What is Freedom (other than a 1984 Wham hit)?

What does the idea of “freedom” mean to you? (and I’m not referring to the song by Wham, which was in fact the second 7” single I bought from Woolworths back in 1984). It has such a range of meanings and applications, from having independence from our parents as a child, to having basic human rights that we take for granted in this country.

I overheard a conversation the other day about how easy people have it in prison; “they get a TV and 3 meals a day, that’s not punishment, more like a hotel”. That old chestnut {{eye roll}}. Having worked in the prison system I know what prison life can be like and I have an idea about what is more or less effective. And I know that locking people up 23 hours a day as has been the case in some prisons during Covid, is not the way to rehabilitate people and reduce their likelihood of offending on release (which is surely what we want?). And even in normal prison times, imagine the loss of liberty and freedom. Yes you might have a room and a TV, and 3 meals a day, but it is all on someone else’s schedule and you can’t move as you wish, go and see your loved ones when you want, or choose when and what to eat. That’s the whole point, that loss of liberty and freedom. And a TV and 3 meals doesn’t make up for that. Unless you are in circumstances where 3 meals a day, a TV and a roof over your head are an unimaginable luxury, in which case maybe it’s worth being locked up for that.

I know I am privileged to eat three meals a day of my choosing, having the means and the freedom to buy the food I like, cook it the way I enjoy and serve it when I please. I know I am lucky to have a safe warm home, and leave it and return as and when I want. I have that freedom to do so.

This weekend I was camping with my family and friends, and it was a joy to give my children the freedom to run around, find secret hideouts and attempt to build treehouses. And when my friend asked my daughter what she was enjoying most, she said “the freedom to do whatever I want”. I know I stifle my children’s freedom at times, I know my fear of what could happen makes me restrict their independence. They are young but I have to accept that I need to gradually let them do what they need to do, for and by themselves. But it’s not easy.

Giving yourself the permission of freedom can be scary too. I was thinking on the camping weekend, where we mucked in, cooked together and shared the food, “What if I had still been caught in the traps of diet culture? How would that impact on my enjoyment of the weekend?” I would have gone one of two ways. I would have either constantly watched what I ate and drank, been awkward about what we would all have for dinner and have a whole list of things I “couldn’t” eat. I would have been worried about making life difficult for everyone, and equally worried about eating and drinking too much or the wrong thing that would screw up my points count or “syns”. I would have felt incredibly self-conscious about everything that passed my lips and what my friends would think – and been miserable, and a bore. Or, on the other hand I might have just eaten it all, then “paid for it” with excessive exercise and restriction for the rest of the week – and been miserable and a bore.

So now I have the freedom to eat what I want, because only I could give myself that permission. It wasn’t the healthiest of weekends; not a lot of veggies passed my lips. But I was fed, and I know that a few days of mainly less nutritious food won’t affect my health in any way, as I have been craving and eating fruit since I got home.

We often end up trapped in the prison of dieting or trying to lose weight, or maintaining the goal weight we have achieved, or deny ourselves certain foods, or eating between certain hours, because it gives us a sense of control. But actually, it controls us. And what are we doing it for? Because society has told us we need to be slim to be beautiful and desirable? Because society has told us the only way to be healthy is to be a certain weight?

What if we took off the blinkers? What if we realised that there is much more to health than limiting our calorie intake or walking a fixed number of steps per day? What if we gave ourselves the freedom to trust our bodies to know what they want? Yes we might start off by eating all the burgers or crisps or cakes that we can get our hands on. But this won’t last forever. We crave that stuff because we have restricted it for so long. Once all foods are allowed and we have the freedom to choose, our bodies know that they need vitamins, minerals, proteins, and fats. Sometimes they will crave carbs to give them energy, sometimes they will crave fresh fruit and a rainbow of foods.

What if we gave ourselves the freedom to choose movement that felt good and brought us joy, like running around a campsite in the woods, rather than the punishment of a gruelling gym session to work off the extra calories we’ve consumed? What if we lost the shackles of exercise as a pay-off for what we’ve eaten or drunk, or an excuse to eat what we are craving? What if we moved our bodies because moving our bodies is healthy and can be enjoyable?

What if the freedom of allowing ourselves these choices could do more to benefit our mental health than the restriction does for our physical health? What’s the bigger picture? We often focus on our physical health to the detriment of our mental health. Diets or intentional weight loss are unsuccessful for over 95% of people who do it, meaning they regain that weight and more over time. For those who keep it off, it is often at the cost of their mental health and freedom. It can often become an obsession and their eating becomes disordered or even leads to an eating disorder. They are at the camping trip, feeling awkward and anxious about what will be available, and obsessed with what they can eat and when. They will be distressed about missing a gym session or a run and consumed with thoughts about when they can fit it in, rather than being present and enjoying the moment. And maybe they’ll be influencing others around them to have these worries and lack of freedom.

Freedom is a basic human right, without which we can’t thrive. To live life to its fullest, you need to have freedom to be yourself, express yourself, follow your dreams, and have autonomy over your decisions.

When you are in the prison of diet culture, only you have the key to unlock the door, but I can help you find it.

With group online programmes, one to one coaching, Fire and Ice sauna and swim experiences and retreats, there are various ways to work with me. Message me and tell me what your biggest struggle is right now, that's holding you back from your FREEDOM.

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