onceafatgirl

Peace is better than chocolate

Archive for the tag “eating disorders”

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.

 

There’s no cutesy “Oh, I’ll just have a salad” to my salads…

Now that we have been in Texas for over a week, I have been getting used to the changes. Of course, a lot of the changes have to do with food. One of the biggest changes is that I have been eating big salads. And really enjoying them.

I will tell you that while I always eat a lot of vegetables every day, and have for years, I don’t always eat a lot of salads. But there are three things that have come together that have made salads an exciting prospect, rather than a “healthy choice” I make reluctantly. The first two are hot weather and great produce.

It’s one thing to eat a bag of lettuce and call it a salad. That’s not for me. I don’t like lettuce, and I never have. Perhaps it is because in my head it is “diet food” from a time when I was fat and I was supposed to eat lettuce to not be fat anymore. But it is something entirely different to take arugula, radishes, mushrooms, onions, cucumbers, and maybe a little steamed broccoli or green beans, chop them up and toss them together with some olive oil and vinegar for a cool, refreshing meal on a hot day. I love the way the different flavors come together, the tang of the onions and radishes with the umami of the mushrooms and the tartness of the vinegar.

The third thing is that my new apartment is small, doesn’t have windows or screen doors, and quite frankly, smells when I cook pungent vegetables, which is pretty much any vegetables. The deal is that this alone would not have stopped me from cooking vegetables. That’s what candles and air fresheners are for, after all. But having great produce and wanting something lighter in the heat made it easy to put aside my favorite go-to veggie choices for something different.

When I left New York to be with my husband, the first place I lived with him was also Texas, though a different town. And then I ate a lot of salads too. And I probably would have continued except that the next few places we lived fell short in the fresh veg department. And I also happen to be a person of habit. If I am eating a lot of, say, riced cauliflower cooked in sesame oil with scallions, garlic and ginger, then I am probably going to make it again and again. I know that many people get bored with eating the same things, but I love it. I like predictability. I can sometimes eat the same things for months or even years. But when the time comes to eat something new, for whatever reason, I generally enjoy that too. Or at least, if I don’t, then I won’t make that mistake again.

For me, knowing that I am only going to eat three meals a day means I am careful to have them all be delicious, because I love eating, and more than that, I am still not, and never expect to be, neutral around food. I might even still be obsessed, except it does not haunt me, or make me hate myself. When I was eating compulsively, I was obsessed but miserable. And I would eat anything. (Well, anything except a vegetable.) It mattered less that it tasted good, and more that I could shove it into my face and it would get me high. I lived as if I might never eat again. But since I put boundaries around my eating, I have come to a point where I know I will eat again. In fact, my next meal will be lunch, in about an hour.

I like that I want salads. They are making me feel good, and it has occurred to me that I may lose a little weight. But they may not affect my weight, and that is not why I am eating them anyway. And I don’t want to make them about my body. I want to enjoy them because they are delicious. And if I stop finding them delicious, I want to be able to go right back to eating riced cauliflower in sesame oil and not think twice about my body.

First I get my seagulls in a row…

Since my last post, I have been getting acquainted with Corpus Christi, Texas. Quite frankly, I’m sold. It’s a windy day, and it’s not quite hot yet, but it will be, and I can’t wait! I decided to spend my day at the beach. I have hours and hours to be here if I wish. I probably do wish. If I change my mind, I can go whenever I want. I came alone. I came to be alone and write. 

