Posts Tagged ‘body image’

Happy Fat Tuesday!

600_446281239

Oh, what’s Fat Tuesday, you ask?  It’s traditionally the Tuesday right before the beginning of the Christian Lenten season, Ash Wednesday, built as a last indulgence before the fasting and self-denial of Lent kicks in.  Back in the day, it was a time when you ate lots of food before the last part of the winter fast (likely because food stores were getting low around this time).  It’s Mardi Gras.  It’s Shrove Tuesday.  It’s Paczki Day, if you live around some good Polish stock.  It’s the tops.

I was raised Lutheran, and although I am no longer religious, the traditions I grew up with still stick.  We always started the day with paczki (pączek the singular), which if you’ve never had one…probably go eat one, you’ll understand.  It’s like a delightful, fat, stuffed doughnut, usually filled with fruit fillings, custard, or creams.

This morning I picked up two dozen paczki for my office and classes, and for the first time, didn’t have an urge to eat one, just because they were in the car.

paczki_-_stos

Can you blame me?!

 

Lots of times, especially on holidays, it’s an expectation to eat or drink specific foods, merely because of the day or because they are part of the celebration (think turkey on Thanksgiving, egg nog at Christmas, green beer on St. Patrick’s Day), whether or not the food is something you enjoy, or feel you want.

Fundamental principles behind Inuitive Eating (my bible, how’s that for blasphemy) are to eat foods that are appealing, mostly eat foods with nutritional value, and to pay attention to internal cues of hunger and satiety.  Basic for those without disordered eating patterns, but like learning to live in an alien world for ED folks working toward recovery.

The greatest thing about intuitive eating, though, is their recognition that it is normal to not always pay attention to these cues.  Our environment, culture, and social world all interact with our patterns of eating, and these cues might differ from what our body’s trying to tell us.  Think about accepting a slice of pumpkin pie after Thanksgiving dinner, even though you’re stuffed, because your mom made it, and it’s expected to eat pie after dinner.

To eat intentionally means being aware of both sets of cues, both internal and external, then making a mindful decision about what you will put in your body.  It means not eating something just because it’s a certain day, but checking in with your body, and with your mind, determining your priorities and what’s important, then making your choice.

I don’t even like paczki very much, but eat one every year, because it’s tradition.  I’m sure you have times in your life when you’re pressured (or even just feel awkward saying no).

Also traditional is to “give up” something for Lent.  In Christian tradition, this mirrors Jesus’s trials in the desert for 40 days, ending on Easter Sunday.  Often, the first thing we think to give up is food we like.  Just like eating for non-mindful reasons, depriving ourselves of food/drink we enjoy can lead to disordered thinking/eating patterns later down the road.*

Simple denial (restriction, in ED terms) can make food loom large in our minds – it’s one of the reasons dieting is notoriously unsuccessful.  When we say we can’t eat something, it can lead to increased desire to eat that food, simply because it is forbidden.  It creates a huge cloud of feelings around it, and even shame if when we eventually do eat it…which, for those astute readers, is basically an eating disorder.  Food does not have moral value, and the food we choose does not reflect on our personhood or our moral value as people.

Enjoy your Fat Tuesday, if you celebrate it.  I hope you choose to enjoy it in mindful ways that honor your personhood and value.  Eat with intention.

And if you want a paczek, eat one intentionally!

food-is-not-the-enemy-quote-1

*Please refer to “The Underpants Rule” – you can do anything you want with your own body, including prioritizing weight loss, or health, or not!  This is not a list of what everyone should and should not do, just information and thoughts.

Advertisements

scale

The issues closest to our hearts are often the most difficult to discuss with our loved ones.  We don’t want to get up on the soapbox, or make people feel attacked.

I was thinking about dieting as I re-read a favorite article of mine from Dances With Fat, a great body-positive/fat-activism blog, about how to deal with family and friends who decide to act as the food police.

After I read the piece, I immediately thought of my aunt, someone I love dearly and who has been present at all big turning points in my life.  I don’t know if she had ever been on a diet before the beginning of November.  I heard about her diet at a pre-Thanksgiving dinner, where she proudly discussed her 500 calorie a day diet “and if I get hungry, I just drink water!”

I was disturbed…worried, concerned.  500 calories is not enough for a grown woman (or man).  That’s less than many anorexic folks take in.

She was thrilled – she had lost 20 pounds in 28 days.

