the body and getting a hand

It’s been a while since I’ve done a life update, so I think I’ll give it a go.

Right now I’ve just started with a new counselor who specializes in body issues and also knows a lot about gender. I think I really need it because my body image is so much in flux and I just can’t put my finger on what I need to do next.

I am often extremely upset about my weight and feel stuck in a holding pattern, wanting to lose weight but also knowing diets don’t work, wanting to treat my body with respect but paralyzed by an inability to know what that means.

Why is thinking about my body so emotional? How can this have such a huge hold on my life? I feel so sad to think of all the time I spend being jerked around by my brain while my body suffers mostly silently. It’s the perfect time for a counselor because I know that I simply cannot answer these questions myself. I have tried many, many times and never progressed. It’s a frustrating cycle that I just can’t maintain.

I’m tired of feeling held back by my beliefs about my body. I miss doing things I like because I’m afraid to find out I’m not as good at them as I once was. These body image issues are sucking the joy out of my life.

So this is where I’m at. Hopefully I’ll keep blogging through this journey and have some success in accepting myself.

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the body and the mantra

In general, I shy away from mantras and self-affirmations. I find them a bit woo woo, I guess. In light of my last post, I suppose I am at least using self-talk to help myself understand what I want. So I thought I’d write about another phrase about eating that’s been making a difference for me.

The phrase is: “I can have that if I want.” I sort of came to it naturally, since I’ve been trying to ask myself what I truly want to eat and why, and honoring the urges as they come if they ring true to me.

What I didn’t know is that this method is a well-researched and supported approach to eating. I highly recommend this article on Ellyn Satter’s website about methods of returning joy to eating and allowing yourself to have what you want.

I’m finding what she says there to be true. If I give myself permission to have what I really want, what I want from a Wise Mind perspective (hey DBT term!), I feel free. It’s okay to eat a lot or a little and I know that if I want it I can come back to it. I don’t have to just eat something because it’s there and I might not get a chance to eat it again. It takes away the urgency of the impulse to binge. I don’t have to binge because I know that I can have whatever food I really want whenever I really want it.

It’s permissiveness with a different tone than I’ve ever known before. It’s not forcing myself to eat fear foods or foods I have shame about to avoid the appearance of restricting. It’s not making up for eating those “shameful” foods by calculatingly eating something “good” later.  I’ve never had that freedom. I’ve always felt the need to sneak food or hide my eating because of judgment I faced early in life that I deeply internalized. I simply ask myself my first question: “What do I want to eat?” and then when I find an answer, I say “I can have that if I want,” with the understanding that if I don’t want it right now I can always have it later.

Little did I know when I began using my personal permission phrase that this idea is backed by science. I know it’s making my life easier and less stressful. Yes, I still think about food more than I want to, but I’m checking in with my body more than my impulses about it. And every time I make a choice that honors my body, I feel more free.

the body and one important question

I’ve been exploring my eating habits a lot on this blog lately. I’ve been really trying to get to the root of my struggles and try to help myself understand where to go. In my life, I’ve turned to so many experts and counselors, so many guides and books, so many plans and prescriptions that I really think it’s time for something different. As much as I want to seek guidance and validation from an outside source, I don’t think this is the type of thing that I want to do that with.

Right now I think I’m at a point where I understand the basics of ditching diet culture. I’m past the tutorials on why dieting is pointless and how a history of deprivation can lead to binge eating and feeling out of control with food. I’m past the initial discovery phase. This information has definitely changed my outlook on myself and is helpful to know, but it’s not helping me get where I want to be.

I want to stop separating how I think and feel about food from everything else. I’m tired of it being this looming category in my life. I have my pros and cons list, I’m working on creating better ways to manage stress, and I’m helping myself avoid urges by putting myself in places I that promote positive behavior.

The other thing I’m working on now is getting more in tune with my body. To do that, I’m asking myself one simple question: What do I want to eat?