It took something to get here, though. Especially since my husband was called out of town for work for a couple of days just after we arrived and I have been here alone. It’s not that the beach is a hard place to get to; it’s not. But unfamiliar things make me uncomfortable.
My husband and I were going to go to the beach together. That was going to make it more comfortable for me. If something unexpected or unpleasant happened, we would deal with it together. Not that I was expecting anything like that, but I am essentially always anticipating it.
It’s not that I am not capable. It’s that I get anxious. In fact, my husband has been asking me for the past few days why I have yet to get to the beach. The answer is that I wasn’t sure I would be able to do something I have never done in a new city and make it work with all of the things I have committed to do in a day. And those things are besides three meals within my eating boundaries. I need to go for a jog, drink my water, do my writing, and meditate. I certainly wanted to go to the beach, but not at the expense of things that make my life work. I have the life I have because of these things, not in spite of them. 
For the most part, my first week here has been about getting those exact things back in order in a new place. There is always a period of adjustment. Where and when are the best time to do things? Where should I run? What time of day? What’s traffic like and when does it start? What’s the best time to go to the grocery store? There is also trying to figure out what the grocery store has and does not have. There is a level of excitement to this too, though. Every place I have lived so far has lacked certain particular food treasures of the others, but has also had its own. There is always something exciting about that. Sometimes there is also the horror of realizing something I used to use daily is not an option anymore. Hopefully it’s on Amazon, but I gotta tell you, it’s not always. That’s hard. There is always a little mourning (sometimes a lot of mourning) when I lose a beloved food option. 
I decided that today was the day I would try the beach because I didn’t have to jog this morning. That made me feel like I had enough time to make and pack my lunch, check out the directions to the beach, plus the rules (I am a rule-follower after all), and still be able to do the important things. I went to the grocery store and picked up some water and a beach parking permit, and then I plugged the beach into my GPS and came out for an adventure.
I have already learned a few important lessons. Writing on a laptop while sitting in a beach chair is not the best option. Sand blows everywhere. But with my handy-dandy parking permit, I can park right on the beach, so I can roll down my windows and write while I sit in my passenger seat listening to the waves. I am doing that right now. It’s pretty sweet.
I will probably do this a lot in the future. But I am not sorry I took my time to do it comfortably. (Well, as comfortably as a girl like me can make any new experience.) The sun feels good, but knowing I am taking care of myself feels better. And the sun and the sea while I am taking care of myself and keeping my commitments…well that might be the best of all.

A short post about planning ahead and letting go

Today’s post is going to be short and bare bones. In fact, I totally forgot about this blog until I got out of the shower and a weekly alarm was going off on my phone asking “Did you post a blog yet?” Crap!

On Monday afternoon, my husband told me we were moving to Corpus Christi, Texas. The rest of the day, I made apartment arrangements and started preparing meals for the next several days. A breakfast, lunch, and dinner each for Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. On Tuesday we packed up from morning until evening with breaks to FedEx our deposit for the apartment, email various paperwork, and return our DVR and modem to the cable company. On Wednesday, we spent the morning completing our packing and cleaning, and got on the road a little after 10 in the morning. My husband in the moving truck, towing his car behind him. Me following behind in my own car. We drove until evening through a dust storm, the makings of a tornado, and then a heavily raining thunderstorm.

On Thursday, we got an early start and drove all day. We attempted to stop at about 5 so I could attend a weekly video conference meeting with some fellows who keep boundaries around their food, but that didn’t work out as well as I had hoped. We were in the middle of nowhere Texas and the motel we stopped at didn’t have fast enough WiFi for a video conference, and I didn’t have good enough service to turn my phone into a hotspot. Alas. So we just kept driving straight on through to Corpus Christi.

Here’s the deal. I never once worried about food. I had my meals prepared and in a cooler. When it was time to eat, we stopped off at a rest area and I filled up my tank and my car’s. Every evening, I put my future meals in the hotel fridge and refroze my ice packs. My days were jam-packed, and sometimes stressful, but my food was taken care of. I made a plan, prepared, and took care of my food ahead of time. And that meant that everything else was just life. A dust storm in Arkansas was life. Traffic in Houston was life. The nasty lady at the front desk of the crappy Texas motel was life. I was able to play it as it lays (laid?) because I had my food taken care of. There was no need to worry.

We pulled into our new apartment complex at 9 AM on Friday, signed the lease, and had the truck unpacked by 1. Now we have been spending our time getting used to our new surroundings, finding the grocery stores, slowly unpacking our boxes, and getting used to driving here.

