Skip to main content

Healthy Living

Body Image and Self-Respect
Learn a fascinating, new way of approaching food and find a healthy balance in mindful eating.

By: Pamela Milam

I recently read a book called Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight by nutrition professor and researcher Linda Bacon. Before reading it, I looked at the website and thought I knew what to expect. I assumed the book would remind me to love myself, to put less emphasis on physical beauty and to focus instead on healthy living. I was partly right, but ultimately I was surprised and impressed by how much more the book taught me.
Think about the concept of Alliesthesia. Alliesthesia refers to the idea that a body’s inner state determines whether an external experience is pleasurable. One example is that it feels better to get into a hot tub when your body feels cold. If you’re a menopausal woman in the middle of a hot flash, the last thing you want to do is step into a hot tub.
In regard to food and eating, Health at Every Size taught me about “Negative alliesthesia.” Negative alliesthesia is an unavoidable process in which your taste buds find a flavor less pleasant over time after repeated exposure. It’s “nature’s way of prompting you to eat less once your calorie needs are met.” This explains why the first two potato chips taste better, as does the first bite of an apple. The last forkful of cake is never as divine as the first. Negative alliesthesia is the body’s wisdom at work, telling you, “You’ve had enough.”
If your body’s signals are weak or you’ve lost your ability to tune into those signals, you’ll chase the pleasure of the first bite by eating more and more and more. The more out of touch you are with your body, the more likely you are to eat in a way that feels mechanical, driven, and compulsive.
Jean Fain, a mindfulness expert and licensed psychotherapist, says, “Truth be told, most of us achieve a natural trance state when we eat mindlessly. ‘Trance eating,’ in my view, is the extreme end of the mindless eating spectrum.” She’s right. Trance eaters often push for quantity instead of quality, which results in excessive fullness and discomfort, followed by a feeling of dissatisfaction. The experience is a mindless one. People seek the initial “especially good” flavor of the first few bites by taking endlessly more bites or by pushing for larger quantities.
For healthier eating, the trick is to focus on the first few bites and enjoy the experience of taste and quality. When the body tells you it’s full by sending a “meh” signal to your taste buds, you listen and you stop eating. It sounds simple, but if you’ve lost touch with your body, it requires practice.
Alongside teaching about alliesthesia, Health at Every Size educates readers about creating better ways of enjoying oneself and existing in the world. The book points out how often people tell themselves, “I’ll be happy once I’m thin,” or “I’ll feel confident if I lose that last 10 pounds.” So many people are waiting to be happy, waiting for their lives to start.
Often, people worry that if they accept themselves physically, they’ll never be motivated to be healthy. They believe they’ll be fat and ugly and complacent. They believe that self-hate creates boundaries and keeps them safe. But self-hate just results in misery. Health at Every Size says, “Start living life fully now, in your present body, because waiting until you lose weight is a big old waste of time.” The idea is this: Ask not, How can I get thin? Instead ask, What can I do to be happier?
There are two unhealthy ends of the spectrum here: There are trance eaters, who are tuned out, mindlessly unhappy. There are strivers, who are so tuned in to perfectionistic, rigid ideas about food and goal-weight that they’re too mindful, and mindfully miserable.
The middle ground is to tune into your body while relaxing into it as well, to be aware and to be accepting. We are not powerless. In fact, Linda Bacon says, “The single most powerful act available to you is to own your body—to walk proud and let others see you enjoying your body.” Happiness, health, and self-acceptance are within reach, and Health at Every Size reminds us of that.


Popular posts from this blog

The Light in the Faces of Our Incredible Human Family

National Geographic Journalist Paul Salopek is walking across the world on foot to trace the pathways of the first humans who wandered out of Africa in the Stone Age to claim the earth as theirs. His journey will cover 21,000 miles and is estimated to take 10 years. He is four years into his massive expedition and already he has discovered that humanity is mostly kind and generous, welcoming and caring, hard-working and disciplined.
I watched a brief piece about Salopek’s journey on the PBS News Hour this week. I have included a link below.
What is extraordinary about his adventure is his realization that in spite of all the wars and turmoil across the globe, he has learned that “The world is an incredibly hospitable place.” In following the ancient trade route called “The Silk Road,” Salopek has gotten to know a variety of people young and old. And though he has so far encountered a few dangerous situations where he had his water supply stolen, was once ambushed by raiders, and was sho…

Our National Lack of Self-esteem

There is a brokenness in our society, a pervasive moral collapse, a reckless disregard for community, neighborliness, courtesy, and compassion.
Our government leads by this example. Both parties are incompetent to guide us into a more responsible living, into a serviceable structure of humanity. Our leaders are dominated by greedy oligarchs who don’t just want more, they want everything, even if it costs our society its dignity, its soul, even its future.
What is on display here daily is a wretched lack of self-esteem. The loss now influences all of us. We’re all affected in ways that keep us shamed by our actions.
When we feel powerless, aimless, without any higher goals than the accumulation of things and the momentary thrill, we then mute our intelligence. We live by raw emotions—anger, appetite, urges. We don’t think, we don’t consider, we merely react. We push. We disregard. We threaten. We act out. And we fail.
Self-esteem is a learned process. It builds on genuine successes that ar…

Is the Soul Solid, like Iron?

Mary Oliver has a beautiful little poem in which she asks:

“Is the soul solid, like iron?
or is it tender and breakable, like
the wings of a moth in the beak of the owl?”

It is both.

The soul, we are told by philosophers, theologians, and mystics, is our essence, the permanence of our true self. It is that part of us that lives beyond death. Or so we are taught by religion. Where exactly the soul exists beyond that, has of course, been long debated.

There are times in life when something deep within us is, as Mary Oliver says, solid as iron and we operate out of some sense of aliveness, confidence, and inner strength. It may be fleeting, but there when needed; or it may carry us through long periods of endurance when we build a sturdy self, confident and capable of our abilities and talents.

This is the work of the soul. This is a part of our spiritual development. This is what enables us to believe there are forces in life, loving and generous and mystical, that nurture and compel us tow…