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.

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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 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 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 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 the past

A note from me: This post contains negative body talk, diet talk, and discussions of mental illness and disordered eating. If that will be triggering for you, I encourage you to skip this post!

I wrote in my last post about how I’ve spent 20 years feeling uncomfortable in my body and feeling like I need to change it through diet and exercise. I want to delve into some of the past that shaped that worldview. This is not to blame any one person or myself, but rather to consider and forgive my past experiences so I commit to my body in the present.

In that spirit, I present five memories:

1. When I was growing up, my mom was “very heavy” (as she would put it), and incredibly ashamed of it. My brother was a bit of a chubby kid, and I could tell that it worried her that he was. At doctor’s appointments she would look at our weight charts and make comments about how big my brother was getting. I was smaller when I was young, so I got fewer comments, but I feared facing Mom’s concern. I never wanted to upset her, and it was clear gaining too much weight would do that.

My most poignant memory of this time is of us sitting at the kitchen table together, her looking at me with intense pain in her eyes and saying “Don’t ever be like me. Don’t ever get fat like me.” This phrase cut through me. It still rings in my ears.

My mom went on to join Weight Watchers and lose a lot of weight, then gain it back, then lose it again. She’s kept it off for a while now, though she watches what she eats incredibly carefully. I hope she’s happier with herself now. I’m not sure what she feels about her body because we never talk about it.

2. As a kid through my early teen years, I was a gymnast. There is nothing like wearing only a leotard to make you suddenly self conscious, especially as a 12-year-old. I was constantly comparing my body to the other girls on my team. I was stockier. I was shorter. Where I got the idea to compare myself is pretty obvious, since one of my coaches particularly encouraged it. She told me that I was getting to be the biggest on the team and I should think about eating healthier. She told me I wouldn’t be able to tumble like I wanted to (my favorite part of gymnastics) and that getting heavier would only make the bars harder (my least favorite part of gymnastics). It was a targeted attack and it worked. I went home and cried and promised myself I would not get fatter.

The thing is, I wasn’t fat then. It’s not that this would have been okay to say to me even if I was fat at the time, it absolutely would never have been okay. But this experience just shows how even the perception of fat is feared, judged, and criticized. I was an incredibly muscular, incredibly fit CHILD. I was bigger because I was strong as hell and my muscles are short and bulky. But I still feared being “fatter” than my teammates more than anything. The fear consumed me and fueled constant comparison. I started wearing shorts and a t-shirt to practice over my leotard. I stopped eating breakfast and lunch. I devoted myself to losing weight.

3. When I was 14, I injured my back badly because of gymnastics. It was bad enough that I had to quit. My whole world was turned upside down. So much of my identity was tied up in being a gymnast and suddenly that was ripped away from me. I was pissed, just so unbelievably angry, and mostly I was angry at my body for betraying me, for taking away this thing I loved. In a bid to get control over my body again, I severely restricted my food intake. I weighed myself three or four times a day. I walked and ran for hours. Once, when my mom asked me if I was trying to lose weight, I shouted “I’m just trying to be healthy!” and ran out the door to go on a run. I was so afraid that she would try to stop me and take away my control. I lost more than 30 pounds. I still hated myself and my body.

4. In college, in a desperate attempt to regain some control during a particularly bad depressive episode, I began seeing how long I could go without eating. I ignored all emotions and pitted my mind against my body. I used deprevation as the ultimate distraction. I demanded full willpower. I thought about eating constantly and feared “slipping up.” I started going to the gym at night, working out until I felt faint. I never lost weight. I hated my body for holding on when I was telling it so clearly to let go.

5. I moved to a new city and gained weight. I weighed more than I ever had before. Now I was undeniably fat, there was no escaping it. I vascilated between dieting and bingeing; signing up for gym memberships and health plans and sitting on the couch watching TV and eating; reading self-help books on weight loss and telling myself “I’ll start on Monday.” Slowly, I realized that none of these things would make me happy. Slowly I realized I wasn’t paying attention to the world around me because I was obsessed with this one thing. Slowly, I realized this was not my fault. Slowly, I realized that I am worthy and wonderful just the way I am.

I’m still in experience 5, learning, always learning, about how I am valuable and how I can be better. I’ve written these experiences not because I want to be a downer or get pity, but because these experiences are so common. They are also so unnecessary.

As I said in the beginning of this post, this is not about blaming anyone. I love my mom deeply and we have a great relationship. My gymnastics coach helped me train for a sport I loved. I don’t resent them for what they said to me. They grew up in this messed up society too; they were just trying to protect me.

I don’t blame myself either. Societal pressures are tough to resist, especially when the people around you are reinforcing them. It’s hard to know how to handle problems when you have undiagnosed mental illness and think there is something about you that is irreparable. Society says “Have a problem? Try diet and exercise!” and if that doesn’t work you must be lazy or lying.

The thing is, though, that is bullshit. Some days it’s easier to remember that than others. But we have to try. These experiences are real and they are common and we owe it to ourselves and the people we love to fight them.