onceafatgirl

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Archive for the category “Body image”

If I end up in the political correctness slammer, please don’t sneak a file to me in a cake…

Perhaps you read the article in the New York Times this week called Losing It In the Anti-Diet Age. If not you can read it here

I found it interesting. Especially because the author is, herself, a fat person who can tell you first hand what it’s like to be a fat person in America. I too know what it’s like. I know how it feels to go on a diet, and lose weight, only to gain it all back, even though you don’t want to, don’t mean to, would literally do anything to not, from sticking things down your throat to make yourself throw up (something I did personally), to, say, getting your stomach removed (something I did not do, but know people who have). I know what it is like to be made fun of and have people talk about you as if you are a thing, with no feelings. To have them question your goodness, your honor, your worth; a fat person must be lazy, stupid, careless, and pathetic, or they would deal with their weight. I was struck hard by the author’s mention that a commenter on another article she wrote said, “Why doesn’t she stop eating so much?” As if we hadn’t effing thought of that ourselves already. There is talk of willpower. A doctor talked about getting an individual down to a goal weight with medication so that they could make a fresh start, but then they were going to have to get willpower. (Seriously? Screw you.)

All of this sounds to me like thin people who have no idea what it is like to be fat, trying to solve a problem they don’t even understand in the first place. Thin people don’t need to figure out how to stop eating. They already don’t overeat. That’s like having a person with a lot of hair try to cure baldness just because they have hair and bald people don’t.

But another issue in this article that I wanted to address is the change in the language of dieting in the culture. Words like “diet,” “dieting,” and “weight loss” are becoming taboo. We want to talk about “health,” and “strength.”

Except that we only want to talk about them. Ultimately, we want, as individuals, especially fat individuals, to not be obese. I didn’t want to be fat. I still wanted to be treated like a whole, worthwhile human being, fat or not, but I did not want to be fat.

Perhaps this is where the disconnect lies. See, I hate this new cultural phenomenon that I call “the feelings police.” We don’t want to hurt people’s feelings, so we don’t talk openly and honestly about difficult subjects, for fear of being branded politically incorrect, hence heartless and out of touch.

But not facing these things head on is not helping anyone. Strike that. It’s helping the sugar and junk food industries. And it’s helping companies like Weight Watchers. Who are still selling a diet, but are marketing it, in true politically correct fashion, as a program for getting healthy.

Here’s the problem: Weight Watchers never changed the barometer for how you would know it was working. It’s the same barometer. Did you lose weight? If we were truly having a conversation about health, we would have a different measuring stick. Stress test results, for example. Getting off your diabetes medication. Being able to run with your dog in the morning. If you are calling your program “Beyond the Scale,” perhaps you should measure success with something other than the number on the scale.

But I am not actually condoning that; I am merely pointing out the problem with consistency. If you want to be healthy, and you don’t care what your weight is, and you use some benchmark other than weight for your own happiness, good for you! You go! Do it! I am all for fat acceptance. I will not judge you for loving yourself at any and every size. In fact, I encourage it. I truly believe that it is in loving ourselves without caveats and conditions that we can begin to make changes that are both healthy and lasting. But I think that if you want to lose weight, really, you are going to have to look at it for what it is. You have to stop worrying about political correctness. You may have to deal with a late night knock on your door from the feelings police telling you that you have violated statute whatever-whatever stating that you will not say anything that could, intentionally or unintentionally, hurt the feelings of any person, or group. You are going to have to get real.

The author talks in the article about going back to Weight Watchers for a third time in her life. And perhaps you are asking why. She already knows from her own experience that it does not work, so why yet another attempt? I don’t have to ask why. I already know all too well why. Because if you hate being fat, you will do whatever you can, whenever you can to stop being fat. And you will hold out hope against hope that this time will be the special time where the thin “sticks.” And also, because, in my experience, programs like Weight Watchers tell people that if they are “good” they will get results. If they get some willpower, they will be thin. As if willpower is out there to be had, if you are lucky enough to run across some, like a perk in a video game. You have acquired willpower. Lose 100 pounds and level up.

