onceafatgirl

Peace is better than chocolate

Archive for the category “beauty”

F*ck Karl Lagerfeld

This week I kind of freaked myself out. I was looking in the mirror, which I do all the time because I am particularly vain, and I was thinking that I look really beautiful. Again, this is not that far fetched for me. Body dysmorphia aside, I think I’m pretty hot much of the time. And then the next day, a friend whom I had seen on a video conference told me that I was looking really beautiful. But then I realized why I, and perhaps others, may have been thinking I was so beautiful. It’s because I am particularly thin right now. And that made me uncomfortable.

So I did something I almost never do. I asked my husband. You should have seen the look on his face. You’d think that Admiral Ackbar just snuck up behind him and yelled, “It’s a trap!”

Of course, it wasn’t a trap. But he was wise to tread cautiously. Obviously weight and size are loaded in this society in general, especially for women, and super extra especially for me. And my husband had to live through my most debilitating body dysmorphic episode ever after I quit smoking and gained 30 pounds, even with my food boundaries firmly intact. He knows first hand that nothing can reduce me to tears (and insanity) as quickly as some unwelcome belief about my weight, real or imagined.

He told me very clearly that he actively avoids looking at my size. That he knows no good can come of it. And that ultimately, it really doesn’t matter to him.

And if my obsession with my weight and body were, as I truly believed for basically all 35 of my single years, about being attractive to men, especially the one I am in love with, then this post would be done. But it’s not, and it’s not.

The truth is that I have mixed feelings. I do like what I see in the mirror, whether I have been conditioned to think so or not. And obviously, I am not the only one, if a friend was seeing and saying the same thing that I was. And I truly hated being fat, whether that was also conditioning or not.

Wallis Simpson is credited with saying that a woman “can never be too rich or too thin.” But she said this before the 1970s and 80s, which is when cases of eating disorders began to escalate. (It is worth noting I think, that this is also when cases of obesity began to escalate.)

Now we know that a woman can, indeed, be too thin. A person can starve themself to death. Vital organs can shut down. Perhaps Wallis Simpson couldn’t imagine a world where a girl would have a heart attack in her teens because her desire to be ever thinner led to the weakening of all of her muscles, including the ones to keep her alive. Perhaps she had too much faith in a human’s survival instinct. (I have opinions about whether it is possible to be too rich as well, but as this is an eating disorder blog, I will keep those to myself.)

But on the other side, I think that there are reasons that being thin, or at least not being fat, is considered attractive. I mean that I don’t think it’s entirely about societal conditioning; I think there are also evolutionary reasons.

My dad sent me an interesting podcast a few weeks ago. In it, Gary Taubes, who wrote a book called “The Case Against Sugar,” talks about how he believes that there is a fundamental flaw in the way the health and medical community views weight. (I feel the need to note that Taubes clearly states that he is making a case, but that there have not been clinical trials and scientific studies that have proven this idea. He is simply making an argument, and he would like to see this idea studied. I will also say that in my very much not scientific, but particularly personal experience, I think he is on the right track.) He says that we talk about obesity and weight in terms of a balance of energy – calories in must be equal to calories out – but that what the calorie comes from doesn’t matter. He argues that, in fact, what we eat matters because foods have chemical and hormonal impacts. In this podcast he said something that really struck me: “People don’t …accumulate 100 pounds of excess fat because they eat too much, they do it because their body is telling them to accumulate fat. And that’s going to be a hormonal, enzymatic problem.”

I happen to think that over millions of years of evolution, we humans “understand” various things subconsciously. Not in thoughts and words, but in basic “gut” reactions. And I think it is possible that humans find fat less attractive because it indicates some form of ill health, some problem with the functioning of our hormones/chemicals/biology.

I know (rationally) that I was not fat because I was lazy, stupid, greedy, or shameful. I did not want to be fat. I wanted to be able to stop eating. I went to nutritionists and did workout tapes. (Yes, I said “tapes.” That’s how old I am.) I joined programs with weekly motivation classes and pre-packaged food plans so you didn’t have to think for yourself about what to eat. I worked my ass off to work my ass off and it never did go anywhere. I could not manage to not be fat.

And while I limit the amount of food I eat now, I still eat a lot. Pounds and pounds every day. Including full-fat greek yogurt, whole milk, pork rinds, bacon, and sausage. But I am not eating most sugars (except for some natural sugars in the form of some whole fruits and vegetables) or things that turn into sugar, like grains, starch, and other carbohydrates. And the elimination of those foods has meant that for the past 11+ years, I have never been fat again. And I think that chances are good that eating sugar was always the culprit; sugar was signaling to my body to store fat.

But if it were only a matter of a healthy, properly functioning body, versus an improperly functioning body, then I wouldn’t be so freaked out about the fact that I like being thin. I’m freaked out because we have taken “thin” too far. And I am afraid that I will mix up what I am constantly told I “should” look like, with what I look like when I am in a healthy, properly functioning body.

