, for vitality, for physicality–took a long time. Being able to declare to myself and to others that I not only needed to eat, but wanted to eat–and all that eating implied–demanded that I overcome a great deal of unconscious shame.
Of course, it’s not just women with eating disorders who feel this shame. It’s most women. Sure, we might open the pages of Maxim and read about how much men like a girl who can devour a plate of chicken wings and wash it down with a pint of beer, but this is a rather typecast exceptions to the rule, which is that women are and always have been encouraged to want, but not to want too much. We should to eat, but only in moderation; to desire, but never so much that we behave unseemly, or–God forbid!–slutty; to be assertive, but never so much that we’re bitchy or aggressive. Not that. To utter the words “I love to eat” feels like a shocking confession, a guilty secret.
In my travels through the raw community, I’ve encountered what I think are both the best and the worst kinds of attitudes towards this issue. On the one hand many raw foodists promote what I believe is a truly exuberant and healthy attitude towards eating. On the other, there are some who approach raw foods and fasting with what I believe is too much asceticism. Me? Well, being a vegan and eating more raw food have certainly helped me to realize that there are many things I thought I needed that I really don’t: an endless rotation of cute new clothing, carefully applied makeup, painted nails, and various other accoutrements of beauty. When you live healthily, beauty and vibrance radiates from within. But veganism and raw foods have also helped me, more than ever before, to embrace my appetites: for life, for experience, and, lord knows, for food. I’ve always liked to eat. And when I’m eating foods that I believe are not only optimal for my body, but optimal for the environment and for mother nature, too, I like itmore than ever.
Of course, we should always guard ourselves against excess. Appetites have limits, and food is just food. But let’s also try to embrace the very real hunger that nature has given us, even if it’s sometimes a little unruly. Desire is a part of life–and a pretty great part of it, if you ask me.
So today, in honor of NEDAwareness week, I think we should celebrate our hunger. In good ole AA fashion, I’ll go first:
I’m Gena. I love to eat.
If this post speaks to you at all, I encourage you to echo this statement. Say it on your blogs, to a friend, in writing, or out loud–I like to eat. I enjoy food. Say it in your head, if you want to. Say it in private, or in public. But if it’s true–and I hope very much that it is–say it. Say it with pride. Our hunger makes us human.
Have a great night, everyone.