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.

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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.

the body and standing up

I’m trying a new thing at work these days. At the advice of my physical therapist, I’m trying to practice standing for longer times. Sustained standing still causes a lot of aggravation and swelling in my knee, and like most of my recovery, the best way to improve this is to practice it incrementally.

Ideally, I’ll work my way up to one hour standing, one hour sitting throughout my day. Right now I’m at 50 minutes sitting/10 minutes standing for every hour. Once my knee begins to tolerate that–hopefully in about 1-2 weeks–I’ll move to 45 minutes sitting/15 minutes standing for a week or two, and so on until I can do an even split in an hour. It’ll probably take up to two months to get there, but slow and steady is just fine with me.

It’s hard to realize how important just being able to stand in one place is until you can’t do it anymore. Lines are impossible, the grocery store just sucks, waiting for the bus is a huge challenge, etc. etc. etc. I’m really grateful that I’m able to stand relatively comfortably at this point, but I still have a lot more work to do to get back to my previous ability.

I’ll check in again about how my standing up is going in a month or so.

the body and the shopping trip

Recently my wife and I went on a shopping trip to get clothes. We went to the mall (cue ominous music and thunder). I have very low tolerance for shopping for anything, and shopping for clothes is has an especially unique way of getting under my skin.

I know I may not have the average desires when it comes to style, but I know for a fact that I am not the only AFAB fat person who wants to present as masc to androgynous and doesn’t have the time nor sewing skills to tailor every article of clothing I own. This trip was especially difficult because I was shopping for spring clothing. Wearing layers often helps create more of the illusion I’m looking for in terms of making my hips and bust less prominent. When it gets hot, layers aren’t really practical and I often end up settling for extremely casual pieces (aka men’s t-shirts) or slightly more masculine-cut women’s clothes (aka cotton button-ups).

I did a lot of mental preparing for this trip, telling myself that I would find some pieces that were okay and that would be fine. That’s essentially what happened. I’m not thrilled with what I got, but it’s close enough for what I can afford right now. One day, I hope I’ll be able to add tailoring to my budget and feel more comfortable in my clothes.

I did also order a bunch of “husky” sized boys clothes from Old Navy online. As I’ve mentioned before, if I could dress like a 10-year-old boy always, I’d be very happy. I got size Husky 18 (XXL). Boys clothes often fit me quite well in terms of length because I’m super short (5’2″), but I run into the usual problem you’d expect from clothes made for male shapes–no room for hips or bust. My arms are also big, so fit around the arms and shoulders can really make or break an article of clothing for me.

Fortunately, the Old Navy boys section did me well. I got a few shirts that fit really nicely, that are on the casual side but OK if I layer them up with a vest or cardigan for work. I also got one really cute button up that does work with my body. Another of the button ups I tried fit pretty well but didn’t sit right once it got to my hips, so that’s one for the return pile. Still four out of five is a pretty good sign and now I have some staples to tide me over for the summer.

 

 

the body and fear of hunger

I had a thought the other day: I’m afraid to be hungry. I bring snacks with me everywhere. I always plan the details of when and how I’m going to eat when I travel and then I over-pack food.

I think this stems from years of using hunger and food deprivation as punishment. In my mind, hunger is linked to breaking a promise to myself or behaving in way that I felt shame for. For a long time hunger was one of the only signs I accepted to show that I was atoning for my perceived failures. In the depths of my mind, hunger is linked to excessive self-control, the kind I am now terrified of because it takes me away from myself.

This is a huge problem, because part of the natural cycle of being a person is the tides of hunger. It sounds so simple: you get hungry, you eat, you get full, you wait. Lather, rinse, repeat. But to me, it’s so complicated. I don’t even know how to get to the hunger stage anymore without feeling fear. When I feel a pang of hunger, my brain panics and I start to overeat. At first I eat to fill the hunger, but then I keep eating because I don’t want to feel hunger again.

Sometimes, I don’t let myself get hungry for days at a time. I preempt my hunger with snacks and extra meals, even to the point of feeling ill. I know I won’t feel well once I hit a certain point, but I just keep doing it.

I think the only solution to this is to practice feeling hungry without bingeing afterwards. To allow myself to feel hunger and then allow myself to fulfill it and then take a break. Again, simple to say, but so hard to do.

There’s no real conclusion here, this post is more of just a note about how my eating habits are still a work in progress. In a previous post I said that I didn’t plan to write about food much, but it really is on my mind a lot, so I think I’ll be writing about it more often than I originally planned. I’ll keep you updated on whatever else comes to mind on this.

the body and the parking lot confrontation

[CW: anti-queer slurs, harassment]

I feel I have to write about an incident that recently happened to me and my wife. I’m writing about this in part because it was a very upsetting moment that I need to process and in part because it cements for me the fact that no matter where you are, even in incredibly welcoming and accepting Seattle, there’s bigotry and assholery.

My wife and I were in the grocery store. There was a guy behind us who was pissed because he only had a few things and we had a full cart of groceries. Instead of asking if he could go in front of us, he just got huffy and increasingly annoyed. Then, out of nowhere, he called me a stupid bitch. I was not going to just let that slide, so I asked him why he said that, and told him if he was going to be an asshole he could get into a different line.

