“Help yourself to happiness.” That’s the advertising slogan for a chain of buffet restaurants where you can keep going back for seconds, thirds, ninths, as much as you want, for one price. We are supposed to eat food. We’re supposed to like it, crave it, and yes, feel comforted and satisfied by eating it. The drive to eat is part of our survival instinct. We don’t think about it much in the modern world but we are all really just human animals and our instincts still drive our behavior.
I’ve written many times, including this recent post, about how observing my mother throughout my life has influenced my beliefs. I saw first-hand, up close and personal, how food can be very low priority for some people. We all know people like that; it’s very common. My younger brother is like my mother. He would be best described as “slim” and he’s been so all his life. As he’s entered his fifties, just like my mother, his weight has remained stable as he’s aging.
Consider the odd case of Frances Chan. The 5’2″ 92 lb Yale University history major went for treatment at student health but got a very unexpected diagnosis. School medical officials decided she had an eating disorder and began a five-month campaign of near-harassment to get the 20-year old to put on weight. Forced to submit to weekly weigh-ins, urine and blood tests, EKGs, and counseling sessions, Chan says she started stuffing herself with junk food in an effort to get officials off her back but put on only a couple of pounds. She was told she could be forced to leave school and even that her low weight could kill her. Read the bizarre story here.
Chan insists that she and her entire family are simply slightly-built people who do enjoy good food but do not put on weight easily. Being small and thin is normal for her and her family. That’s fine for her. My normal is a bit different and maybe yours, too.
Managing your weight can be such a struggle because we may actually be fighting against our own nature. Frances Chan made a focused effort to put on weight and she could barely do it! My nature is to have frequent thoughts of food. My brain will even try to come up with persuasive tricks to compel me to eat rich foods! Now that I eat very little processed food, the cravings are not as persistent as they used to be but I am certain I will always experience them.
I’ve become aware that my brain wants very much for me to conserve energy. As much as I greatly value the benefits of the regular exercise routine I’ve followed for several years now, I will still find thoughts entering my mind, trying to talk myself out of it. I draw on the experiences I’m now very accustomed to, of feeling energized and alert throughout the day, to strap on that heart rate monitor and get to work. After a workout, after the endorphins have been percolating around my brain and my body is all revved up, I’ll get thoughts of how eager I will be to jump into a vigorous workout the next day. And when the next day comes? I have to fight off those thoughts that tell me to stay parked in my big chair.
We are who we are programmed to be. We all exist somewhere along the spectrum of body types. Our bodies are all different in how we manage fuel and how we crave food—or don’t crave it. Acknowledging that I am a person who thinks about food a LOT and whose body tends to be larger is not what I would have chosen for myself if I’d had a choice but there’s a kind of liberation in accepting it. I know it’s easy for me to put on weight and it can be very tough for me to take it back off. I know I can be distracted with food thoughts that are very difficult to banish from my mind. I know I’ll always wish I could indulge my food cravings but I couldn’t live with the consequences. It’s not the easiest hand to be dealt in life and I deal with some challenges on a regular basis but I do know that it’s just who I am and I don’t have to fix what’s never been broken.