Posts Tagged ‘eating disorders’

Happy Fat Tuesday!

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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.

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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!

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*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.

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A few weeks ago I learned not all mother daughter pairs bond in Jazzercise class.  Crazy, right?

woooooo!

My mom has been doing dance aerobics since I was born.  I went to daycare at her class, and when I was an adolescent started attending classes with her.  For those of you who are uninitiated in the practice of aerobics, nee Jazzercise, let me explain.  A class full of women, mostly middle aged, in the suburbs, dancing to pop and country music.  Generally.

As an awkward, chubby, generally angry and unsure 12 year old, you can only imagine what [trying to] grapevine next to my mother  in front of the mothers of my friends was like.  Usually I’d get so uncomfortable I’d stop class, just sit outside until she was done, where I would subsequently be yelled at for being uncomfortable.

omnomnomnom now i only have to run 5 miles!

In high school I discovered running, which acted as an unhealthy behavior for many years (running on 1000 calories a day, anyone?), but also gave me an idea of why people actually liked this exercise business.  To this day, running and weight lifting are two of my favorite things.  I even teach dance aerobics.

Now those who struggle with their weight, or those with negative body image, so basically all the women I’ve ever known, are constantly told to exercise.  It’s a common shaming tactic to tell “overweight” folks that they just aren’t exercising enough.  Calories in, calories out, amirite?! (hint: no). Health at Every Size, the movement promoting healthful behaviors regardless of appearance or body composition, encourages movement.  Just moving your body is healthy.  And it feels good.  HAES keeps saying you should exercise because it feels good.

To those of us who grew up with expectations of weight loss, exercise as a positive experience is really hard to grasp.  Even now, after seven years of enjoying the movement I do, somewhere in my reptilian brain it’s still only for weight loss.  How can you enjoy exercise for the health benefits or the fun of movement when you’ve been raised thinking of exercise as a weight loss tool only?

People with and without eating disorders use exercise as compensation (it’s been termed “exercise bulimia”).  Have you ever run an extra mile to “make up for” something you ate that day?  Ever skipped a meal because you didn’t work out hard enough?

 

Monday in Jazzercise class, there were about 30 women dancing along to Britney and Kesha and Pitbull.  Most of them were sweating, but also smiling.  Then the instructor announced a 20 week weight loss challenge.  The class was silent until the end.

Recovery is a tricky thing.  Not just because there’s triggers everywhere you look, but because it’s a personal journey, and often a bit different for everyone.  How much should you say to a stranger?  How do you explain why you’re drinking club soda, or why you don’t keep candy in the house, or why you had to move out of your childhood neighborhood?

this is how we cut ourselves down so other women will feel comfortable around us.

This is a question I’ve been struggling with (so bear with me, this article may have fewer references than usual).  One of my big triggers is having people discuss weight loss efforts, so you can imagine my day to day life is triggers galore.  I read an article about body hatred as a bonding technique for women , but we can all testify to the truth of it without even reading the supporting literature. The literature that’s even in Glamour  – it’s so SHOCKING that women have poor body image, isn’t it?! It’s ubiquitous for women to share their hated body parts (“god, my ass is so big!”), weight gain (“I swear I gained 5 pounds just looking at that cake!”), weight loss efforts (“I shouldn’t eat that cookie”), sage family advice (“once on your lips, forever on your hips”) and so on.  This talk is everywhere in every kind of situation, and can serve as filler for silences or in new, uncomfortable situations.

While this discussion is old, my concern is where those in recovery should draw the line between speaking up and letting conversation pass.  I don’t suffer from anorexia, but I would assume listening to thin women (or women of any size) complain about their shape would be difficult to deal with.  It’s difficult for me to deal with!  The question is, do I ask other people not to talk about those things around me?  Or do I just refrain from engaging in that conversation?

It’s different with close friends, who, at least in my case, know that I’m dealing with food issues and for the most part respect my desire not to talk about weight loss.  It’s different with coworkers, or people in the gym, or clients.  With client’s its easier, because there it’s a clear distinction between therapist and consumer.  Do I tell my supervisor not to discuss her daily eating plan because it makes me want to binge?  Do I share with the woman who uses the locker next to mine that when she tries to get me to buy her diet products, it is uncomfortable because I’m aiming for recovery?

how much hate can you stand?

We tell alcoholics and addicts to avoid liquor stores and “wet places.”  To be assertive in their recovery.  At the end of the day, however, I believe most of recovery is dealing with your own stuff.  It’s not anyone’s responsibility not to talk about diets but mine; my responsibility is to increase awareness and manage my reaction to these triggers, because in no reality are triggers always avoidable.  Sometimes, though, that boundary is hard to maintain.

 

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.