Health, Philosophy

My Thoughts on Body Positivity

Like most women, I have spent a large portion of my life hating how I look. When I was a teenager and my weight got into the triple digits, I decided I must be huge and that everything would fall into place if I just lost weight.

I obsessed over dieting for a few years, certain that getting skinnier would solve all of my life’s problems. Of course I was tiny already, but I thought my very muscular thighs were too fat. And of course my roundy face was too roundy.

Me in seventh grade!

In high school I started eating like any other teenager, which got me up to a healthy weight. And then it kept climbing. I tried a few diets here and there, usually ending up back at a healthy weight whenever I used the South Beach diet.

The only time I was really happy with my body during that time was when I was pregnant. I felt gorgeous with my big baby belly!

Then it was back to the same, gaining then doing South Beach and losing, but never losing enough to really be happy with how I looked. As things grew worse in my career, the dieting stopped and the medicating with food started. I hated how I looked, and that only seemed to make me want more ice cream.

So I get it. When people say they are done with diet culture and hating on themselves, I absolutely get it. When I was miserable with my job and my life in general, the last thing I wanted to do was give up the only comfort I had. And standing in front of the mirror, looking at how awful I looked, only increased that misery.

If I had not started to see my beauty when I was at my heaviest, I think the cycle would have continued indefinitely.

But in seeing my beauty and learning to love that person, inside and out, I began to realize that I was medicating with food because I was miserable. Of course I took steps to make my life less miserable first, and that was the hardest part. But in loving myself, I saw that I was not feeling my best when I was overeating in order to escape. I was not feeling my best when I was caught in an addiction.

That is what led me to my therapist and dietician. If I were eating only when I was hungry and making food choices that led me to feel my best, it would not have mattered that I was the size I was. But the truth was, I no longer experienced the feeling of being hungry. I was so out of touch with my own body that I no longer recognized hunger.

Once I learned to recognize and honor my hunger and fullness, I realized that I wanted to make food choices that made me feel better. Pizza is so comforting, but when I eat it to fullness, I feel yucky and tired. I enjoy treats still, but I have learned that I feel better when I enjoy them in moderation.

And finally, my weight was a problem. I love running, doing yoga, and otherwise being active, and my weight was causing my knees to hurt to the point where I couldn’t climb stairs normally. Heart problems and diabetes run in my family, and taking care of my health was a part of loving myself.

I worked on being more informed about my food choices. This doesn’t mean that I don’t have treats, but it does mean that I practice moderation with some foods.

So while there are some aspects of “body positivity” that I definitely agree with, there are some areas where my opinion differs from some of the prevailing ideology.

Here are the thoughts I have on body positivity:

1. I had to see myself as beautiful before I could make changes.

I was never able to hate myself into thinness. I had to accept and love the person in the mirror, as she was. Even now, I have been happy with my appearance at every weight. I am trying to lose my pandemic pounds, because I gained them from binge eating. If I just naturally ended up at this weight through healthy eating, that would be fine.

2. For me, having some structure helps me be mindful.

I loved the book Intuitive Eating. In fact, I highly recommend it to anyone. However, I need a little more structure and information at this point. I monitor my weight, because it helps me understand my body better. I know that I tend to gain more water weight at different points during the month, for example. I also know that if the overall trend is toward weight gain, then I need to look at my patterns. When I am overeating, it is not long until my overall mental health takes a nosedive.

Tracking what I eat is also helpful for me, because it helps me see my patterns. I don’t obsess over calories, but when I go out of my Smartpoints range, it usually means that I am emotionally eating. Tracking also helps me to eat more of the foods that make me feel better: fruits, vegetables and lean protein.

3. I eat when I am hungry.

Always. I carry snacks with me and eat them when I am hungry. Yes, they are zero or low Smartpoint snacks, but that also helps me to gauge when I am actually hungry, as opposed to emotional eating.

4. Exercise is not punishment.

I went to a bootcamp class once. We worked really hard for the entire hour, and I could not do half of the exercises. I didn’t go back.

Instead, I focus on having an active lifestyle with activities I enjoy. I like running, because I have kind of a competitive streak. Yoga is my spiritual practice, and I never need to motivate myself to go to class. In fact, I need a good reason not to go, if I miss. I love walking, especially in the woods. And bike riding instead of driving is a special treat!

I don’t exercise to burn the fat. I am active because it feels good, and it improves my mood significantly.

5. I eat donuts.

There is a donut shop next to my yoga studio. They have a cream filled chocolate donut. They are delicious. I eat one every Saturday.

