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.

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 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 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 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 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.