This may seem overly simplistic, but really that’s where I need to work. Asking myself this is helpful because often I eat without paying attention and just eat for any number of thoughtless reasons. So every time I think about eating, I ask myself “What do I want?”. The answer can be anything. It can be a big ice cream sundae or an apple slice. Whatever it is, I can have it. But I have to really, fully want it.

This is helpful because the simple question helps me dig deeper into my urge to eat. I ask myself what, knowing that whatever the answer is I can have it. That then instantly leads me to why I want it. I could want to eat for any number of reasons. Some common possibilities include:

  1. I’m hungry;
  2. The food sounds appealing;
  3. I’m stressed and need to zone out;
  4. I’m bored;
  5. I feel obligated because… it’s time to eat / people expect me to eat / I’ve been offered something and it would be rude to refuse / I don’t want to be perceived as restricting / etc.);
  6. I want to reward myself.

When I get to the answer here, I can better evaluate if I really want the food I’m craving or if there is something that might be a better fit for the answer to why. This strategy has worked pretty well for me so far. It’s given me some useful information. I’ve thought about creating a simple document to record this, but I’m not sure I want to get that much into tracking. I’ll think about it a bit more.

For now, I really am using this system to learn about myself and my urges without judgment. Nothing is the wrong answer, I’m just here to learn.

 

the body and compulsory tracking

These days, tracking all sorts of parts of our lives on all sorts of technology is just a fact of life. I’m never opposed to learning more about myself, but I find some forms of tracking technology enable bad habits in me.

For example, my phone has a compulsory step tracker. You can literally not shut it off. You can hide it, but it’s always there. And for someone like me, step tracking can lead to a bit of an obsession. If I’m not careful, I’ll check it every 15 minutes. It’s distracting, and it’s just not healthy for me.

My phone also has a built in food tracker, which is frustrating because it just tempts me so much to use. Again, I know these tools are useful for some people, but they are really not helpful for me. I would be better off if I could delete this app from my phone, but it is impossible to do. So instead I have to use some of my limited will-power every day to not open the app.

I wish tech culture understood that not everyone will benefit from this kind of tracking. I totally understand providing it, but it makes no sense for people not to be able to remove it if it is not for them. Step and food tracking are not a requirement on my phone, and I feel that it being an un-delete-able app adds to the prevalent culture of activity and health as a requirement, not a choice.

On the other hand, I do use my phone’s built in activity tracker to do a jogging program and to track my push up challenges. So I suppose I contradict myself a bit. I think what I want the most is control over what about me is counted and pushed. And that is a bit of a bigger issue than health behavior tracking.

If you’re interested in a more scientific look at compulsory health behavior tracking culture, I highly recommend the article “Compulsory Quantified Self” from the Eating Disorder Institute‘s blog. It’s well-researched and stated, and goes into studies about self-tracking devices and how they affect people’s mental states and their physical health.

the body and normal eating

There’s a concept that I just can’t seem to get in my head. It’s about what normal eating is.

All these sources I read that are super in tune with how I feel about food still haven’t hit the mark for me. That’s because they articulate a feeling–I’m out of control with food and can’t stop binge eating–but insist that if I could just stop controlling and judging my food choices then I’ll be well on my way.

But here’s the thing. I have tried so hard to stop judging my food choices. I feel I am very permissive. No food is off limits, aside from most meats because I’m an ethical pescatarian. I still binge eat all the time though, almost daily. And despite the many helpful people who write and talk about how letting go of diets and over-control of food will help you become more in tune with what you actually want to eat and help you stop binge eating.

And I can’t help but believe that the reason I’m still gaining weight is because I’m being permissive with my food AND still binge eating.  I don’t feel good after I binge, but I never think about that when I’m about to binge. I’m not trying to lose weight anymore, but I do feel fear about continuing to gain weight (which is another post), and I’m afraid the way I’m eating is the reason I can’t let my body settle into a set point. I know that dieting won’t work, and will probably make the problem worse, so I feel very stuck.

