J and I had an amazing conversation last night, during which I connected some seemingly disparate things. It was really helpful in my continued self-growth.
We were talking about my family, and my mom’s tendency (even now) to control her family’s behaviors. Especially food-related behaviors. I was spared the brunt of these tendencies growing up, because I was hyper-conscious of my food intake, and stayed a reasonably healthy weight the whole time growing up. My dad and younger sister, though, have had to deal with a ton of negative messages, both direct and subtle. It seems like the more control that my mom has tried to instill around meals and food, the more both my dad and sister have resisted her, and it tends to create behaviors opposite from what she desires (aka they might eat more, or eat the “wrong” foods, etc). (This was one way that control as love was established within my family, and continues on. Clearly, my mom loves my dad and sister-and me- and wants what is best for everyone. She wants people to be healthy and to feel good about themselves. But she has projected her own needs onto others in a controlling way. That is how she has shown her concern and love. Thank you, counseling, for helping to connect all of these dots. Whew)
While I wasn’t the receiver of the same messages, I witnessed them. I was a super hyper-conscious eater from the time I was 13 until I was in college. I put myself through a couple of very restrictive diets, and was obsessed with my food intake, my weight, and body image. It appeared that I had my weight “under control,” but mentally, I was suffering for a long time. In our junior year of college, J and I met with a nutritional counselor (J, too, struggled with similar things growing up, and witnessed similar control patterns in his family around food). This woman was our saving grace. She gave us the book Intuitive Eating. We read it, and have re-read it several times. And I know for myself (and I think J would agree for himself) that it changed my life.
The book is all about how the diet mentality has sabotaged people’s natural abilities to eat when they are hungry and stop when they are full, and people’s natural tendencies to truly enjoy food, to gain pleasure from it. One thing I remember most from the book is the authors’ idea that children know how to eat naturally; they eat until they are full and then they stop (given sufficient access to it), and that their food variety naturally balances our over time. As we get older, we are told how to eat by parents and society. The diet mentality hits full force, telling us that we don’t know how to eat, that we shouldn’t eat certain foods, that foods we might not enjoy we should eat anyway. Our internal compass gets totally and completely screwed up. Foods get imbued with emotional meaning, and we put them on a pedestal. We crave them more. It becomes a vicious cycle.
Instead, if you let yourself eat what you want, when you want, and strive to pay attention to your natural hunger signals and cycles, that you will naturally balance out to your natural weight.
One of the biggest requirements in the book is that you have to give up the diet mentality. You just have to let it go. You have to let the fear go that you will pack on the pounds if you stop dieting. You have to believe that dieting really does not work long-term. You have to change your food paradigm. And that takes giving up an external structure, take back individual control, and relearning to pay attention to your individual needs.
Okay, so here is my connection to my own journey with our open relationship. I have been working on giving up control. Giving up the idea that I can control my partner(s). Giving up all of my underlying fears: that I will be lonely. that J will leave me for someone else. that J will find me less desirable in favor of someone else. blah blah blah. In fact, this article on jealousy from Franklin Veaux articluated this process perfectly. Here is the excerpt that I am talking about:
“If my partner does these things with someone of the same sex as me, then I might lose my partner, because someone else might give him the same things I give him. If I lose my fear of losing my partner, I will no longer have a reason to ask my partner not to do these things. If I don’t have a reason to ask my partner not to do these things, then my partner will do them, because I know he wants to do them. If my partner does these things, I will lose my partner, because then someone else will give him the same things I give him. So I better not get over my fear, because if I get over my fear, then I won’t have a reason to ask him not to do these things, and that means he’ll do these things, and that means…I’ll lose him!”
I just have to give up the fear. I just have to. It just needs to be gone. Gone, I say!
(An aside: Something that my dad actually said to me the other day with regards to a totally unrelated issue was: “Don’t make it a bigger deal than it is. It’s fine.” It has been an amazing mantra for me with regards to open stuff that causes me angst. I say to myself: “Don’t make it a bigger deal than it is. It’s fine.” Similarly, this reminds me of J’s brother when he talked to us about J’s parents once. He remarked that they make life so much more difficult than it needs to be. “Life is as simple or difficult as you want it to be!” I have been mantra-ing that to myself as well: “Keep it simple!” These have been really helpful internal messages in feeling my fears truly dissipate.)
And actually, having these two processes now connected in my mind between my food and love behaviors was incredibly helpful. It feels a little dorky to write about it in this way, but it also makes a ton of sense to me. Both food and sex/love are basic human needs. Everyone needs food, and beyond that, everyone desires on some level to be pleasured and nourished emotionally by the food they eat. And everyone needs love and physical touch, which requires real human connection and intimacy. Also, knowing that I have been successful over the long-term with changing my food paradigm makes me even more confident in my abilities to rewire my neural network around love and sex.
And more about that. I was telling J the other night that I remember feeling much more poly when I was younger. (I would say, before I hit puberty. Once puberty hit, all of those societal messages around “one romantic love” hit me in full force). I grew up in a loving home, in a religious community that espouses individual search for truth and meaning and respect for everyone and interdpendence (and of course, there is, as I have now discovered, a UU poly community and organization). This realization has reminded me that I do have a deeper foundation for fundamentally understanding and operating within a poly framework.
Food and love. Treat yourself well: love yourself and nourish your body, deeply. Keep it simple. Don’t make it harder than it needs to be. Give up the fear. Truly. Let it go. Be responsible for yourself. That’s all you can do.