Again…I was legitimately concerned.  Most doctors agree a safe rate of weight loss is about 1-3 pounds a week (though most doctors don’t have enough training in nutrition or a good enough understanding of health at every size to talk diets with patients).

I was so proud, at the end of the night, when my mom talked about how she had ruined her metabolism by constant dieting since her teens, and how much space and energy dieting had taken up in her life.

But neither my mother or myself said anything to my aunt, and it wasn’t because we didn’t have the information; I’ve been looking at HAES literature for years and am in recovery from an eating disorder, so by default, my entire family is well versed in the harmful effects of dieting and image focus.

(more…)

We all think we’re really, really smart.

And we are.  Evolution has turned us into some of the smartest, highly adaptable creatures on the face of the planet so far.  Evolution has done this through creating systems of shortcuts in our brains and bodies to ensure most time can be spent on thriving rather than simple survival.

Evidence of these systems is all around us, and depending on the discipline, the words may vary but the concepts do not.  In psychology we talk about heuristics (categories so we know how to deal with things), in neuroscience it’s brain categorization and cortex organization, in social science and justice movements we talk about stereotypes and prejudice. 

In each idea we see remnants of our incredible adaptation; we have these categories in our brains because if we had to think about daily minutia, we wouldn’t have (any) time left over for the business of thinking and living.  Invisibila just did a podcast on categories, talking about a person without the ability to create simple heuristics who was often baffled by different shaped couches (what is this?  is it a bomb?  I better stay away).

Categories are a part of our brains and our world, but if we’re not aware of these unconscious processes bad things happen.  This is why you’re more likely to associate negative words with a black face, even if you don’t think you’re racist.  This is why you promote a man after he mentors someone, while looking at the same task as part of a woman’s role in the workplace.  It’s why you assume someone who reads her daily horoscopes and drinks herbal tea is a holistic healer rather than a school teacher, even though it’s much more likely she is a teacher.

It’s the same reason we look at fat people and assume we know all sorts of things.

The thing that sucks?  It’s not entirely our fault.

We are deluged on a daily basis with news stories and talk shows and commercials, all telling us about how important it is to be thin(ner), how it’s a health issue, how we should be totally focused on our bodies.  This triggers what’s called the availability heuristic; when something’s always around and it’s on the top of our brain, we’re much more likely to overestimate the occurrence of this thing.  It’s the same principle behind why people are afraid of plane crashes, when it’s WAY more likely they’ll be in a car crash.

Bodies do not always reflect our behavior.  We’re taught that fat people get fat because they’re lazy, because they eat junk food, because their eating is out of control.  We’re taught that you can be thin if only…

If only you try harder, eat less, exercise more, TRY HARDER, TRY HARDER, TRY HARDER.

No.  No, no, no.

It’s been pointed out that if diets were a drug, no self-respecting doctor in the world would prescribe them.  It’s been said that the billion dollar diet industry is built that way because no diet has been shown to work for long term, sustainable, healthy weight loss.  EVER.

Just as we don’t accept total character judgments based on skin color or hair color or gender, it’s time to acknowledge we have enormous prejudice against fat bodies.  And just as skin color is ultimately a ridiculous way to determine anything about a person’s character, so body size does not determine character.

remember them?!

i started exercising when i was in high school, running in the summertime.  it coincided with my introduction to hardcore, most notably the [kick ass] band Walls of Jericho.

i would run and dream about someday meeting the bands i would listen to, explaining how their music had inspired me to exercise, and of course, lose 60 pounds or so.

ah, youth.

i was thinking about this today; i was running on a beach, which is not my normal place nor my favorite pastime.  i hate sand and hate the ocean, but that’s not pertinent for our purposes today.  read more and be inspired!

