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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Just because you’re enlightened doesn’t mean you’re woke

“Just because you’re enlightened doesn’t mean you’re woke” – Chai Chats podcast, 2017

 

I was listening to Chai Chats, one of my favourite podcasts (the one on boundaries literally changed my life – and I’m using literally literally) yesterday and one of the hosts was talking about their interest and subsequent critiques of Buddha and Buddhism. Religious philosophy isn’t really my jam and I have been sleeping an average of 4 hours a night for 3 weeks so I was just about to drift off, when the above quote jumped out at me. “Just because you’re enlightened doesn’t mean you’re woke.” Holy fuck, the truth of that statement hit me with the kind of realness that travels from the mind to those deep places in the soul that are so easy to ignore as we move through life.

 

I love self-care, I have felt the benefits of mindfulness, meditation and I strongly believe in practicing yoga on and off the mat. I also believe in the power of collective care and get lost in daydreams of a future built on justice, equity and reciprocity. Unfortunately, sometimes communities that promote the former do so at the detriment of the latter.

 

Late capitalism, first coined by German economist Werner Sombart and later popularized by Ernst Mandel, originally referred to the period between 1945 and the early 1970s. However, the meaning has adapted as the so-called golden age of capitalism has come to an end. Late Capitalism could easily refer to the ultra rich kids of Instagram, the Kardashian/Jenner clan or wellness and yoga movements that co-opt, commodify and pervert the true meaning.

 

Last summer, I saw a sign outside a yoga studio that said “Namaslay”, once I was done audibly groaning, I snapped a photo and posted it online. A bunch of people I have on social media responded with both words and emojis showing they too were annoyed at this obvious appropriation of a sacred word (namaste) and a popular term in African American Vernacular English (slay). I felt slightly better that I wasn’t the only one upset but this sign. This was comforting at the time, but actually made no difference. This studio’s websites that’s that, “We believe in the power of breaking down doors of tradition and structure to introduce variety, music, and a taste of our own rock and soul.” That’s great, hun, but it’s not your tradition to break. The studio, similar to other yoga studios and various lululemon locations, employ phrases like “sweat tribe” or “find your tribe”, the words “zen”, “namaste” and various sanskrit terms are plastered everywhere and I have seen more white girls covered with imagery of mandalas and Hindu gods and goddess than in all the temples I have ever been in.

 

This is not to say that white people or non-Hindus can’t learn about and embrace the spiritual, and at times physical, benefits of yoga and Hindu philosophy. Unfortunately, many people involved in western yoga/mindfulness/wellness circles embrace this kind of faux spirituality that appropriates and then commodifies meaningful cultural practices and traditions.

 

Those in the wellness/yoga/hippie/new age (I know these can be different but share some common traits) often borrow and patch together “eastern” traditions while simultaneously benefitting from black culture to create sometime lucrative business and trends. Golden milk seems suddenly trendy as does big hoop earrings and long nails. I feel a certain bitterness at this. I’m not complaining about the ease of buying earrings or fresh turmeric, but it stings to think that they same people who once mocked my yellow stained fingers and who made “the bigger the hoop, the bigger the hoe” a catchphrase throughout high school now are all over IG with golden lattes and the so-called ‘baddie’ aesthetic.

 

I am not above mentioning my own guilt in this. There was a time when I embraced the ‘hippie’ aesthetic of “zen” and images of Buddha without having any knowledge of the cultural significance of these traditions and practices. We all fuck up. We all fuck up multiple times. What we have to ask ourselves is, are we learning from this? Can we admit our guilt without be frozen by it? Guilt is not useful unless we are using it to grow our understanding and change our practices.

 

My own yoga practice, along with my journey of healing from anorexia and related traumas, is meaningless unless it ties practices of mindfulness and wokeness. I can’t fully embrace the healing power of yoga if I’m not unpacking the historical trauma that colonialism has inflicted on my peoples. I can’t continue learning and unlearning – because woke is not a destination but like yoga it is a practice – if I don’t learn to care for myself. I can’t embody gratitude and peace if I do not embody liberation and practice intersectional solidarity, in both the personal and public spheres.

 

Enlightenment ™ , as exemplified in late capitalism, will not lead to true enlightenment and liberation if the majority of our earth’s populations are suffering the effects of systemic oppression. Care and liberation must go hand in hand. This is a journey and a process of learning/unlearning, so be gentle with yourself, admit your mistakes and move forward. That is a path to enlightenment that just may work.

The Cult of Busy

If you ask me what I have been up to, I will tell you that I have been busy, same answer for what I will be doing. I – like many other people – am always busy. I am always on my way to an appointment, work or a meeting, coffee with a friend, or just running errands. When I’m not physically doing something, I’m thinking about it. Time for rest is rare and fleeting and I’m usually weighed down with a sense of guilt and anxiety of what I should be doing.

I am not alone in feeling like this, most of us feel like we must always be busy and occupied. Anything less must mean we are lazy.

I recently had a week off and for the first three days I was uncomfortable. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I felt bad for taking time off. I haven’t taken time off for anything other than a family emergency or medical reasons in years. I felt a bit lost at different times during the week – when I tried to think of what I should be doing or where I had to be, I realized I didn’t have to rush anywhere. The projects I’m working on are well underway, I would have plans to see a friend later, but there was no rush. It felt weird to not be stressed.

We equate being busy with being successful. If we are always busy, we must always being working and if we are always working, we are then viewed as successful. It may sound trite, but I blame capitalism for our obsession with busyness.

Under capitalism nothing is ever given. We trade labour for money; we trade money for things we need to live – food, shelter, coffee to keep us awake so we can keep working. Capitalism teaches us that nothing worthwhile comes for free. We must give something to get anything, but at the same time, we can’t expect anything in return. We often work – or stay busy – just for the sake of it. We have become so accustomed to working towards something – an education, a 15-minute break, money, or whatever else drives you – that we do not take the time to just be.

Halfway through writing this blog post, I came down with a cold. What I thought would be one or two days of sniffles and a headache turned into a full week of being sick and being sent home from work twice (thanks Nicole!) In my feverish state, I just went to work because that is what I always do. Taking a sick day, even though I was sick, felt like I was being lazy. Luckily, I have people in my life who are more sensible than me and made me go home.

During my forced time off, I had a lot of time to think, and since every time I moved I felt like I was going to fall over, I had to sit with my thoughts and let myself rest. It was uncomfortable, and needed.

Having a full life is not the same as always being busy. It is a hard lesson to learn, and one we will probably continue to forget. There is nothing wrong with having a lot going on in your life, but learning to focus more of what adds value to your life rather than being busy for the sake of being busy can lead to lessened anxiety, better sleep, and generally more enjoyment. There is nothing wrong with enjoying life; we don’t have to punish ourselves to deserve a break or a self-care Saturday. Capitalism teaches us that our only value is our productivity – we are so much more than our ability to work. It is a lesson we must continually learn in a society that teaches us the opposite. Be gentle and patient, doing nothing takes time.