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Archive for the ‘The Bigger Picture’ Category

The new eating plan I’m following is not something I would have imagined myself doing six months ago because it’s very regimented. And personally, I have found that diets fail. What has worked for me is to approach changing my eating as a lifestyle change in which I make the choice to eat only healthy, whole foods because that is the life I am choosing for myself, and not because I’m confined to a diet, like a punishment for being overweight.

However, as this blog has evidenced, I lost some focus on choosing healthy, nourishing foods. I actually think this is a pretty normal thing to do. Looking around the society I live in, I don’t see much encouragement to choose real food, to eat in moderation, or to be thoughtful. I do see fat shaming, and I see diets that come in with even more processed food to profit off of that fat shaming. What I I see most clearly is a cycle of consumerism: a huge marketing push to buy food that has been formulated specifically to encourage more consumption, an industry of fast food restaurants, convenience foods, chain dining establishments, and freezer sections all developed to not just appeal to the consumer but to target their bliss point of taste so accurately that the food becomes like an addiction; and then on the other side, an industry of diet and weight-loss programs, also heavily marketed, even to people who don’t really need them (see my 13-year-old, 110-pound self as a prime example), meant to continue making money off the same people by keeping them in a cycle they can’t break because their habits and tastes are not truly changing.

All of which is to say that it’s hard to go through life in contemporary America without succumbing to the constant, carefully target siren song of unhealthy eating. It takes complete focus and a lot of drive because there is more working against the healthy eater than working with her. I’ve been experiencing a lot of that recently, particularly in the social realm. I find myself wanting to go out with family and friends and just “be normal” – which is to say, eat what everyone else is eating, which is not always the healthiest choice.

By the start of this year, I realize I badly needed a reset. So I accepted a very kind offer from the owner of the gym my trainer works at – Tom – to have him create a meal plan for me. I knew it would be intense, but I also realized that it would take away the space I had created for justifying less healthy food choices. I saw following Tom’s strict trainer-formulated food plan as a way to remove all the noise, all the grey space, all the ways I make compromises with myself, and instead create a strong but plain scaffolding of healthy eating. I knew that my issues with food, the ways I use it emotionally would break against this new structure, but I also understood that it was an opportunity to really look at the negative ways I use food and consider them.

So that’s what I’ve been doing, except on the seventh day, which is the free day. I have been learning the most from this day because I pretty quickly focused all my issues with food into that space and that opportunity to do whatever I want. As I have mentioned previously, it has not been pretty. I’m working on it though. This is a long process but it’s one I’m willing to stick with because it’s for me, for my life, and I want to be healthy for my lifetime.

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I’m in the middle of all of my feelings about weight-loss, and I don’t have a clear sense of direction anymore. For a long time, I was very strict with my food consumption and exercise, and it worked very well. It is doable, but also challenging to be so rigid. It was especially hard to live in an environment where everyone else was not attempting the same transformation. It took constant vigilance and massive shifts in how I lived. I did it for a long time, and then I got fatigued. Or maybe I just got engaged. But about 15 months into the process, I started losing steam. And another 15 months later, I haven’t picked it up again.

I have written before about how I am gaining and losing the same two pounds. So I have figured out how to maintain a certain weight, which is great. Except that my weight is still higher than I want it to be, higher than is healthy. I am not done yet. But I am having such a hard time finding the motivation to get done that which is left for me to do.

I like being closer to normal – being able to have a drink every so often (we’re talking once every 2-3 weeks here) or just a bite of someone’s dessert. Not freaking out if I end up in a situation where the food is less than stellar – just making the best choice I can and letting it go. Even having a couple of days (cough…Thanksgiving) where I just ate what I wanted. It feels good to not hold on to myself SO tightly all the time. I had this iron grip on myself for a really long time, and releasing that grip a little, giving myself some space to breathe is such a welcome change, such a relief that I don’t want to give it up.

But I still want to lose weight. So now I am trying to feel my way towards a different – or at least, altered – method. I haven’t figured it out yet. I know it involves all the same habits that have made me successful in the past: eating real food and avoiding processed foods, focusing on vegetables, fruit and lean protein, cutting out sugar and refined carbs (because my body just can’t handle them), exercising. I’m hoping that it can also mean being gentler with myself in this process, and finding more ways to have fun with it.