At this point, I guess I’ll revert back to some DBT skills to help me resist the urge in the moment. The urge to binge seems like a more emotional thing than any kind of hunger thing, since I feel that I’m fueling my body properly with as minimal judgment as I can muster.

I think I’ll shoot for some pros and cons, and emergency kit, and removing myself from the opportunity to binge. We’ll see how it works.

the body and the program

Recently I started to follow a “Baby Steps to 5k” program, just one that comes on my phone (which, how weird is it that your phone automatically comes with a health app that you literally cannot turn off? But compulsory health tracking is another post).

I started the program mostly because I want to make a mental challenge for myself. Physically, so far the program isn’t too challenging, mostly just a good walking workout, but not painful to my knee or anything else. But the real push here is to stick with the program. I am notorious for planning and then letting the plans slip away. It’s a constant pattern in my life. I love making spreadsheets and tracking tools, downloading apps and adding reminders to my calendar, whipping myself up into a delirious planning frenzy. Then I do the plan for two weeks, tops, and slowly abandon it.

So this program is more of a personal test to see if I can choose a plan and stick to it. It’s something I feel I can complete, on a physical level. The real test is simply to work for 10 weeks on this. I could have chosen anything–it didn’t have to be a physical goal–but this is simple because the plan is just right there in the device I carry on my person at all times.

The good news is, I’m four weeks in now and still going strong. I’m noticing that my sense of accomplishment is really growing with these workouts, something that has nothing to do with my body size or health or fitness level, but more to do with the pride of having accomplished a goal I have set for myself. I’m hoping that I can continue as the workouts get longer and take a bit more energy.

I have six more weeks to go to see. We’ll see how things are by the first week of July!

the body and growing confidence

I’m really excited about a development I want to share here. I’m feeling something growing in me that has been hard to find before. It’s the feeling of self-confidence.

As I’ve been writing here, I’ve been thinking about things that make me unhappy or are taking up mental space or are complicating my life unnecessarily. Each time I write them out I feel the pressure of them lift a little, and I see a little bit more of my unburdened self.

I’ve spent so much time trying to do the right thing, to make my body the right shape, to participate in activities that validate my existence, that I forgot that I am a human who deserves to be treated with respect regardless of my health status.

That is the most freeing concept and I finally believe it. The first time I heard it, I thought it made sense, but I couldn’t internalize it. “That’s okay for people who’ve really struggled or are disabled,” I said to myself, “but I need to get my act together.” I kept encountering this idea, because I’ve been working on surrounding myself with positive voices that affirm my existence, even if I don’t quite believe the positive messages they share. Over and over again, I heard people I really respect saying “You are worthy no matter what. You are.” And slowly I started to say it to myself. “Maybe I am worthy. Maybe I am.” It was a fragile thought at first, my self-esteem ready to be toppled by the slightest off day, the casual sideways glance interpreted as judgment, the latest look at my clothing size.

Now, though, I’ve really been able to believe this thought. I tell myself “No matter what I do today, I am still a worthy human being. I don’t have to feel shame for just existing. I am fine the way I am.”  This is a revolutionary thought, especially as I am coming out of a depressive episode.

The best thing about thinking this way? It’s motivating me to make healthier choices in a positive way. When I respect myself, I want to treat myself well. I care about taking care of myself when I accept myself. I’m motivated to work hard at PT, to focus on my healing, to shower and brush my teeth (depression is real, people), to go outside, to do my pushups, to jog a bit, to think about the food I want and need with minimal judgment (still work to do here).

This is a place I never imagined I’d be. I’ve heard countless people say that this exact thing has happened to them–they started to hear these messages and after a while, they believed them. I still struggle with the believing I’m okay the way I am sometimes, but it’s nothing like the constant shame and self-loathing I battered myself with in the past.

