Locus of Evaluation: who makes your decisions?

There is a spectrum when it comes to decision making:  at one end is using an internal locus of evaluation and at the other is using an external one.  A person lucky enough to have an internal locus of evaluation, my oldest daughter, for example, makes decisions by consulting herself.  She always has!  I joke that she raised me and not the other way around, except that it isn’t a joke.  When Abi was 6, she decided that animal consumption was immoral and cruel, and in my maternal ‘wisdom’, informed by mainstream thought about meat, protein and growing children, I persuaded and cajoled her to continue.  Sorry, Abi!  But by the time she was 9, she pointblank refused, and I realised that she really was going to exist on potatoes, pasta, vegetables, baked beans and toast unless I intervened.  So I joined her in the meatless way of life but persuaded her to continue eating fish and dairy and eggs, for protein and Omega 3.

Abi continued to consult herself on these matters, doing research and ordering informative leaflets from a range of animal welfare organisations, and made it increasingly clear that she considered fish eating also immoral and bad for the planet, as well as dairy and eggs.  She presented me with information that corroborated her internal suspicions, and she educated me about the reality of the egg industry (which involves shredding up male chicks) and the dairy industry (which involves shipping unwanted males off for veal or just shooting them in the head at birth or a few weeks old).  By the time she was 12 we were vegan.  I couldn’t unknow the facts that she had presented me, and we have been vegan ever since – her more successfully than me as I have had the occasional unvegan day. 

My point is this: up to the age of 30 something, I had believed all the nutritional advice that I’d been taught, never questioned it, did the same as everybody else and didn’t question the status quo.  Having a prophet in the family – somebody who is prepared to stand on the hill and speak truth loudly and clearly – somebody who is prepared to question the status quo and ask:  ‘Is this right?  Does this sit right with who I am on the inside?’ isn’t always convenient but I am deeply grateful for her.  She has brought me to a more ethical life and one that is better for the planet.  Without her, I would undoubtedly not have made those choices all those years ago.  She has also brought most of the family to her way of thinking and made a significant difference to our carbon footprint as a result.  All because she has an internal locus of evaluation.

I have always had a largely external locus of evaluation.  This isn’t to say that I haven’t followed the light of inner knowledge, because I have.  I managed to get a degree, train as a teacher, leave a bad relationship and become a better partner as a result of that, learn as a parent and choose a career path that suits me and my needs.  But there’s still a hell of a lot of worry about what people think of me.  I ask my husband:  ‘Do YOU think this is OK?  Was that BAD?  Should I have said that?  Do you think I upset him/her?’  I sometimes spend bloody hours after a conversation analysing what I said or didn’t say, and worry that the person will think less of me or not want to see me again, regardless of how much or how little of a role they actually play in my life.  I also spent years of life hyper focused on my appearance, which was always, always about how others perceived me because I honestly do not care how I look to myself in the mirror.  I really don’t.    I was always looking at myself through the lens of imaginary other people.

When we have this external locus of evaluation, we become performers for the benefit of others.  We have performative sex instead of loving fun together with our partners.  When we light candles so our partners won’t see the wobbly bits, who are we in this except bodies to be looked at?  A person with an internal locus of evaluation would ask:  ‘How does this feel?  What do I want to do right now in this moment?’  Not, ‘What do I look like?’

And when it comes to food and eating, this has to be the biggest personal one for me.  If we’re counting calories, following a plan, using a food log, tracking fat, macros or carbs, doing the 5/2, intermittent fasting or any other form of rule based eating, what has happened to our inner knowledge?  Our awareness of who we even are?  We were born with an instinct to eat until we were satisfied and then stop and rest and then eat again until satisfied.  As children, we chose an apple sometimes and a piece of cake at other times.  I used to give my kids a plate that they called a picnic, with bits of sandwich, cubes of cheese, little chocolate buttons, a few crisps, some raisins, some slices of apple and a few iced gems.  Sometimes they didn’t even touch the chocolate buttons!  They were using their internal locuses of evaluation – before being whipped into obedience by external expectations about their bodies, their choices and their autonomy.

Our gendered behaviours and expectations are also external.  I didn’t care about being slim, toned and sexy when I was charging around the park like a feral chimpanzee aged 10.  I was fit, strong, happy and full of energy, free of all that expectation.  That all came later and I forgot my identity in a confusing whirlwind of trying to be whatever a girl was supposed to be back in the 80s.  I recall that having a ‘good body’ was a part of that but heaven forbid actually enjoying said body because we weren’t supposed to be a ‘slag’ and I don’t think much of that has changed, sadly, for our teenage girls today.

I just want to be free of all of it now.  I want to be able to look inside and ask myself: ‘What do I want to eat?  How much of it do I want?’  I want to go out without any makeup and not give a crap what anyone else thinks of my face.  It’s a 51 year old face: sometimes its tired and sometimes its pale, and nobody suggests that my husband hide his eye bags or spend time making himself more agreeable for others to look at and I’m damned if I’m going to suggest that to myself.  I have no issue with people wearing makeup, high heels, glamorous styles, nail varnish and fake eyelashes.  I have no issue with people having botox, face lifts, breast implants, tummy tucks or acrylic nails.  Your body, your choice.  Do it if it makes you happy and makes you feel good.  Do it for yourself.  Do it because it makes your heart smile.  Don’t do it for anybody else or for some societal expectations about how a person ‘should look’.

