food for thought: are scales for fish?

I love being a woman. But there are parts of it that drive me crazy and the top of the list lies the body image war that seems to come along with the territory. Last week, I got to thinking about just how many female friends I have who are either hating their bodies obliviously, hating their bodies and hating that they hate them, or actively learning to or at least trying to love their bodies.

“Ew.”

I was listening to an old episode of Barbell Shrugged last week that really got me thinking on this girly specific body issue stuff. If you’re not familiar with the podcast, their own description should serve as enough background information to catch you up to speed (but it’s worth listening to if you’re into CrossFit):.”Every Wednesday the Barbell Shrugged crew sits around and talks the sport of CrossFit, Strength, Conditioning, Weightlifting, potty humor…. you name it.”

Anyways, the episode I listened to was episode was about weight loss myths and getting lean for CrossFit and started out with some talk about where the guys have been in terms of their “weight swings” (as they called them). What came up for me wasn’t “God, these guys are yoyo dieters” but “Wow, they’re talking about losing and gaining 50lbs like it’s on the same level as dying your hair or moving from one city to another.” There was no association with their self worth. There wasn’t the same sense of judgment that goes along with me talking about gaining or losing x number of pounds. When one guy mentioned daily weigh-ins and tracking his weight for years, I was amazed at how unattached to the number he seemed to be. He talked about keeping track so he could monitor things like his performance in respect to his weight. I couldn’t help but appreciate this acknowledgment and (neutral) curiosity.

Pictures like this one with the sentiment of “scales are for fish” are one of my favourite ways to remind myself that the scale isn’t a measure of my self worth.

scales fish

Just like not hating our bodies is an option, not being controlled by the number on the scale is clearly also an option. Strangely enough, those guys who were talking about getting leaner gave me a serious appreciation for detaching the moral judgment that goes along with losing or gaining weight. Rather than a reflection on self worth, it’s clear that for them, the number on the scale is just a number.

but does it have to

…but does it have to?

Along the same lines, I gave some thought about how this might carry out in our day to day lives. The thought of my boyfriend and his friends sitting around and talking about how scared they are that their pants won’t fit if they keep squatting more or talking about eating a cupcake like it’s a sin against God is far fetched. I don’t see very many guys I know talking about food being “indulgent” (the only term I can think of that might be problematic is cheating, but there’s not the guilty pleasure or good food bad food kind of chitter chatter so many gals I know seem to fall into). A couple of guys standing around and lamenting over the size of their thighs at the gym seems highly unlikely and I can’t help but be comforted by the fact that if it’s possible for the guys I know to look at their bodies and their weight in a different way, it’s possible for all of us. Call me silly but if a boy can do it I have all the more desire to want to do it to prove girls can too. I look back to when I started to get into the slippery slope of cutting weight for wrestling in high school and while I’ve heard of guys who have wound up with disordered relationships with food, the number of girls I know who have cut weight for wrestling or rowing or boxing and struggle with lingering issues way down the road from when they leave the sport is mind boggling. What is it about being a gal that makes it so hard to give up this obsession?

I used to weigh myself all the time. Daily, sometimes more than once a day. And I would let that number dictate how my day would go. For a long time, the scale played a big role in perpetuating the crazy obsessive cycle of disordered eating and exercising I was stuck in. Given that, I think giving up the scale was absolutely necessary and the right thing to do. But there’s also something to be said for being confident enough to know what you weigh and to own it and not use it for unhealthy or obsessive purposes somewhere down the road. So maybe scales aren’t for fish. At any rate, what I’d love to see is less women (people) using the scale for crazymaking, period, whether they weigh themselves or not.

But how?

Last week I wrote a fitness column in the gazette about getting outside your stereotypical genderized comfort zone at the gym. Maybe this is one way to start changing the way we look at our bodies. I know from personal experience that moving away from endless cardio and a focus on the aesthetic to the (traditionally male) realm of lifting things and focusing on getting strong and being functionally fit has been one of the best things I’ve done for my own relationship with my body. Maybe along with this comes a new way of looking at weight as something that really is just a number. That sounds oh so refreshing and the more that I am able to take the power back from the scale—to actually be able to see the number at the doctor’s office and not wish that I hadn’t because it brings me down (or makes me feel good, whatever)—the more I realize that weight really is just a number. It reflects things about us, but those things don’t determine our self worth or our beauty or our value as a person, plain and simple. That, more than any number on a scale ever could, makes me feel light.

number

What does your weight mean to you?
Do you weigh yourself? Why or why not?  If you do, how often? 

