We have seen a troubling trend in class recently: mature, successful, adult women fainting. Powerful, successful women in the prime of their lives falling down on the floor in the middle of a yoga class. Women aged 40-70 years old. Career women. Mothers. Caretakers. Lovers. Brilliant and inspiring powerhouses. Women who regularly take care of 100 different things a day. Experienced and seasoned yogis, blacking out doing a pose they have done at least a hundred times. The common thread underlying these episodes? Food.
By food I mean, not enough.
Women who haven’t eaten in 24 hours. Women who have had less than 200 calories since they woke up. Women who consider egg whites and steamed vegetables enough fuel to last them 8 hours. In each case, the woman who had fainted was shocked when I suggested that starving her body might leave her light-headed during exercise.
I could expound on a myriad of reasons why we waste so much energy focusing on our weight. I won’t because I am fed up. I am fed up with women who can build and grow successful international businesses, but don’t know enough to feed themselves. I am fed up with women who work full-time, volunteer in the community, raise their kids, care for their aging parents, are loving, devoted spouses, support their friends in times of need and cannot take the time to care for themselves, too. It’s endemic. It’s pervasive. It is enough. I am not fed up with you, woman, I am fed up with us. That we agree to this as normal. That we accept it as okay.
There is an end game to not caring for yourself before you take care of others. There is a toll from under-eating for a week, a month, a decade or a lifetime. The brain will get what it needs, even if you don’t eat. Once you have no more available energy, your body begins to consume muscle for energy. Your brain doesn’t care if it is your hamstrings or your heart; it just wants food. When you are thinking of starving yourself into that smaller pair of slacks, have you ever stopped to think, maybe my waistline isn’t worth having a heart attack over?
The most upsetting part of these stories is that not one of these women who has been chronically starving herself was overweight. Not. One. And all of them felt they were doing the “right” thing by not eating or by under-eating. We feel a strong pride for having fought the drive to feed our bodies. For having obsessed all of our waking hours about each morsel that did and did not pass our lips. Can you imagine what we could have accomplished if we spent the same amount of time thinking about how to change the world?
What if you shifted your thinking about food for a week or even a day from an exercise in control to a mechanism to fuel your singular body? Why should you? Because you don’t get a redo on bone density. No one else cares that you fit into a size 2 for three blissful weeks in ’89. What the people who love you care about is: are you happy? Are you healthy? Are you loved? Are you safe? Are you challenged? Are you inspired?
Because you deserve to be. And obsessing about calories is not going to get you there.
Seventy percent of the calories you consume are used to keep you alive. Think breathing, digesting, pumping blood, staying 98 degrees and making insulin and estrogen. If 2,000 is the average, that means around 1,400 calories are required at a minimum to keep your heart beating while lying in a bed in a warm room. The rest is used for your daily activities. It is recommended that the average, moderately active woman consume 1500-1800 calories, and this is if you are trying to lose weight. The average woman burns about 330 calories in a 90-minute Bikram Yoga class.
So eat up. Make it healthy. Eat clean. Get your 9 servings of fruits and vegetables a day. Don’t forget your complex carbs along with that grilled chicken breast. Add a nice, healthy slab of avocado on your baked tofu sandwich. You are a woman. You are a yogi. You are an athlete in this life. Your body deserves to be treated as such.
Sara Curry is a yoga teacher, studio owner, wife and mother of two from Southern Maine.