But here’s the thing that I found lacking in the article, perhaps because the author doesn’t have a context for it: when she talks about going around the Obesity Week conference she says, “…it [made me sad] because if you have this many hundreds of smart and educated people trying to figure this out, and nobody has anything for me but superfood and behavior modification and an insertable balloon and the removal of an organ, it must be that there is no way to solve fatness.”

To this I say, abstinence from processed, and sugary foods. Or, perhaps it is better to say, abstinence from your personal binge/trigger foods. (I know a man who knows that his personal trigger foods are “the guy foods,” like barbecue ribs, as opposed to me and cake.) Total and complete abstinence. To my mind this is not behavior modification, because that term seems to imply that the problem is with my hand, rather than my brain. “Doctor, my hand just keeps grabbing donuts and shoving them into my mouth! What should I do?” This article in no way addresses food as an addictive substance, or mentions any modification in diet (specific foods as opposed to portions) as a lifestyle change. The author talks about Thanksgiving as a kind of food hell for dieters. But of course it is! It’s a room of foods that trigger our reward centers and create a craving for more. If you go to Thanksgiving and you eat the things you have not been eating for the past week/month/year, and they are back in your system, so are the cravings.

I cannot think of a person that I have met who has had long-term weight loss by “managing.” In fact, I believe it is exactly this “managing” that keeps us in the cycle of losing and gaining it all back, feeling like this time we can do it, and then feeling like failures. If you cannot or will not give up your binge foods, then I recommend that you either get comfortable with that cycle of yo-yoing, or you stop trying to lose weight in the first place.

I am not talking about thin people. We all know that thin people are not having these problems. They can, as the author ends the article noting, lovingly lick the icing off a cupcake with impunity. They already are managing without having to think about it. I am talking about people who are fat and don’t want to be. Eat whole foods, in moderation, and abstain from foods that make you want more of them.

Perhaps you are thinking, “But cupcakes are so good!” Or “I could never give up barbecue ribs!” Cool. Then get your fat acceptance on! Work that! Eat your cupcake and love your beautiful, fat self! But if you want to lose weight and keep it off, chances are you are going to have to give up certain foods forever.

That is an unpopular opinion. Feel free to call the feelings police. I may get sent to political correctness jail, but I’ll be there in a comfortable body with my dignity intact.

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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.

It may well be that “nobody wants to see that,” but they are going to have to take the initiative to stop looking for themselves.

I read something the other day that was rather interesting to me. It was an opinion about how fat shaming and skinny shaming are inherently different because of thin privilege. The gist of the article was basically that while it’s never OK to shame anyone, and certainly skinny people can, as individuals, be insecure about their bodies, being fat in modern western society is considered taboo, a sin, and in particular, everybody else’s business. That while individuals may shame a skinny individual, western society as a whole shames overweight people. As if there is a moral imperative to ostracize obese people.

If you have ever been fat, or even just chubby, you probably know that this is true. People will go out of their way to express their disgust for your body. They not only have opinions about your clothes, like how short, tight, or revealing they are, they feel at least entitled, and very often morally obligated, to make their disapproval clear.

Remember when Lady Gaga performed the Super Bowl halftime show? I don’t know about you, but there were a bunch of people on my social media feeds saying that she “looked fat” because her little belly occasionally hung over the top her glittery hot pants. Of course, in the following days, there were a bunch of articles and opinion pieces about how having skin that rolls and puckers is normal and natural. And rightfully so. And I would specifically like to point out that Lady Gaga is in no way, shape, or form fat. The idea that she did not look like airbrushed perfection while executing a spectacular stage show with costume changes, complicated choreography, and aerial stunts may be because she was not freakining airbrushed. She was working her ass off.

My point is that people that you know personally, and maybe you yourself, have almost no room for human bodies to deviate from the shape of “post-Photoshop underwear model.” And these people feel obliged to make sure that you know it, and Lady Gaga knows it, and everybody else knows it too.