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food prisons and making a choice

This weekend, I read a supremely frustrating an honest account of one woman’s experience of feeling trapped in her self-described “food prison”. A couple of things really came up for me, which I’d like to present to you in true word vomit form:

  1. OMFG. If only 11% of (adult, aged 45-74) women are satisfied with their bodies, what’s really wrong? My thoughts: it’s not our bodies, it’s our beliefs about our bodies or something else that’s going on. What’s making it this way and how the heck can we change things so this isn’t our default?
    nothing wrong
  2. Just because this whole body dissatisfaction thing is the default or the norm doesn’t make it the only option. Given the effort it takes to be skinny (and miserable, apparently), what if that hard work was directed towards embracing our bodies instead? We might piss off the diet industry but I’d say sanity and freedom would be worth it. Do you agree?
    what if
  3. Thinking about how distracted and unhappy (read: bitchy) I get when I’m feeling down on my body, it’s hard not to wonder how the world would change if more women were loving their bodies. Where would the energy people spend building these “food prisons” go?
  4. This isn’t an issue that we should confine to “middle aged” women. The sooner we can get our shit sorted out, the better, in my opinion. Several women I know have commented on how great it is that I’m working on and talking about this while I’m young. I know that it’s important and the less time I can waste worrying about this, the better. I hope that my shit is sufficiently sorted out that if I have a daughter (or a son, for that matter) down the road, I don’t have to worry about passing on delusion. Do you think this issue has an age?
  5. I liked the question about what you’d like to be remembered for. In our lives, I don’t think anyone else really cares about how perfect our bodies are. I’d be surprised if when I pass away anyone remembers whether I was a size 11 or a size 3 when I was in my 20s, but if I spend all my time and energy obsessing over my body at the expense of living my life, I won’t have time to get out and do the things worth being remembered for. That—far more than being “imperfect” by some non-existent person’s standards—is depressing. How would you like to be remembered when all is said and done? How important will what you weigh be to you in a year? 10 years? 50?
    how will you be rememebred
  6. A therapist once asked me if I’d still want to be recovered if it meant being fat. She didn’t sugarcoat the question and ask me if I’d still want recovery if it meant “stabilizing my weight” or “gaining a few pounds” or “maintaining a healthy weight”…she bluntly asked me if I was willing to get fat to get out of the prison. Even though part of me was terrified and wanted to say no, I knew what that meant. I also knew that in saying yes, I was committing to myself and to health rather than to the status quo—and I knew that was a powerful stance to take. Where do you stand?

The article made me sad. I don’t like to hear that the majority of women out there are busy hating their bodies. I know what it’s like to be in that prison. That being said, I’m also hopeful. I know what it’s like to start to make your way out of that place. I know what it feels like to decide to change the way you think about yourself. And even though it’s hard and filled with ups and downs, I don’t see another option worth choosing.

you are confined

a yoga class, a realization, and coming back to what matters

continue

The theme for today.

Today I took a study break to have lunch with two of my friends (who I miss and wish I saw on a more regular basis, FTR). We got to gossiping and when I mentioned an admittedly petty frustration I’m having with a blog I would probably be better off avoiding reading follow—the blogger sometimes says one thing and then does another.

My friend (lovingly) pointed out something about which I am sure there’s a cliché out there about, but I’ll just spit it out: I think I am so irked by this blogger because I can be guilty of the same thing. The things that bother us or that we judge in other people being the things that we are in some way self conscious of about or in ourselves and as dedicated as I am to loving my body, getting off the diet train, and redefining and owning what healthy and happy mean to me, I still slip up.

For a number of reasons (a list I’ll keep to myself), this month feels extra stressful. Old habits die hard and I’m finding myself looking for ways to feel like I’m in control of my world and comfort in the old ways I used to “take care” of myself using food. At yoga tonight, I found myself looking in the mirror and thinking about how much I wished my “belly” wasn’t there.

Maybe it was the instructor’s emphasis on focusing on our core (I sometimes joke that I was born without abs because my core feels non-existant), but at any rate, I found myself fixating on my abs (or lack thereof). Shame on that and shame on what happened next, but I couldn’t get my mind off of that thought for the majority of class. That being said, there’s something powerful about being stuck in a room half naked when all you want to do is get out (or being “stuck” in any situation, really), and by the end of it all I’d sorted out my thoughts.

My (condensed) thought process looked like this: It’s not fair that I spend so much time exercising and/or thinking about training and/or what I’m going to eat or not eat but I still look like this. à I could stop working out so much. à I don’t think that’s the answer…I like the workouts I do now. à I could give up ____________ (coffee, peanut butter, the occasional grain (oatmeal, rice cakes) I’ve been eating again lately. à For every restriction, there’s an equal and opposite binge. And I’m sick of yo-yoing. à Then what is the answer? à Losing weight? à You’ve been there and done that. à What’s really wrong here?

