A few summers ago, our family was finishing up dinner outside, everyone done eating except my then 4-year old son. I remember this exchange with him:
Levi: Mom, what’s that feeling called?
Me: What feeling?
Levi: That feeling when you’re full but you don’t want to stop eating.
Me: Hmmmm….I don’t know….I guess we need a word for that feeling, huh?
Levi: Maybe it’s…..happy?
:-) My kid’s experience as an eater without the influence of diet culture was simply a fullness in the belly, pleasure in the eating experience and desire to continue eating. And then when he’s done with the meal, he moves on fully. But for so many of us, normal eating experiences like sometimes eating past comfortable fullness brings self-judgment, guilt and/or efforts to “make up” for the meal, perpetuating a disordered eating cycle that’s sadly normalized in this culture.
There’s a Buddhist teaching I sometimes share with clients. I’ll be curious to hear if it resonates with you:
There are two arrows of suffering in life. The first one is inevitable. It represents pain – if you’re struck by an arrow, it’ll hurt and feel painful. The second arrow is what truly creates suffering: it’s suffering caused by how we relate to the first arrow and includes things like self-judgment, resistance or avoidance. According to this teaching, the second arrow is optional.
But the more we internalize diet culture, the more insidious second arrow suffering there is around food and body image. Activist Melissa Fabello, PhD says diet culture = “a society that’s so inundated with dieting propaganda, often times imperceptibly, that it affects how we relate to ourselves and each other.” This might sound like:
Omg, why am I hungry again?! I just ate! I should NOT be hungry this early after breakfast.
Why am I eating more than him?!
I blew it…
I should be just satisfied with protein and veggies.
I’m so bloated and gross.
(Fyi, “gross” to describe how you feel is usually a clear indicator of second arrow suffering.)
In my work with clients, I try to unpack what’s first arrow (pain, discomfort) and what’s second (how we relate to it). Sometimes the work involves strategies to prevent first arrow suffering – for example, if you have reliable access to food, getting hangry is preventable; there are ways to improve digestion, etc.
But oftentimes, the work is about noticing and letting go of the second arrow. When self-judgment about our eating experiences goes unchecked, it tends to worsen first arrow suffering. For example, self-criticism and shame make it harder to stay present so uncomfortable fullness is more likely to turn to a physically painful binge; stressing about food can make digestive symptoms worse, etc.
Liberation and mindfulness teacher Rev. angel Kyodo in this Sounds True conversation says:
“We have lots of theories and ideologies, as I like to say, that are inherited meaning…I have a dear friend, Greg Snyder, and he says, ‘We don’t have personal thoughts, we have private thoughts.’ And by that, he means that all of our thoughts come from someplace else. They come from the ideas of the time and the era and the space that we’re in.”
While food guilt can feel so personal (“there’s something wrong with me“), if I were to share all of my clients’ judgments about food and body image, it’s remarkable how similar these thoughts all are. Diet culture, which is rooted in white supremacy culture, is in the air, and it’s definitely not personal.
If food sometimes feels hard or stressful (you don’t have to have a clinical eating disorder for this to be true), please consider reaching out to a registered dietitian nutritionist (or CN if you’re in WA state) who takes a non-diet, Health at Every Size® approach.
While I hope you have lots of satisfying, pleasurable eating experiences ahead of you, I mostly hope that regardless of your eating experiences (pleasant, unpleasant or neutral), you can meet yourself with kindness and know that your worth is never on the line.