Boundaries

Boundaries_by_fitfatrun_Pixton

This is a comic I created based on a real-life incident a few months ago. The woman actually had a car covered with advertisements that showed her before/after and how many pounds she had lost. She was dressed in a white linen suit with heels. I was finishing up a long run and had just switched to walking about 500 feet before getting to her. My face was red, I was huffing and puffing… I had just completed 13. 1 miles for crying out loud. She comes right up to me and partially blocks my path to offer me a “miracle” weight loss solution.

This is not a unique occurrence, but rather one example in a string of times that I’ve been working out, minding my own business, and someone decides to offer me unsolicited advice about how they can help me lose weight. The assumption being, of course, that I am  only working out because I’m trying to lose weight. Sometimes (like the incident above) I handle it really well. Other times I’m unable to deal with the levels of emotion and I get flustered. After a particularly upsetting time at my gym I practiced what I was going to say the next time it happened, which is why this one time I had my comeback ready. I didn’t say exactly what I’d practiced, but I feel that for once I handled it well.

So here is my PSA: If you see someone who is working out and you have the urge to provide them with unsolicited body shame disguised as “helpful concern,” do everyone a favor and keep it to yourself. If you make a living or earn extra money this way, well shame on you.

Stuff I Already Know, But Forgot

Yesterday Jess Baker posted this on Facebook:

A lot of my bad body days may just be bad SELF days (brain/circumstantial etc) BUT because society has created such a direct line between “feeling shitty” and “our bodies” I, without thinking, am quick to fall into the path of last resistance and find the flaws in my physical appearance which then engulfs me in the shame I’ve spent my entire life learning how to feel.

Whew! If she can have bad body image days… Well, it’s nice to know that I’m not alone. Because for the past few days I’ve been feeling –ugh!– about my body.

lies

13 of the 14 contestants studied regained weight in the six years after the competition. Four contestants are heavier now than before the competition.

A lot of it started with this [trigger warning] NY Times article: After ‘The Biggest Loser,’ Their Bodies Fought to Regain Weight.  In summary the article discusses a research study that followed contestants on a weight loss reality show after they lost a tremendous amount of weight in a short amount of time.

The results of this study are consistent with every other long-term study on weight-loss:

  • Dieting doesn’t work for the vast majority of people (typically less than 5% long term)
  • Dieting physiologically changes your body to make it less healthy, less efficient
  • It isn’t your fault that diets don’t work

This isn’t shocking information. I’ve read countless studies before that said effectively the same thing. I know this to be true due to personal experience: I’ve lost over 100 lbs more than once, only to gain back all the weight (plus some). Then I feel like crap because I’ve failed, even though I know that it is a chemical change within me.

And now it is happening to me again. Here are the symptoms:

  • The feeling that no amount of food will ever fill me.
  • Eating to the point of discomfort or pain.
  • Irresistible cravings for specific foods (typically sweets and starches).
  • Feelings that emotional and physical pain can be assuaged with food.
  • Feelings of self-doubt, self-loathing, shame.
  • Unrealistic (or unsubstantiated) body image.
  • Lethargy, depression, anger.

I’m still working out where I got de-railed. It isn’t a simple issue with a single answer. It is multilayered and I have a lot of self-work to do to unravel it all. My primary concern is to stop feeling like shit about myself. This is so  much harder than it sounds.

Yesterday I ran 8 miles and I focused, for the first time in a very long time, just running for the fun of running. Not because I have to, or because it is a training day, or because I need to make up for what I’m eating (all things that have crept into my running lately). I just looked at the ocean, felt the (way to cold) sea air, and listened to my body. My pace was irregular, but I didn’t need to stop and rest. Today I’m working on taking a much-needed recovery day, without feeling like I’m supposed to run.

I’m a work in progress. Sometimes I forget that.

Wow, You Look So “Not Fat”

ambivalentOver the past few weeks I’ve had reasons to see people I haven’t seen in a long while, including some work colleagues from other parts of the country that I only see once or twice a year, a long-time friend who lives in another state, and someone I used to go to school with and haven’t seen in years. At each event I’m greeted with the shocked-surprised comment about my looks and I’m surprisingly ambivalent about it. Sure it is great when someone sees you and says, “Wow, you look fantastic!”

Except there’s a subtext. What I actually hear is, “Wow, you look not-fat!” When the comments come from most men or thin women, they usually follow-up by repeating the sentiment in different words so that I know it isn’t a platitude, but that they really, truly mean it. When the comments come from women who struggle with weight (and occasionally men who struggle) the follow-up is always “How did you do it?” Both sets of comments make me uneasy but it is the latter that makes me the most uncomfortable.

