Monday, September 16, 2013

stop hating your body

My daughter turns one in a matter of days. When I think on that, and when I look at her, all that I have gone through in this past year since her beautiful, perfect birth (Zao's Daddy being hospitalized when she was barely a month old, moving twice, acknowledging an eating disorder, acknowledging PPD/A) suddenly becomes a soapbox. I want to change the world for her. I know that to do this, I start with myself, and I start with my family and our home. I want her to be so strong that she never suffers from a distorted body image or disordered eating. I want her to understand in her core that she has a right to exist and live in her body as it is, whatever it looks like, that she already is beauty. She will always be beauty. I want her to understand that we don't have to internalize or accept what other people say about us; that just because something is said doesn't mean it is true, even if it is said by our entire culture. What we think about ourselves, and how we see ourselves, that is all that truly matters. I want to help her view of herself remain strongly positive. 

As I said, most of that starts with me. It starts with my attitude about my own body, the words I use both in my head and on my lips about my magnificent person. No more bemoaning my short Eaton legs. (Mom, I know you at least understand what that means! haha!) I have powerful, STRONG legs. And they are beautiful. I remember that, every time I deadlift. ;) No more frowning at my soft tummy. I grew my babies in that tummy. Did you hear me?! LIFE grew within that soft, beautiful tummy. Two gorgeous, precious lives. Miracles. My soft tummy is an effing rockstar.

This isn't wishful thinking, this is changed thinking. This is me, standing up and saying that the media and the magazines and the models and the celebrity moms, are wrong. They are wrong about themselves, they are wrong about women, and they are wrong about me. They are wrong to perpetuate an ideal that few, or no one, can achieve, and that everyone feels subpar because of. Think I am over-reacting? Just glance at the assault as you check out at the grocery store. Just peruse health and fitness sites online. "Strong is the new skinny." (I hate that, on so many levels, for so many reasons...) "Obsessed is the word the lazy use to describe the dedicated." "Real women have curves." "Sweat is fat crying." "Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels."

What an onslaught, from both sides: fat-shaming, skinny-bashing, no one is safe, no one is OK. I get angry at every single one of those catch phrases. Such lies! Manipulation at it's pinnacle. 

"Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels." Let me tell you, I ate a hell of a lot of food in culinary school that tastes way damn better than being skinny ever felt. In fact, I never felt worse than when I was skinny. Steak au poivre with a mushroom cream sauce deglazed with brandy, followed by creme brûlée tastes SO freaking good I honestly don't give a damn what the scale says, or what size my jeans are. Ice cream. That's really all I need to say right there. Ice cream dagnabbit!

But I didn't always own that. I am hoping, praying, that overcoming my weakness will be the base of my daughter's strength. I hope that by owning this knowledge now, I can help my daughter understand it from the get go.

To understand that however she grows, she grows beautifully.

That size and shape say absolutely nothing about her as a person. She hasn't failed if she's fat. She hasn't earned anything by being fit. We will not fuel fat-phobias, or skinny-bashing, in this house. We will celebrate our beauty. I want her to know...

...that being beautiful isn't all about hair and makeup. (But sometimes, it is. :))

...that being beautiful isn't just about character and compassion. Though sometimes, it is.

...that whether she loves exercise, or doesn't, has children, or doesn't, pursues a career, or doesn't, that despite size, height, wardrobe, or bank account, her worth and her beauty are constant, undeniably real and true, and she has every right to exist and live her life in her body, and her personality, as it is, out of the box.

I am trying, and I am working towards, this goal in myself. To be the strongest, healthiest version of myself, especially in my MIND. To live with passion, grace, and compassion toward the world, starting with myself. 

Want to help me change the world? Let's start with ourselves. Next time you see your nemesis flaw, whatever it is, in the mirror, find a positive adjective for it. It may help to think about its FUNCTION, not just its aesthetic. If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then behold your own beauty! 

I'll end with these words by writer Julia Gumm (if you haven't checked out that site, by the way, go and do it now. Good stuff! Just don't read the comments :P) You can read the full article here. Bold emphasis is mine. 

