Americans often seem to treat and think about the body as a thing, as if it’s separate from us and somehow should run by itself. We take it for granted. We don’t appreciate it. No mystery, then, that you don’t even know how it works or what it needs, or make it your business to find out.
But to try to make your body beautiful, you’re willing to do unthinkable things to it. You’ll gladly run it out of gas all the time. To mistreat the body the way some do, you’d have to be divorced from the body; you’d have to work up a disregard or disrespect for it. Otherwise, it would be too painful to live with yourself and the damage and abuse you inflict.
If you deny ownership of the body, you can also deny the facts about how it works—no matter how well you know them. I’ll never forget the university biology department adviser with a master’s degree in biochemistry to whom I described my work as not new information but inspiring new education. She ruefully pulled a bag of corn chips from her desk and admitted “This is all I eat all day.” Talk about knowledge not making the difference!
People who aren’t happy with their bodies sometimes actively take the position that the body is only distantly related to their lives. This can also be the mantra of spiritually-minded folks. “I’m not my body,” they insist loftily. The mind and the spirit, they say, are far more important. I contend that they are all important—and that perhaps some take this position only because they’re sure what they’ll “have to” do to handle the body will be miserable; and/or they’ve failed at handling it so often they’ve given up.
You can say “I am not my body” all you want, but when you’re lying in the hospital after a heart failure, how can you go continue the work or sport or contribution you love, while your body stays behind and recuperates? There’s no separating the two—in this life, at least. On this earth, your soul, mind, spirit (and anything else your beliefs say are part of you) all come in this package we call a body. That body is the machine that will support every activity you have planned for the rest of your life.
You decide how important those activities are to you. If you are to accomplish what you want to, your body is coming with you—in fact, it’s propelling you there. It’s not just an ornament; it’s the whole vehicle. Decide what kind of condition you want it to be in, given where you’re going. Then learning exactly what influences its condition will have a solid purpose.
“IT’S ONLY ME”
Sometimes, the greatest roadblock to discovering an inspiring reason for eating well is the conviction that you aren’t important enough to warrant excellent care. In the April 1992 issue of Bazaar, a news clip noted that Olympian women need to eat an amount that the magazine suggested “most American women couldn’t imagine.” But I may eat nearly that much in a day. It’s not hard for me to imagine at all—and I’m no Olympic athlete. But I do think of myself as being as important as one—to myself, to my work and to the people directly around me—and that’s key. (I also know what my body needs and what it does with food, and that helps immensely, too.)
World-class athletes obviously need to take great care of themselves and “fuel” appropriately. In fact, athletes are the one group of people who consistently talk about food as fuel for their activities. Why not you? Most people think they are ordinary souls who don’t need to bother as much with good fueling as athletes do. True, the costs of not doing so are less immediately obvious—you’re not going to lose a gold medal or fall on your face during a sprint. But what about your world-class life? Life is an athletic endeavor. We are athletes in our lives and would do well to honor ourselves as such.
Think about your average day. You probably have a job or business; possibly a very demanding one. Maybe you have a lover or spouse; maybe kids, too. Social activities. Sports and exercise. Travel. Errands. Volunteer work. You think you don’t need energy for those things? You think that those aren’t Olympic trials? That getting through one of your action-packed days isn’t an Olympic feat?
So often I hear “I don’t have time to eat. I’m too busy taking care of…” Fill in the blank. My work. My office. My husband. My kids. My groups. My home. My car. My friends. My mother. How do you expect to take care of all those people and things if you’re not taken care of? How well can you really accomplish what you’re out to accomplish, when the machine you live in needs fuel, and you’re not providing it? When you maybe don’t even know what that fuel is?
Every body needs fuel. Everyone who owns a body must fuel it the way it was meant to be fueled—if one’s life demands high performance from it. And whose doesn’t?
INVESTING: PRECIOUS GEMS
Many people concern themselves with retirement planning and act to ensure financial security in later years. Yet in our culture, it is not yet habitual to plan carefully for a “savings account” of health and fitness—to eat as if “investing” in one’s future body.
People who are consistently, permanently inspired to care for themselves have the conviction that the body is precious and worth their investment. You don’t treat precious things badly. You are only careless with things you don’t think are valuable. If you are deeply in touch with how precious you are, you won’t want to mistreat the package you come in, either. If you value yourself and the body you come in, fueling is then an obvious priority, an instinctive course of action.
As with financial investing, little can be done to suddenly turn a meager investment into instant fortune. Health and fitness—like savings accounts—are built consistently, not suddenly. And it’s efficient eating, not money, that represents investment in your body. Money can’t necessarily recover a deteriorated body. You can’t buy health as easily as you can throw a greenback on your doctor’s desk.
Even if you could, why spend money that way? Why abuse yourself in the hope that money will buy you out of the consequences later—when you can painlessly prevent costly ramifications and spend your money on something great instead?
JUDY: THE DIFFERENCE KNOWING “WHAT YOU’RE FUELING” CAN MAKE
Judy, a morbidly obese 35-year-old woman who has been dieting since she was six, called me a week after a workshop to tell this story: Her husband had bought a box of jumbo, greasy muffins, which she normally would have eaten four of immediately. She said that she looked at the muffins for a long time, then said to herself, “You know—there’s no fuel in that for me.” So she had a salad and half a whole-grain bagel instead—happily.
Judy was standing up for her body like she never has before—because she is now conscious of her body’s value and necessity in a way she has never been. No longer is it a separate “thing” she must drag around. It’s her. And it’s the only one she’s ever going to get. For the first time in 29 years, she’s not trying to “fix what’s wrong”—just fuel all the great things she sees as being possible from now on.
I’ve introduced this inquiry. It’s your job to keep it going. If you think you just want to skip to “how-tos” without considering further and laying this foundation…well, as I’ve emphasized, every choice is yours to make.
But I’ve been studying people and how they go about this for years. I’ve taken a close look at what’s missing—why so few feel satisfied in the endless, universal quest for fitness and a way of life that supports it. I’ve learned from my own experience and that of thousands of others: great directions are utterly useless without a journey planned. In the case of eating, that journey must be a lifelong one, visualized in detail, for your experience to shift. If you don’t develop and keep developing a perspective that goes far beyond next month or even next year, you’ll probably never escape diet thinking.
The reward is a way of seeing your body, yourself and your life—all connected—that lets you enjoy the possibilities, and relish how everything you do for yourself is contributing to those possibilities. Pair this with full knowledge of how your body ticks and how that applies to eating and exercise, and you’ve got power, choice, and freedom like never before.
This post is excerpted from BodyFueling, ©1994 Robyn Landis, Warner Books