The Dark Side of Healthy

 

CN: anorexia, disordered thoughts, diets, exercise.

 

I recently read an article by activist and writer Virgie Tovar called “(Re)Discovering My Love of Food After Dieting” (link), it’s short and emotive and captures the importance of unlearning diet culture and embracing bodies, food and pleasure in radical and liberating way.

 

I saw much of my own experience and that of my peers in Tover’s journey to find pleasure in food and eating. My research involves food (agriculture), I worked in food justice and the food service industry, I have a foodie instagram. I find baking relaxing and believe in the connective power of food and community. I just don’t enjoy eating. This is not a natural part of my personality (despite my insistence to myself and others for too many years). My thoughts around my own consumption of food are nothing but disordered:

 

How many calories is this?”

“When can I leave this dinner to go work out?”

 

“If I had X yesterday can I have X again today?”

 

“Is this healthy?”

 

I have cycled through many eating disorder behaviours but they have all been based on restriction. Whether that meant eliminating an entire food group, only choosing foods I considered “healthy” or under the banner of  “clean eating”, fad diets or excessive exercise, denying myself food and pleasure in that food has been ceaseless component of my eating disorder since I was around 12 years old.

 

This is not say that I have never enjoyed food or eating, I have had moments of enjoyment that are mere seconds or might last a day or two where I can enjoy the experience of eating, but those moments still exist within a rigid set of rules that define what is of “good” and “bad”. What is good or bad has changed and evolved throughout my disorder. These changes have been influenced by personal experience, diet culture, friends, family, and different treatment programs. When I am very sick, what is considered good is a short and sad looking list, when I’m better, it grows along with my capacity to experience other joys of life.  Yet, I have not be able to move beyond the boundaries that my disorder has built. This is not health. I may not be as sick as I once was, however, the insidiousness of anorexia still lurks in my thoughts and actions.

 

Being healthy is great, but it is not a possibility for everyone. Chronic illness, socioeconomic status, environmental factors and genetics all play a role in health. Unfortunately, we tend to moralize health and bodies in ways that are incredibly harmful. Health is associated with thinness, whiteness, being able-bodied, wealthy (comparatively) and cis. Health is seen as something to be achieved through hard work, but it is often not something we can control, and being healthy is so much more than what fits into these narrow binaries.

 

Fat people are healthy. Disabled people are healthy. People of colour are healthy. Queer and trans people are healthy. How we define health beyond survival is shaped by social relations of power and how we validate knowledge of bodies, health and care. The dominant narrative of what is healthy and what bodies should look like has been shaped by white supremacy. Our medical system has made the advancements it has through horrific levels of dehumanization and cruelty towards black people. This legacy still affects how bodies of colour are treated (and not treated) in the healthcare system.

 

Health is important and  the resources to be as healthy as we can be should be accessible to everyone, however,  none of this should translate to one’s health does not defining their worth. Unhealthy people – whether they have made choices that led to health problems or not – are just as valuable as healthy individuals. The idea that health = worth is something we first have to challenge in ourselves and then recognize that our positionality and experience may have benefited us in ways that others have not been excluded from. I am a thin, able-bodied, cis woman. This gives me greater access to resources. This means that I am not charged extra when flying and strangers generally don’t express their “concern” about my health. We must recognize that we live in a fat-phobic society and those of us who are not fat (even if we feel fat!) need to be in solidarity with fats folks who bear the brunt of body shaming.

 

There is nothing wrong with wanting to be healthy, but it is important to ask ourselves where this motivation comes from and how we define what health is. Does health = thinness? That is not only inaccurate, but can lead to other, perhaps more severe , health issues.

 

The obsessive drive I feel to be fit into a eurocentric version of healthy, has contribute to serious health effects of anorexia, both mentally and physically. As it has for many others who suffer from anorexia, bulimia and other forms of disordered eating. Healthy is different for everyone and changes as we move through life. Rigidity around health and bodies is not in line with nature. Nature is complex and does not suit the binaries we place on ourselves and each other. In order to be truly healthy, we must accept the complexities of bodies and experiences.