6. Everyone’s journey is different.

I don’t sit around, judging everyone who weighs more or less that I do! In fact, I barely notice and really don’t care. We are all at different places, and we are all doing our best. I just think the important thing to remember is that we need to do what works for us, rather than trying to follow a philosophy 100%.

Health

Preparing for Those Resolutions

I am the queen of setting goals.

The higher I can aim, the better.  I remember one year, when I blogged at Journey to Ithaca, my resolutions were: eat less poison, get completely off the grid, produce no more than one grocery bag or garbage per month, put together a 12-piece wardrobe, and have my Christmas shopping done by December 1.

I did eat less poison and put together a 12-piece wardrobe.  And with the other goals, I learned a lot about goal setting.

Another case in point?  My efforts to exercise consistently and lose weight.

I tried to start exercising my senior year of high school, when I was still thin.  After a year of therapy and medication, I had successfully quit my meds and was sitting in my last therapy session.  My therapist was not stellar (in fact, I had to go to therapy as an adult to unlearn a lot of things that I learned from the professionals I worked with during that time of my life!), but she did have one nugget of advice to give me.  When I asked her what I could do to help maintain my mental health, she was adamant that I start an exercise program.

I set out to do some research, and I learned that our local community center offered a free step class for high school students.  I eagerly attended and felt comfortable amongst the teens of various shapes, sizes, and ability levels in the class.  Our instructor was a cheerful 20-something named Jodi, with a bouncy pony tail.  We all really liked her.

I went to that class for about 6 months, until I graduated.  It was a few months until I got brave enough to attend my first class as an adult.

I started at the community center, since it was familiar.  But I noticed that the adult classes lacked community.  I also noticed that my heart rate often got too high during class, so I had to use less support under my step and smaller weights.  I became very self-conscious about this.

In the brochure for the community center, was an ad for a new women’s fitness center.  I went there and immediately loved the community!

What I did not love, were the large mirrors.  I was skinny and weak.  I could noticably do less than everyone else.  I paid for 28 classes, but stopped attending before I used them all.  When I thought about going back, the center had gone out of business.

When I first got married, I visited a local health club.  They offered me a great deal and a trainer put me on a program.  However, I looked so weak compared to the teenage athletes who were also working out, that I only went there twice.

I did a couch-to-5k plan from Prevention magazine. I followed it until I was running 5 miles…Until I ran past some redneck teenagers in our neighborhood, who followed me, mocking my slow running.

It was 10 years before I tried working out again.

I have told my hit and miss yoga story here, but the short version is that I did not stick with a work-out  until I found a tight-knit, small yoga studio with a teacher who was patient enough to work with anybody.  And only then, did I notice the benefits I was gaining from yoga, to the point where I experience physical pain and noticable mental differences if I miss more than 2 classes in a week.

Diet is the same pattern.  I tried diet after diet, giving up when I “slipped up” or “fell off the wagon.”  Weight Watchers, in the end, left me with no excuses.  It was only acceptable to speak of your journey in positive terms, and it became easy for me to see how much happier I am when I am eating well.

Recently, I regained 9 pounds.  But when I finally weighed myself, I also noted that I have kept 19 pounds off.  It’s not even a matter of the glass being half full, versus half empty.

So I am getting back on track.

So are you planning on making any New Year’s Resolutions?  If you are, here are some lessons I have learned from my experience in setting (and achieving!) goals:

 1.  When (not if) you “slip up,” first look at the reasons for your “lack of motivation.”

Why are you not motivated to stick with your changes?  Is there a good reason?  Before you judge or muscle your way through, look at your reasons for quitting.  I quit the step classes because I was self-conscious and needed a close-knit community without mirrors.  I quit the yoga classes at the gyms, because I did not feel like I belonged.  Once I found an exercise program that met my needs, motivation was no longer an issue.

2.  Look at your reasons “why.”

After you look at your reasons for slipping up, look at your reasons for making the changes.  Are you doing it just because someone told you to do it, or you think it is what you are supposed to do?  Is this what you really want?

3.  Try not to compare.

We are all different, and everyone struggles with something.  If you are struggling with making a positive change, then the thing you are trying to change is not easy for you.  So don’t compare yourself to the people who have it easy!  Close your eyes, and make your best the only thing that you need!

4.  Look at the big picture.

Slip-ups are a part of making changes.  Growth is not a straight line, but it is a general trend.  I regained 9 pounds, but I have still kept 19 off.  Focus on the 19, not the 9.  You are going to fall on and off the wagon.  That is life.

5.  Find supportive friends.

When you are frustrated, don’t talk to just anybody.  Some friends will help you focus on the positive, and others will discourage you further.  Learn to tell the difference.

What positive changes are you working on in the upcoming new year?  What strategies have you found to be helpful when making changes?