Hmmph.

Needless to say, this isn’t an internal dialogue I feel like having anymore

So what is the answer?

It’s cheesy (but that’s kind of my style), but the yoga instructor said something midclass that sparked some new thoughts in my mind. After a particularly challenging series of postures, she asked us to replace thoughts of “that was hard” with an appreciation for the fact that every time we challenge our bodies and feel the sensations that go along with that, we’re getting stronger.

Well, I’d certainly call overcoming my dose of body shame a challenge—and shifting the focus to look at it as an opportunity to get stronger relieved some of the negativity I was feeling about “still” struggling with it.

I (re)realized a few things. There’s nothing wrong with my body. If I lose 20lbs, my life will be essentially the same. I will still be stressed about my assignments. I will still get lonely and miss my family. I will still question whether or not I am on the right track or if I should have went to journalism school. I will still have bills that I wonder how I’ll ever pay without my parents’ help. I will still feel self conscious when I’m naked. I will still argue with my mother over the same old things. People I know will still get sick and die before they should.

In short, regardless of what my body looks like or how much I weigh, life will still have its ups and downs. Downs and ups. All that can happen if I take the emphasis off of the shape of my body and keep on the path towards focusing on acceptance is finding more space to love the ups. It’s tough to appreciate all that’s awesome if you’re caught up on what’s bringing you down: I have assignments that challenge me. I have a family to miss. I always know that I can get into journalism school if I need to. I have my parents’ support while I figure out how to pay my own bills. I have a healthy body that carries me through life. My mother and I are close enough that we can argue about things. I am blessed to have a big circle of friends filled with people who have impacted me.

I’ve realized this and I’ve said it before, but what needs to change isn’t the size of my body—it’s my beliefs and my attitude about the size of my body. It’s the actions that I’m taking that aren’t really serving me, regardless of their bearing on my weight (using dieting as a coping mechanism, emotionally eating/distracting myself from my feelings, taking on too much at once, wearing stress like a badge of honour, etc. come to mind). These things might not be as easy to change as what I eat or how much I exercise, but they are the real issues. Losing weight for the sake of losing weight would be like grabbing a bandaid; making lasting change with these things it’s taken me so long to own up to (and maybe losing weight as a side effect of sorting them out–or not) gets at the real issues.

cheesy

Yoga is often like a touchstone for me and today, it really brought me back to what’s important. I found compassion for myself and my struggles and an appreciation for the ongoing process I’m working on. I found a way to get back to appreciating what’s good in my life and a bit more acceptance for where I’m at right now. l gave up some of the self judgment (and noticed some of the judgment I feel towards that other blogger slipping away) and took my focus onto what really matters to me. Rather than hating myself for being in that thought process, I realized that I’m loving (in the love-hate sense of the word) the opportunity to get stronger in what I stand for: finding the sweet spot where happy and healthy are at the max.

pretty!

Have you gone through a process of learning to love/accept your body? Were there ups and downs?
Do you find yoga helps you come back to your intentions? How do you centre yourself?
Do you think losing weight improves your life in grandiose ways? 

on choosing happy

The Outward Bound trip I went on this summer was one of the most enjoyable—but difficult—things I have ever done. From rockclimbing to backpacking, there were all kinds of fun activities. Besides not having a shower or toilet for two weeks, there were also challenges I didn’t anticipate when I signed up.

fun fun

We’re on top of the world!

Near the end of our trip, we found ourselves starting on our day’s expedition at nearly 7:00pm (a cushy departure time is normally something like 9:00 or 10:00am). That day, there’d been a flooded stream raging river that separated our group holding up our start. Without going into the details, we were getting a very late start on a six mile hike—and the skies were threatening another storm.

Everything in me screamed “I want to go home.” I’m a scaredy cat by nature and while I love thunderstorms when enjoyed from the comfort of my apartment or some other safe indoor location, one of the last things I felt like doing was hiking in my yellow Helly Hansen rainsuit while worrying about being struck by lightning. As much as I was worried and thought that I should plop my butt down in lightning drill (AKA perch myself on top of my backpack on my rubber mat to keep myself safe), I was praying the storm would stay far enough away that we wouldn’t get even more held up along the way.