From the 50s through the 80s, famous beauties generally had a BMI of somewhere between 17-20.5, while the average American woman had a BMI between 23-25. As a young adult, I had a BMI of about 45. (Yes, I know that BMI is a flawed system, but it is a “standardized” system, so it is helpful in illustrating my point.) So when I was growing up, the real knockouts were somewhere between a modern size 2 and 6. Today, a model who is a size 6 is considered “plus size.” So a woman with a BMI of 20.5 is considered fat by today’s (fashion industry) standards, while the average American woman currently has a BMI of 27.6 and is a size 14.

My point is that I don’t want to get caught up in liking or not liking my body based on a fundamentally flawed definition of acceptable weight made up by an industry that makes it’s money by telling women that they are lacking. I don’t need Karl Lagerfeld, Donatella Versace, or Mark Jacobs to tell me that my healthy, strong, fully functional body is not pretty enough, because clothes “look better” on a girl who is about to experience renal failure. (Seriously, f**k them.)

But mostly I am afraid that I will get brainwashed by them. You see, I don’t want to listen to them; I don’t want to come to believe them; I don’t want to let them in my head. And I am afraid that if, when I look in the mirror, I like my thin self better than my less thin self, I will make myself sick physically, emotionally and spiritually. It’s not that I don’t want to like what I look like, I just want liking what I look like to not be so tied up in weight. I want to be able to be happy that I am thin. I have changed my entire life so that I could be happy in my body. But I also don’t want to have to take it that seriously. Perhaps ultimately I should think about my weight the way my husband thinks about my weight, which is to say, not at all. But for a girl with a lifetime of food and body issues, perhaps that’s asking too much…

 

It could be worse. I could *look* 40.

This coming Tuesday will be my 40th birthday. And I am pretty excited about it, quite frankly.

I am not afraid of aging. I have written about this before, I know. I think that part of the reason I am not afraid of aging is that with my food under control, I am aging particularly well. I may be in the best shape of my life right now. And I don’t show a lot of the visible signs of getting older, though I do have a lot of gray hair. No seriously, a lot for 40. But it’s more white and silver than gray gray, so even that isn’t too bad.

And I don’t want to imply that I’m not experiencing the normal wear and tear that a 40-year-old experiences. My knees crack, and sometimes one or the other of my ankles is sore or wobbly for the first few minutes of my morning jog, and that’s with knee and ankle braces. And when I sit up after doing my crunches, I can hear and feel my back crack.

But at 16 I was morbidly obese. I had difficulty walking, let alone running. I was easily exhausted. I feared stairs the way people fear public speaking, though I had to face stairs daily, while, unless it’s your job, most people don’t have to speak in front of crowds very often.

But it’s not all about being thin either. It’s not just physical ease vs. discomfort. I look great, I feel great, I am generally happy, and content, and I believe that has a lot to do with the fact that I don’t poison myself with sugar.

The average American eats about 94 grams, or 350 calories, of added sugar in a day. That’s over 75 pounds of sugar in a year. And that is the average, not the extreme. For reference, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends about 25 grams a day for an average adult. So average Americans are eating almost four times the recommended amount of sugar. Every single day.

Now, I am not the food police. I don’t care if you choose to eat sugar. But as time goes by, science and medicine show more and more evidence that sugar is a drug, and that it affects us, not just physically (as in our weight), but also hormonally, and neurologically. I know it’s poison to me because I am addicted to it. But even if you are not addicted to sugar, it is becoming clear that it is still dangerous. And like all drugs, it has side effects.

I think a lot of my general beauty and good health has to do with the fact that I am not putting that particular poison into my body. The result is that I have glowing skin, bright eyes, healthy hair, and a strong body. I also exercise, am well rested, and I drink lots of water every day, and that’s all possible for me because I don’t eat sugar, grains, or starches.

I don’t use sugar as fuel. I don’t crash mid-morning because my breakfast was carbs with a side of sugar, so I need another fix. I sleep 8 hours a night because I am not hopped up on sugar late into the evening. I am hydrated because I don’t need to drink sugar to get me through the day, one little fix at a time, and instead I can manage get my water in. (Don’t get me wrong, I still drink coffee and zero calorie diet drinks. I just drink my water too.) I am not anxious, irritable, or moody because I need a hit.

Yes, not being high on sugar helps me make better choices when it comes to taking care of myself. It always made me lethargic and lazy. It made me comfortable enough in the moment to not think far enough ahead to take care of my health and my life.

But seriously, I strongly believe that look as good as I do (and seriously, I look pretty damn good), not just because I exercise and drink water, but because I am not constantly pumping poison into my body. In general, drugs age a person. You can find a million before and after shots on the internet showing their effects. If you hear the word junkie, there is an image that pops into your mind, and it’s probably not one of shiny hair and a big smile with a full mouth of teeth.

