Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Dearest Body of Mine

This is a letter I got from Golda Poretsky.  I thought it was awesome enough to share:

Dearest Body,

After careful thought and considerations, I hereby promise to:
  • honor you as the temple of my soul
  • offer you healthy food and drinks
  • realize that you deserve to be healthy
  • love and appreciate you for what you do, just as you are
  • accept that I have the power to heal you
  • adorn you with beautiful, comfortable clothes and shoes
  • realize that laughter, play, and rest help you feel good
  • exercise appropriately for my body type and temperament
  • accept you and be grateful for you just the way you are
  • listen to messages you are sending me when you are hurt or sick
  • understand that my unexpressed emotions and thoughts affect you.
I love you so much,


What would you add to the list?  What kind of commitments are you making to your body, consciously or unconsciously?  Are your thoughts and feelings about your body positive like this, or more negative?  How do these thoughts and feelings impact you, or your body?  How would you like to think or feel about your body?

Let's have a conversation.

Monday, July 26, 2010

I Need a Really Big Wagon So I Don't Fall Off Anymore

So this week has been hard.  It tickles me a little that a hard week for me now is trying not to diet, rather than trying to stick to a diet.  Yay!  What a good problem to have!  I am calling it progress!

What has made this week difficult is confusion.  I woke up this morning with the Dave Matthews version of "Typical Situation" by Suzanne Vega stuck in my head.  The Lyrics go like this:

It's a typical situation in these typical times
Too many choices

Its a typical situation in these typical times
Too many choices

Everybody's happy everybody's free
Keep the big door open, everyone will come around
Why are you different, why are you that way
If you don't get in line we'll lock you away

I don't think it's an accident that this is the song I woke up, to for several reasons.

First, when I am tired or anxious or somehow feeling vulnerable, I start to feel like there are too many choices.  I get confused.  I start wishing someone would hand me a prescription for "feel better," which is exactly what the weight loss industry offers. The promises of the pro-diet folks are that we will be free and happy, if only we would follow their rules. Too bad it is doesn't work, and actually makes most people feel worse. 

Second, I am "different" because I am not taking this "prescription" for happy and free.  I am not skinny, and I am not hurting myself trying to get skinny.  For me, dieting, and the body-shaming language that goes with it,  are the opposite of happy and free.  I think that knowing this, and talking about it, makes me a threat to the status quo.  Thank goodness, I don't think I am literally going to get locked away, but I do feel locked out sometimes.  I feel locked out of conversations about health and well-being, because people assume that I don't know anything about it because I am not skinny.  I don't have the moral high-ground of being thin, and so I don't get to have a say.  If people do know that I believe in loving and being proud of one's body, fat or thin, then I get a sortof pat on the head, a paternalistic tolerance - like I'm kindof deranged, but likeable, so people will nod and smile until I leave the room, or until I go too far.  Then they start saying things like, "Yeah, but you don't mean really accepting  fat people.  That would be crazy."

But that really is what I mean.  I mean radically accepting, and even celebrating, all of our shapes, in their glorious and brilliant variety.  

It is really hard to feel like a lonely voice in a sea of bad shit about bodies.  I think that is partly why this week has been so difficult.  When I get tired, I do start feeling like maybe They are right - maybe I am bad, maybe I am crazy, maybe I don't deserve a full life.  Maybe I should take the body shame back on, so that I can fit in again.  There are just too many choices, maybe I just missed the right "plan" for me.

Noticing these thoughts disturbs me. These thoughts make me really uncomfortable, and they should, because they are just not true.  When I start thinking this way, I read, and study, and reconnect to what I know.  And then I remember why I am different.  And this energizes me, because I want to actually be happy and free.

What keeps me going, and what makes me want to shout "different" from the rooftops, is that I know that those so-called choices are no choices at all.  I know that those choices are actually crazy, as in believing something that isn't true.  The truth is that the health problems commonly associated with fat are actually  associated with dieting.   The truth is that fat actually helps people live longer, and helps them to survive a cardiac event.  And, the truth is that there are actually health benefits to being fat, including protection from "infections, cancer, lung disease, heart disease, osteoporosis, anemia, high blood pressure, rheumatoid arthritis and type 2 diabetes.” !  Fat does not automatically mean unhealthy.  There are healthy fat people and unhealthy fat people, just like there are healthy thin people and unhealthy thin people.  Neither is better, and neither is "wrong."  They just are, like eye color, or shoe size. 