(more…)

pizza and pbr

Posted: March 8, 2014 in punk
Tags: , ,

So last week we discussed a bit about how punk tends to objectify and glorify women who (generally) fit into our cultural standard of beauty (white, thin, young).  This is obviously a broad generalization and not true in all cases, but the vast majority.  (side note: if someone can tell me statistically that this is incorrect I would honestly love you forever).  I want punk to be different.  But it’s really not.

fat mike…really not that fat

When I was in college we’d have small shows and parties in basements of the cool scene kids in my town.  It was a lot like high school with a different coolness hierarchy.  The coolest kids were the ones that didn’t like their minimum wage jobs (or didn’t have one), dressed in black clothes with patches all over them, painted their own leather jackets, and seemed to live on PBR, weed and pizza.

mmmmmmmm

I had the most trouble with the last part of this (although really, if I painted my own jacket it’d look like a child’s painting during a spasm).  Eating nothing but carbohydrates and drinking 15 beers a night is really not good for anyone, but is only visible on those of us with metabolisms more closely resembling a snail moving on hot asphalt.  Even though I knew this, instinctively (and because like, come on, at this point I was a professional dieter), I still couldn’t get why some people stayed thin.

except for this guy

It’s a lot of the same shit.  Women are supposed to be thin while still doing crazily unhealthy (and calorieific) things (and not showing effort, of course, it’s supposed to be natural).  PBR has as many calories per can as two apples, or a serving of almonds, or a greek yogurt.  To drink 15 PBRs is as many calories as a day’s worth of food, and that’s without any food.  Which is really not the best idea for your body, although it leads to a short and sweet drunken time.

Women have an even harder time wit ze boozes.  We metabolize food differently (immortalized in those ever classy SlimQuick ads) and of course this also translates into how many Jamo shots are going to lead to antics.  For us ladies only, of course; we all know real men can hold their booze!  (hahahaha just kidding, but we’ll maybe talk about that later)  The only way to stay thin would be to only drink.  And not eat.  Or to have a kick ass metabolism (which  90% is really not up   to you, it’s your dang parents!  Thanks mom!).  Or to throw up everything you put in your body.

More than anything, it’s the hypocrisy that is bothersome.  Don’t say you’re subculture or anti-culture, then fucking put the same unrealistic stuff on a pedestal to be achieved.  Fuck eating disorders, fuck ideals, fuck all the people who celebrate alternative ideals of beauty, which look a great deal like the old ones (I’m looking at you, Suicide Girls!).  This aggression will not stand, man.

The wonderful Brené Brown has recently released her newest book, Daring Greatly, which I am eagerly reading cover to cover.  As always, it sparks new motivation in me to continue analysis of all the messages we receive about worthiness.

Recently I’ve discovered part of my mental health involved not feeling worthy, or like a worthwhile person.  I think this is linked to our culture of achievement, the one that tells us we are what we do, the one that pushes us to believe what we do is never enough, the one that expects us to be perfect but not with effort, not with the work it takes to try and reach that (unattainable) level of “right.”

Weight loss is an obvious place we see this model writ large in our culture.  I’ve talked about the Biggest Loser, but it’s not only on reality television.  We hear it day in and day out, in tabloids, at our workplaces, at our gyms, with our families.  Almost without exception, it’s a congratulatory tone, praising willpower, praising the “finally made” decision to be thinner.

When one is faced with cultural values that do not fit with personal values, there are generally three big options.  You can ignore it, and pretend it isn’t there.  You can accept it, and strive to fit your values into the cultural framework.  You can reject it, creating values of your own (punk rock, amirite?  amirite, ladies?!).

The problem with creating your own unique value system is the kernel of positive focus in some of these cultural standards.  Achievement is a worthy goal – it’s at the top of the Maslow hierarchy of needs, it’s an essential part of Erikson’s developmental stages, and I know I personally feel validated and positive when I have concrete accomplishments to look at.  When my worth as a person is in question, because of failure or performing at a mediocre level, that becomes a problem.

If we’re only good for what we achieve, and weight loss is an achievement, no wonder we always feel worthless.  Most people who lose weight gain it back.  Adding healthy habits to a routine does not always add up to weight loss – our bodies are created to survive, and to hang on to fuel if there’s food scarcity.  Adding muscle can add to weight, or at least keep weight the same.

To be healthy and at a “non-ideal” weight is, in itself, vulnerable.  Constantly playing defense with the hours you exercise or the vegetables you eat does not lead to acceptance and peace – the need to prove yourself healthy can be discouraging, and keep that angry furnace alive and well.  Let’s start building up our shame resilience today; we know ourselves.  What other people know will always be incomplete and inaccurate.

not just feeling sorry for yourself

In mental health there is and has been a hot debate about the efficacy of medication to treat mental illness concerns.  Most research and evidence shows the quality of the relationship between therapist and client is the most robust factor predicting change and improvement (studies here).  Medication is rarely enough to cause real and positive change in someone struggling with mental illness; although a portion of the population, about 6% is diagnosed with severe and persistent mental illness (SPMI), the vast majority of those who are prescribed medication to treat mental illness are generally high functioning.  While one in four adults will suffer from mental illness in a given year (which is a huge number – 25%??  Whoa!), we still have an enormous complex about being open and honest in our quest for recovery.