On a scale of 1 to Four Weddings and a Funeral, how uncomfortable do you feel?

On a scale of 1 to Four Weddings and a Funeral, how uncomfortable do you feel?

Here’s the thing: losing weight wasn’t the goal so much as the by-product. I wanted to get away from my food addiction, feel better and stronger, and get healthier. I felt older than my years and tired all the time. That was my original motivation anyway. As time went on I learned more about loving myself and my body and caring for myself. I focused on feeding my body the nutrients it needed, exercising for fun, and being gentle with myself. I try to be my own best friend instead of my own worst enemy. I’m breaking a lifetime of bad habits.

And along the way I lost about 90 lbs. It came off very slowly and at a certain point I stopped losing. (I suspect there is a correlation to running very long distances, but it could be that I’ve achieved my correct natural weight). I’ve been hovering around the same five pounds for the last six months, not gaining and not losing (a heretofore unknown phenomenon) and I’m happier than I’ve ever been, not because I weigh a certain amount but because I don’t really care what I weigh. So how do I respond to the unsolicited comments?

I usually try for a simple “thank you, I feel good,” (move along people, nothing to see) and some of the time that is enough, but most of that time my compliment-er doesn’t want the conversation to end there. How did you do it? is a whole, long conversation. If I’m dealing with an acquaintance, I usually stick with something like “healthy eating and exercise” which has the advantage of shutting down he conversation, but makes me feel like I’m feeding into the system of body policing – as if the goal to be thin is understood and accepted by all. If I don’t speak out, I’m part of the problem, aren’t I?

dear dietSometimes I say, “I gave up dieting and started focusing on self-acceptance,” which has the benefit of being truer, but almost always launches a much longer conversation than I really want to get into. I’ve told a few close friends, “If you want to know more you should read my blog,” and a few have, but most are really looking for easy answers about what I’m eating and how frequently I’m exercising.

I think I look great because I’m happy. I smile more. I get more sleep. I worry less. I still have lines and wrinkles and varicose veins (when did they show up??) and bunches of fat around my belly, but I feel strong and empowered and whole. So why, then do comments about how good I look invariably make me feel that it is just because I’m not-so-fat anymore and (for now) am fitting into what is “normal” and “acceptable.” And why does that make me feel so uncomfortable?

Would You Talk To A Friend That Way?

smidgen-1If you follow my blog, you know that I have an adult daughter with autism. For us, this means that we live our lives very explicitly and literally. Everything is talked about. Most parents think this sound wonderful, having a child that tells you everything. But I frequently walk away from our conversations shaking and wishing just a little could be held back. A smidge?

Ok, so a recurring theme for us is self-esteem.  Despite my best efforts to push my wonderful, beautiful daughter towards my own recent realizations about health and body acceptance, she is destined to follow in my footsteps: That is, she is dieting. She is very focused and determined, but also overwhelmed and struggling.  As with most diets, her initial efforts were rewarded with slow but steady weight loss.  However, after losing about 35 pounds, her weight loss has stalled. And after three weeks of dieting and exercise she has lost exactly 0 pounds.

This has led to many a tear-streamed meltdowns.

rupaulWhat can I say to her? She is angry and frustrated and wants me to do something. (Seriously, if I had these answers, I’d be a millionaire with my own tv show, right?) Diets don’t work, I tell her, and give her so many reasons why. But she is exactly where I was at her age. Determined to fix it. Frustrated that the “calories in-calories out” method (and every other method) doesn’t work. And feeling like a failure.

Then she starts in with the self-abusive talk. She hates her body. She feels like a failure. She’s stupid, weak…

I ask her, “Would you talk to a friend that way?” She stops and looks at me, but I’m serious, not making a joke.  If a friend was trying to lose weight, doing everything “right” and not getting results, would you tell them they were a failure? That they were stupid and weak?” Of course not.

“What would you tell them?” I asked, and she seriously considered before answering.

“I’d probably tell them they look beautiful the way they are. That they don’t need to lose weight.” Her lip starts to tremble and tears flow. “Why can’t I say that to myself?” she asks. “I know it in my head, but I just can’t believe it about myself.” How come she got it in 20 years when it took me 48?