So I am grateful to feel so beautiful on the eve of a big birthday. And I believe that, more than any other reason, I owe that feeling to keeping sugar out of my body.

Catwalk vs Boardwalk, or how I don’t think twice about wearing my bikini in public

I have been thinking about body image and body image issues a lot lately. Partly because I live in a beach town now, and, to my own surprise, I am really comfortable here. I have never lived in a beach town before. Of course, both Chicago and New York have beaches. But neither of them have a strong beach culture. It’s not why people go there.

One thing I have noticed about Corpus Christi is that the people here don’t occur to me as particularly body conscious. I mentioned last week that I started wearing shorts here for the first time in about 30 years. Partly because I saw that people wear shorts, all shapes and sizes and ages of people. Not because their legs are shapely and their thighs are skinny. Just because it’s hot.

I think it’s interesting to note that when I started wearing my bikini in public 5 years ago, I was also in Texas, though in a different town. And here I see all sorts of bathing suits at the beach, again on all shapes, sizes and ages. Bikinis are not exclusively worn by young, skinny girls. And I don’t just mean because I am there. When I walk on the beach, I don’t feel embarrassed, or self-conscious. I don’t feel like people are even looking at me.

Now, one of the things I love about New York City is that it is a non-stop fashion show that everyone is putting on for everyone else on a daily basis, not just during fashion week. But because of that, there is a lot of judgment. Of course, to a certain extent, that’s the point there. I went out looking to be judged, and hoping to be found flawless, or at least fabulous. But sometimes that judgment could trickle down past the clothes and right to the body the clothes were on. And even if it didn’t, the line between fashion and physique always felt a little blurry, which made for a lot of insecurity when I wasn’t looking to be judged, like when I was feeling fat, or when I didn’t have it in me to “do it up.”

In some ways, I find that my fashion sense gets a little lost here in Texas. Clothes or looks that used to get me at least a double take, and sometimes praise from a stranger in the city now go basically unnoticed. And that’s a little sad for me. I love clothes, and style. I love the fashion show.

But the up side is that there is a lot of freedom from my body image disorders. And that leaves a lot of room for me to be myself, try new looks, and generally relax about my body. And as a former fat girl with eating and body image disorders, that is a welcome surprise.

Let’s make normal the new normal

Let’s talk about “normalization.” It’s a buzzword right now, of course. And I understand why. For the past fifteen to twenty years, until quite recently, certain ideas about racial, religious, and gender superiority have been taboo. They were only ever uttered aloud by your crazy uncle, while drunk, at Thanksgiving, and nobody thought much about it except to roll their eyes, shake their heads, and (hopefully) send him home in a cab.

The reality of life is that people who fall on the fringes of society usually don’t feel safe, and because of that, they hide. At different periods in history it’s different groups hiding. For a long time in the United States, it was members of the LGBT community. Until about a year ago, it was the men’s rights movement, white supremacists, and neo-Nazis.

I am not a fan of the movement to “stop the normalization” of hate and hate speech. I like my white supremacists to feel safe enough to show their true colors. I like my hate where I can see it. And I have a lot of room for free speech. I am not saying I will like you. I am not saying I will respect you. And if I am in a position to withhold my money from you, I will certainly not put it in your pocket. But I am saying that I believe in your right to be a repulsive, bigoted, disgusting excuse for a human being, as long as you do not harm, or infringe upon the rights of those you encounter in your travels.

But this is not a blog about politics, and this is not a political post in my eating disorder blog. I want to talk about using normalization in our own lives for our own benefit. I want to talk about the upside of normalization.

According to the article on Wikipedia entitled Normalization (sociology), Normalization refers to social processes through which ideas and actions come to be seen as ‘normal‘ and become taken-for-granted or ‘natural’ in everyday life.”

Every day, most of us see images that promote unattainable beauty goals. We are inundated with pictures of women and girls who are already thin, sometimes unhealthily so, and those images are altered to make these women look even thinner, not to mention that they are made to appear that their skin never puckers under straps, they have no hair except for their eyebrows, and a silky mane on the top of their heads, and that hair is thick, shiny, and can seemingly defy gravity. We, as a culture, have “normalized” women (and men) who do not even exist, while vilifying ourselves for being unable to meet these literally impossible standards.

The reality is, the more we see something, the more comfortable we are with it. That’s one beautiful, fascinating function of the human brain. The more ads we see of Photoshopped supermodels, the more that occurs to us as normal. But while that can be frustrating and sickening, I would like to say that we have the power to do something about it for ourselves in our daily lives. We can take control of our own ideas of normal. But we have to actually do something if we want to “do something about it.”