I’m working on it.

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The owner of the gym my trainer uses (where I train with her) is a muscle bound man – the kind who used to do muscle building competitions. He is intimidating, although he has always been kind to me. He doesn’t seem like he’s paying attention to us, but apparently he is because he mentioned me to my trainer the other day, saying how incredibly hard I worked out. He said I was so fit and I worked out so hard that I should have the best body in the whole gym. So he wanted to ask my trainer, what was going on?

Indeed. What is going on? I am sliding into the fourth month of the second year of oscillating in the same five-pound range without losing any actual weight. Why?

Well, for one thing, because I eat what I feel like a lot more than I used to. And while what I feel like eating is very different than it used to be, it is still not as clean as it could be, as it needs to be. For example, while I no longer eat cupcakes or similar sweets, I feel free to eat treats made without sugar, flour or butter (aka with maple syrup, coconut flour and coconut butter). It’s better for me, yes. But it’s still a treat. So when I have say, five muffins, because I’ve made them for a party so I tested one and then I got to the party and just lost all semblance of reasonableness, it’s no longer good for me. In fact, it’s a return to my old habits of compulsive eating. And clearly, that does not help with weight loss.

So why do I do this? I am acting like I don’t think I can lose the weight or like I don’t want to. And there is truth in both of these statements. Because I really can’t lose the weight if I don’t want to – I’ll just keep sabotaging myself – and some part of me must not – does not want to.

Truthfully, I can’t imagine being truly, like, flat-stomach thin. I don’t know what it would be like to move in the world that way, how I would feel. I have a long history of being afraid of change and the unknown. Often, I avoid them both (even though I am also drawn to them both). So it makes sense that I would get to a point of losing weight and then not feel comfortable losing more.

I am not content to stay as I am though. There are still lessons for me to learn about my relationship with food. If it were truly healthy, I would not eat five muffins at a party. I would be better able to recognize when I’m hungry and when I’m full. And then there’s the health element: it’s not healthy for me to carry this weight around my middle, and I don’t want to. Also, I don’t want to stop here. I started this thing, and I want to see it through. To prove to myself I can.

So now I just have to take a hard look at what it will take and what I’m willing to do to get there. Knowing that someone else – especially someone I’m not close to – has noticed this too is motivating. I think because it gives me fresh eyes on something I know but have been pretending not to see.

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I am reading Geneen Roth’s book Women Food and God – re-reading actually. I first read it a little over three years ago, and I think, at the time, it both set the groundwork for me to start really believing I could change my relationship with food and was not something I was fully ready for. Because reading it now, I feel like every line is spoken to me, about me, for me.

In a recent chapter, she talked about the two kinds of eaters: Permitters and Restrictors, and I recognized myself in every detail she gives about Permitters:

“Permitters prefer going through life in a daze. That way, they don’t need to feel pain – theirs or anyone else’s. If I’m not aware of it, there’s nothing to fix. If I go through life asleep, I don’t need to be concerned about the future because I won’t be aware of it. If I give up trying, I won’t be disappointed when I fail… Permitters operate on the need to be safe in what they consider hostile or dangerous situations… They see no point in trying to control the uncontrollable and have decided that it’s best to be blurry and numb and join the party.”

This was me, for well over a decade. A writer I don’t know was able to distill the essence of my behavior and motivations in about a paragraph. And recognizing myself in her words has been such a gift in helping me understand my own process of transformation and why it is so valuable.

I really was blurry and numb for years – using food and alcohol to deaden my senses. It’s strange to think now that I routinely spent both weekend nights drunk (and sometimes a week night too), that the point of the night was finding a fun and social way to get drunk. Of course, the true point of all of it for me was just to get to more food. I always knew I didn’t have a drinking problem, even when I drank a lot, because I knew what it was to have an addictive and unhealthy relationship with a substance; it’s just that, for me, it was food. The nights of partying were always opportunities to eat with abandon. Late night diner meals, bar snacks, drunk snacking at home in the wee hours of the morning. In my early 20s, one of my favorite 3am activities was to bake cookies drunk and then eat them. I often made horrible cookies, forgetting ingredients, messing up the baking time; I always ate them.

And the reason behind this behavior that Roth speaks to was absolutely the truth for me: it was a way not to feel pain, not to be present, not to be disappointed. It was all a way to hide.