So this is my theory, unscientific and unproven, but I like it anyway. I honestly and firmly believe you can’t have long-term success at health, weight loss, or pretty much any self-improvement, if you don’t start by learning to love yourself. Who wants to do good things for someone they hate? Who wants to invest time and energy in someone unless they are worthy of that time and energy? Learning to live a healthy lifestyle, sticking to an exercise program, eating foods that nourish and don’t destroy you are acts of love. They take extra time, attention, and effort. They take love.

47f5c4827e3c5ab95de6bb1f9f287719This was the hardest part of my journey to learn, and I’m still learning it. I follow the wise words of body-love bloggers, tweeters, and sisters (my sisters rock, yo!), and while I’m not 100% there, I’m getting better and stronger every day.

I used to think the Pink! song “Don’t Let Me Get Me” was my personal anthem. I wanted to break up with myself. It’s only been recently that I’ve started thinking that might be the problem. About two years ago I decided to stop punishing myself and start treating myself like someone I loved. It didn’t happen all at once, but gradually over time I built up a repertoire of ways to spoil myself and let me know I cared.

This is a case of the actions leading to the feelings (fake it till you make it). I act like I love myself, and in time I actually find I do. Here are some of the things I do to help give me the strength to start to be who I want to be:

  • 2e57b67b41c1c5ce75ee3ae8e19621ffPampering myself with massages, mani-pedis, and haircuts as often as I can afford to.
  • Looking at myself in the mirror every day, and looking for what I like best in the reflection.
  • Letting people take pics of me, taking selfies (it’s not a bad word) with my loved ones, and posting pics on my social networks. I have more pics of me from the past year and a half than from the previous 10 put together. I don’t Photoshop out fat, wrinkles or birthmarks.
  • Buy myself beautiful clothes that I love, rather than waiting until I’m a specific size, because damn it, I’m worth it.
  • Taking some time for myself every day, even when work is super busy, and my personal life is super crazy.

Your list would probably look different, but do you have a list? If not, maybe it is time to start wooing yourself a little. It doesn’t have to be about things that cost money (although jewelry is always nice) but about giving yourself permission to feel good about you. After that, everything else gets easier.

Stop Calling Yourself Fat

This one is wistful, like she is waiting for something that isn't going to happen. Also, purple is my favorite color.

So my mother sees me in my new jeans (finally got some clothes that fit) and says, “You have to stop calling yourself fat.”

I’m not going to do that for three reasons:

One, I am fat. This is scientific truth. Perhaps compared to my former size (i.e. this time last year) I appear fitter and thinner, but objectively, I still have enough fat on me to comfortably say I’m fat.

Now, I personally think BMI is just about the worst way to evaluate someone’s body, but let’s just use it since that is what practically every doctor and health organizations use. (Even though they are all wrong!). According to BMI, I’m in the “Overweight”category, but only barely. I would have to lose 30 lbs to make it into the “normal” category. (Want to personally dispute BMI? Check out the Photographic Height/Weight Chart. It’s pretty cool)

Want more proof, I wear “plus” sizes. I don’t have to shop in the plus size store anymore, but according to industry standards plus size is size 12 and up. I just barely squeeze into those 12 Old Navy pants, and on top I’m much bigger (always will be). (Brand by brand there is a lot of discrepancy, so I may be anywhere from a 12 to a 16 in pants.) The dress I wore this weekend was an 18 and fit just perfectly.  It is just how I’m put together.

Anyway, that isn’t the main thing I was going to write about.

Two, I will always be fat. Regardless of my size, my weight, my waist circumference, I will always be fat. It is actually dangerous for me to think of myself as anything but fat.

This is something I decided about a year ago when I started this whole lifestyle change. My best example to explain my thinking is this: If someone is an alcoholic, they are always an alcoholic, even if they don’t drink. Even after they haven’t had a single drink in 25 years, they will still describe themselves as an alcoholic, because  to do otherwise is dangerous for their sobriety.  Now you can argue that I’m using the wrong word, but for me the word fat describes my essential, internal being-ness. And to start to describe myself (or even think of myself) as anything other than fat is a danger to my health.

I’m not focused on how many pounds I lose each week, I focus on how many miles I can walk or run. I don’t care about what size I fit into (unless the clothes are actually falling off my body) but rather that I’m fueling my body enough to be strong, healthy, and productive. I need to keep doing that, regardless of my size.

Finally, one other thought.

JKRowling-560x375Three, what’s so bad about fat anyway?

I want to reclaim the word fat. I’ve been following a lot of body love and fat activist bloggers, and listening to what they say. One of the big take-aways is that fat has become this terrible thing, the worst thing someone can say about you. Also, fat shaming and denying people rights based on weight is still considered okay. There is something really wrong with society that they needed

to do a study to prove that shaming people about their weight is harmful.

