When The Path To Happiness Doesn’t Allow Gluten: How To Ignore The Hype and Love Your Freaking Self
I recently attended a workshop called, The Happiness Method, where I listened to a well-intentioned spiritual man tell a group of 50 women how to be happy.
Before writing this piece, I wanted to do a little research and see what I could scoop up from his teachings, as well as get an idea of what he was putting out to the world wide web. His website made my heart melt and the stone cold frustration I’d been carrying over the past few days simply slipped away. It glowed with beautiful photos that seemed to capture the depth of his potential and authentic love for all, but in his workshop, something big happened inside of me that I couldn't ignore, push down, or repress. I became triggered and I needed to speak my truth.
Here’s the deal, I fucking LOVE spiritual work, I love breath-work, I love yoga, I love thinking positively, I love going deeply into the most vulnerable and painful parts of who we are and pouring compassion sauce over them like syrup on dry pancakes, but there is a culture of “health” and “spirituality” that frustratingly hits me as phony, shallow, and preachy. It misses the big picture of what it means to live a life of self-love because it gives a "one size fits all" solution to righteousness. You know what I’m talking about if you follow yoga culture because it has been poked fun at for this. This JP Sears video, “If Meat Eaters Acted Like Vegans,” does a really excellent job of expressing the “only one way to eat," “one way to act,” “one way to live,” kind of tunnel vision, superiority, judgey, and high horse thinking that serves no one (including the one who is on the horse.)
Back to this heart melting, spiritual, blonde-balayage-haired, dark, tall, and handsome, professional, Transformational Coach man. He was giving a seminar on how to be happy. Who isn’t intrigued by quick fix for happiness!? The class was actually fantastic and clearly laid out the neurology behind feeling happy, as well as the facts and statistics on genetics, behaviors, and circumstance when it comes to our level of joy in life. He taught us about the autonomic nervous system, the sympathetic nervous system, the parasympathetic nervous system, and the enteric division. He taught us Gandhi's breathing exercise and that our fundamental nature is to be compassionate, generous, honest, and peaceful. This all sounds so amazing, right?
As he clicked quickly through each slide, making sure to pack as much happiness as possible into his two hour slot, we finally got to the climax of the presentation, the GUT.
Before we go any further down this gut related rabbit hole, let me tell you a little story. Among other eating disorders, I used to be what is called, Orthorexic. What the heck is that?! Well, the fact that you may not know what it is, is perfect evidence that this type of eating disorder is not given enough, or ANY (media, literature, medical, etc…) attention.
Here’s a short description taken from nationaleatingdisorders.org
"Those who have an “unhealthy obsession” with otherwise healthy eating may be suffering from “orthorexia nervosa,” a term which literally means “fixation on righteous eating.” Orthorexia starts out as an innocent attempt to eat more healthfully, but orthorexics become fixated on food quality and purity. They become consumed with what and how much to eat, and how to deal with “slip-ups.” An ironclad will is needed to maintain this rigid eating style. Every day is a chance to eat right, be “good,” rise above others in dietary prowess, and self-punish if temptation wins (usually through stricter eating, fasts and exercise). Self-esteem becomes wrapped up in the purity of orthorexics’ diet and they sometimes feel superior to others, especially in regard to food intake."
My personal experience with Orthorexia is that I truthfully did not think I was harming my body. In fact, I was convinced that I was healthier than everyone else in my life! I was exercising 2-3 hours a day, I was energized, I was able to fit into size 0 dresses, I was full of nutrients and greens and smoothies and I had something to live for! Health! My best and dearest friend! No, I could not attend any gatherings with friends because I feared I'd be forced to eat the unhealthy food they served, and I couldn’t go to restaurants because there would be the possibility that they would try to kill me with a pad of butter, yeah, I was anxious every minute of the day, obsessed with food, and unable to think clearly, and sure, I was drinking a gallon of water every night to stave off the hunger, and taking sleeping pills so I could fall asleep before I tried to eat anything, but hey, I was super healthy!
I privately judged EVERYONE for eating bread, pastries, meat, fats, dairy, sugar, processed foods, pasta….the list goes on and on. It may seem like a harmless obsession with healthy eating, but this harmless obsession actually completely took over my life and my self-worth. It became my daily and hourly commitment to myself to ensure that I was eating only the “purest” food and in the exact right quantity for the weight I felt was best for me (and this is when I slipped into Anorexia). The most detrimental problem with this way of being is that it consumes you. It becomes your mark of success in the world. It defines you and eventually brings out more darkness than it does light. I don’t know about you, but being defined by refusing to eat a slice of cake for 7 years and exercising to the point of full body break down into pneumonia, followed by organ failure and inability to reproduce, is not quite the picture of perfect health one would normally envision.
So, as I was sitting in this seminar on how to be happy and a list of foods NOT to eat is projected on the screen in front of me, you can imagine the volcanic like eruption of emotion that boiled up inside of me.
