Martha Beck's Balm for Our Weary Souls
Thanks for reading Almost Sated, a newsletter for people who want to quit measuring their self-worth by their appearance. If you like what you’re reading, please consider subscribing and sharing! It’s free to join, and subscribing ensures you never miss a post. On Mondays, I round up the most motivating reads and listens from the last week.
Last week, I had the pleasure of listening to author and life coach Martha Beck speak at the National Association of Women in Business’ annual conference. A nearly packed ballroom of several hundred women, myself included, gathered to hear what she had to say about thriving through change.
I had never heard of Beck before this event, but I’ve since learned she’s written multiple New York Times bestsellers, has three social sciences degrees from Harvard, and has battled both chronic illness and an eating disorder. Her latest book, The Way of Integrity: Finding the Path to Your True Self, explores why “integrity”—or being in harmony with ourselves—is the key to a meaningful life.
In her speech, she defined integrity as having body, mind and soul in alignment. She painted culture as the enemy of integrity and our body “as the part of us that gets disciplined by culture until we can’t find it anymore.” She spoke about how we find integrity when we feel at peace, but most of us don’t feel at peace, because of these so-called “cultural forces.”
As I sat in that ballroom surrounded by successful women wanting to learn the secrets to more success, I took a good look around and wondered how many of them understood the radicalness of her suggestion—that to achieve integrity, you have to go against culture and live in harmony with your whole self. It didn’t take me long to find parallels between her message and that of the anti-diet movement.
I won’t speak for Beck, but I’ve come to understand that for all the good culture does at bringing society together, it tears apart individualism. And that’s because for most of us, our cultural expectations are aspirational rather than achievable. We’re told what the ideal looks like and that we should go after it, spending most of our lives not questioning whether it’s actually attainable, in our best interest or even in the interest of most of society. These expectations are often created by those in power, who wish to stay in power. They serve as a tool for "othering," a means to reward a privileged few while penalizing the majority. And for women, they are often focused on our bodies and our appearance.
I also believe we can’t live in harmony with our bodies when we’ve been taught to sever the connection. I’ve lived it over the last year as I’ve sought to reconnect to my body through intuitive eating. I can hear faint signals now, after a lifetime of ignoring them. There is still much work to be done.
Every time we push through pain inside our body, every time we tell ourselves, “I just ate, how could I possibly be hungry again?” and choose to deny our feelings, we don’t just suppress these signals, we invalidate ourselves.
In Reclaiming the Body Trust: A Path to Healing & Liberation, which I’m currently reading, Hilary Kinavey and Dana Sturtevant write about the path to body liberation and why it’s so challenging.
“This work is hard because it means uprooting the truth about what ruptured your relationship with your body, reckoning with the process of reclamation itself, and choosing to live a life where you do not participate in what has harmed you and which most of the culture deems benign.” —from Reclaiming the Body Trust
To me, that last part is most important, and it speaks to what Beck is getting at. It appears to be benign, but it’s what is keeping us from living our truest selves.
I started reading Beck’s The Way of Integrity this weekend, so I can’t tell you how it ends, but I can tell you she’s proposing that if you actually listen to yourself—if you learn to live in integrity—you will find happiness. I believe that’s largely true, except having spent the last year going against the grain of culture—diet culture, that is—I can tell you it’s incredibly difficult to live your truth when it doesn’t align with the rest of culture.
It creates all kinds of cognitive dissonance, doubt and uncertainty. It makes you feel like the lone fish swimming against the current of conformity. I'm not opposing Beck; I wholeheartedly support her message and acknowledge that the more we as individuals challenge cultural norms, the smoother the path becomes for all of us. But let’s not confuse it for easy.
I’ll admit, it sure felt easy when Beck reset the mood of the entire ballroom with one simple mindfulness exercise that she said would ease pain and anxiety and help reawaken creativity. She asked us to get comfortable in our chairs, close our eyes and…imagine the distance between our eyes.
A palpable calm fell over the room as hundreds of women did as they were prompted and tapped into their inner knowing.
We can’t undo a lifetime of ignoring body signals after just one conference. But we can take that one spark and fan it to more awakening.
More Links to Lift You Up and Get Your Creative Juices Flowing
Are you the animal enabler or enforcer in your home?manages to tell a story about his dachshund rescue, Dink Dink, to illustrate a complex social theory about how we define ourselves through our differences.
- challenges us to push ourselves outside of our comfort zones and argues our growth depends on it.
For those times when your creative cup runneth over, non-diet nutritionistshares a tip for safely storing them away until the time is right.
- of The Bed Perspective provides an intimate, soul-baring glimpse into what it’s like living with a long-term chronic illness.
Research scientistof Just One Bite explains all the ways babies are introduced to flavors, how they come to like different foods, and what we as parents can do to help them expand their palette.
- interviews Christine Yu, author of Up to Speed: The Groundbreaking Science of Women Athletes, about what she’s learned in her years of researching the subject of female athletes, including why female athletes need to eat (yes, this still needs to be explained), why carbs aren’t the enemy, and why diets like keto and intermittent fasting don’t work as well for women.
“... the body likes to be in homeostasis, it likes to be in balance. So anytime energy levels start to dip, your body starts to send out these flares that are like, “Wait a second, hold on. Are we going to be starving real soon?” Because if so, I need to make some adjustments, physiologically. So with a lot of these diets, you actually end up with these long periods of under-fueling your body. With intermittent fasting, you’re not eating for anywhere between eight to many, many hours. So you’re leaving your body in this huge deficit of energy so it starts to freak out and starts to shut down these non essential systems.” —Christine Yu
What’s the most interesting thing you’ve read in the last week? Drop a link below. And I’d love to hear your thoughts on Martha Beck and the idea that culture is the enemy of the individual.
Thanks for reading Almost Sated. Right now, I’m focused on getting this newsletter into the hands of people who need it. If you found what you read interesting, encouraging, or helpful, please make sure you’re subscribed and consider sharing it with others!