"There is a striking dissonance between how we treat the people we care about and how we treat ourselves. If you aren’t filing yourself under the “People I Love” category in your brain, you can be led to do lots of silly, painful things that deep down, aren’t going to make you feel any better. So the next time you stand in front of a mirror and sneer at your less than flat abs or get angry with yourself for having enjoyed a dessert, ask yourself why. Why is perfection so important? What does it matter and who does it matter to? Remember that exactly who you are has been crafted by eons of evolution and the passion of your ancestors. You are an incredible thing.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Behold. You are beautiful. Go forth from that place. Afford yourself the love and acceptance you grant those dear to you, dear. No one deserves it more than you. No really. You and those big honkin’ thighs of yours."

Friday, September 13, 2013

the search for health, part dos

You can read part one of this series here

*Please be advised, this post contains potential triggers and open language about eating disorders.

My body is not my enemy. 

I can trust my body when it tells me it is hungry. 
I can trust my body, and feed it what it is telling me to eat. 
My body wants to be healthy, thriving, healthy
I can trust that my body knows what is best for itself, to achieve a thriving vitality.
All food is good food.

When I first developed and suffered from disordered eating, in my early twenties, it was pretty bad. I had no set parameters, but I limited what I ate severely. I exercised compulsively, most times twice a day, at least once a day, and never took a day off. Never. I stumbled upon cleanses, and detoxes, and other natural things that could rid my faulty body of this evil called the toxic food I ate. I was actually addicted to those stupid natural cleanse pills until right around the time I married my husband. He was the one that encouraged me to no longer buy them, and it is because of him that I first walked away from my disordered eating behaviors. But sadly, I didn't realize how important treatment was, how crucially important it is to seek help and to talk about it in a safe environment. I stopped the physical behaviors, but had no idea that what was going on was rooted in my mind. That's why it came back - not because I did anything wrong, per se, I just didn't know. We didn't know how truly severe and dangerous this thing was. I had no idea that it was so ingenious and nuanced. No clue.

And if I hadn't slowly gotten sicker and sicker, thinking I had fructose malabsorption, then adrenal fatigue, and researched those things in-depth... If I hadn't read this book, this article, this website... I probably would still be there, in its clutches.

There is the assumption that an eating disorder means you are throwing up all your food, or never eating, binge-cycling, are a too-skinny teenage girl. These are stereotypes. An anorexic is just as likely to be overweight as underweight. I never made myself vomit, so that's not necessarily true, either. Eating disorders are no respecters of gender, or age. The most basic of definitions is that an eating disorder is any range of psychological disorders characterized by abnormal or disturbed eating habits. 

There is a social stigma surrounding eating disorders, surrounding mental illness and disorders, and they literally drip with shame. We still want to lock ourselves away in the attic, like Mr Rochester's wife. I've lived with that, waded and swam in it for years. Ashamed that I wasn't a good example, ashamed that I had these behaviors. These behaviors must prove I am a messed up human being. Must prove it, because we definitely don't talk about any of it. Ironically, those are the thoughts that helped put me there, in the first place. I am not good enough, and must change. I must make myself change. (It is very nuanced, though... there's that word again.) I must make myself healthy...on and on, yada yada.

What's happened? Why am I talking about it now? I think it's because I had a daughter. That, and I finally moved beyond denial and shame and admitted, acknowledged, named the Truth. I believe that it has to be talked about. The lifetime risk of developing a restrictive eating disorder is about 33%. That's higher than the risk of developing breast cancer, 13%, for what it's worth. (World Health Organization) For the sake of one more person beginning their journey toward freedom and not losing their life, I will talk about it.

How is it that I am not ashamed? That has taken time. Corrie Ten Boom wrote about forgiveness, and I am grossly paraphrasing here, but the gist is that it is a daily practice. Sometimes it is more frequent, or less frequent, but basically every time that shame rears its head, I push it away. It comes back, I push it away again. I say, No, I've already dealt with you. (This is what she practiced with forgiveness.) It isn't that I've had to forgive myself, I didn't do anything wrong, I didn't do anything to bring this on myself - I'm accepting this reality, and pushing away the shame. 