In October of 2010, I stopped wearing makeup. I have maybe worn it 3 times in the past 6 ½ years. Before that time, I would not, and in my own mind could not, go through my day without makeup. I had a million excuses. I had acne, or acne scars. I had dark circles. I was single and I needed to look my best in case the man of my dreams showed up next to me on the subway.

And the first few days were hard. I was particularly self-conscious. And I felt that I must certainly be missing the love of my life. How would my beauty captivate him if I was all cystic acne and eye bags?!?! The reality, however, was that I got hit on more than ever. And after that initial period of OH GOD! WHAT THE HELL AM I DOING?, I got used to my own face. And I started to recognize that there was nothing wrong with it exactly as it was. I understood that it didn’t need enhancement, and that the people telling me it did were the people who wanted to sell me concealer.

Now, I actively spend time normalizing myself to myself. For all of my eating and body image disorders, I recognize that I am way more well-adjusted than the average American woman, because I embrace myself, and look at my self in my natural state all the time. I don’t necessarily mean naked, though that too, because my body is just a body, like everybody else’s. I mean I still don’t wear makeup. I don’t dye my grey hair. I don’t wear shapewear. I don’t wear padded bras. I wear a bikini in public even though I have stretchmarks. I wear strapless and sleeveless tops even though I could probably glide a good distance if the hanging skin under my arms caught the wind just right. I don’t take pictures of myself, and then filter and adjust them until I look like a generic, washed-out, homogenized version of “woman.” I look at myself in natural states regularly and without judgment, and I look totally normal to me. Also, I avoid beauty and fitness industry ads with Photoshopped models as much as possible. (It’s hard. That sh*t is pervasive.)

So I recommend that we all start normalizing ourselves to ourselves. Let’s stop collectively averting our eyes from our bellies. Let’s stop putting on makeup to workout or walk the dog at 5 in the morning. Let’s stop untagging ourselves from every picture on social media that shows us with a double chin or a zit. Let’s start making normal, the new normal.

 

My heart, not my ass

I like routine. Love it really. Or at least can become attached to it. I can get stuck on the way things “should be,” if only because that is the way they have been. Friday morning, I woke up at 5:30 like I do on weekdays. I drank a bottle of water, and put on my running clothes, also like I do. But I was tired. I had only gotten about 6 hours of sleep. That may seem like a lot to you, or at the very least enough, but I am very much used to a full 8 hours a night. And I was afraid that I would hurt myself if I went to work out when I was too tired. It took some serious thought, and it made me a little anxious about my time and the things I needed to get done in the day, but in the end I decided to rest a little more, and run later.

When I was an exercise bulimic, I hurt myself all the time. I was so obsessed with getting rid of the excessive amounts of food that I was eating, that I ignored any injuries I inflicted on myself. I played through the pain, as they say. Now I’m a grownup, physically and emotionally (you know, for the most part) and I don’t want to get injured in the first place. Because I don’t like pain (obvs), and because I can’t, in good conscience, exercise when I am injured. I would have to rest and heal. And I would rest and heal because I am not obsessed with getting rid of the food I ate, because I eat a healthy amount of nutritious food.

Each of us acts, on a daily basis, according to intentions that we have created within the context of our belief systems. And I believe that most of us are not present to those intentions, because we are unaware of these beliefs. I’m not talking about our beliefs in, say, God, or science, or fairies, or astrology. We know that we believe in these things, or not. I am referring to things that we don’t even see because we cannot fathom that there could be any other way. Before I got my eating under control, one of my beliefs was that I was fundamentally broken, and that my fat body was both punishment for me, and a signal for others, like my own scarlet letter (but a big F for FAT.) That there was some other explanation (like addiction) never crossed my mind.

When I was fat and eating compulsively, all of my exercise was to force my body into a shape and size that I believed to be socially acceptable. I thought that was the only reason to work out in the first place. I thought that everyone who exercised was doing it for that reason (only more successfully than myself.) I didn’t understand that for some people it was about health, or peace of mind, or self-care, or because it felt good. (Gasp!) That exercise was punishment was so ingrained in the way I saw myself and the world that I didn’t recognize that there could be another way. Exercise was a punishment for not being able to stop eating. Or for just being born broken. It was the price I had to pay for being fat. It didn’t matter that it hurt. It didn’t matter that I was miserable. It did not matter that I was harming myself. I wasn’t doing it for me. I was doing it to please strangers on the street. I was attempting to preemptively silence the people I believed would shame me. And I was doing it for God. I was exercising as a form of penance for my shameful body, self, and life. And people supported me in that. They did it because, according to society, I was a “good girl” for recognizing my shamefulness, laziness, unattractiveness (or whatever it is that they decided being fat meant about me) and trying to do something about it.