The process of coming out of hiding for me is both a slow and a fast one. It only takes a moment, a single action to live differently. In an instance, I can come forward and be my true self. But the practice of being present, of acting on my own behalf is a constant one that I repeat daily, in moment after moment, and it is a long transformation into being in the world in a new way. Discovering a new relationship with food and with my health has been the path that has led me back to myself though. It’s a path I’m still on, and it’s not always easy or successful. But the more I understand that I will always be on this journey, the more i can appreciate it. Because it’s the journey of my true self.

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For many years, until relatively recently actually, I treated my body like an unwieldy appendage attached to my head at my neck that I had to suffer through because it was what lugged me around. When I thought of myself, I truly only considered me from the neck up. This perspective is evidenced by an endless quantity of neck-up head shot photos of myself, years of me telling whoever was taking my picture to just take it from “here up” (hand motion to my neck). I didn’t want my ugly and unsightly (to me) body being immortalized in any picture. I didn’t want to have to see it or acknowledge it. I was told I had a pretty face and that I was smart, so if everything could just be about my head, it would be all right.

Neck up, please!

Neck up, please!

Except that it wasn’t. My body is a gift. Just like everyone’s is. What it can do is biology and also magic. Just the muscles working in unison for me to type these words, how my hands move, the signals that my brain sends to direct them are all phenomenons of immense complexity and brilliance. Computer scientists spend years creating robots that can do what my hands do without me even thinking about it. And as I sit here on the couch typing and breathing there are so many amazing functions happening: my heart beating, pushing blood, my lungs filling with oxygen, my eyes, skin, ears, and nose sending signals to my brain. The feel of the couch under my legs and the hardwood on my bare feet – miracles all of it. That I spent most of my life wanting to disregard this amazing vessel of my physical self is so sad. That I wanted to do so because I felt shame in it is heartbreaking.

My body is worthy.

This is my body, and it is worthy.

My body is my home. It is my guide also. Through my body I feel and experience; everything I know of the world comes to me through my physical self. Everything I experience, I feel in my body; all my emotions have sensations that go with them: the bubbling joy of seeing people I love, the racing heart of excitement, the constriction in my chest when I am scared, the heaviness of grief.

I ignored my body for so much of my life because it was also a way to ignore my feelings and what I experienced. It’s a coping mechanism that worked well when I was young, when I needed to escape, when it was the best way to protect myself. I was taught in many ways that it was not okay to be myself, that some, but not all, of my feelings were acceptable. So I hid the ones that weren’t. I hid parts of myself and then I hid from myself.

I was so detached from myself that I could eat huge portions of food, gain weight and not understand how or when the weight gain had happened. I could eat until I felt sick and then wait just enough time for the nausea to pass before I ate some more. I ate my feelings instead of having them, feeling them, and expressing them. I ate to stay separate from myself.

And it worked. Really well. Feeling numb and separate and hidden had benefits. It was harder for me to get hurt (even though, somehow, I felt hurt most of the time), and I felt protected from the world (even though I was just isolating myself). Eventually though the costs were too high and the pain (of trying to avoid pain) was too great. So I started the long journey of coming back to myself.

I’m still understanding all the ways in which I disregard myself, how I dismiss my body instead of honoring and loving it. It takes constant consciousness – which I don’t always have – to be kind to my body, instead of judging it. The judgment comes so immediately, and it is mean and ugly. But more and more I realize that there is no true health and no true care for myself without true acceptance of myself. Right now as I am today and however I will be tomorrow.

Always

Always.

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The truth is that I wanted there to be an end point.

Oh sure, I’d say I was making a permanent lifestyle change, but on some level, my brain had an asterisk after permanent that added “for now.”

Because I thought once I did all the hard work of getting in shape, changing my eating patterns and losing about a third of my body weight I could, you know, take a break. Have a glass of wine, kick back, eat some of that layer cake. After all, I’d earned it.

The logical part of me always knew the flaw in that thinking, but it’s hard to separate logic and emotion sometimes, and it’s even harder to recognize the ways in which I can lie to myself without realizing it. I was willing to do the hard work; I just wanted to finish it eventually.