Knowing this helps me to remove the fog of confusion, and remember that I am OK.  I can keep trudging on, even in the face of my own anxiety, and in the face of a body-phobic culture.  I don't have to fall off the wagon, and go back to that dark place of shame and body hatred and restriction that never paid off.  I can make my wagon bigger with information, and support, and courage, so that I don't have to fall off the wagon anymore.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

A Simple Peach

It is lovely and quiet this morning on my back porch.  It has been scorching hot the last week, but this morning it is still cool.  I can hear birds chirping, and I watch the shapes change in my trees as the sun rises, leaving little rippling pools of light in the leaves. 

I am up early, getting ready to head to church.  I am going to the early service, trying to make time for reflection before my sleepover-tired boys get going for the day.  This may be the only quiet time I get all day!

I sit on the edge of my porch, eating a simple peach.  Have you ever noticed how perfectly peaches are constructed?  The gorgeous pink that melts into orange,  the smooth fuzz, the sweet, dripping flesh, the perfect seed in the middle that holds it all together?  I notice.

In this moment, I am reminded that perhaps there is a simple and brilliant construction to all of this.  To the trees, the sun, the grass, my peach, the birds, my dogs, my wild little boys sleeping downstairs, even me.  What if everything in this moment, and each moment, is just as it should be?  What if I were to live in this moment, the moment, all of the time?  I might notice more often the luscious beauty, awesome simplicity, and deep interconnection that surrounds us and is us all of the time.

Even in times of sorrow, doubt, fear, there is beauty, simplicity, and connection.  The moment may not be what I would like it to be - I would not choose grief, or shame, or anger.  But when I let myself truly experience these feelings or un-wished-for experiences, and tend to them in the moment, I am never left without connecting to the deep beauty of living.  Life, in full spectrum. 

I am thankful for the simple peach that reminded me that I am connected, and beautiful, and loved.  In the quiet moments, and in the not-so-quiet moments.  And so are you.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Cake For Breakfast

Good morning, Chocolate Cake!  Of course, this is the anti-diet breakfast.  I am supposed to be eating appropriate levels of protein, vegetables, and maybe some whole grains, right? And sometimes, I do actually eat kale in the morning, not to mention oatmeal, eggs, and various other "good" foods.  But not today.  Today I ate cake - and it was good.

Why? Why would I let myself eat cake for breakfast? I asked myself this question before, during, and after my cake experiment.  The little voices in my head were having quite a fight about how eating cake for breakfast is bad, but to be honest I just ignored them.  And I will have you know that I really enjoyed my breakfast.

I would also like to state for the record that I did not end up eating the whole cake.  This morning I listened to what my body wanted.  I took into account the fact that not eating the cake, when that is what seemed good, would have meant restriction, and which would - by noon for sure - have led to eating the entire cake, and maybe some other stuff to boot.  I know this because I can't count the number of times that very scenario did happen before I started learning how to eat intuitively.

When I was a restrictive eater, I would pine for whatever food I happened to be "avoiding."  I avoided nuts and cheese because they had too much fat, pasta and rice because it had too many carbs and calories, anything fried, anything... well, pretty much everything except vegetables, and limited quantities of sprouted grain bread.  Chocolate Cake, and its cousins, Brownies and Ice Cream, were on the forbidden list for sure - at least until my inner rebel kicked in, and then I was all about eating anything "bad" that I could get my hands on, in large amounts, until my stomach hurt. Now that felt really and truly bad, on lots of levels.

I cringe now when I remember how brutal I was with myself.  I ate with vicious unconsciousness, and then I beat myself up some more.  I promised myself I would do better tomorrow, I would be "good," and maybe I would just skip breakfast tomorrow, and definitely I planned to go running - for hours and hours. Restrict, punish, rebel.  Lather, rinse, repeat. That was the cycle I lived in for who knows how long, and it was a miserable cycle.

Somewhere along the recovery journey, I discovered intuitive eating, which gives me permission to get off the merry-go-round.  Intuitive eating is the opposite of restrictive eating, and external authority.  Intuitive eating is about being mindful and listening to my body.  It is about (duh) eating when I am hungry, enjoying my food, and stopping when I am full.  This seems so simple, but it is not easy.  It has taken me a long time, and it is still challenging sometimes.  It means I have to care for myself in an entirely new way - which doesn't include eating when I am not actually hungry.  I have to actually feel my feelings (gasp!), and find new ways to meet the needs food was filling. This is a learning process, for sure, and there are bumps in the road, but it is truly life-saving for me.

