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 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 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 doing that pushup

I have to admit, I have kind of a mental block. It’s a mental block about strength training. It’s driving me nuts.

I love strength training. My body excels at building muscle and getting strong. I love feeling buff and powerful. I love pushing myself to the point of total muscle fatigue and feeling the (appropriate) soreness the next day.

Or at least I used to. Now I’m filled with fear of doing any strength training aside from what I do at PT because I’m afraid of how much strength I’ve lost. I know it’s counterproductive to do nothing and that I will not improve unless I try something, but I’m still ruled by that fear.

I know the only way to break through is to just do it. So I’m telling myself to just do the pushup. The month of May is  pushup month. My goal is simply to do 5 pushups per day. They can be one at a time or all at once, but they have to get done. I figure this way I’ll at least be able to see if I can make progress on this one strength skill.

So far, I’ve achieved 6 out of 9 days. The days I missed were really just days I forgot. I’ll keep pushing to complete them all. If I’ve learned anything from recovery, it’s that the mental blocks can be more limiting than the physical ones.

Here’s to many pushups!

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.

the body and the jog

I’ve written a lot about my body and my thoughts. What about my body and my movement?

Recently, I got the go-ahead from my physical therapist to start trying to run again. This is a huge deal for me because 1) I really enjoy running and 2) six months ago I literally could not walk across a room. So this progress has really pumped me up.

Okay, deep breath, time for the first selfie on this blog! Here I am in my running gear:

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My first few runs have gone really well. I have been vigilant about my routine because I am terrified of re-injuring myself. I walk for 5 minutes to warm up, jog at about 5mph for 0.5 miles, and then walk for 5 minutes to cool down. Then I immediately go ice my knee. I did this all last week and it has felt great. Some supplementary ibuprofen was taken, but I’m okay with that. The knee isn’t fully healed yet, so some swelling and pain is okay as long as it goes down quickly and continues to head in a healing direction in the long run.

My cardio endurance is definitely low compared to pre-injury, but that’s to be expected. What’s great is that I can do this activity I love again, and do it with minimal fear. One day, I think I’ll be fearless again.

My physical therapist recommended that I could move up a small amount in distance if I felt comfortable, so I might try for a 0.75 mile run next. For now the joy is just pushing myself and being really in my body in a way that nothing but exercise can do for me.

Here’s to the tangible progress in life, and to enjoying what I have when I have it!

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.