By Shae Hadden
Summer has finally arrived here in the Pacific Northwest, and with it
the seasonal display of beachwear trends. No matter what the
fashionistas may be sporting on the runways, the beaches are where the
reality of the North American body is exposed for all to see. Most of
us attempt to do what’s possible, given our lifestyles during the
winter. We’re not there just for the sun and surf. We’re trying to look
the best we possibly can with the bodies we have so we can attract
attention, whether for purposes of relationship or just plain
had always hoped there’s more going on here at the beach than just the
mating, dating and gawking games. But watching where everyone focuses
their attention in the throng of volleyball-playing, swimming,
strolling and picnicking crowds seems to prove me wrong. The natural
attraction seems to be to the trim, fit, energized bodies being
displayed in all their glory. Few look at bodies exposing belly fat,
pale flesh and flab. As I grow older, perhaps I’m becoming more jaded,
but it seems to me there are more and more of those spare tires and
fewer lean, strong bodies. Is this trend part of our aging population’s
destiny or is it a choice we’re (consciously or unconsciously) making?
We’re bombarded daily with stats on the obesity epidemic, articles about the benefits of exercise, and tips on how to lose our spare tire.
Yes, it’s up to each person to choose how they want to live their life,
but I think there’s more at play here than just hormonal changes and a
more sedentary lifestyle as we grow older. Combining regular exercise,
a healthy, nutritious diet and lowering our daily caloric intake are
important … but these lifestyle recommendations don’t always do the
I believe there’s a connection between our bodies and
our emotions. I’m not talking here about the binge eating of emotional
eaters or the starvation and purging tactics of anorexics and bulimics
who want to ‘feel’ like they’re in control of their bodies. Candace Pert, in her book Molecules of Emotion,
has shown that emotions are biological processes, and that they exist
throughout our bodies in the form of molecules called peptides. Our
bodies ‘feel’, and the trouble begins when we choose to ignore or avoid
what we’re feeling.
How many of us have a comfort food we
gravitate to when we’re feeling unhappy, a placating food for when
we’re angry or a nervous nibblie we pick up when we’re anxious? Eating
in this unconscious way is normal and almost expected in our hectic,
rushed lives. I have a dear friend who moved here from France several
years ago, and she pointed out to me how fast we eat here. A decade
ago, when she first started working in Paris, lunchtime used to last
two hours. But our North American culture has infiltrated there, and
now lunch has been reduced to our standard hour with fast food joints
proliferating where once healthy cuisine ruled the day. I’m trying to
remember when the last time was I actually tasted what I was eating in
a relaxed, unhurried way…even though I know eating in a rush will just
hurry me to the grave faster.
Even more insidious is eating to
cushion our ‘selves’ from feeling. Whatever we are avoiding—be it fear
about terrorist activities, anger about what our leaders are doing
about what’s happening in the world, or resignation that nothing we as
individuals do will have any impact—ends up stored in our bodies.
Unless we are constantly ‘letting go’ of this in a conscious way
through exercise, meditation, detoxification practices, counselling or
other similar methods, we may be constantly accumulating toxic emotions
in our very flesh and blood. To avoid the ‘pain’ of these emotions, we
fill ourselves up to dilute the experience of feeling. Excess body fat
is a way of protecting ourselves, and that extra cushion is all that
stands between us and ‘pain’. Under such conditions, letting go means
pain, holding on means comfort.
I think this is why exercise
programs directed towards the ‘body beautiful’ don’t always do the
trick. Until we make a commitment to look at and experience whatever
emotions we are storing in our bodies, we are playing a game designed
to have us fail.
We can’t always win at the ‘body beautiful’ game.
But we can win at the ‘body healthy’ game…when we choose to look at and live our emotional life.