All in all, the whole thing went smoothly. But it turns out I still had to write a blog. So here it is. If you want to keep your commitments, plan ahead, prepare ahead, and then just let life be life. It’s going to be life anyway.

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.

When the most exciting thing to happen is that nothing exciting happened

One of the hardest things about writing a weekly blog about a specific topic is sometimes nothing interesting happens in a week. This past week was one of those weeks.

It’s not that nothing happened. At the mall I found a spring jacket I had been longingly imagining. My mouth is healing nicely from my pulled tooth last week. I did my writing and my jogging and my meditation. But the food and body image and eating disorder parts of my life were pretty much non-issues.

I guess the only thing I have to say about that is this is not the time to get complacent.

I am vigilant about my food boundaries all the time because easy weeks don’t mean I’m “fine” now. I don’t have a healthy relationship to food all of a sudden just because at this particular moment in time I don’t hate my body and I am happy and peaceful. It’s true that I almost never worry about eating foods that I am addicted to anymore. After over 11 years, the way I think about sugar and carbohydrates is certainly different. I do not desire them in any way. I do not think nice thoughts about them, or wish I could have them. I think of them as poison. 

But here is the point: It is not only that I am vigilant with my food boundaries because I think of those foods as poison, it is also the other way around. I think of sugar and carbohydrates as poison, because I am vigilant about my food boundaries. The two feed one another. They are a virtuous cycle. They are the opposite of how I used to use foods I am addicted to to mask how I hated myself, which made me fat and crazy and made me hate myself even more, which made me eat foods that I am addicted to.

For whatever reason, pity or discomfort or whatever, many people really want to believe that so many years with my food under control means I have proven that I am all better now. They think surely I can eat like a normal person now, after proving my willpower year after year. 

But I have to remember that I have a physical allergy to sugar, grains, and starch. That eating it sets up an unnatural craving for more of the same. I have to remember that one bite would set off a wild ride of physical, mental, and emotional turmoil, not to mention, most likely, a 150 pound weight gain in less than a year. That’s not an exaggeration. 12 or 13 years ago, before I gave up sugar, after I relapsed on a diet I was on, I gained 60 pounds in 3 months. That’s how I eat when I don’t keep strict boundaries.

Don’t be fooled by 11+ years of respite. The food addict in me is still there. She’s on a tight leash, but only because I am meticulous in my food life. 

But having said all that, it’s still nice to have a peaceful week where the most exciting thing to happen around my eating is that nothing happened around my eating. 

Making a new friend of an old enemy

You may know from last week’s post that I have had an infection in one of my gums. I went to the dentist on Monday and she told me that she thought it was the result of a broken wisdom tooth. So on Thursday I went to an oral surgeon and had that tooth pulled.

Now it is no secret to anyone that I am emotional. But when it comes to medical procedures of almost any kind, I freak the hell out. I always have. From the time I was a little kid. I can remember totally losing it in the doctor’s office at five, when they were going to prick my finger for my routine kindergarten checkup. Once, the phlebotomist at Planned Parenthood had two maintenance guys come talk to me about the heaters they were installing to distract me while she drew blood.

I cry and start to hyperventilate. As I have gotten older, I tend to rock, wring or rub my hands in an obsessive way and do deep breathing exercises. This usually keeps me from actually hyperventilating. It takes a lot just to keep the panic at bay.

There are things that I want to change about myself. I believe in changing. I believe in growing as a person and being better. And hell, I am good at that. I am really good at it. But I also believe that there are things that you have to learn to live with, that you just have to make friends with. For me, being sensitive to sugar, grains and starch, and not being able to “eat like a normal person” is one of those things. And freaking out about medical procedures is too.