We definitely live in a culture that praises people who work out. But what we praise them for is being beautiful. If someone is fat and working out, we (usually) praise them. But it’s an automatic reaction, and we don’t even realize that what we are praising them for is trying to lose weight and become the Western standard of beautiful. If someone looks like a fitness model, we praise them for being that standard of beautiful and maintaining that beauty. If someone is skeletally thin, we praise them too, for having willpower, or looking like a supermodel. But we never ever praise anyone for being overweight. That is the worst thing you can be physically in our society. That is the context of weight and exercise that permeates our culture.

But we frame it in the context of “health,” while what we really honor is skinny. In our culture, we love to talk about obesity and it’s ramifications on our health, but we judge people on their weight as it affects their appearance. Somehow we have it in our collective psyche that a woman who is 20 pounds overweight is a scourge on our healthcare system, but we let a girl dying of anorexia be a model, a standard for beauty, while she dies in the middle of a fashion show. (If you think I am being melodramatic, in 2006, a model died from heart failure due to anorexia after passing out on her way back to the dressing room in the middle of a runway show.)

Because I was an exercise bulimic (as well as a regular old vomiting bulimic), when I got my eating under control, I did not work out. I walked to places that were close enough. I took the stairs instead of the elevator. (Still do.) But I did not put on spandex and move to the point of sweaty breathlessness, as is the socially expected definition of exercise.

When I started running again about a year ago, I had made a decision about the context of my exercise: I was doing it exclusively as an act of self-care. I was not trying to lose weight. I was not trying to force my body into a socially acceptable shape or size. My only goal was, and is, to keep my body working well and easily as I age. After all, I will turn 40 this year. It was about my heart (literally and figuratively) not my ass.

I have made the decision to love my body as it is. I am not skinny. I am a slow runner. I do not diet or feel deprived. I eat in a way that keeps me satisfied and content in terms of my appetite, my physical appearance and my health. I am not always trying to lose that last 10 pounds. I am not always managing and obsessing, doing the math in my head about what I have eaten and how much more I can eat and what ramifications what I eat will have on my weight. I eat and exercise as a practical means of loving the body I live in, which is perfectly lovely right now.

 

 

Let’s not spread it around like germs

It is hot here in Kentucky. For the past few days, it has been in the nineties, but the heat index has it feel like 100-105 degrees. And yet, I am not suffering. In fact, I am enjoying it. (Though I could do with fewer bugs, thank you.) In recent years I have found that I am always cold. Sometimes I sit out on my porch in the morning and if it’s only in the high seventies, I need to put on a sweater. Seriously. Always. Freaking. Cold. So I am absolutely loving that I can go sit outside in as few, teeny tiny clothes as possible.

 

When I was eating compulsively, I was basically always hot. I was so generally warm that I didn’t wear a coat in the winter in Chicago. I would sweat pretty much constantly, no matter the season, no matter the temperature. And on top of that, I was so ashamed of my body that in the summer, I would keep myself covered up. I would wear jeans under long dresses no matter how hot it got; so that was even more sweating.

 

I would guess that between the ages of 14 and 22, I didn’t own a bating suit. If I did, I don’t remember, and I would guess that I didn’t use it very much. The idea of being seen in a bating suit was terrifying to me. I want you to think about that. I was more comfortable wearing layers of clothing in the scorching heat than I was letting people see my legs, arms and shoulders. I probably didn’t get in a pool, lake or sprinkler for eight years because it was more comfortable to be oppressed by the sun than it was to be oppressed by the potential judgment of strangers. I was both ashamed of myself, and afraid that others would shame me as well.

 

And here is the thing about body shame: it doesn’t go away easily. It didn’t go away because I lost 150 pounds. In fact, it was never just going to go away. It had to be dismantled and I was the one who had to dismantle it.

 

I still have to dismantle it. Here’s the thing, I am not fat. I am 5’6 ½”, I wear a size 6/8. But I am curvy. I have wide hips and round thighs and a belly. And those things can make me feel fat. My thighs rub together. For various reasons, one of which is being fat during my formative years, I am knock kneed. (It is actually a pretty common phenomenon among women because we tend to have wider hips than men.) My upper legs lean toward one another while my lower legs lean away. Because of this, my thighs have always rubbed together. Even at my very thinnest, probably 20 pounds lighter than I am now, when I was wearing size small clothes, my thighs rubbed together. The only way they would stop rubbing together is if I became skeletally thin, and frankly, maybe not even then. Sometimes that makes me feel fat. I have a lot of extra skin and stretch marks and sometimes that makes me feel fat. I have broad shoulders, I have large calf muscles, I have flabby arms. Sometimes every single one of those things makes me feel fat.

