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.

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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 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.

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 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.

the body and its fuel

I haven’t written much about food on this blog yet, and I don’t intend to write about it too much. Still, it’s on my mind. A lot. I know I’m not alone with this, because every person I know mentions how they should “eat better” or have “been bad” every once in a while. Thinking about food and how it affects our health is a huge part of our culture.

I’ve talked about before how my past with food has been checkered to the say the least. These days I’m trying to turn a new page and treat my body and my urges to eat with more respect. Still, I find it incredibly difficult. I feel so out of tune with what my body wants and I often end up eating way too much out of fear of restricting or of being perceived as restricting. I feel a bit lost about all of it.

I often make food-related goals like “eat more vegetables,” “eat fruit with breakfast,” “eat less salt,” “eat more whole grains,” etc. In the end, I always end up failing to meet those goals. Honestly, I have no idea how long it has been since I haven’t had a food-related goal. I’m pretty happy with the way I eat most of the time. But the other times, I feel like I’m betraying my body. This is because I still struggle with binge eating. I use eating tons of food as a way to relieve stress or distract myself from negative emotions.

I’m trying to think of ways to disrupt this behavior. It’s not like I haven’t tried to stop one million times before. I’m hoping the fact that I’m having more and more compassion for my body and what it wants to eat will help me interrupt myself when I feel the urge to binge. I mostly would like to find new ways to manage the stress of intense emotions so that I don’t have to use food to calm them. I’m just not sure what good substitute is.

However, I have overcome incredibly difficult to break habits before, so I know it is possible to change behavior that seems like the only possible coping mechanism. It’s hard time to change, but if I can I think it will help me so much.

Another thing I need to let go of is the thought that somehow if I eat “healthier” I will lose weight. One, that’s called a diet, which I do not want to do–I quit that, I’m done. Two, I want to make choices that are healthy for my body and my mind regardless of what happens to my weight. Three, I will probably not lose weight and I will definitely never be skinny even if I literally starve myself because my body is well-adapted to hold on to its reserves. So what’s the point? I need to let go of the desire to use health as a secret synonym for weight loss. No matter what diet culture says, healthy behaviors and weight are not connected. I deserve to treat my body with love and respect regardless of my weight and regardless of my health.

the body and recovery in physical therapy

A huge part of what prompted me to start writing here is an injury. And part of injury is recovery. I’m working through my physical (and mental, but that’s a different post) recovery diligently, and I’ve been working at it for more than six months.

At this point I’ve been in physical therapy for four months. For the injury I had, that’s really not too long. It could be up to a year of PT before everything is back on track, and it’s likely that my knee will never be the same again. Still, I’m lucky that I’m able to heal and that I have a strong support system that is really helping me get through this.

I especially really appreciate my physical therapist. He takes what I have to say very seriously, and I have never once felt like he judged me for my weight. When I told him the types and level of activity I was doing before the accident he didn’t blink an eye and confidently told me that we would work to get back to that. He’s helped me go from being able to only bend my knee 87 degrees with a ton of pain to having it bend a totally normal 135 degrees without any. My normal range of motion is a little more than that, so we’re still working on range of motion, but it’s so much more functional, it’s hard to believe.

So much of the physical recovery process is mental. There was a while where I really didn’t believe that my knee was going to get better. I thought I’d never be able to straighten it again. I thought I’d never be able to bend it without pain. I thought I’d never be able to jump again. All of these things have happened. There are still a lot of normal things I can’t do without pain: cross my legs, go down stairs, do squats or lunges, do a quad stretch, kneel. Lots of normal things. But thankfully my experience with physical therapy this far has taught me that the things that seem impossible and like they will never happen, can happen. It just takes a lot of time and hard work.

Speaking of hard work, now that I’m getting stronger and able to move more, my PT sessions are more intense. They’re much more like workouts, and I definitely break a sweat and get out of breath. At first, this really made me embarrassed. I kept thinking “Ugh, I am so out of shape and fat and everyone is judging me.”

One day, though, something awesome happened. I was warming up on the elliptical and I noticed that they had a framed jersey from our local roller derby team. It’s pretty common for this office to have framed jerseys and other sports paraphernalia on the walls because they are a sports medicine clinic and they like to show off all the teams they help treat. I am a huge fan of roller derby, in part because it showcases badass people of all body shapes being super fit and strong. Seeing the jersey on the wall inspired me to put on my “derby face” and work as hard as I could that day. It worked so well. Every day I go in now, I warm up on the elliptical that faces that jersey and get into derby mode.

Here’s my post-PT self, making a derpy face:

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I promise soon I’ll post some non-workout clothes, non-bathroom mirror selfies, but for now that’s what I’ve got. Let me work my way up.