I’m not saying this idea will work for everyone. There are millions of online authors, thousands of people in my community, heck, even a bunch of people in my family, who say that self-acceptance at my size is self-deception. But I’d tell them that if they’d lived these two distinct experiences, they would understand that there is a clear choice of what is better for me. I’m better believing I am worthy, no question.

the body and the helpful books, part 2

This is the second in a series of book reviews of body positive books! You can read the first one here.

I just finished the book Big Fit Girl by Louise Green. Overall, I thought it was a helpful book that reinforced some important ideas about achieving athletic goals as a fat person. Louise uses the phrase “woman of size” a lot, which I’m pretty apathetic toward, but it might make the book more approachable for people who are just coming to fat acceptance.

The book is a very straight forward and practical guide about how to get started in fitness as a heavier person. It challenges the idea that fat people need to exercise in private and that they must set weight loss goals in order to participate in athletic pursuits. She puts together a strong argument for more representation of larger people in sports and fitness media, and encourages media gatekeepers to think of the good they can do by being inclusive.

I found some of this book a bit simplistic, which is why I think it’s more of an entry-level book than my level. Still, it uses a lot of motivational techniques, like teaching about SMART goal setting and finding internal, rather than external, sources of motivation. Louise also reminds us that reaching fitness goals is empowering and that every bit of progress is worth focusing on. Ditch the scale and notice your actual gains, she says. I love that message.

There’s one argument that I disagree with in this book. Louise mentions that as women start working out “they will lose weight” even if they are not trying, which is just… not true. People might lose weight if they start working out, but they also probably won’t. It just depends on your body and your metabolism and your genetics and a ton of other factors out of your control. However, she does make the helpful point, backed by science, that regardless of if you lose weight or not, exercise is healthy for you and by discouraging people from working out, we’re depriving many people of an opportunity to be healthier.

I appreciated the latter argument in this book, because re-framing how we view health is so important in ridding us of the idea that health is an obligation to be treated as a worthy human or to participate in activities we enjoy.

I would say this book is excellent for people looking to move away from messages of weight loss culture into a more affirming message about how we can approach exercise. It’s motivating for anyone who needs help knowing how to set goals and it’s got a ton of practical information. Plus, it encourages people to tap into their inner strength and take steps that might scare them. Overall, I would recommend this book for sure.

the body and the 10 percent

Today I’m going to write about a topic in diet culture that plagues me. It’s the concept that if you “just” lose 5-10% of your body weight, you will suddenly be SO MUCH HEALTHIER!

Everyone says it. The CDC says it. A bunch of sources link to this study about it.

But there are major problems with this. First of all, that study notes that people have gained back half of the weight they lost within two years, and then don’t check back in with those people again. They then go on to say the benefits of the initial weight loss remain, despite the fact that nearly every person in the study is highly likely to have regained all of the weight they lost within 4-5 years. Will the benefits continue then? If so, how? Clearly, this makes no sense.

So many studies of weight loss conveniently stop before the weight gain portion of dieting comes back into play. Not everyone gains back weight after they lose it, but almost everyone does. Even if there are benefits to losing weight, which is a disputable claim to begin with, since often weight loss takes credit for other health improvements, this is just not a viable solution for health.

Look, I am highly aware that my view on this is not part of popular culture. I know that many people will deride this point of view and perhaps think that I am making excuses for my or others’ lack of self-control. But the thing is, the 10% has never worked for me. I’m almost 30. If it hasn’t worked yet, over the countless times I have tried it, why on earth would I keep trying it?

Health is not a requirement, but I will say that even though I’m heavier than I’ve ever been, I’m also just as healthy as I’ve always been. I don’t have more ailments than I’ve ever had despite my weight gain. My metabolism is perfect, my cholesterol levels are stellar, my blood pressure is right on. I’m active, I work on my mental health, I’m recovering from an injury that literally anyone–fat, thin, or in between–could get. So tell me how I’m unhealthy for being fat?

If you want a more comprehensive and well-researched examination of this idea and fat bias in the medical field in general, I highly recommend this post by Ragen Chastain of Dances With Fat.