 

And it’s not just because I used to be fat. It’s definitely not just me. The other day, on Facebook, there was a picture of a friend (a real natural beauty by any standards) and she made a comment about looking “pregnant” (which I read as fat.) Just to be clear, she did not look either pregnant or fat. And I commented on it, because frankly, it freaked me out. I will admit that it was none of my business, and I probably shouldn’t have made a comment, but I did. In my wishful thinking, I hoped that at least she would acknowledge that like me, while she might feel fat, she at least understood intellectually that she was not. But she declined. She said that at least we could agree that it was an unflattering picture. At that point I had already overstepped my bounds, so after that I kept my opinion to myself, but you know what? No. I am telling you, my lovely readers, that I refuse to agree that it was an unflattering picture. It was a picture of a real woman with a real body, doing real things. What is unflattering about having a body big enough to actually house a full set of human internal organs?

 

I refuse to accept that the only beauty is the hyper-specific set of characteristics that the beauty and fitness industries acknowledge. I refuse to accept the idea that what I am right now at this very moment is anything less than enough. I refuse to look a beautiful woman and agree with her when she tries to convince me that she is lacking.

 

I know that I cannot change others. But I can change myself, and the best way to do that is not always by changing my body, though obviously as a woman who lost over a hundred pounds, I am a proponent of that as well. Sometimes, the best way for me to change is by loving and accepting my body as it is. And what that often looks like for me is to take small actions that make me feel uncomfortable, until they are comfortable. And then I can take another small action that makes me uncomfortable.

 

I can think of so many examples of little obsessions that I managed to let go of. When I was overweight, I never wore a top that didn’t cover my butt. Even after I lost weight, it took something to get over this. It was burned into my brain that by not hiding that I had a lower body, I was somehow being rude to others. When I first started working out about 15 years ago, I wouldn’t wear spandex workout clothes; I would only wear things that were loose fitting, never mind that they might be less comfortable or might even make it more difficult to move around.

 

Several years ago, when I was my thinnest, I started wearing a bikini when I went to my (mostly) secluded New York City roof to sunbathe. I would never have gone out in public like that, but at that point just putting on a bikini was a huge step for me. That I owned a bikini felt daring. Years later, and thirty pounds heavier, I started wearing my bikini in public. And not in a shy, apologetic way. I didn’t hide. I didn’t avoid talking to people (I am a friendly person.) I was just being myself, with more skin showing. It was uncomfortable the first few times, but when I did it often enough, it became “just the way it was.” In fact, I have four bating suits right now, but I only wear two of them, because the others are not bikinis and I decided that I prefer bikinis. My running clothes are spandex now. I wear them because they are made of moisture wicking material. Do they look great? I don’t know. I don’t care. I don’t wear them to dress up, I wear them to run.

 

I’m not saying that I am totally free of self-judgment, especially around my body. I have some super-serious body image disorders that I expect will dog me my whole life. But I refuse to kowtow to them. I refuse to spread them around like germs. I refuse to accept them as truth. And I absolutely refuse to prioritize my life around hiding things that some people call flaws, which are really just the realities of living in a human body on the planet Earth.

The Biggest Winners of The Biggest Loser are The Biggest Industries: TV, Beauty, Fitness, and Food

So perhaps you saw the article about how contestants on The Biggest Loser have a lot of trouble maintaining their weight losses. It turns out that over the course of the show, their metabolisms slow way way down. Contestants had faster metabolisms when they were overweight than they end up with after the show. Now here is what pissed me off about the article. The conclusion of this article seems to be that a body has a “natural” size or a “true” size, and that any body will work hard to go back to that “true” size. The implication is that the people on The Biggest Loser are just “meant to be” overweight. And that’s where I call bullshit.

In the article, it clearly states that these people lost huge amounts of weight by exercising for at least 6 hours a day. (!!!!!) There is a name for that in the eating disorder community. It’s exercise bulimia. Bulimia is any of the ways that people try to rid themselves of food after they eat it. Because they cannot keep themselves from eating it in the first place. Some people force themselves to throw up, some people purposely take too many laxatives, and some people exercise themselves for hours a day. I know. I have been an active bulimic. (I say active because I still consider myself a bulimic, even though I have not done any of those things in the past 10+ years, since I put boundaries around my eating. I don’t believe bulimic thinking is something that ever really goes away. Thankfully, mine is dormant at the moment.)

See, my point is that there is this television show that is promoting exercise bulimia as the smart, even honorable thing to do. We promote an idea that people are overweight because they are lazy or sloppy, so we cheer for them for “finally” doing something about it. And then when that doesn’t work, science steps in and, instead of saying “6+ hours of exercise a day doesn’t lead to long-term weight loss,” it says that when overweight people lose weight, their body does everything it can to gain the weight back. 

Here’s a thought: Maybe if you lose weight 3 times faster than is natural or normal because you are exercising excessively, then your body does everything it can to gain the weight back.