FOODS THAT INFLAME THE GUT…(and make you depressed?….BS)
Envision my face in this moment, jaw dropped, one eyebrow raising up to my hairline, foaming at the mouth (exaggerating much?) The anxiety that flooded my nervous system and got the adrenaline pumping through my veins was overwhelming. My hands started to shake, my breathing became rapid, and I could feel my heart pounding like it was going to explode out of my chest into a gruesomely bloody scene from Night Of The Living Dead, all over everyone’s faces. (That didn’t happen, don’t worry.)
What did happen is that I had to take some slow and focused breaths to get my heart-rate to normalize before I opened my mouth into a fury of “oh, no he didn’ts.” He continued to lecture on the dangers of eggs, dairy, gluten, sugar, and corn, and I continued to shake like a banshee as I looked around in amazement to discover that I was the only one who seemed to have any inkling at all that this “happiness lecture” had somehow turned into a What-Not-To-Eat Cosmo article. I was not pleased.
he finally asked.
I sheepishly raised my hand, recognizing that this beautiful man in front of me most likely put his heart and soul into this project and I was about to word vomit all over it.
“I appreciate you and I think this presentation is just beautiful and so helpful for so many people, but…” I paused and smiled as I felt fear-sweat drip down my sides,
“But, I know that someone in here needs to hear what I have to say. I don't know who, but I know it is someone. To that girl, I would like to express that restricting food IS NOT how you become happy. I know, because I am the poster girl of the ultimate joy and freedom that happens after you STOP restricting food and letting food control your life. For many of us, who have had issues with eating, dieting, restricting, or popping loads of diet pills secretly in the bathroom as an 8 year old, the best thing we can do in this moment is to completely ignore this man in front of us and know that this is all bullshit.”
I sat down still shaking, but knowing that even if what I said didn’t quite leave my lips in the most diplomatic, graceful, and Oprah like fashion, I had done exactly what I was being called to do. I needed to speak my truth and share my story (one more wink wink to Oprah). The presenter thanked me and moved on with the following points. The subject was never brought up again that week by anyone running the retreat.
What really stuck with me was the number of women that came to me after class. The number of women that thanked me and shared their story with me. The bonds that arose with the numerous women who have struggled with food in similar ways and wanted me to know they were in this too.
We often get caught up in the teachings of others. We sometimes feel lost or out of control and have to seek outside help. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that...But, not every Spiritual-Health-Guru-Teacher-Know-it-all-Whoever is going to be right for you.
You, my friend, are as complex as they come. Only you know the struggles you have been through, the challenges you’ve faced, the obstacles you have overcome. If you are not happy, it is not necessarily because you love corn on the cob (is it just me or is that kind of hilarious?), or because you love cheese! Hello! Have you been to France or heard ANYTHING about French culture? All those people eat is bread and cheese and mounds of butter! Croissants with salty butter and sugar packed jam and full fat milk lattes are what's for breakfast! Come on, people. Why are we still teaching women to restrict what they eat, to over exercise, and to punish themselves for eating, “bad food.” I have a shocker for you..there is no food that is “bad.” Want to know more about that? My dear friend and RDN rockstar, Jessi Haggerty squashes those claims like it’s her job, because well, it is! You can listen to any one of her Body Love Podcasts to discover that there is no, “bad” food and that dieting culture is extremely damaging to our bodies, our minds, and the entire society that we live in. More on that here. >> and a podcast episode we did on restrictive eating here. >>
For the love of all things happy, joyful, and free, check your food restricting habits and thought patterns. They could be trying to tell you something about how you perceive your body, your worth, and your life. We all deserve to be happy. We all deserve to love the skin we are in. I know the struggle and the pain of feeling like you are in a body that isn’t culturally appreciated as beautiful, I know what it feels like to feel too big, I know the sadness that comes with not feeling seen, and with feeling unattractive, but in a culture where plastic surgery is the norm, our president is a walking sexual harassment billboard, and Transformation Speakers are telling us that we can’t eat eggs if we want to be spiritual, happy, and healthy, I think it is about time we ignore the hype and start honoring our own opinions and beliefs.
It’s about time we start appreciating ourselves for the incredible, complex, and valuable human souls we are. We are not here to be lifeless bodies walking around, looking pretty, following the rules, going to work, and going through the motions, emotionless and dead to our connection with the magnitude of what lies within us. We are here to experience life. We are here to enjoy the world around us in as many forms as we possibly can.
I will never forget the first time I ate a French Macaroon (thank you Elisa Tavilla). It was the most sensual, luscious, magical, glorious experience. It was also the first time I had allowed myself to consume sugar in years, and the first time I didn’t punish, abuse, and reject myself like a bad dog after. This moment was honestly a turning point in my life. It was a wake up call to how I had been battering my psyche rather than nurturing and adding to it's freedom. It is time to free ourselves from the oppressive shackles of restriction and move into a new way of eating. I am calling for a food freedom revolution, because no one should ever have to feel like their worth is based on whether or not they had a god damned cookie that day. UHG. Please remember that your body shape does not define who you are. Please remember that you are so much more than the shape of your butt. Please remember that there is not one way to be beautiful.
And to the Transformational Speaker, (in regards to what foods not to eat) I love you, I see you, I respect and admire the positive change you have created for so many people,