Our cultural ideal is rugged independence – we score higher on that dimension than any other country on earth.  We look up to those who have made it on their own and pulled themselves up by their bootstraps.  This ideal doesn’t hold up well for most of us in the human race; we need social connections to survive , we benefit from collective action (unions, suffrage, state government road maintenance) and most of us need help learning what we do before we can support ourselves – even those who don’t do college were most likely apprentices, learning from someone who knew what they were doing.  Why wouldn’t mental health be the same?

Few mental illnesses require lifelong medication and maintenance; these are the SPMI, including Sczhizophrenia, Bipolar I Disorder and Major Depressive Disorder, recurrent.  These disorders disrupt normal functioning and cause significant distress for those suffering from these illnesses as well as those around them.  Major Depression isn’t just feeling sad and eating some ice cream after work; it’s not being able to move, not caring enough to shower, not having the energy to follow through on suicidal thoughts.

why do we make people ashamed for making an effort?

Beyond these, the most serious disorders, are significant mental illnesses of a potentially shorter duration.  One can be in a depressive episode (lasting about 2 weeks) and need medication to break out of that period, but may not require lifelong medication maintenance.  Obsessive disorders require extensive behavioral and cognitive therapy to replace harmful behavioral/thought patterns with more adaptive versions.  Certain medications can help with correcting these patterns and in rebuilding receptors to prevent a return to maladaptive behavior.

Mental illness is just that – an illness.  With the small exception of religious exemptions, we don’t chastise people for taking medication to cure their strep throat or to manage acid reflux.  It’s time to stop shaming ourselves and others for trying to recover.

So this morning I heard a song in my trampoline exercise class (which is fabulous, as you can imagine) with a chorus of “Only you can make me feel beautiful.”  Me being me, I started thinking about all the times that people tell others how beautiful they are.

imagine!

First and foremost, one of the hallmarks of individuation is being able to know who you are and what you think about yourself, not being moved from who you are by feedback from others.  Gestalt therapy notes one of the issues leading to neurosis is a lack of clear boundaries between “me” and “not me.”  In our internet articles, magazines, books, and movies, it is emphasized  how “sexy” confidence is and how we have to be our own people.  However, this overt message contrasts with the covert messages in the products of popular culture; in this case, music and movies are the most obvious examples.

A lot of responsibility is placed on our partners for our feelings.  We assure people that we can see beyond the outside and we like what we see.  We place our very survival on another person simply being aroundThe number of these messages is tremendous and transcends genres and generations.

oy vey.

Aside from the obvious neediness and lack of our own lives here, there are a few intersections with mental health theory which may not be so stark.  Firstly, women (and men, to a lesser extent) are stuck waiting for their perfect partner.  I can’t be beautiful unless someone’s telling me I am.  I can’t feel beautiful if my partner doesn’t constantly assure me I am.  I can’t feel beautiful and be single.  I can’t feel beautiful when my partner isn’t making me feel I am.

The other aspect has to do with a defensive reaction, something we’ve talked extensively about and that motivational interviewing therapy ‎ is built to reduce.  When we’re told something, that we should do something or we are a certain way, a lot of us have a knee jerk reaction, a defense, that NO WAY reaction.  Even when it’s a “good” thing or “good” behavior we’re being pushed into.  The problem is the push.

so if i do, it’s your fault!

Does telling someone they’re beautiful defeat the purpose?  I know when someone tells me they’re having a bad hair day, and I tell them it looks fine, most of the time they dig in their heels to convince me I’m wrong and they’re right.  In psychology circles, it’s known as the confirmation bias and surprisingly (or not), it confirms we’d rather be right than happy.  We’d rather confirm I’m right about being ugly than be wrong and be beautiful.

The point isn’t to stop telling our partners they are beautiful or to stop accepting complements, but that we first need to change our self-concept and correct the stories we tell ourselves.  Only when we see ourselves as beautiful can we hear and appreciate others telling us the same.

