What were you told about living with your aging changing body? Did you get the message that change is wrong? Or a failure? What would it be like to learn more often that an aging body is supposed to be changing? Kimberly Dark is a sociologist and author of Fat, Pretty and Soon to be Old as well as the upcoming Damaged Like Me. She has so much insight into this part of the Food Peace Journey. You can listen here now.
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Over the years, I have grown to love you: cooking and baking you, experimenting with ways to put you together in a meal or dessert, and, of course, eating you. The problem is that I’ve also struggled with body image and guilt about you, especially now that I’ve reached mid-life.
I was one of those kids and teens who was naturally thin. It was probably a mix of my genetics, my pickiness, and my anxiety, which often shut down my appetite. People commented on my small appetite and my thinness a lot, from a fairly young age. The comments ranged from admiration to mild concern, but the general message I got was that being thin was a big part of my identity. At the same time, I grew up in a strict food household in which there were definite “good” and “bad” foods. And I was told that although I didn’t have to worry about my weight as a growing child, someday I would have to be more careful about food to stay thin.
When I reached my twenties, I gained weight naturally as my body became more womanly. I was still at a “healthy” weight, but for the first time I stopped getting comments about how thin I was. I will admit that I had a hard time with this—with this loss of that part of my identity—and I began to question at times whether I was eating too much, or too much of the wrong things. I began to scrutinize my body, and dislike parts of it intensely, comparing it to bodies that were thinner. I also got married, and my in-laws had even more intense and overt judgements about weight and fatness. My fear of their judgment only added to my body image concerns.
After I had my two children, I secretly went on a diet for the first time—learning to track what I ate and maintain a certain calorie limit each day. This “worked” but I noticed that food, and tracking food, became close to an obsession, and that scared me. My sister has struggled with an eating disorder, and I knew I didn’t want to go down that path, so I pulled myself out of the diet. Even so, I found myself every year or two secretly dieting again to get my weight down to an “acceptable” level, and then pulling back out of it for fear of developing an eating disorder. I also railed against society’s obsession with thinness and beat myself up for giving into that superficial, even cruel, mentality. This push and pull was confusing, and still is.
Now that I’ve entered mid-life my body has felt out of control at times. I weigh more than I ever have, and when I’ve tried to diet, it’s much harder to lose the weight. In fact, I’ve noticed that when I do try to rein in my weight by restricting calories, my body rebels by gaining weight at first and then losing very slowly and sporadically. I’ve also noticed that I need to diet more often to keep my weight down, and that the weight fluctuations are greater. All of this terrifies me, so I am trying to make a commitment to stop dieting altogether, accept my higher weight, and trust my body to know what it needs—even if sometimes it needs to satisfy my strong sweet tooth. But it’s not easy and I often find myself feeling confused, wondering if I’m doing things right—balancing what I crave with what my body actually needs. I also fret about the future. What happens when I hit menopause and my body changes again? I’m scared about how that will feel and how I will handle it.
How do I move beyond what I now realize has been disordered eating and distorted body image? How do I move beyond my fear of fat and learn to love my body rather than poke and prod at all the bits I hate? How do I know the difference, food, between what is a healthy embrace of my enjoyment of you and what may be an unhealthy reaction against past restriction or guilt about you? How do I do this intuitive eating thing right and make it stick, through whatever changes are in store for my body?
Trying to age gracefully
- Julie Dillon RD blog
- The PCOS + Food Peace Free Roadmap
- The PCOS + Food Peace Course
- Link to get latest Food Peace Syllabus.
- 6 Keys To Food Peace
- Newest book Damaged Like Me is available for pre-order now at 25% off. Release: June 30. https://www.akpress.org/damaged-like-me.html. Fat, Pretty and Soon to be Old available on same link.
- Folks are invited to the free monthly event, The Hope Desk. Info and zoom link at the bottom of the home page at www.kimberlydark.com
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/kimberly.dark.9
- Twitter: @kimberlydark
- Instagram: @kimberly.dark
- TikTok: @therealkimberlydark
- Body Wise Intensives in Hawaii athttps://www.kimberlydark.com/retreats.html
- Submit your Dear Food letter here or https://forms.gle/pepKRGPC8JbHLHHn8
- Julie on Instagram: Instagram.com/FoodPeaceDietitian
- Find Eating Disorder Dietitians near you.
Do you have a complicated relationship with food? I want to help! Send your Dear Food letter to LoveFoodPodcast@gmail.com.