It is humiliating to discover that you are a compulsive eater and a sugar addict. It takes something to stop being ashamed of not being able to control yourself when it comes to food and accept the truth of it. But as long as I fought against admitting that I am a food addict, I was never going to get any relief. I was just going to keep trying to get it right, keep trying to manage, keep trying to eat in moderation. And I was going to keep failing and falling deeper into misery.

Once I admitted that I had a problem with food and that I was incapable of eating like a regular person, I was able to really do something about it. Namely putting boundaries around when, how much, and what I ate. I was able to make it work. And I was able to stop fighting against myself. Fighting myself is just plain exhausting.

I have come to the point where I have decided to make friends with my medical panic. When I called to make the appointment with the oral surgeon, I told the receptionist that I would cry, that I am emotional. I said, “you might want to make a note of that in my file.”

The truth is that it makes other people deeply uncomfortable. I can’t tell you how many people in the office asked me if I wanted to postpone, come back another day and have them put me out for it. (Thank God I didn’t agree to that. My mother pointed out that if they put me out, they would have given me an IV!!! Just the thought of that gives me the chilly-willies! I’m still shuddering at the idea.)

I am sorry that my emotions make people uncomfortable, especially my irrational fears over medical procedures. But so do my food boundaries, and I am not willing to make other people’s comfort a priority over my own wellbeing.

So I am not going to be ashamed of the fact that I freak out before procedures. I need to make friends with it so I can deal with it. It’s one thing to be deathly afraid of being poked and prodded, but it is something else, something extra and totally unproductive, to be ashamed of that fear. I have decided I can do without the shame.

My shame, the idea that I shouldn’t be this way, is the kind of thing that makes me walk away. When I was younger, I absolutely would have walked away from every stitch, blood test, physical exam, and shot, if my mother had let me. I would have forgone all needles and drills and what not if they would have let me go to school without my shots and tests. But in my old(er) age, I have come to recognize that not having the procedure wasn’t going to get rid of the infected tooth. I wanted the results of the procedure. So I cried, and wrung my hands, and panicked, and did my very best to breathe. And I stayed, and opened my mouth, and kept still and quiet, and let the man do his work. And he was awesome!

The procedure was quick and easy. The oral surgeon, against the odds, got the infected tooth out in one piece. (I know because I asked him the odds and he said it was an 80% chance that he would have to drill it into pieces to get it out, and then stitch my mouth.) It literally took him longer to numb my mouth than it did for him to extract the tooth. And I have had minimal discomfort, completely manageable with over the counter pain relievers. And when the doctor called me that evening, I was eating dinner and I told him (while laughing) how I told everyone the story of how I freaked out and how he was awesome.

P.S. Did you get that? My oral surgeon personally called me that evening to ask how I was doing! As my husband said, “Now that’s small town living!”

 

Live slow. Die whenever.

It was January of 2016 that I started a regular workout practice, right around the time I celebrated 10 years of having my eating under control. I had played around a little with jogging and bodyweight exercises the few weeks prior to that, but I have never been good at doing anything by playing around with it. I am always either in or out. My default is generally set to out. But I decided I wanted to be in.

Before that, I had primarily gotten around, and therefore gotten my daily exercise, by walking. In New York City, that was like breathing. I did it without thinking. Even if I took the subway, I had to walk there. There were stairs to get to the station. And even if there was an escalator, I was an impatient New Yorker. I took the stairs anyway because walking was faster than riding. And if the weather was nice, and I had the time, I didn’t bother with the subway. A 4 or 5-mile walk in the city on a nice day doesn’t feel like a workout with all of the people watching and window-shopping available. Exercise was a non-issue. It came built into my life.

But when I was working to get my driver’s license, and my (then) boyfriend and I were planning to buy a second car for me, it became clear that I was not going to be walking as a mode of transportation. And I was, it turns out, not getting any younger. I was 38 at the time, and I knew that it would only get harder to stay in shape as I got older. So I tried a light workout a few times in December of 2015, but I was only motivated for a few days. It was hard. I wasn’t good at it. I never really “wanted to” do it, even if I wanted to have done it.