I was recently reading a FB thread about the Megan Trainor song. Someone wrote “I want to like the song, but I don’t think it we should send the message to young girls that it is ok to be overweight.” We are making a little headway, but this is the prevailing opinion in society. So, for the record:

  1. Being fat doesn’t mean you are unhealthy. Not being fat doesn’t mean you are healthy.
  2. Even if being fat did mean you are unhealthy (which it doesn’t, see #1) that is no one else’s business.
  3. Telling people they are fat doesn’t make them less fat. In fact, it probably makes them fatter. (see link to study, above)

If you want more, Ragan Chastain at Dances with Fat says it better than I do, and in much better depth.

Cold Turkey

Starting in Nov, 2013 I got very, very fed up with everything related to food and diet. I couldn’t (just could not) bear to start one more diet. But my eating was getting out of control. It wasn’t that I felt I needed to or wanted to lose weight (I have long given up on that pipe dream) but that I needed to control my food addiction.

Note: I am not a nutritionist, doctor, or psychologist. Everything on this site is based on my personal experience and research and is my own opinion, not fact. My words should not be a substitute for your own research and experience and should never, ever take place of the advice of a professional. 

cold_turkey

Where does this expression even come from?

Food addiction is like, yet not like, other addictions. Some people may be offended that I compare food addiction to drug addiction, alcoholism, gambling, or smoking. I can kind of see their point, but there are many similarities. I am not a counselor or psychologist, but it seems to me that the loss of personal power to the addiction is common to all types of addiction, for example. When you do something you absolutely don’t want to do, knowing there will be dire consequences, but can’t help yourself, that is addiction.

Another way food addiction is like other addictions is that it is rarely about the substance involved. There are many physiological and psychological factors that contribute to the addiction. Just dealing with the addiction alone will rarely get long-term results. You need to address the underlying issues if you truly want to break free of your addiction.

Food addiction is not like other addictions, however by one pivotal fact: You can’t stop eating all together. Most addictions require physically breaking free from the abused substance or action. For some addictions it is recommended to go “cold turkey” or by gradual release by cutting back little by little or using alternative medications as a replacement. But you can’t do that with food. You can’t just stop eating all together.

foodpostitMy original plan was to go as close to “cold turkey” for food as I could. I thought if I could just get away from eating for a while I could get myself under control. I started to research different food replacement programs such as energy bars and shakes. The more I read, the less impressed I was. Most of the meal replacements, even supposed low-calorie ones, were filled with sugars, chemicals, and unnecessary fats. I didn’t think these foods would make me feel any better than what I was already eating.

My next thought was to just simplify. I would focus only on a few key foods that would provide me the requisite nutrition I needed. Again, lots of research led me to a few conclusions. The foods had to be whole, natural foods, not processed foods. That had to be easy to make and be portable so that I could fit them into my crazy life.  They had to cover all the nutrients that I would need and balance into the right amount of calories, proteins, fats, and carbs. They had to be naturally proportioned so that I would eat the right servings. They couldn’t be too tasty or I would overeat them. They couldn’t be too un-tasty (is that a word) or I wouldn’t be able to keep it up.

I love self-serve frozen yogurt. My trick is to put fresh fruit in first and then top with yogurt. This keeps my yogurt portion lower than my fruit portion. Plus coats the fruit with yummy yogurt.

I love self-serve frozen yogurt. My trick is to put fresh fruit in first and then top with yogurt. This keeps my yogurt portion small, and coats the fruit with yummy yogurt.

Once I had my list of foods, the plan was to stick to the program for two weeks to “detox” and then figure out what I wanted to do next. I had a vague idea of going back to weight watchers or something like that once I was “on track.”  That never happened.

After a month I was surprised at how easy it was to stick to the plan. After two months I began to think this might be a long-term solution for me. I have massaged and changed my plan over time, altered my foods slightly, and even allowed certain types of “cheats” that don’t completely derail me (hello, frozen yogurt).

It has now become a way of life. Every day I eat the same breakfast and lunch. For dinner, I allow more variety, but focus on key foods and stick to my rules: whole foods, low-fat proteins, fresh veggies, limited high-fiber carbs, avoid wheat, sugar, and processed foods.

I am almost never hungry and rarely tempted to cheat. Occasionally I will have something not on the list (homemade pizza, ice cream cake, etc) but it is rare, the servings are small, and I make sure the treat is worth it.

