fibromyalgia, health, personal growth, society

On conscious consumption

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about conscious consumption. Health issues have forced me to become more aware of and selective about the foods I eat (goodbye, dairy) and drinks I drink (goodbye, beer). While researching ingredients, I started thinking more about where my food comes from, how it’s made, and who grows or makes it. I’ve done this to varying degrees several times over the years, but I guess being preoccupied with grad school more recently made me forget. This year, I’ve (re)realized how similar the food industry is to the clothing industry in many respects: the final product often contains ingredients that hurt consumers, the manufacturing/harvesting process harms the environment, and workers throughout the chain are widely mistreated and underpaid.

Chronic illness has forced me to become more conscious not only of what I consume physically, but how I spend my time. Fibromyalgia often limits how long I can look at a computer screen, engage in physical activity, be “on” in social situations, etc. By necessity, I’ve learned to become more aware of and discerning about what information, entertainment, and social events I “consume.”

“Conscious consumption” doesn’t have a single, agreed-upon definition. For me, engaging in conscious consumption means trying my best to first become aware of what I am consuming, and then, to purposely choose to consume things that are healthy for me and the planet, and are in line with my values.

Reflecting on consumption has also made me realize how much of my time I spend consuming. Consumption is one of my primary modes of being. I wouldn’t be surprised if it is the primary mode of being in the United States. Think about how much time you spend not just eating or shopping—the things most commonly referred to as “consumption”—but drinking, reading, watching TV, listening, looking, or in some way taking in something (physical or virtual) created by someone else. I’m also trying to become more aware of how much time I spend consuming. Consuming is a natural part of life and isn’t bad, but it is inherently passive, and I don’t want it to take up the majority of my time. I am working on spending more time operating in different modes, spending my time in nature, writing, creating art, conversing with close friends, exercising, etc.

I’m recognizing that conscious consumption is closely tied to the narrative I tell myself about my experiences with fibromyalgia. I received a fibromyalgia diagnosis in 2008, at age twenty-seven, but probably had it for a couple years prior to that. In 2016, I am still grappling with the illness, still processing the fact that it’s chronic and will possibly last my entire lifetime, and still accepting that unlike acute illnesses, which require a search for a cure, fibromyalgia requires I learn how to manage and live with it rather than try to get rid of it altogether.

Learning to live successfully with fibromyalgia requires heightened awareness. When my body goes into a sensitive mode, one wrong move—staying out too late, eating the wrong meal—can have dire consequences that will affect my ability to function for hours, days, or even weeks ahead. Paying close attention to what I consume is vital if I want to feel consistently healthy and balanced.

For years, I hated this situation, this sensitivity, the effort managing it all requires. I rallied against it emotionally. When feeling bad, I mentally whined about the unfairness. When feeling well, I denied that I had an illness at all. Now, I’m rewriting my story. I’m softening, I’m accepting. I’m searching for the silver lining, the benefits I receive from this difficult challenge. I’ve stopped angrily focusing on my limitations. The biggest benefit I can identify is increased awareness and, by extension, more conscious consumption. The biggest benefit I can identify is an increased motivation to seek out information about all I consume, an increased commitment to make changes in my lifestyle that not only benefit me, but benefit others and the earth.

I’ve agreed with the principle of conscious consumption for years, but my most recent health flare-ups have pushed me to really reflect on and examine my lifestyle and habits, and to commit to living a life that promotes health and is in line with my values. I have a long way to go, but am becoming more aware daily. I wrote this blog post as a preface—I plan on exploring the many facets of conscious consumption and writing more about these ideas in the future.

eating, health

Eating food you’re not hungry for is wasteful

Years ago, at least five and maybe up to ten, my friend Erin casually commented to me that eating food you’re not hungry for is wasteful. I can’t remember the exact situation. Maybe we were sitting in a restaurant after eating, feeling totally stuffed, looking at two bites of delicious food left on a plate and I asked who was going to finish it off. Probably something along those lines.

I didn’t grow up in one of those strict families that won’t let kids leave the dinner table before finishing everything on their plates. My parents never made us feel guilty by reminding us of children starving in Africa. Still, my parents also never threw away food, and if there was some left on the table at the end of a meal, someone would eat it in order not to waste it. Because not wasting food was so deeply ingrained into me growing up, Erin’s idea of eating unwanted food as wasting it pretty much blew my mind.

At first, I instinctually knew Erin was wrong. Of course eating food is less wasteful than throwing that food in the garbage, regardless of how hungry a person is. Duh. Then I thought more about it and kept reasoning through it and realized my instincts were wrong in this situation. She was right! It is just as wasteful to eat those last few (unwanted) bites as it is to throw them away. Maybe even more wasteful.

How so? If you eat food you don’t want, the calories are just as wasted as if no one ate the food at all. Your body isn’t going to use that energy to do anything because you already have enough energy. The food is going to sit in your body, wasting away, requiring energy for processing, putting unnecessary strain on your digestive system as it turns into poop. The unneeded food might make you sluggish and lethargic. It might make you fatter and less healthy. It might stretch your stomach and contribute to a future desire to overeat.

Maybe everyone who reads my blog already knew this, but even 5-10 years after learning it, the “eating can be wasteful” idea feels new. I need to remind myself of it regularly, especially when at a nice restaurant and sitting face-to-face with food I’m no longer hungry for but view as unusual or expensive. Of course, I’ll take leftovers to go if it fits the situation, but oftentimes it does not because of the nature of the food or the way my day is planned.

It still takes quite a bit of conscious awareness for me to push away a plate that has food sitting on it. In these moments I have to sit and mentally walk through the logic, reminding myself that I’m being less wasteful by not eating what’s in front of me since I’m not hungry. Once I feel reassured that I’m doing a good thing by not eating it, a less wasteful/more healthful thing, pushing the plate away becomes easy. It’s remembering to do this and break through those old eating habits with conscious thought that is difficult.