I was grateful for the downpour for at least one reason—it hid my tears. The rest of the night is largely a blur: we got lost, thought we got lost, argued about whether or not we were really lost, and used our headlamps to refer to the maps we carried in our bags for what felt like hundreds of times; we stopped for dinner—a spread of chex mix along with tortillas that most of us filled with salsa and cheese, afraid of the gastrointestinal ramifications of consuming questionably rehydrated black beans; we paused for a while when one of our cheeriest gals fell and hurt her leg and we had to dig out the first aid kit to patch her up; our hearts raced when our leader saw wildlife and alerted us, “Animal! Animal!” But also, eventually, in the midst of what I could definitely describe as “miserable” or “scary” and definitely “soggy” (it didn’t stop raining the whole time we were hiking), we found a rhythm. At some point, I realized that crying wasn’t helping the situation and that if I sat down nobody would carry me or come to save me I really had no option but to keep going. At that point, dwelling on all the things that sucked about the situation became pointless.  I ended up having some of the best conversations of the whole trip that night and when we strolled (ha!) into the puddle where we were supposed to find a spot to pitch our tents our campsite well past midnight, we’d experienced what became the highlight of my trip and we’d earned bragging rights to take home along with our suntans and bug bites.

Why am I telling this story now?

Because as cheesy as it is, I think there’s a lesson here: oftentimes, the things that are the most difficult are the ones that end up benefitting us the most. The most uncomfortable experiences we go through are what turn out giving us the best lessons, memories, and triumphs.

I can’t think of a time where I’ve ever felt as “legit” as I did that night in the stormy woods and like I said, I count the experience as one of the highlights of my trip.

Right now, there are a few situations in my life where the “I wish this was over!” sentiment I felt at the beginning of that soggy evening is coming up for me. I know I’m not alone—from fellow students who just want their degree already to people who want to give up yoyo dieting and find their happy weight…yesterday, it’s easy to despise where we are and just want to be done with it—whatever “it” is. It’s not fun to feel like you’re 15lbs overweight or to be in a program that’s hard (I’m speaking purely from experience here).

But what I’d offer (and what I’m trying to take from my Outward Bound fun) is that this experience—as much as it might be uncomfortable—doesn’t have to suck. What if while you’re slaving away for that degree, you find all the ways to have fun along the way instead of focusing on all the reasons it sucks? Rather than killing myself to try to get the best marks, what if I focus my energy on learning as much as possible, meeting as many people as I can to network, and building the skills I see myself using beyond academia along the way? And what if the process of giving up emotional eating and getting to your happy weight becomes a kind of adventure and opportunity instead of a struggle? Rather than beating myself up for still working on this, what if I recognize how powerful it is that I’ve put in the work and am not slapping a quick fix band-aid on the problem yet again?

positive thinking

I’m a firm believer in feeling your feelings and honouring your emotions, but I also believe that we can choose our attitude and our beliefs about our situations. Unfortunately, I lost one of my cycling friends on Thanksgiving weekend. Last weekend, there was a celebration of life for her. On the cards from the service was a quote that Kelly lived by: “Happiness is a choice.”

Kelly embodied "positive thinking" and left quite the impact on the people she met. <3

Kelly embodied “positive thinking” and left quite the impact on the people she met. ❤

At a time where I could easily start feeling sorry for myself (school is hard and I got a bad-ish mark last week, my jeans won’t zipper, whahh whahh whahh), I was reminded of the power of a positive attitude. As cheesy as it might be, there’s a reason I keep the “We either make ourselves miserable, or happy and strong. The amount of work is the same.” quote kicking around my “About” page. Life is way too short to get down on ourselves or to get sucked into thinking about giving up. Just like my hiking “fun” and the realization that I couldn’t give up–if I sat down in the middle of the trail I’d only piss off my fellow hikers and there was no helicopter that was going to come and rescue me any time soon–recognizing that being frustrated or uncomfortable isn’t a reason to give up, but actually an opportunity to find a way to take something away from this experience–is powerful. With that perspective, I have a choice between being miserable or finding a way to forge on and to find a way to be happy, even if I’m feeling soggy (or fat, frustrated, whatever).

I’ll choose happy.

we either

What is a challenging situation that’s made for a lesson, a fond memory, or something else positive in your life?
Where are you choosing an attitude that isn’t serving you? What would it be like to choose happiness instead?

think about it: fat shaming? i’m not so sure

From the Today Show to my facebook news feed, I can’t ignore this image:

maria kang

Even though the ad’s been around for about a year, it’s causing a storm now. It’s being called fat shaming and Maria Kang, the trainer in the ad, is getting a whole lot of attention around the interwebs.

Fat shaming? I disagree.