One of the mainstay concepts in any sort of treatment, but particularly in the treatment of sex offenders, is to assist clients in differentiating bad action from bad self.  It seems on the surface to be a distinction that is easily made – just because someone does a bad thing does not necessarily make them a bad person.  However, there are so many layers and perceptions imposed by our family of origin, society and culture, it ends up being one of the most labor intensive parts of treatment.

Understanding that good people can do “bad” things is often intuitive.  Psychologically we usually operate from what is called the “self-serving bias,”  the tendency to cut ourselves a break.  We are able to access our internal thoughts and motivations, so its easier to justify doing something ourselves versus someone else.  When we feel threatened (like, say, someone’s screaming at us that we’re a piece of shit that deserves to be killed) we are WAY more likely to engage in this behavior.

We’ve established before that when one is feeling shame, the natural reaction is defensive, because shame threatens our very sense of self-worth, of having the right to exist.  Separating our actions from who we are is essential to change, because you can change an action.  It’s not as easy to change who we are.

I was thinking about this a lot since yesterday, when it was explained to me why body hatred was so stupid.  Like, fundamentally stupid.  Leaving aside all the stuff about WE ARE WOMEN AND BEAUTIFUL, hating the container we’re in is…stupid.

When I was younger I’d make the argument against racism that it’s stupid to hate what’s on the outside, because it makes no rational sense.  And it came to me that hating our bodies is almost exactly the same.  Our bodies are results of behaviors and genetics and actions we take and food we put in and sun we get and clothes we wear and the climate we live in.  Too often, most obviously in weight loss settings, we are told to hate our bodies, that we are disgusting and weak and shameful.  Which leads to shame.  Which means NO ONE who is being told they are awful is in any place to start changing behavior.

The conversation around bodies and weight is about who people are, rather than the things they do.  Changing behaviors may not change body composition, and that’s okay.  Because we need to focus on the behavior, not the container.  We need to focus on the behavior, rather than the person inside.  Because the people who struggle with weight are people.  Bad actions do not equal bad self.

First and foremost let me apologize for the lateness of this update; I’ve been increasing my involvement in therapy and working toward recovery from my own eating disorder, and I am still not sure if the simple act of writing about food and body image is a trigger for me.  But we shall soldier on (and I will update 1x/week, by Thursday of that week, from now on).

Is this the only way “fitness” looks?

We shall soldier on not least because our society remains incredibly delusional.  We continue connecting health and thinness no matter how many studies, medical doctors and anecdotal stories are released decrying the link between body fat and health.  Faithful readers of research (and more modestly, this blog) know how tenuous this connection is; one can more easily judge the health of a person by observing diet and exercise habits than by simple appearance.

Once again, I was in CVS and stumbled upon Health magazine.  A name which I immediately connected with a desire for more varied workouts, as I am bored constantly and need to switch up routines.  However, as I looked at the cover all I saw was Jessica Alba talking about staying slim.  Articles about how I could be slim for life, the habits of thin people, how I could “torch fat” with CrossFit workouts and how I could work out like a supermodel (and, it is implied, eventually look like a supermodel) assaulted me.  I felt almost to the point of tears – is it too much to ask to find a workout plan without the goal of losing fat?  To be able to exercise without wanting to do so to be thinner?

It is this flawed connection that limits our ability to exercise for the joy of movement.  It limits our ability to appreciate our bodies because they are strong or functional or capable or flexible.  When our only concern is appearance, these things cease to be important.  Because really, who cares if she’s strong when she’s so fat?  The fat is all that can be seen.

The 2000 novel Jemima J by Jane Green has a great line in it that has been burned into my memory.  It’s a story about an “obese” woman who loses over 100lbs and all of a sudden her life comes together (eventually her weight settles at 145 pounds when she is “completely happy with the way she looks”).  I used to read this book every other week when I was in high school, and the message I got out of it was that my life would finally come together once I lost weight.  She was “obsessed” with exercise but ended up getting exactly what she wanted (the love of a man, obviously) after months of drinking only water for breakfast, eating a plan salad for lunch, and plain chicken for dinner.  This is what it takes to have a good life.

I remember being so ashamed that I couldn’t do what she did; oh, don’t get the wrong idea, I tried.  Having hot water with lemon in the morning is unsatisfying but I figured I’d try it – it worked for her!  I, after all, was only 40 pounds away from 145, where I could be completely happy with how I looked.

I was unhealthy.  In many ways, I probably still am.  But we as a society cannot release this shame and work toward health until we let go of the idea that being thin is all that counts.