Perhaps long-term weight loss requires a much more significant change in eating habits and a more moderate view of exercise. Of course, that is not as exciting as watching someone drop 100+ pounds in 6 months, But maybe long-term weight loss can’t be jammed into a 13 week television season. 

It takes years to lose weight naturally. And no, exercise bulimia is not natural. Who naturally has time to exercise for 6 hours every day? How do we not look at it on television and see that it is ridiculous? 

I, personally, lost my weight without any more exercise than walking. And not for hours and hours. I am taking about walking to the store instead of taking the train. I am talking about using the stairs instead of the elevator. 

I want to be clear that this is not about the contestants on The Biggest Loser. If I had not already found my solution, I would probably have loved the opportunity to get on a show like that. I was willing to do anything to lose weight. In fact, I tried exercise bulimia. It didn’t work for me either.

For me, this all comes back to the big money to be made off of those contestants. These are people who are desperate and suffering, and they are being used by the television industry, the beauty industry, the fitness industry and the food industry. And they are not getting anything in return except for broken metabolisms and a “scientific” conclusion that they were never supposed to be thin in the first place.

Yeah…And people say what I do is extreme.

I go moderate so I don’t have to go home

We all have at least one person on social media who is a fitness enthusiast. And there is a culture around fitness (at least in the U.S.) that is about leveling up, so to speak. It’s about getting better, faster, stronger. It’s about pushing yourself harder and harder. Every time. It’s about never being satisfied.I believe there is a place for this. I do not have a judgment about people who do this. I think it is beautiful. I love when people have a thing. And I have known, and have respect for, many people in the fitness industry. (A fat girl trying to be a skinny girl makes a lot of those kinds of friends.) 

But I think there is a conversation that we should be having that we are not. And it’s this:

Not everyone needs to be a beast in the fitness arena. I want to be in shape. I want to have a healthy body. But I am not interested in leveling up. Because constantly leveling up as the only way to exercise is not sustainable in my life. And that doesn’t make me any less admirable than the people who are constantly pushing themselves.

For me, and I think for a lot of people, this all or nothing attitude is overwhelming. And destructive. The idea that, if you are not continuously improving, you are some how going backwards, is prevalent in our fitness culture. Which is another aspect of our beauty culture. And it keeps you buying fitness gear, personal trainer sessions and gym memberships. 

Again, I am not knocking those things. I am suggesting that maybe having a commitment to work out consistently for your own health and peace of mind, without the need to “go big or go home,” or answer questions about “if you even lift” might be worth more to you in six months or a year, or 10 years, when you are still doing it. I am suggesting that maybe if you went moderate, or even small, you wouldn’t need to go home. Because I am going to tell you a secret I learned about commitment: 

Sometimes, in order to keep a commitment long term, you have to half-ass it. 

I’m telling you, sometimes I phone it in.

I am thinking about this today, because I half-assed my run today. The truth is, it’s cold here, especially in the mornings. And the wind is brutal. Yesterday morning, there were 25 mph winds with gusts up to 30 mph. And at certain points on my path, I have to run directly into it. And it ticks me off! I actually swore out loud at the wind yesterday.

So you can imagine that this morning, when it was 37 degrees, felt like 28, with 14 mph winds, I did not want to go.

I jog a 2 mile path that runs around my house, so that at one point close to the end of my run, but NOT the end, there is a little sidewalk that shoots off basically to my door. And today, I sure did want to go right there and skip the last quarter mile or so. But I didn’t. 

What I did do was slow down. Not to a walk. I was still jogging. My commitment to myself says that I only walk if I am injured or fear I will injure myself If I continue to run. What I did was take it easy. 

Today, I added over a minute to the time I ran just Tuesday. But I don’t care. I am not angry, frustrated or ready to quit, like I would be if my run were always about leveling up. Like I would be if it weren’t OK to take it easy.

The truth is, that I am improving. Naturally. Without trying. Without pushing. Without beating myself up. I’m sure not as much as the ones who are pushing. But I’m not them. I’m me. And I am making sure I can go on to jog another day.

Now, keep your fingers crossed for me that spring comes to Kentucky soon, and Running Against The Wind can go back to just being a Bob Seger song. (Darn it! Now that song is going to be stuck in my head all day.)

The complexities of body image and wearing a slinky dress anyway

Body image disorders are a trip, I tell you. So lately, it’s not about my weight. It’s about the shape of my body. 
The truth is, I’m small right now. In fact, my boyfriend has never seen me this small. So it’s not about my weight. It’s about my knock-knees, and the sort of square shape of my hips, how big my belly is, how my arms jiggle. It’s about what bulges and what sags. It’s always about not being pretty enough. 

It’s not that I’m not beautiful, or that I don’t know that I am. It’s complicated. It’s more about obsessing and worrying. It’s more about focusing on the aspects of my body that are not photoshop perfect. 