So, where is your locus of evaluation?  Most people are going to consult others and care somewhat about their opinions.  None of us live in a vacuum.  We do need to consider our loved ones and perhaps our colleagues.  Using deodorant and refraining from unlawful behaviour are pretty useful external expectations that help us all.  But for most of us there is a vast amount of material going on in our minds that we really could shed.  In the words of Gestalt therapist Fritz Perls:  ‘Lose your mind and come to your senses’. 

Veganism and Disordered Eating

I’ve recently started actively trying to unlearn the weight bias and eating choices foisted upon me by diet culture, by following the anti-diet, ‘health at every size’ nutritionist @laurathomasphd, and by listening to a number of her podcasts, including one recently with guest Fiona Willer.  She acerbically referred to her ‘phase’ of being a ‘vegetarian’ and how ‘we all go through it’.  As a vegan of 12 years standing who is highly unlikely to ever go back to being an omnivore, I was a little concerned to hear vegetarianism labelled as part of a phase that everybody goes through, and I have seen advice on a number of body positive blogs to eating what you like and ‘screwing’ diet culture, which seems to include any diet that cuts out whole food groups.

As it is for many people, food is a complex issue for me.  Since my first diet at the age of 13, which resulted in significant weight loss, a slimmer silhouette and a ton of compliments, I have weight cycled my anxiety-riddled way through life and, just when I thought I’d finally beaten my binge-eating disorder, and achieved four years of highly socially acceptable thinness and fitness, I was forced by a number of difficult family circumstances to acknowledge that I was FAR from well, and was indeed living my life under the tyrannical laws of numbers, scales, calories and prescribed doses of excessive exercise.  I was diagnosed with bulimia, and realised that my exercise was almost exclusively compensatory and completed with weight management in mind.  There was little joy in it, and I felt compelled to burn hundreds of calories per day even when exhausted and stressed.  I lost my periods and am still a little confused as to why a doctor didn’t pick up on the link between my disordered eating and the menstrual problem.  They said it could be menopause but it wasn’t, as once I embarked upon a course of most excellent counselling and regained some eating normality, I returned to full health in that respect.

So far, so good.  I am so over diet culture and am now angry at the way that it messed up my relationship with food, my body and my ability to set a healthy example to my children.  I am angry that a white, thin body is the only type to be actively admired by the vast majority of our population.  I am even angrier that the vast majority of our population spend so much bloody time thinking about the appearance of our bodies when there are so many more important things to do than to focus on how much people weigh and the size of their thighs.  Why is it all about being ‘sexy’?  For heaven’s sake, we don’t all have sex twenty-four-seven and I’m sure people don’t think about it anywhere near as much as the advertising industry would have us believe.  I say ‘people’ loosely as it’s still primarily women who are constantly objectified in this demeaning way, but I am aware that many of our young men are developing ‘bigorexia’ and muscle dysmorphia in response to the objectification and rampant sexualisation of the male body also.

I really admire @bodyposipanda and I love what many of the #bopo community are doing on social media.  However, the narrative is still ‘beauty’ and what constitutes ‘beauty’.  Whilst I am completely in agreement that thin white bodies are far from the only ‘beautiful’ body type, I cannot help but feel sad and sorry that we are apparently reduced to whether we are ‘beautiful’ or not.  Do we have to be?  Are we simply here for our aesthetic or our fuckability?  I really think the world would be a better place if we could simply be ourselves with all our flaws, and ugly bits, and just get on with our relationships with each other, and talk, and listen, and try to fix important things like, for example, the pressing concerns of global warming, social inequality, the iron tight hold of big corporations on our economy and this self-absorbed and corrupt government that is literally throwing people from our most vulnerable demographic out to the coldness of our city’s streets.

As for veganism, I’d like to point out to the body positive and health inclusive community that it is far, far more important than a diet.  Many vegans are indeed unhealthily obsessed with kale smoothies, avocado and sourdough and protein smoothies for their post-gym refuel, and doubtless many middle-class white women are vegan for the alleged magic of vegan detox mumbo jumbo peddled by the likes of Simply Ella.  I’m not denying that this exists and is an extension of diet culture rubbish, marketed under the guise of ‘health’.  But for the vast majority of us, we have become irrevocably convinced that the meat industry is cruel, unsustainable and immoral.  We do not want to contribute to the suffering of dairy cows who are separated from their calves.  We don’t want to contribute to an industry that sends young, helpless male calves on a 3 day trip to Spain to be sold for veal.  It’s obscene.  We also want to make a difference to global warming and veganism is the single biggest thing we can do to achieve this.