Being bullied, tormented, humiliated, and generally made to feel ashamed of myself happened to me my whole life. I can still recall specific insults from people I knew and people I didn’t about my body at nearly every stage of my life: at 8, at 12, at 14, at 18, and all through my twenties. I can remember the way it was made abundantly clear to me that my body was disgusting. It was expressly said to me that looking at me made people sick. “Nobody wants to see that,” became something that I not only heard often, but eventually internalized and started to say about myself and my own body.

And I believed it. I did not believe any man would ever find me attractive. I did not believe that I would ever fall in love. I did not believe that I deserved to be respected. And it was strangers, friends, and even my family that instilled these beliefs in me.

I believe that thin privilege does exist. I am not saying that it’s kind, or friendly, or even acceptable to tell a skinny woman to “eat a cheeseburger.” It’s rude, and obnoxious, and quite frankly nobody else’s business. But I will say that whenever I have seen a picture of, or a story about a fat model in my social media feeds, there are pages and pages of comments about how fat models are setting a bad example, and companies that use them in their ads are sending a message that promotes unhealthy lifestyles. But there is not the same outcry when girls and women dying of anorexia are walking runways during fashion week. And that is not hyperbole, many of these girls are literally dying. Where is the outrage over the unhealthy lifestyles being promoted by every fashion house and magazine in the United States? (I mean besides my own outrage. Because yes, I am personally outraged.) We claim to be so worried about health (as opposed to aesthetics) unless the girl is skinny. Then we look the other way. Because we are not really worried about health. We are worried about how we can let the fat person know that we find them morally reprehensible, without looking like the assholes we’re being.

On a personal note, I would like to say that fat shaming and living in a world with thin privilege has done me a lot of psychological and emotional damage in my lifetime. And I have done a lot of work on myself, inside and out to deal with it. At 35 I first started to wear my bikini in public. And finally, at almost 40, I have started wearing shorts in public for the first time since I was probably 10 years old. I spent my whole life believing that my wearing shorts in public was an affront to “normal” people. And that belief was instilled in me by people who were eager to tell me that they disapproved of my body and that I should too. And even after losing an entire person worth of weight, it has still been a slow, years-long process that has brought me to the point where I feel like I deserve to be comfortable. Like I am allowed to show some portion of my thighs because I am a human with a body like any other body.

 

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.

 

Somewhere between fat shaming and the feelings police

The other day I was talking to some women who, like me, keep boundaries around their eating, and also like me, happen to have had significant weight losses. And one of the things that came up was fat shaming. Not being fat shamed, but more specifically, the relatively new idea that not being fully supportive of an overweight person’s weight is necessarily fat shaming. 

I, personally, have so many conflicting feelings about this. I have so much personal experience around it. And I think that to a certain extent, we have gone too far.
First, I want to say I don’t care how fat or skinny you are if you are happy and comfortable. Frankly, I don’t even care if you’re healthy. We all make choices every day that affect our health. I am not going to shame you for smoking, or drinking alcohol. I’m not going to ask if you drink water or floss daily, or exercise. That’s all none of my business. So the idea that what you eat, or what you weigh is my business is ridiculous. 

But I was miserable when I was fat. Partially because I was an active sugar addict. But also, I hated my body. I was also especially ashamed because I felt like being fat meant that I was bad, and everyone could see it written all over my body. I hated myself. I hated myself so completely for so long that I didn’t know how much I hated myself until it stopped. And it didn’t stop for me until I quit sugar, put boundaries around my eating, and lost a significant amount of weight. 

Growing up fat, I did not believe I would ever live in a body that was easy to move around in, or easy to shop for, or that I could feel comfortable in public in. I believed that I was broken, that my body was shameful, and that I was born that way. But I was not born fat. I was born with a predisposition to be allergic (addicted) to sugar, grains, and starch. And I became an addict, and it was, indeed, written all over my body for everyone to see.

I am not interested in shaming anyone. I am not interested in fixing anyone who is clear that they are not broken. But I am more grateful than I can express that when I felt that I was broken, there was both a solution, and a person in my life who was politically incorrect enough to point me in the right direction. 

Sometimes people tell me that there was never anything wrong with me when I was fat. But I would like to respectfully say that they’re wrong. I was sick and suffering. I was crazy, and angry, and in unimaginable pain. 