I know I’m not the only one. And I also know that “perfect” is just a bill of goods we have collectively been sold. But it doesn’t stop me from thinking about it. Sometimes obsessively.

We are going to Florida next week. So there’s wearing the bikini. And I bought a new dress to wear on the beach and it’s what you might call “slinky.” And I keep thinking “did I make a mistake? Should I buy a different dress? Is my body not perfect enough for the one I bought?”

Sometimes, when I am disconnected from something, it doesn’t occur to me as “painful” but it affects my life to a greater extent than I am aware of. For example, when I used to have a personal trainer years ago, he would give me fitness tests from time to time, and ask me to rate my pain/discomfort level from 1-10. As I got into better shape, my levels rose. When I was out of shape, I was so disconnected from my body that I was almost numb to the pain of living in that body. So even though in reality it was easier to do the exercise as time went on, it registered as more painful because I was actually living in my body.

I have a similar experience with my body image disorders. Over the years, the more accepting and loving I am of my body, the more my disorders are right there in my face.

So I may be less numb to my fears and my judgements, but at the same time, I’m more likely to wear what I want to wear. There was a time I would never wear a bikini in public. And I would have opted for a more loose-fitting dress.

But now I wear what I want. And I love it. And if I worry about how big my thighs are…well, moments pass.

Exercise as long as I enjoy it. There’s a joke in there, right?

A few weeks ago, I started jogging again after almost 10 years. Nothing crazy. Two miles a day, 5 to 7 days a week. I took it easy at first, not trying to push too hard, partially running, partially walking. It’s interesting how little time it has taken me to get back into good enough shape to jog the whole 2 miles without stopping to walk.

When I was still eating compulsively, I used jogging to control my weight. Or rather, I tried to control my weight with it. But I couldn’t control my eating, so jogging didn’t help me very much there. I was so obsessed with “getting out” the food I couldn’t stop eating, that I was pushing too hard, and not taking care of my body. I would run until I injured myself, and then I would continue to run injured. I was punishing my body for being fat. I was abusing my body to try to force it into a shape and size that I thought would be socially acceptable, without dealing with my eating. Because I could not deal with my eating. I really didn’t have a solution. I didn’t think there was a solution. I was doing the best I could. But it was painful and difficult. It was damn exhausting.

But the other thing is that I was in great shape. Look, I don’t mean to glorify exercise bulimia. It’s not pretty. I was bat-shit crazy when I was eating compulsively and running to try to control my weight. But that doesn’t change the fact that my body was capable and strong. And I never saw it that way. Or if I did, it was not enough. It was not really what I wanted. Because I was looking for something very limiting. I was looking for beauty. And not just beauty, but a narrow view of beauty. Simply put, I was looking to be as skinny as I could be.

So I didn’t enjoy how healthy I was when I was healthy. Partially because I was not totally healthy. I was so sick mentally and spiritually, that being in good physical shape wasn’t even healthy.

When I put boundaries around my eating, I had to stop a lot of the things I was doing to manage my weight, because they were just part of how sick I was with food. I had to stop eating “diet” food, and start eating real food. I had to stop counting calories, because tracking calories was how I tried to manage my weight without giving up sugar. Or it was about eating as few calories as I could in a day so I could be skinny. And I had to stop running because it was all about the size of my body. I had to give up all of those things because I had to change my thinking about the problem. The problem wasn’t the size or shape of my body. The problem was my inability to stop eating and the obsession I had with my weight. That obsession with my weight, which I was just then starting to let go of by putting boundaries around my eating, made me scared of over exercising. And it was a valid fear. I am still afraid of it.

I decided to start jogging again because I am 38 (and a half) years old. And it isn’t going to get any easier to get in shape the older I get. But I need to be in communication about this, because there is still an Exercise Bulimic Girl somewhere in inside of me, just like there is still a Good Girl, and a Fat Girl, and a Body-Dysmorphic Girl, and even an Overly Critical Perfectionist Girl with Anorexic Tendencies. All of these aspects of my eating and body-image disorders still occupy space in me, in various states of dormancy. So I went to my friend who helps me make decisions about my food and my weight, and I told her I was running 2 miles a day.

She asked me, “Are you enjoying it? Are you enjoying the endorphins?” And I thought about it, and yes. I am enjoying it. So she said, “It’s good that you are telling on yourself. Do it as long as you enjoy it. If you ever stop enjoying it, let me know.” And that was that.

I don’t think of myself as someone who enjoys exercise. But then, I was never a person who exercised for herself. I was exercising for everybody else. I was killing myself for validation by unnamed people who didn’t know or care about me, who had also bought a limited sense of beauty and beauty-connected worth. But the truth is, I do love exercising. I love the feeling of self-care. And I love the feeling of accomplishment. And I love the feeling of getting stronger. And yes, I love the endorphins.

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