This is not a diet. I try not to use that word. This is a way for me to deal with my personal food addiction and issues. The result has been, I feel healthier, I have more energy, I am sick less, and I feel empowered. I also know how easy it would be to slide back into my addictive habits. I am not cured. I am convinced that I must stay this course for the rest of my life, or risk falling back into the world where food controls me.


			

The First Person Who Called Me Fat

I'm the peacekeeper in my family. I try to never take sides and always get along. It doesn't always work.

I’m the peacekeeper in my family. I try to never take sides and always get along. It doesn’t always work.

I’ve thought about writing this post for a while, but I’ve been hesitant because I know my mother reads my blog and I would never want to hurt her. I also need to say some potentially hurtful things about myself as a mother. But I’ve finally decided that I need to say them regardless.

The first person that called me fat was my mother. I remember it vividly enough, but if I didn’t remember it, she has retold the story enough times that I could never forget. (Every time I hear it I wince.) It was when I got back from visiting my grandparents in Florida for the first time. I think I was about 12 years old (it was either the summer before or the summer after sixth grade). I’m not sure how long I was away. It felt like the whole summer to me, but it was probably just two weeks.

I went with my two cousins. We all had matching green and white sundresses which we wore on the plane down. I felt beautiful when I left.  When I came home, my parents picked us up from the airport and the first thing my mother said was, “What happened to you? It looks like you got filled with air?” I had no idea what she meant, but I felt like I got hit in the face. Eventually I figured it out. I had obviously gained weight while I was away. Enough to make a noticeable difference in my appearance. Enough to make my mother comment on it. Enough for me to realize that I was fat. And I have been fat ever since.

I don’t know how much I had actually gained that summer. I know my grandparents let me eat whatever I wanted to. We went to fast food restaurants and had dessert every night (things I never got at home).  But really, how much could it have been? But there I was. Fat. Because my mother said so. Regardless of how much I weigh or what size I am, I know inside that I’m a fat girl.

I bring this up because I really, really didn’t want to do that to my own daughter. I knew before she was born that she would have two strikes against her in the weight department: She would have my genetics and me as a role model.

Of course, she takes after me. She has a smile that lights up the room, never wants to hurt someone’s feelings, and is so creative. She also eats portions that are a bit too big, enjoys food more than exercise, and uses food to deal with emotions. Where could she have learned all that from? I always tell her how beautiful she is (she is, too!) and how she doesn’t need to diet. Other people may have called her fat, but I never did.  When my mother or other relatives tried to get her to go on diets or watch what she ate, I always intervened. I didn’t want her to feel the way I had as a kid.  My philosophy was she would be healthier just being who she is.

Avatar of me and my daughter, created by @nuchtchas.

Avatar of me and my daughter, created by @nuchtchas.

And then one day I blew it. I don’t remember clearly how we got into the conversation (I’m sure she remembers it very clearly), but she was upset that some guys had blown her off. Many, many people dismiss, bully, or blow her off. A lot of the times it is related to her autism. She doesn’t know how to connect to people. But somehow, in the conversation, amidst the tears, I said something equivalent to “not all guys are attracted to big girls.” And because she can never leave anything alone we had to pick that statement apart until it was clear that when I said “big girls” I meant she was overweight. I had called her fat.

In that very moment she completely crumpled. And she hasn’t really fully recovered. Because while many people had called her fat before, when her very own mother did it, it actually meant something. We’ve had lots and lots of discussions since that time. We’ve talked about how you can be both fat and beautiful. How fat isn’t a bad thing. How healthy is more important than weight. And things have gotten better, mostly, but it doesn’t change the fact that she now, and probably forever, will see herself as fat. And that I’m the one who did that to her.

In Which Christmas is my Undoing

Here’s the thing. I spent six weeks perfecting this food program in which I focus on foods that nourish and avoid foods that are addicting. I even made it through Thanksgiving relatively unscathed. But Christmas was a food disaster. Not because I over-ate: I had given myself permission to enjoy the foods. The problem is that after six weeks of careful food balances, all the wonderful holiday foods wrecked havoc with my body.
My digestion is a mess. I will spare you the gory details, but suffice to say that while I enjoyed the eating of the food, I’m not enjoying the food hangover. I’m actually looking forward to getting back on the wagon. My binge actually convinced me that I’m on the right path.
I’m going on vacation for a week, and the strict food plan will be a challenge, especially with the 13 hour drive that starts in an hour. But if yesterday proved anything, it is that the challenge is worth it. If only to avoid gastro-disasters.
Wish me luck.

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