Shit happens. We're broken people, sure, but that doesn't mean we can't be mended. It doesn't mean life isn't glorious anyways. It doesn't mean we aren't glorious. 

The truth is we all have a monkey on our back, whether you are in denial about it or not is another story. ;) And this is mine is this life. The amazing, astounding, astonishing truth is that the presence of flaws doesn't diminish our value, our worth, our beauty. We are still glorious creations. We are glorious creations because of all these things.

So I will talk about disordered eating, and body image, and all that as I continue on this journey through the maze of recovery. Learning what total health is for me. I want to help others on their journey, by talking about mine.

What is the destination? There is no destination. When will you arrive? There is no finish line. How can you succeed? It is not measured in those terms.
How very frustrating.
How very freeing.

-Gwyneth Olwyn, Your Eatopia

Thursday, September 5, 2013

the search for health, part one

This is a bit of a long post, but there are some things I want to get off my chest, things that I need to share with those of you who have read my blog at any time, especially my rantings about vegetarianism, and then my rantings about the paleo diet, and my continual rantings about dietary health.

I fell into the pit of believing that changing my diet would improve my health. I believed that to have a healthy diet meant that I would be healthy. The problem naturally arose then, that the healthy diet needed to be defined. And so I read, and tried being a vegetarian, then a vegan, and became very thin, and lost muscle mass. I threw in that towel when it became difficult for me to pick up my (then) one year old son. Eight to ten months after that I adopted the paleo diet full-force. I followed it off and on for a year and a half, and witnessed as my initial pep and vim morphed into a host of food allergies, things from which I had never before suffered, suddenly stealing my life. My health began declining in a multitude of ways.

I was lucky to have the revelation that all this pursuit of health was in fact destroying my health.

It is not an uncommon story these days. It seems to be everywhere, because everyone wants to be healthy, and there are a thousand gazillion fad diets available that promise to get us there. We are a generation, nay - a nation - obsessed with youth, now to a degree never before seen. Disordered eating, fueled by disordered body image, en masse. And that is in fact what happened to me: a woman I looked up to and admired, who in hindsight I am positive had her own eating disorder/body image issues, made a comment about me needing to lose weight. So what did I do? I endeavored to lose weight. And so it began...

The endeavor to lose weight became an obsession, became a driving force in my life. I cloaked it with the mask of health and wellness, so skillfully even I didn't see it for what it was, for many, many years. I cloaked it like a Klingon Bird of Prey, man! So well done, I didn't realize it was still here living with me, it just changed its habits, changed her makeup and hair so I couldn't recognize her. But beneath that, its still the same illness. Telling me that above all, I need to be thinner. It persuaded me that being thinner also meant healthier. That, my friends, is the greatest lie of all.

This past May I sobbed and snotted into the carpet of our spare bedroom, weeping and wailing because I suddenly understood that I once again had an eating disorder, and I had done this to myself. I saw that I actually new NOTHING about health and wellness. That everything I had read, studied, learned, pursued, was a seductively structured web of lies. I was under the thumb, again, of an eating disorder that wanted nothing less than to take my life, slowly but systematically. I wept because I realized that years ago, long ago, as a teenager and young woman I had health, and didn't realize it. I traded my vibrant, glowing, beautiful gift of health for someone else's distorted body image.

