Jessica Downey | Wed, 26 Feb 2020
Food. The very thing that has brought undeniable joy to my 21 years on planet earth. Ask any of my nearest and dearest and they shall confirm that 75% of my chat is about my next meal. Despite this, for me and for an alarming number of others my relationship with food has been and remains a complex relationship. It was not until coming to university that it surfaced and became apparent that eating disorders are sadly common among students and have varying effects on individuals. Without causing any triggers or unhealthy discussion I hope to shed some light on the issue whilst offering guidance on what has carried me through my own experience.
There is more to life than paying bills & being skinny I discovered this quote rather ironically on the social media platform that is perhaps most harmful when it comes to self-image. This was shared in block capitals on an Instagram story and it really resonated with me. For the sake of this article and our sanity let’s brush over the discussion of bills as SAAS already feels like a distant memory. When I read this I suddenly felt really shallow for admitting that I have allowed such petty things to consume my priorities. I felt ashamed that I had allowed superficial platforms to consume my mind and I was hurt for friends that suffer too.
I am a real advocate for sharing advice with others but prone to forget to practice what I preach. 2018 had a moment where I was not unhappy but I look back and cannot remember what and when I ever ate. Food as a priority had fallen into the landfill of my mind. I had received a few comments about my size, and someone made a comment over a holiday photo, concerned about the prominence of my ribcage and asking if I was eating. A few months later I heard a friend dwell over how they missed people telling her how alarmingly skinny she looked. Both encounters really stirred me to stop the glorification of unhealthy body standards. I wish to state this very cautiously to all reading this: comments like those, showing concern for your health and sustenance are not flattery. All body shapes are okay and as this topic is more heavily discussed with peers it is clear that we are all different sizes due to different factors. Food is not the by all and end all for your shape.
Losing a significant amount of weight in a small window felt like an achievement. Being skinny was great but I then missed having a bum and I did not magically grow boobs to perfect my ‘ideal body’. And then there is the other end of the spectrum, not caring what I put in my body. I do not want to use the term over-indulgence in a negative light here as I wish for people to stop self-condemning and restricting their food habits. Rather, I stopped listening and respecting my bodies needs and did not treat it with the nutritional fuelling it deserved. Analysing your body can become an addiction. When feeling pretty rotten over this, we forget that so many factors contribute to how we feel towards our physical appearance.
Exercise and food go hand in hand. Without sounding like a cliché fitness influencer, it is undeniably true that, healthy bodies begin in the kitchen and not the gym. The kitchen is my happy place. Just like a shower has destressing powers as it washes away a day’s madness. The kitchen is a space to get creative whilst letting off some steam, quite literally as well. A good food shop is an obligatory rite of passage into your week. Your cupboard and fridge should honour your cravings, allow room for all foods and avoid strict cutting. Sometimes I thrive on the cleanest of eating e.g. tubs of prepared tofu, sweet potato, brown rice, broccoli ready to be combined with a marinade in a bowl and other days this is an absolute turn off for me. A big carbilicious bowl of prawn pasta and a generous serving of garlic bread is also perfectly acceptable if it is respecting my cravings. Honour your appetite whilst listening to your tummy’s capacity. Only you can hear and feel what your body needs. Eating for your body’s true satiety is a recipe for mindful eating.
And the same applies to exercise. Running and the gym are two activities that provide me with a great physical and mental outlet. I have experienced such fluctuating relationships with the two. Sometimes excelling in one and other times feeling zero achievement from the other. Over the Christmas break I was happily running a 5K every morning to start the day off. Getting back into a routine after arriving back to uni in January unsettled this and pouring my frustration over this into the gym did not always help. This can be extremely flattening upon one’s mood. Again, it comes back down to practicing mindfulness. The best kind of exercise is not achieved through a strict ‘get a six-pack in 30 days’ kind of programme but instead the kind that reminds your body of its power and aptitude. You cannot change your body until you change your thoughts.
Ultimately being mindful towards your body begins with intuitive eating and giving yourself freedom in your habits whilst remembering everything can be good for you in moderation. Happiness can be found in being healthy and incorporating your 5 or 7 (or whatever it is they recommend now) a day into your diet but it is also allowed to be found in your favourite treats. I want to be able to go on holiday and pick however many yummy pastries that entice me in the local patisserie and not feel like it’s a sin that I will pay for when I return home. Listen to your body, exercise it to feel good, tell it nice things and remember and bring your reusable bags for your food shop!