Veganism isn’t perfect.  Soya products are grown in cleared rainforest, and orangutangs and other wildlife are affected by this, but the vast majority of soy is grown to feed cattle.  Stop the demand for cattle rearing and a tiny fraction of that soy would feed the same number of humans.  We can’t be perfect and none of us are, but veganism really makes sense.  I wouldn’t change my lifestyle for the world, and am now body positive, anti-diet and more and more ‘woke’ by the day (stupid word but relevant).  So don’t take a genuinely moral stance, one that will change the world, and dismiss it as a diet or a fad.  You can be a vegan whatever your size, shape, ethnicity, sexuality or socio-economic status (although the government needs to make fresh foods more affordable, to be honest, but that’s a different post).  And I hope that the vegan trend will continue to grow.  Now off to browse @thevegankind for some very anti-diet Christmas treats.

 

 

 

Why I’m chegan and proud of it

People hate chegans more than vegans.  They say ‘you’re the worst vegan I ever met’.  They say ‘you can’t have that’.  They despise us.  They’d rather encounter a preachy, perfect, peachy skinned health blogger holding onto a kale smoothie and prophesying the doom of the planet.  But despite the hatred for my kind, this isn’t a grovelling, snivelling apology to the righteous among us, the ‘level 5 vegans’, those who ‘never eat anything that casts a shadow’.  For a start, veganism is like religion: you can never do it perfectly.  If you ride a bike, your tyres are probably made with some sort of animal derivative.  If you breathe the air, you’re breathing in the suffering of animals somewhere.  You’d have to dig a hole with your bare hands and hide in it if you weren’t going to contribute to animal agribusiness in any way, shape or form.

So it’s impossible to be a perfect vegan.  But a proper vegan, worthy of the title, does everything within their power not to contribute to the use of animals.  This is a worthy goal for the animals, the environment and the human psyche.  I was one for around 7 years (probably not consecutively) and now I’m officially a chegan.  The seven good years were pretty much down to my daughter, a fully fledged, paid up member of the proper vegan club, who is worthy of worship and adoration and doggedly persists in her vegan ways, converting the most entrenched meat eaters with her rare combination of intelligence, charm and irrefutable logic  However, she’s been away at university and without her, my angel, at my shoulder, I find myself falling into the hands of the devil.

I only contribute to animal suffering once or twice a week.  I only use the slave trade now and again.  I’m only responsible for the separation of calves from their mothers and their subsequent slaughter at the hands of the veal industry when I eat the occasional block of cheese.  I am aware of how vile the dairy industry is and yet I choose to eat cheese sometimes.  It often repels me and attracts me simultaneously.  It’s addictive yet revolting, tasty yet scummy, irresistible yet – there’s no alternative for this one.  It’s just irresistible.  To me.  Once or twice a week.

The transition from vegan to chegan only happened at Christmas 2015, when my fiancé and I hired a house for all of our families and there was a large cheeseboard.  Previous to meeting my fiancé, I often didn’t encounter cheeseboards and, when I did, I was sufficiently immune to their temptation, having gone years without.  But something about the presentation, the people around me nomming on it, the combination of relief that our first blended Christmas had gone well and the exhaustion of planning it all, led to me, alone, in the dining room, scarfing down pretty much the remainder of the cheese.  The next day I was ill.  But the damage was done.  I was re-hooked on the addictive, creamy, vile substance derived from the suffering of bovine mothers and their enslaved babies.

I’d love to substitute cheese for olives, or hummus, or whatever I did before, but ever since that first taste, I can’t.  Now I’m with Mr Lishman, cheese features in the fridge at least twice a week as he brings it with him to my house and he usually has four different varieties of it at his.  He has made the significant transition from a fully omnivorous Lincolnshire country gent to a happier and healthier pescatarian weighing three stones less and feeling great about the change.  So, given that relationships involve compromise, I suppose I have an obligation to go chegan.  No?

I tried some vegan cheese from Sainsburys and, in fact, made a yummy macaroni cheese dish with it.  But this initially positive experience coincided, later that night, with the worst sickness bug I’d had in ten years.  Twenty seven vomits later, the idea, image and smell of that coconut-derived hell has seared into my memory and ensured that I never touch a vegan cheese again.

So I do my best.  I eat vegan most of the time.  If somebody makes a cake and brings it to work and used an egg in the mixture, I didn’t buy it, I didn’t make it and I didn’t ask.  If I eat the occasional half pound of cheese (I don’t eat dainty slices), I’m not going to apologise to everybody in sight as they eat their chicken salad, pulled pork burger or steak and chips.  I do more than most people to reduce the land used for animal agribusiness.  Vegetarians use a quarter of the land that omnivores need and vegans an eighth.  That makes cheganism a few steps away from perfection, which of course would be non existence.

As humans we’re all bad for the planet and we all leave an eco footprint.  I’m done trying to be perfect.  So, chegan haters, stick your plate of ‘happy meat’ where the sun doesn’t shine, go to a quiet spot somewhere and deal with your own planet damning habits before you say another indignant word about mine.

 

 

 

 

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