So I did what I do. I made a commitment. I decided to jog 2 miles a day, 5 days a week, with 3 sets of 10 each of push-ups and crunches, and a 30 second plank. Basically 30-45 minutes of exercise 5 days a week.

Now this is a long, drawn-out setup to get to my point. I didn’t see results right away. I have made some progress in terms of my strength, and stamina. I have also possibly lost fat and gained muscle, though I am not good at gauging my physical size. But any and all progress I have made has been very, very slow. So slow, in fact, that I am only starting to recognize it as progress now, after over a year of consistent workouts.

When I first started doing push ups, I could not get very close to the floor, even though I do them on my knees. The truth is, I was barely moving in either an up or down direction. If someone had been watching me, it would have been deeply humiliating. Hell, it was a little humiliating doing them alone in my home while my husband was at work. But I did them anyway. I could only start where I was.

I only recently noticed that I was able to move up and down with ease, and get my face to the floor and back up again. Now that I have the arm strength to do them on my knees, I have started making my third set of 10 push ups the regular plank kind. Not all three sets. Just the last one for now. Because I don’t have to be in a rush to see results. And just like before, when I do them, my arms are barely moving. It may take me another year to have the strength to get my face all the way to the floor and back up with regular pushups. But ultimately, no matter how slow the progress goes, it’s progress. If I didn’t do them because I wasn’t seeing results quickly enough, there would simply no longer be any results to see.

We live in a results based world. And I don’t think that’s all bad. What I think is a problem is wanting results now. The problem is choosing instant gratification over long-term gratification.

I never really understood the story of the tortoise and the hare. The hare wasn’t slower, he was a jerk. If he hadn’t been trying to show off, and publicly shame the tortoise, he would have won the race easily. So that story always occurred to me as bullshit. Slow and steady does not win a race against an opponent who is fast and steady. But I have a different point of view now. I am not certain that everyone has it in them to be both fast and steady. I know that some do. That is what makes them athletes. I honor that. But I am not an athlete. And that’s just fine. So now I think of it this way: it is not that I am the tortoise and someone else is the hare; I am both the tortoise and the hare. The hare in me wants to show off, get results, hear people tell me I’m so fast, I look great. But the hare in me does not do things in a sustainable manner. The hare in me doesn’t know how to deal with obstacles, or how to persevere through failures and difficulties. The hare in me wants results all day all the time. The hare in me is like the people who lose weight on “reality” television by exercising daily the way other people go to work. It might make for dramatic TV to take on 40-50 hours a week of strenuous exercise, but it will almost certainly only get you short-term results. And if I am honest and thinking clearly, I don’t want short-term results.

The same could be said for the ways that I tried to lose weight before I gave up sugar and got my eating under control. I always wanted to lose weight fast. I wanted to be skinny. Now. I would, when my food-addicted, compulsive-eating self could manage it, eat way below my calorie limit, sometimes to the point of starving myself. I was not very good at starving myself, but I could manage it when I was seeing results. Losing weight quickly got me high, and that made it possible for me to limit my food intake for the sake of even more results. But bodies are not huge fans of this way of losing weight, and any hiccup in my quest for an ever-decreasing waistline left me disillusioned and often led to me giving up, or at least cheating on my diet for a day, week, or month. And that’s not even taking my exercise bulimia into consideration.

Enter the tortoise. The tortoise in me is just putting one foot in front of the other. My tortoise may technically be enrolled in the race, but she is not competing. She just made a commitment to start at point A and move to point B. She’ll get there in her own time.

The results I gain when I am slow and steady may take a lot more time to manifest, but they also usually last. Because the steps I take are small enough to take every day. And they are small enough that the inevitable “one step back” is also just a bitty baby step. So instead of focusing on results, I focus on the practice itself. I focus on the commitment to take the action, consistently and without expectation.

So it may not be particularly exciting to practice being the tortoise, but it is pretty inspiring. And ultimately deeply satisfying.

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.

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