Unfortunately, intuitive eating is definitely not what we are being encouraged to do in our culture.  The diet industry makes bazillions of dollars telling us we are "bad," and that we need their product or service or whatever to fix the problem they have identified for us.  What they don't tell us is that .05% of people who lose weight through dieting keep it off after 5 years, and that statistic includes people who lose between 5 and 10 pounds!  Weight Watchers technically counts me as a success story for their statistics because my current weight is less than the weight I started at. The science is skewed and manipulated to make us believe that our bodies don't know what they're doing, that an outside authority can make us skinny forever, and that we'll be "better," healthier, and live longer if we ignore our bodies and listen to "the experts." And then, to add insult to injury,  it is our fault when their stuff doesn't work!  As you can see, I am over it.  I am done internalizing their bogus information, and I am taking back my right to eat cake - and nuts, and pasta, and rice and fruit, and whatever else my body tells me it needs, in the quantities it needs.  And, I am taking back my right to enjoy my food.    

I am determined to practice this intuitive eating thing, even if it is scary to really give myself permission to eat cake for breakfast.  I am actively working on giving myself full permission to eat whatever feels good to me when I am hungry, according to my own body's signals.  Usually the things that feel good to me are pretty healthy, and nourishing. If I want cake, though, I have a piece and then I don't worry about it.  Cake  is becoming the emotional equivalent of a peach, and a carrot is the emotional equivalent of peanut butter.  Whatever I choose to eat has no relation whatsoever to whether I am a good or bad person. What a relief! This leaves me free to eat cake, but it also frees me to eat fantastic fresh fruit, lovely dark leafy greens, or whatever it is that nourishes my body and satisfies my soul.  And, I get to eat  without any crazy going on in my head about it.  I don't have to beat myself up anymore. I can choose to eat consciously, with pleasure! And it is good, even if sometimes it means cake for breakfast.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Go Gym Dandy

I bought a new gym membership.  There are parts of going to the gym that I love - the time to myself, the movement, the music, the classes, even the community.  I secretly love really loud Step classes, and hot tubs are nice.  But then there are the parts I don't like.  I don't like the assumption that we all want Jillian Michaels screaming in our face, and that we all want to be "motivated" (read abused) into changing the shape and size of our bodies.  I don't really like the meat market factor.  I don't like being sold things that make me feel anxious and obsessed.  Body Bugs, diet plans, personal training, junk for the gym bag. I especially don't like the assumption that I am out of shape, or that this is my first time ever in a gym.  It's insulting.

For a long time the negatives outweighed the positives for me, so I tried other avenues. I wanted to be somewhere that wasn't all about how many calories I burned, or how people think I look in spandex, or whether I fit the stereotype of health.  In the past year I have had a yoga membership, a rock climbing membership, and even a dance studio membership.  I tried the do-it-yourself method, which involved promising myself I would exercise at home, or outside, or with my kids.  I have really enjoyed most of these things, but the "on my own plan," I have to admit, has been only marginally successful.  I get bored easily, I guess.  Let's take exercise videos, for example. While useful when starting something, exercise videos get really old, really fast.  A funny quip just isn't funny the 37th time you hear it. 

The least successful thing I have tried is getting up early before everyone else in the house is up.  This has to be some cruel method I have for unconsciously ensuring my own failure.  I plan amazing workouts, including yoga and maybe a run or walk, or whatever.  When 5:30 rolls around, though, I am hitting snooze.  That is just too damn early.  There must be a better way.

Which brings me back to my new gym membership.  I needed more of the stuff I like about gyms - structure, community, options. While I do love yoga, I also really miss a good solid heart thumping Step class.  I need a swimming pool and a hot tub for my new bathing suit.  Plus, on a really practical level, having memberships to yoga, dance, and rock climbing is freaken' expensive.  I realized I actually need a gym, so that I can get lots of different options under one roof. Crap, that means I have to face my demons.

Once I picked a gym (mostly, it had to have lots of yoga classes), I had to actually go into it to sign up.  That meant talking to a beefy guy.  As you may recall, I have a newfound lack of fear of beefy guys from being around them so much while rock climbing.  This fearlessness turned out to be really helpful - I am proud to say that I was able to hold my head high and act like a deserving human being.