I am not saying that fat shaming is ever OK. And I know from experience that loving and accepting yourself exactly the way you are is the first step to making real, lasting lifestyle changes. But I would like to make sure that we don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. I don’t want to be so interested in being the “feelings police” that we let people suffer and hate themselves because we are afraid to speak openly and plainly about sugar addiction, eating disorders, and self-care.

If I were good at it, I wouldn’t need boundaries in the first place.

The other day I was standing next to my husband when he looked at me and said, “skinny.” It was not a judgment (good or bad) so much as a mildly interesting observation.

Before we go on, I want to say that this was particularly unusual. I was not in any way offended or upset, but my husband does not generally talk about my weight at all unless I ask him directly, and that is, I believe, as it should be. As long as my eating disorders are under control, there is nothing helpful about another person monitoring the size of my ass. It is absolutely nobody’s business but my own. And I have spent a lot of time and effort keeping my eating and body image disorders at bay, so the people I seek that kind of input from are people who, like me, have a history of compulsive eating and food addiction and who, also like me, keep boundaries around their eating.

So my husband said I looked skinny, but I have not been feeling skinny at all. In fact I have been feeling a little fat. And sometimes, very fat. I am not saying that I have been tormented by my weight. But if you asked me if I were on the higher end of my weight or the lower, I would guess higher.

But when I look at the evidence, he’s right. I may actually be the smallest that he has ever seen me. The size of the pants I wear and how they fit me indicates that I am relatively small for me.

Even at my thinnest, in fact, even when I have been underweight, I have never really been what Western Culture would call “skinny.” Even when my collarbones look like they might cut you if you get too close to me, I still have wide hips and round thighs and big calves. My thighs always rub together, no matter what my weight is. (Thank God I was a grownup with my eating disorders under control before the Internet became a place where having a thigh gap and the pictures to prove it was a thing.) You can call it curvy, or zaftig, or say I’m an endomorph, but I have never been the kind of skinny that graces runways. (I use the term “graces” loosely.)

It took a long time and hard look at reality to come to this understanding about my body, and to love it exactly as it is. As a culture, we particularly celebrate one kind of feminine beauty: that of the ectomorph. We honor the women who naturally don’t carry a lot of fat on their bodies. Perhaps you have seen the Zara ad that says “Love your curves,” and noticed that the two women in the photo did not have any to speak of. Were they beautiful? Absolutely. Are they real women (albeit young women) with real bodies? Hell yes they are! (Though I am not actually sure how real those two models happen to be. I tried to find if the image was Photoshopped, and could not find anything about it.) I am not shaming the models in the ad. Skinny women are real women, just like muscular, and chubby, and overweight, and zaftig women are real too. This is not about what each of us happens to be born. It is about what each of us are told we “should be,” without anyone ever telling us that there are things we “can’t be.” I cannot walk from Kentucky to Hawaii. It is not possible. And I cannot be “supermodel skinny.” I was not made that way.

But nobody told me that. Ever, really. I had to figure it out for myself, by having sane and functional eating practices, and doing all of the healthy things I could do, like drinking water and getting enough sleep and exercise, and then taking a serious look at the reality of my body.

The beauty, fashion, fitness, and diet industries didn’t want me to know that I don’t have it in me to be that skinny. Because if I knew, they couldn’t get me to buy their latest cream, shake, workout app subscription, prepared food service, or whatever it is they happen to be selling at the moment with the promise that if I am “good enough,” work hard enough, pay enough money, I will end up with the body of my favorite underwear model. (No. I don’t have a favorite underwear model.)

I don’t believe in vilifying skinny women. But I don’t believe they are the only incarnations of beauty in the world, as I have been told for as long as I have been alive. When my husband looked at me and said, “skinny,” he did not do so in triumph because he finally found me attractive. For him, my beauty is not about my weight. In fact, I wish I had as much love for my body at any size as he does. It was merely an observation on his part. And it served as a reminder to me that even after all of the work, and all of the commitment, and all of the times I kept my food boundaries, even though it was hard or inconvenient, my head is pretty messed up when it comes to the way I think about and view my body. And that what I see in the mirror, or think I look like, is not necessarily reality.