Fortunately, the cashier intervened and told the guy to chill out or get out. We finished checking out without incident and left the grocery store, but this guy was right behind us. Once my wife and I got to the parking lot he just started shouting slurs at me in particular. I said nothing, because this interaction was clearly not worth my time nor was it worth escalating, so he shouted “Listen to me, you dyke witch!” We chose to leave him there without engaging. We got in the car and drove away.

This experience was incredibly scary. I was afraid this person was going to physically attack me and my wife. I was shaken and upset. I felt self-conscious and kept running over and over again in my mind how I could have avoided the situation.

But I’m glad I said something to him when he first called me a name. I’m glad I had my wife with me to support me and to hold my hand. I’m glad I didn’t engage him more than once because clearly there was no reasoning with this person. In the end, it was a totally absurd situation.

Really what is the most frustrating about this is that misogyny and homophobia are still the low-hanging fruit of insults. People pluck them with ease and toss them at you like they are obvious and horribly wounding. The most wounding thing is not the words (honestly, in a different context “dyke witch” sounds pretty awesome), but the fact that they were hurled with such painful intent. Even in welcoming and accepting Seattle, people know that they can hurt you by pointing out that you’re not straight and that you’re not a cis man. It’s painful to recognize.

Here’s to standing up for ourselves, being public about who we are when we are safe to do so, and recognizing when a fight is not worth the time.

the body and food and mortality

I just read an article that has significantly impacted my view on food and diet culture. In her article “Eating Toward Immortality” Michelle Anderson (of The Fat Nutritionist), writes about the twin pressures of getting enough to eat and avoiding eating something toxic as deeply rooted human impulses that have come from a history of survival. She writes about how fear of mortality underlies food consumption, but has become so subtle and subconscious that we no longer even recognize it as an influence.

Let me tell you, this is mind-blowing to me. I have never been able to put my finger on why I fear being hungry but why I also fear  “bad” foods no matter how permissive and accepting I try to be.

I’ve often felt that when I’m restricting or following food rules, I’m atoning for previous mistakes or performing some kind of ablution to wash off toxic errors. To this point, Michelle writes:

At a fundamental level, people may feel a twinge of guilt for having a body, taking up space, and having appetites that devour the living things around us. They may crave expiation of this guilt, and culture provides not only the means to achieve plentiful material comfort, but also ways to sacrifice part of that comfort to achieve redemption.

There is something purifyingly painful about “eating clean” and denying my body’s desires for the “right food.” It’s why when I was most suffering, I was most obsessed with fasting, but constantly thought about eating.

But Michelle’s article puts all these thoughts into a broad philosophical context that just expanded my view brilliantly. These fears and struggles are not just fueled by individual struggle and societal pressures, but also an innate understanding that I will indeed die. Food rules are created with this not in mind, but below the surface. As she notes in the article:

Humans are the only animals aware of our mortality, and we all want to be the person whose death comes as a surprise rather than a pathetic inevitability. We want to be the one of whom people say, “But she did everything right.” If we cannot escape death, maybe we can find a way to be declared innocent and undeserving of it.

This especially rings true as someone who has fear of being judged for the constant criticisms of fat people: that I am a drain on the system because I will be unhealthy, that I am going to die young unless I diet, that it will be my fault and I should be ashamed if I fall ill.

Michelle’s article speaks so many of these fears. It had such a calming effect on me. Suddenly, these deep anxieties had context that made sense, and I can’t thank her enough for giving me that.

the body and reinforcing the brain

Recently I took a day off of work because depression had been kicking my ass all week and I just could not make it out of bed again. It’s a frustrating part of being this low–I have no energy to do basic things and fulfill my responsibilities, but enough energy to feel horrible about not doing those things. Still, a day off is sometimes inevitable during these periods, and I do my best to accept where I am.

Often when I have to take a “sick brain” day, I end up doing nothing. I sit on the couch and watch TV literally all day. The only thing I’ll do is walk to the convenience store or order delivery food so that I can binge while watching TV. It’s really not healthy or productive to making myself feel better. It’s just a pattern of behavior that I’ve settled into and somehow convince myself will make my mood improve. When it doesn’t, which it never does, I feel like shit for wasting a day, but I often don’t have the skills to interrupt the pattern.

This day, though, I did it. I walked out of the house this morning with the plan to go immediately to the convenience store to buy things to binge on and then rush home to eat them. For some reason, this time I decided to take a bit of a walk first. The weather was nice and cool and moving slowly but consistently seemed to be helping my mood. So I walked.

I walked right past the convenience store, looking at it, but thinking I could stop there on my way back. Then I decided to try to find another store to go to, maybe further away. I kept plodding along.

Eventually, I was about a mile from home and I thought of a coffee shop that I really like. I thought it might be nice to get breakfast and coffee there and sit in the sunny window and read. So instead of worrying and being embarrassed, I walked in and I ordered the things I wanted. I got a savory scone and a cup of coffee without thinking about who would be watching me while I ate or if it was a healthy enough choice. It was what I wanted in the moment and I got it. I sat down at a table and read, pausing to take slow bites of my scone and savor my coffee. I stayed for about an hour and half, indulging myself mindfully. After a while, the shop filled up more, so I decided to leave.

