I’ve jumped onto several goal-setting challenges this month – ‘Make this Your Best Year Yet’ – that sort of thing.
I’m not really very good with goals. I don’t like the word for a start, it reminds me of football and boardroom flip charts.
More than that, I’m a great one for setting a scroll of goals and then finding I can’t keep up with it all and so I give up, disheartened.
So this year, I gravitated towards goal-setting that called for things like the three words that sum up how you want to feel, the one word that encapsulates what you want to achieve. I think I can do that.
What has struck me, though, is the number of women (and they are all women) who put weight loss at the top of their list. “I need to lose 6 pounds.” “I want to drop a dress size.”
I have been overweight nearly all my life. I know just about every diet going and probably have as much knowledge of nutrition as your average doctor.
This I know: diets don’t work.
But this post is not about the conversation on how one should go about shedding the spare tyre.
It is about: why are we all doing this in the first place?
I know, I know, carrying extra weight carries health risks. But look at it this way – for generations, women (and it is mainly women) have been indoctrinated with the belief that our worth lies in our shape, our size and our weight.
Like our value can actually be measured empirically with scales and a tape measure.
And so we have channelled our energies into counting calories and chalking up minutes in the gym. We have pored over recipes and spent way more than we can afford on magical foods. We have castigated ourselves as we watch the number on the scale slide back forth from good to bad.
We are in cahoots with one another. We share on social media how good we have been; how bad we have been; how much despair we feel that our bodies just won’t look the way we think they should.
Fundamentally, we believe it is all our fault.
Even more crucially, we funnel our energies into fighting with our selves. You recognise it don’t you? The inexorable struggle to accept ourselves yet to change the way we look. It’s exhausting.
Geneen Roth, a pioneer and visionary in this area says the way we eat reflects the way we live. It works like this: We are distracted by food constantly. Good food, bad food, healthy food, naughty food. We stuff and we starve.
Now look at how that translates into our attitude to our lives: we are distracted constantly. Good stuff, bad stuff, healthy habits, naughty habits. We binge on stuff, we starve ourselves of true soul nourishment. We are never still enough to be present with our lives; we are in constant search of the next thing that will fix the gnawing emptiness we feel.
It is my belief that it goes further. The way we are with food is the way we are with life is the way we are with the planet.
Apparently, (and I only learnt this recently) our gut is our second brain. It does as much thinking for us as the brain in our heads. Or it would do if it weren’t constantly having to deal with the crap we have filled it with or with the absence of any true nourishment.
Our gut holds our intuitive knowledge. It is the part of us that can tell us how to be in this world in the way that the rest of creation is: simply, without drama, without the push-me pull-you of good and bad, healthy and naughty.
Mindfulness (a word that has possibly had way too much airtime in recent years to retain its true potency) teaches us to be present in the moment. What we mean by that is to be aware of what we are doing and thinking. This is where Geneen Roth is absolutely right. Most of the time, we eat without thinking, mindlessly, while watching telly or driving the car.
Mindfulness when eating requires us to really notice what’s on our plate, where it has come from, the work that has gone into getting it here, in front of us. It also requires us to be present in our bodies, to really know what we are feeling inside, in our gut.
So the takeaway (pun absolutely intended) from this, for me, is that we need to ditch the diets and the obsession with our bodies as recalcitrant extensions of ourselves. We urgently need to swivel the focus to our connection to the living world around us, to our natural place in the web of things.
If we can reclaim our bodies as simply magnificent vessels that carry who we really are, we might find we can hear the wisdom of our guts more clearly. And if we listen to this innate knowledge, we will understand once more what our ancestors did, that we are no more nor less than the rest of the non-human entities on this planet.
If we are no longer preoccupied with our size, our shape, our weight, imagine how much collective energy and creativity we can pour into healing our world.
To be at one with the cosmos takes guts.