Even now that I have taken inventory and checked myself against the specific frame of reference of my clothes and how they fit, I still don’t feel very thin. Knowing that I am, perhaps, the thinnest I have been in 4 years doesn’t make me “feel” any thinner. It doesn’t make me “know” that I am relatively small.

The last thing I want to say about this is that even though my body image disorders are irrational, and knowing that doesn’t change the way I think and feel, knowing does help me take healthy actions. And it is in our actions that we impact ourselves, our world, and the people around us. I don’t have to feel “skinny enough” to keep my commitments to eat enough nutritious food and exercise moderately, rather than starve myself and exercise to exhaustion and injury. I don’t have to listen to my fears and my “feelings.” I just have to keep my boundaries. After all, that is literally what they are there for. If I already always made healthy decisions, boundaries would be redundant.

Dear Pork Products, I love you but I need some space.

My husband sometimes teases me because when he is not around for dinner, I eat “like a four-year-old.” His words, not mine, though I totally agree. Obviously everything is within my food boundaries, but my food boundaries have a lot of room. I don’t have to eat a particularly healthy diet to be within my boundaries. So while I might eat, say, filet minion and sautéed broccoli when I am making dinner for the two of us, I eat homemade sugar-free frozen yogurt, and pork rinds when I am on my own. He calls it “chips and ice cream.” And over the past week my husband had to go out of town unexpectedly, and I spent more evenings alone than I usually do.

And I found that while I was loving my dinners when I was eating them, I was feeling kind of off, maybe even yucky, about them later. Not that I was physically ill. I wasn’t. I was feeling guilty, and I was worrying about my weight.

I believe that I have a physical allergy to sugars, grains, and starches. I believe that when I put those substances in my body, I set up a craving for more that not everyone experiences. That is what makes me an addict. But I believe that there are other aspects to being an addict that stem from, but are not, this physical allergy. And of course, after 28 years of putting those substances in my body, I acquired a handful of those other addiction-based consequences. Some are behavioral, like lying, cheating, stealing, manipulating, blaming, and feeling entitled. And some of them are psychological, as in obsessive thinking about food or my weight, or my body-dysmorphia.

I have been able to keep an eye on, deal with, and transform the behavioral consequences by having kept my strict eating boundaries over the years. But the psychological ones live on in me in varying states of dormancy. I don’t think I will ever entirely rid myself of them.

Honestly, I don’t think an extra day or two of “chips and ice cream” had any real or noticeable affect on my body. After all, my boundaries are not just about food choices, but are also about when, and how much I eat. I have strict portion control, whether it’s my “legal junk food” or a pork chop and roasted cauliflower. Even though I might occasionally indulge in higher calorie options, I don’t binge. Ever.

But it still messed with my mind. And that is important to note, because part of having my eating under control is having the ability to see clearly the things that are making me unhappy or worried, and to do something about them. My point is that I may be “allowed” to eat “chips and ice cream” every day, but that comes with consequences that I am not a fan of.

This has happened to me many times in the past 11 years. I stopped eating sugar-free, calorie-free condiments. I stopped baking with soy flour or TVP as my base. I cut down on, and eventually gave up, soy nut butter. Even in the past six months, I started substituting an egg for 2 ounces of fatty meats like sausage, because it didn’t feel good that I was eating so much. I didn’t quit eating sausage, just like I am not entirely giving up pork rinds. I just cut back because it was making me sick in the head. I was thinking about my weight all the time.

I’ll be blunt. I haven’t noticed much of a change in my body in the months since I cut back on sausage. But it’s not about my body. It’s about how I feel about my body. And I feel better about my body when I don’t eat as much of certain foods.

Is it purely psychological? Maybe. But I have found that there are psychological things that are worth working through and getting over, and there are psychological things that are better to simply accept and adapt to. And frankly, limiting the amount of sausage or pork rinds I eat just makes more sense. I want to save the real spiritual work for my relationships with myself and others, not my relationship with pork products.

P.S. I still love you pork products.

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.

 

 

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