Actually, the whole experience felt remarkably fearless.  I was struck by how different I felt in the gym.  I wasn't cowering and self-critical.  I was surprised that I actually felt confident.  I knew I would protect myself from negative assumptions and insulting sales pitches, and even from my own inner critic. I was ready with "no, thank you" and "I don't think so."  I was armed.  The beefy guy I met with must have sensed it, too, because he didn't even offer!  He didn't insult me, or judge me, or make me feel bad at all!  Do you think maybe some of this stuff is in my head?  I'm starting to wonder...

So, now I have a gym membership, and I really like it.  I like that I have an excuse to leave my house at a reasonably scheduled time because that's when my class is.  See you later, kids!  I like the pool, and the beefy guys, and the loud music.  I like that I like me now, even in spandex, and I like that I have given myself permission to fully enjoy moving my body again.  I still come up against the stuff I don't like, and have to actively ignore obnoxious posters advertising false promises and other bullshit.  I sometimes have to wrestle with my own negative voices.  But, for the most part, the gym actually feels like a positive part of nurturing and caring for myself.  Isn't that how it's supposed to be?

Friday, July 2, 2010

Sea Monsters

This summer, my family and I spent a week just north of San Diego, on a long stretch of well-loved beach. It was our big summer vacation.  I had been looking forward to it for months, and was ready to jump in the ocean with my boys.  When we got there, we were definitely not alone on this beach!  Somehow in my fantasy, I hadn't thought about how we might be sharing the ocean.  The beach has its own scene, which I had forgotten about.  It was well populated with families like ours, bikini-clad teenagers, surfers, beach bums, runners, sun-worshippers, and partying types.  It was, apparently, the place to be.  Of course, I was ready with my fantastic leopard print bathing suit!

Once I got out there on the beach in my fantastic suit, it was a different story.  My mind went a little haywire.  Since we're going with beach imagery here, it was like a giant sea-monster, rising up out of my California dream on the beach!  All of the most hateful and horrifying thoughts started surfacing out of the habitual depths of my brain.  I could see the monster bare its teeth, one crappy thought at a time.  I started comparing myself to the other bodies on the beach.  Oh, my god, I am not a tiny bikini-clad teenager - they probably think I look like an idiot!  I wanted a cover-up, a tent-y, old-lady contraption, to hide my apparent insanity for wearing a completely bold and eye-catching leopard print suit!  What the hell was I thinking?  Why didn't I buy the same black bathing suit I always buy?  Why didn't I get a tent-y cover up?  At least it would offer some relief, like a shield from the sea monster.

The sea monster in my head bobbed around on the surface for a while, looking menacing, while I hunted for a towel to hide my garish leopard-print fiasco.  And then, I remembered.  Just say "no" to sea monsters.  Sea monsters stink.  I decided that I was going to battle with the sea monster.  I threw down the towel, and lifted my head high.  I remembered how fantastic this bathing suit really was - I wrote an entire blog post about it, after all!  I mean, really.  I remembered that my body, though neither bikini-clad nor teen-aged, has been pretty awesome to me.  This body has given birth to 2 children, and nursed them into healthy toddlerhood.  This body is powerful and strong and healthy. This body can climb mountains, and can twist into death-defying yoga poses.  This body can swim, which is what I decided to do.  Jumping waves with your children, for the record, is a good way to kill off sea monsters.

Since returning from this trip, I have been thinking about how "sea monster" thoughts tend to come and go for me, even now that I really claim my body's health, strength, and value.  It sometimes feels like I am riding the waves, hanging in there while old thoughts surface, and then coming back down to this new place of peace with my body.  I have to be conscious of how these thoughts come and go, or I risk being eaten by the sea monster, which for me means ending up back in a disordered place.

I decided to write about this because I think coming to terms with our bodies is a process.  So much negative thinking is ingrained and old - it takes time to make big changes in the ways we think about ourselves.  Whether we are trying to quit smoking, or quit drinking, or quit dieting, or quit thinking shitty things about ourselves, change takes time, effort, determination, and persistence.  It takes consciousness.  Nasty sea-monster thoughts are going to surface for me, so the task now is to be ready, to respond to them, and to get on with living.  It is necessarily a "take-no-prisoners" battle mentality for me.  In order for me to really live, I can't let the sea monsters get the best of me.