When I first started on the path of changing my eating and exercise habits, I told myself, “One month, maybe two or three – that’s all you have to keep this up for.” Because I didn’t know how else to process the idea that everything about the way I lived had just changed. Yes, it had changed for the better, for my well-being, but it was still a massive change.

I was waking up 1-2 hours earlier every day to exercise. I had been exercising maybe once a month before, and within a week, I was working out for 30 minutes to an hour every day. I had to plan more, laying out clothes the night before and going to be earlier to get enough sleep. And gone, suddenly, were the nightly walks with my then-boyfriend (now husband) to the frozen yogurt shop down the street from our house. Gone, in fact, were all sweets. One day, my diet contained 3-5 dessert items and then next it contained none. I got sick from the sugar withdrawal. Gone too was alcohol and, with it, a huge chunk of how I’d socialized for years. I had to re-imagine and recreate my life.

I could only stay with the magnitude of these changes by taking them one day at a time. Which included telling myself that it wasn’t forever, or even that long. Obviously, I was fooling myself with the idea that it would only be 1-3 months. A year later though, I started to feel ready for a break. I mean, it had been a whole year. And yes, there had been imperfect moments, but I could count on one hand the number of times I’d consumed sugar in a year. It felt like I deserved a bit of an easing off. Even though I was not at my goal, or even that close.

And thus began my long waltz with the weight-loss plateau of my own making. Which continues to this day. Because no matter how much the evidence denies it, I keep thinking I can take it easy, take a break, not work so hard.

What I am grappling with now, though, is the realization that this doesn’t stop. If I’m truly committed to being a healthy individual, then I have to truly commit to all the details involved in caring for myself. I have to decide that it’s what I want, for me. And not just for now. There is no reward (in the shape of a cookie or otherwise) at the end of this journey because there is no end to it. There is just this life – my life – and how well I choose to live it.

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So this Guardian article by former Australian Vogue Editor Kristie Clements is seriously disturbing. The article is entitled “The Truth About Size Zero” and it details some of the possibly-even-more-disturbing-than-you-might-have-guessed facts about the modeling world. It’s full of horrifying statements like:

That the ideal body shape used as a starting point for a collection should be a female on the brink of hospitalisation from starvation is frightening.

and

Girls who can’t diet their breasts away will have surgical reductions.

and

When a model who was getting good work in Australia starved herself down two sizes in order to be cast in the overseas shows – the first step to an international career – we would say in the office that she’d become “Paris thin”. This dubious achievement was generally accompanied by mood swings, extreme fatigue, binge eating and sometimes bouts of self-harming.

It is astounding to me that there is aa whole industry built around women who are intentionally starving and malnourished. It’s shameful and deplorable in and of itself that these practices exist and are accepted for the sake of presenting clothing in a certain way, but it’s even more horrifying to consider that this depiction of fashion is then used to sell an idea of what ideal beauty is.

That’s astonishingly fucked up. Women – including young girls – are inundated with images of models – model, ideal women – who cannot function because they are too weak from hunger. And yet, we are sold the idea that this is what we should strive for, this is how we should aspire to look. And so we learn to hate ourselves and constantly desire to change our bodies, make them smaller. Make ourselves, as women, literally smaller.

There’s a whole subculture of “thinspiration” blogs (which I won’t even link to because they’re so horrifying) by women, often very young women, posting pictures of other impossibly thin women with quotes to inspire the kind of deprivation that will achieve similar results. That this is the reality of our society makes me so angry because I keep thinking about how women chase these impossible ideals, using their energy, intelligence, and resources on an unattainable and unhealthy standard, instead of on doing something that’s meaningful to them or that contributes to the world. And that this quest is one that makes them feel bad. Every woman I know – every one, no matter how stunningly gorgeous – feels bad about her body in some way. And it is so much wasted energy.

I think it makes me particularly mad because *I* wasted so much energy this way. I spent years hating how I looked and judging myself, really believing that my value as a person was tied to my dress size. I felt this way before I was overweight, and in many ways, I think my mindset contributed to my weight gain. Because I couldn’t help but have a deeply unhealthy relationship with food.

And all the time I spent attempting to lose weight, so I could be thinner and more desirable? It never worked. It was only when I started truly caring for myself, caring about what was on the inside, instead of how the outside was perceived, that I was able to become healthier.

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