My Body, Myself addresses mindshare --the time in your life and space in your mind taken up with your body’s appearance and your eating behavior. We all live somewhere on the mindshare continuum.
You could be obsessed with staying thin; people suffering from anorexia have 100% mindshare on food. Or you could be preoccupied with going on diets -- restricting your food to lose weight -- with potentially between 25%-75% of your mindshare devoted to what you eat. Or you could spend your day noticing how your body appears to others: checking yourself on your scale, mirror, fitbit, and in selfies -- just making sure you are "okay." Or you could have a tape-recording playing in the background of your mind, telling you something horrible about your body's appearance at points throughout the day.
Humans need food; it fuels our bodies and provides us the energy we need to live. Food also provides pleasure, ensuring that we'll want to eat and do the work necessary to keep ourselves fed.
In today’s world, we don’t have work very hard to keep ourselves fed, especially compared to our ancestors. In most of today's developed world, food is easily available, relatively inexpensive, and manufactured to taste good. In places where food has become so plentiful, we have co-opt food’s ability to provide pleasure for a slew of non-nutritive food-uses. Some of these uses serve us better than others.
Fifty percent of adult women and 90% of teenage girls went on a diet in 2017 according to the Livestrong website. In our crazy, body-obsessed diet culture, these dieters hope to control the size and shape of their bodies by controlling their food intake.
Dieting isn’t just officially becoming a Weight Watchers member like Oprah. Dieting is the deliberate restriction of food with the intention of losing weight or re-shaping the body. Many people swear they are not on a diet, but live locked into a very specific allowance of calories, points, or carbs in order to have their body look different.
I’d like to re-set our eating intentions to a different time when women didn’t have eating and body image problems like today. I want to take you back 100 years to our grandmother’s younger days. Let’s consider your young grandmother’s relationship to food and her body and what it could teach us. Let’s make eating just eating again. I’d like to ratchet down the emotional investment and the stakes for each piece of food we put in our mouths. No obsession. No emotional attachment to a number on the scale. Let’s think about eating for nourishment and for pleasure like people did forever before our day and age.
I spent the last two weeks in Paris eating French food, drinking French wine, and talking about life with French women. It just doesn’t get much better than that for me! With all the discussion about body image and diet culture in the United States, I was fascinated to learn that the average French woman doesn’t have the same issues around her body image and eating that the average American woman has. While French society does put pressure on women to be thin, your average (not eating disordered) French woman does not hate her body, does not diet, and is not struggling with the same obsession and anxiety around food that most American women experience.
As my French cousin Martine explained, “We enjoy good food every day, and we move on to other pleasures in our lives; we are not obsessed with eating.” I wanted to figure out what was going on in the minds of French women that could account for the way that many of them successfully navigate their body image and eating. We clearly could use some French Eating Lessons on this side of the Atlantic.