 

Tover closes her article by saying, “I can’t opt out of this culture, but each time that I choose what I want I know I’m one step closer to the freedom I crave.” I am in the process of unlearning the ideas on health and bodies that have kept me from moving closer freedom and liberation. To learn to feel joy and pleasure when we – especially as people of colour – are told that we are undeserving of this or that denying this pleasure will lead to a greater pay off, is not a simple task. It takes time, commitment and all the gentleness that we denied ourselves for so long.

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Let the Water Carry You

It is almost a year ago that I traveled to New York City to the first annual conference held by Women of Colour in Solidarity (check them out/support their work, they are raddest people doing the real work). I had been on a journey to connect with my ethnic and cultural roots and this experience solidified that my ancestors were – and are – guiding me on a path of learning, growth and healing.

 

I recently had the pleasure of chatting with author and activist Lynn Gehl at the Racial Justice Symposium at Dalhousie University. Lynn spoke with my classmate and I about the memories our hearts hold. Gehl writes about decolonizing her spirit and identity in her book, Claiming Anishinaabe: Decolonizing the Human Spirit. I haven’t had a chance to read the book, but am excited to explore it this summer. Lynn spoke with us about the importance of connecting to our ancestral memories and the histories we hold in our heart. I left our brief conversation feeling shaken – in a beautiful way. I felt her words deep in my soul. There is an ancestral places of longing, belonging, remembering, searching, healing, loving, that exists in the bodies of people of colour. I have been discovering how deeply we hold these histories  which then manifest in physical bodies as well as our psyche.

 

Someone dear to me suggested I listen to a few episodes of  “How to Survive the End of the World”, a podcast hosted by Autumn Brown and adrienne maree brown. The first episode I listened to is about Black Panther, and it’s obviously amazing (so many spoilers!) The second episode I checked out is called “Let the Ancestors Speak”, the hosts discuss their writing processes and the role of their ancestors in guiding them through their practice. Y’all should really listen to the podcast but I want to talk about their discussion of the memories that water holds and the ways in which the ocean remembers our ancestors.

 

The oceans hold the ancestors who chose death over bondage, the oceans hold our ancestors who tried to find their way back home, our oceans hold all their pain and all their creation. This water carried us, this water sustains us, this water was changed by our passage, this water flows through us, carrying the stories of our ancestors. The stories whose multitudes and intensities can only be carried by water and blood-memory as pages would crumble beneath them and there are not enough words in the colonizer’s tongue to tell the stories of our ancestors. The ocean is as vast and as powerful as our ancestors. The ocean moves, the ancestors speak.

 

I am on dry land. Parched. Trapped. The water has stopped flowing through me. My soul lies dormant. This is the imaginary that comes to mind when I reflect on the times that I have not been open to the ancestors guidance. When I have chosen assimilation with the colonizer, when I use my eating disorder to cut myself off – emotionally, physically and spiritually.

 

A year ago, in New York, I was able to connect to my ancestors in ways I had not imagined possible. Surrounded by women of colour who share my visions for a just future informed by the wisdom of our ancestors, I heard their voices clearly.

 

I have struggled to deepen and build this connection, but as the seasons change, I am beginning to hear their whispers again. I long for the ocean and what it can teach me, and as I prepare to go ‘home’,  I imagine the stories of my ancestors carrying me, teaching me, and reminding me that we hold multitudes within us. If we are open to receive the wisdom of our ancestors, the ancestral memories that live within us can be revealed.

 

Links:

l o n g i n g

I feel a longing for home so deeply in my centre

It’s like fire burning through deep winter ice

I have not been

 

h o m e

 

I do not know – h o m e

 

I move desperately

reaching reaching

I move across oceans in my mind

never reaching the shores of –  

 

          so

 

I go back –

I stay a little later

work a little harder

move towards h o m e

melt my centre

 

and

 

                    hope

 

I am moving towards something

that tastes familiar

 

and

                                     sweet

 

my words drip out my mouth

not fully formed

rich with desire

 

                                                  longing

 

for something i can’t name

can’t yet touch

 

fear chills me

desire melts me

I am open and –  

 

                                                                        ready