Health is like a very long algebraic equation. It is not the result of a healthy diet, and it definitely doesn't coincide with being thin; TRUE HEALTH is a long equation to which belong many, many factors. I restricted my diet, and ate foods that were in and of themselves beneficial, but did I eat enough overall? Lord no. Not even close. I drank too much coffee, I was under massive amounts of stress, I was in denial about postpartum anxiety and depression, I wasn't sleeping well, had blood in my stools and an ever-growing list of food "sensitivities" - all I thought about was what I could and could not eat. I was not able to properly recover from exercise, as I was pretty much starving myself. I remember walking through the grocery store, longing for the past when I could eat Lucky Charms, or bread, or fruit. It wasn't like your basic craving for chocolate once a month or whatever, I was craving effing FOOD. I mean, I ate food: I ate whole, real, organic good for you foods, but I wasn't eating enough. Bottom line. My body wanted more, and I was telling it to shut up because it doesn't know what its talking about. My brain knows better, body! Hush! Eat this meat and sweet potato, stop talking about pasta, and do what I tell you!

On the outside, I looked fit and trim, enviable to some. Oh yeah, laud my "healthy" physique! You, too, can change your body by starving it! (Rabbit trail: Statistically - that means the gathered evidence of what actually happens in real life - being underweight greatly increases your risk of not only contracting various and sundry illnesses, but greatly increases your risk of dying from them. This is statistically not true of being overweight or obese, by the way. Having some extra padding actually makes it more likely that you will survive any illness. Hm. Why isn't that information a little more widely-spread?)

So, what happened? I started eating the effing FOOD. For one month, I ate whatever I wanted when I wanted it, did no formal exercise, and slept as much as I could being a mom to two littles. Vividly I remember the first meal I sat down to with my husband after my sobbing-snot fest. Homemade cheeseburgers on a freaking ciabatta roll with french fries. And beer, I think. It tasted SO good. Now I look by and think, why in the HELL did I ever think a burger was a burger without a BUN? Bwahahahaha! What will these kids think of next?

In eating whatever I wanted whenever I wanted, there are those that assume that means I will therefore eat nothing but junk food forever. And you want to caution me that I need balance! I need to not throw the baby out with the bath water! There are things you need to understand, however. Firstly, I was at a severe nutrient and calorie deficit. Junk, processed foods are high in calories and supplemented with easily absorbed nutrients. Overall, they are easily digested and absorbed. This makes them actually GOOD for a person in a state such as I was at that time. In a bizarre twist, these junk foods became my health foods; they were instrumental in restoring my health. Sugar and salts helped naturally restore my damaged electrolyte balance and my digestion, giving my cells fuel at their level, allowing them to function and do what they do best. Not exercising and focusing on rest and sleep allowed the increase of readily absorbed nutrients to be used to healing, instead of fuel for my workouts.

But honestly, I don't want to go into the finer details of this whole process - I definitely don't want to start arguing nutrition or defending why the process of healing from a restrictive dietary lifestyle is what it is. I will say this: what I did is a by-the-book recovery process. It isn't something I made up (though if I were to, it makes sense: if you've stopped eating and are starving yourself, start eating again and stop starving). 180 degrees. Go the opposite direction.

My junk food cravings stopped within a week. Since then, I want what I want now and again, and I have it. I do not restrict anything, ever, for any reason. I do not label foods good or bad. There is no glorification, vilification, or guilt. Food is simply food. This is an active pursuit for the rest of my life. Disordered eating is a mental illness, pure and simple. It can be treated, it can go into full remission, but it is something I live with always. Like my height, it is what it is. I can wear heels, but I'm still only as tall as I am.

That it will always be something I live with does not depress or sadden me, it is in fact a huge liberation, because I can easily identify those thoughts, attempting to vilify FOOD, as lies. Lies about eating too much, or too frequently, or infrequently, or at the wrong time (come on, weight lifters, you know it's true...), are all told, as rudely as possible, to shut up and take a hike. Knowing those thoughts are lies, knowing the voice is a false one seeking to eventually take my life, gives me a lot of freedom. Just because its here doesn't mean I am in bondage to it. Big difference!

So, all this to say, no more from this sector will you hear praises and damnations of any food, ANY food, whatsoever, ever. All food is good food. All food is healthy. Not all food is healthy to everyone (Zao's Daddy is a diabetic; I completely understand this concept), but barring being a true Celiac, or being diabetic, or etc etc, for the general populace, this statement stands: Eat the Food!