I have pixelated friends. That is, some of my best friends are a group of women who I’ve known for 8 or 9 years almost exclusively via the internet. The husband of one member of the group calls us her ‘imaginary friends.’ We met when all of us were doing Weight Watchers online, and frequented one of the electronic bulletin boards there. We got in the habit of checking in with each other every day, sharing our victories at the scale and also our non-scale victories of fitting into smaller sizes of clothes or making better (that is, lower calorie) choices.
Most of us fell away from Weight Watchers, but kept up our friendship online and eventually migrated to Facebook where our friendship has deepened and we continue to share with each other daily in a private group.
It’s only a small portion of our friendship any more, but we still talk about weight and fitness and what is for most of us an ongoing process of finding out what it means to live in a heathy way. We have shifted from complaining about the limitations of our daily allocation of calories and crowing about a 2 pound loss to reflecting upon the habits of eating and working at being mindful. We’re focusing on the perspectives and practices needed to step off that just-five-more-pounds hamster wheel that so many women find themselves on. What we are supporting each other in doing is loving our bodies for how they are and discovering what health means for us.
A recent conversation with these friends made me think of a TED talk by Jonathan Haidt in which he describes what he believes are the inborn moral categories that all human beings have. When I heard this the first time several years ago, I was struck that he claimed that conservatives were generally more concerned with purity than liberals. That makes some sense – think about sexuality codes especially around women (anti-abortion, anti-contraception, no sex outside of marriage) and homosexuality.
He notes that liberals can have their own sort of purity issues, too. I’m often stunned by how deeply liberals require purity: eating codes (vegetarian, vegan, only fair trade, all organic), ideological demands (Obama has failed because of the drones and like comments), the worst excesses of ‘political correctness,’ when people are condemned for mis-stepping with language, or lacking awareness of issues around privilege and ingrained cultural racism/sexism/abelism and so on.
I realized that for some weeks I had been down on myself because my weight had been stable for more than 2 months when I was supposedly trying to lose weight. I was eating Cheetos – my daughter Claire loves them so we keep them in the house – too many sweets, going out to eat too often, making ‘bad’ choices. I heard myself saying ‘I’ve been bad’ when what I really meant was I’d been making choices based on different needs and values. In a stressful time, I opted for more comfort eating than healthy eating. I recognize that part of my task now is to ways to comfort myself other than overeating foods that should be rare treats, but I don’t need to moralize my eating. In fact what I most need to do is de-moralize what I’m eating and remove the damaging self judgement that comes along with it.
Our ability to move toward awareness and choices without the moral overlay is, I think, a key step toward greater health overall. Mindfulness about our eating and exercise is what counts most: noticing our choices and not declaring them good or bad, attending to our emotional state as well as our physical needs, having compassion for ourselves. Attaining health isn’t a matter of a number on a scale or the size pants we wear, but is a quality of a good life. When we can see it as such, we will be healthy and more whole.