I walked out, not feeling good, my mood still down and a bit judgmental, but feeling more human and much less impulsive. I thought, “Maybe I don’t want to binge.” But I also was afraid to give up the opportunity, so I walked in the direction of the convenience store. By the time I got there, I realized something amazing: 1) I didn’t really want to binge and 2) I wasn’t required to follow through on that behavior even though it’s my habit. Whoa, that thought was revolutionary. So I walked home, still slowly, still feeling down, but proud of myself for treating my desires with respect and treating my urges with careful skepticism.

As my therapist always says, every time you act on an urge, it reinforces the routes in your brain that make that behavior easier. So when you make a choice to pursue a positive behavior, you are literally helping your brain to make this choice easier in the future. It’s hard, but it works.

I’m going to work on reinforcing this pattern. My depressed brain is slower and less able to learn new things, but it doesn’t mean it can’t do anything. I think maybe next time making a choice like this will be slightly easier.

the body and slowness as success

I have a confession to make: before I was injured, I was a huge Pace Prince. Pace Prince is a term I just made up, so don’t worry if you don’t follow. What I mean is, before I was injured, I was obsessed with running faster. I was so dedicated to the principal of getting my Personal Best on every run, that I didn’t enjoy it unless I did. I didn’t even count it unless I did. Pace Prince. Obsessed with going faster.

There’s nothing wrong with setting a time goal, that’s a great target and an excellent achievement. But when it becomes the only thing you care about, as it did for me, it robs you of the joy of movement and being in the moment with your body.

My Pace Prince mentality didn’t come from nowhere, since I’m a very competitive person, and I wanted to go faster to prove to others that I was fit enough to be running. If I could pass other people–thinner people–I could prove that I belonged on the trail, in those training shoes, at the race.

But this isn’t a story about going fast, it’s about how I learned to go slow.

I suffered a serious injury. I went from pushing myself to go faster to pushing myself to rest. Being still and slow was imperative to my recovery. I spent most of my time on the couch for the first month after my injury. Even though after about 4 weeks I could technically walk (more of a hobble), my doctor told me that I needed to rely solely on my crutches for at least 2 more weeks. The Pace Prince in me threw a tantrum. I was so slow on crutches! Going across the room took four times as long as if I just hopped or hobbled over (hopping also had more comedic value!). But I turned on all my restraint and stuck to the crutches. This rest was essential because it was part of what made the difference between needing and avoiding surgery. I stuck to slow and I didn’t need surgery.

I inched forward in recovery, getting back range of motion measured in single degrees. When I wanted to explode after doing that same set of simple physical therapy exercises for the hundredth time, I reminded myself that diligent progress was more important than speed and that healing can’t be hurried no matter how much I wished it could.

Three months passed and I could walk mostly normally again. I lagged behind my friends, but they learned to wait. I focused on the motion of walking, training myself to step symmetrically instead of quickly. I walked one block, then two, then a quarter mile, then a half mile. Slow, slow, slow, slow.

Six months after my injury, my physical therapist still insists that I do my exercises with control and rest at least one minute between sets. It takes a long time to complete the ten or so things I have to do, sometimes up to two hours, but I don’t mind anymore. The restraint feels powerful. I’m in tune with what every muscle is doing in way that I never was when I was only pushing for speed. A slow squat makes me appreciate the symphony my body creates as a complex and well-trained orchestra.

These days I’ve sped up to jogging. My inner Pace Prince is silent as I stay slow and low in my stride. I focus on maintaining my comfort, managing my pain, and appreciating the movement I’ve missed for so long.

The speed I have now was grown from the seeds of slowness. This ongoing process has taught me that taking time is valuable. That quality comes from focus and practice that can sometimes only be refined at a snail’s pace. That slowness can be the greatest success.

 

the body and the selfie series: casual friday

I promised you all I would start posting selfies on here showing me in clothes other than my workout clothes. In the future, I’ll probably just post pictures without much text, but first I want to talk about selfies in general. I know that selfie culture is much-debated, with many taking the stance that it is vain and pointless. Usually those people berate women taking pictures of themselves with the dreaded “duck-face” and that we’d be better off without these vapid ditzy girls. To me the arguments against selfies often border on the misogynistic and usually miss the point. So much of the anger toward selfies is about young women controlling when and how they show themselves to the world. And self-determination of your body and its image are things that I am 100% for.

You don’t have to agree with me, but seeing selfies of a wide variety of people has truly helped me accept myself and appreciate the beautiful diversity of humanity.

So, I’m going to try to be brave and post pictures of myself. I’m no fashionista, but I am currently working on how to present myself authentically within in the confines of acceptability. I know it makes me so happy to see other fat GNC AFAB people, even if just in a few snapshots online. I’m going to try to do my part, while also hopefully building my confidence and learning about how I want to present myself.

Here’s me:

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I call this look “Very casual Friday.” I love this shirt. Be soft, Stay sharp.