I think that asking “What’s your excuse?” (For not having a six pack? For not being half naked? I can’t even be sure what she’s asking me about) to the general population—women who don’t simultaneously earn their paycheques and sculpt their six packs like someone whose job might be looking this way—is misguided. It’s not realistic for most people, no matter what the fitness magazines tell us. The vast majority of personal trainers want us to want this kind of body. Sure, trainers and fitness instructors exist who sell health and who don’t focus on aesthetics (I count myself among them), but I think it’s safe to say that people wanting rock hard bodies is a good thing for business if you’re a personal trainer. To sell something, something has to be lacking or not good enough. In this case, it’s our bodies or where we spend our time and energy.

Do I think this is the worst ad ever? Not really. I also don’t think it’s very effective advertising. Like I said, I don’t consider this fat shaming, but I didn’t like the way it made me feel. I know I don’t respond very well to being shamed—I’d rather be encouraged (something Molly Galbraith suggests in her take on this ad). Sure, I think Kang looks good, but she doesn’t make me think that I, too, can have kids and a six pack if I work harder. Quite the contrary, actually.

As a woman, I know I’m supposed to look like Kang—and if I don’t look like her, I’m supposed to want to. The thing is—and I don’t think I’m alone here—if we don’t look that way, it doesn’t mean that we’re making excuses. In fact, most women I know who don’t have perfect bodies are the ones busting their butts in pursuit of them. Times when my body has been the furthest from this ideal are the same times when I’ve been dieting my butt off and hitting the gym religiously—far from making excuses for myself.

I’ve blogged before about my frustration with working hard and not fitting the image I think I should. Not looking the way you think you should or the way you want to is hard. I sometimes wonder if it would be easier to feel chubby—if I’d be okay with it—if I just ate what I wanted and didn’t dedicate years of my life to dieting and then to giving up dieting or if being able to eat a cupcake wasn’t something I thought was worth blogging about, etc.—but that’s not the case for me. Whether or not I have a six pack, I spend a lot of time thinking about and working on my health. I work out—a lot. I am conscious (perhaps too conscious) of what I eat. So I for one, with my measly 2 abdominal muscles and soft lower belly, was insulted by the ad suggesting I’m making excuses.

So again, do I think the ad is fat shaming? No. But do I think it’s empowering or motivating?  Also no.

How did this ad make you feel? Do you think it’s fat shaming?
What message would you like to hear from personal trainers? 

 

food for thought: clean eating and cupcakes

I usually post these kinds of posts on Tuesdays, but this whole holiday short week post-turkey bliss has thrown me off. And I’m okay with it…so here you go.

As of late, I’ve noticed a lot of people taking a stance about “clean eating” in the blogosphere–many of them pointing out that talking about “eating clean” is kind of silly. I’m not an advocate for strict diets or food rules or language around food that suggests it carries moral connotations, so you can probably guess where I (kale loving and chickpea snarfing as I may be) stand in terms of the debate.

Since I have a little bit of a beef with the nutrition pros out there who want you to be “all in” and who suggest that if you’re not all in, you’re a failure, I thought I’d throw my two cents out to the interwebs today.

Maybe because I have spent so much time on the diet rollercoaster and finally feel like I’m getting off of it—I can eat for health without dieting, I realize that if my goal is to lose weight I’ll probably end up gaining it in the long run, etc.—when I see things that suggest extreme eating measures, I lose my stuffing.

If someone you’re following tells you that you need to be all in in order to get the benefit of something, I’d caution you to re-think taking their advice. I stand behind people setting goals, transforming their bodies, having six packs, etc., but I am too practical and too dedicated to people’s long term health and sanity and ability to live normal lives to buy into the idea that you need strict food rules to be successful. Never eat another cupcake, you say?

My apologies, but when it’s my birthday, I will eat cake. When it’s your birthday, I will probably bake you cupcakes (in the shape of your favourite animal)—and eat them with you. That doesn’t make me any less of a healthy person, nor does it mean I’m destined to be fat and miserable.

monkeys

My heaviest years were in high school, when I started baking cakes and cupcakes for people. The funny part? I never ate the things I baked—with people. That’s not to say I didn’t eat…leftover, half-full tubs of icing; whatever was left in trays of Oreos missing two cookies that I’d used for a Panda’s ears; pieces of cake I’d cut off to make the cake take the shape of an elephant’s face—I certainly ate.

let them eat cake 3 let them eat cake 2

A serious win for me was getting to the point where I could bake something for someone, give it to them, and actually enjoy it with them. When I was particularly “good” with my diet, dessert was a minefield. Sharing a dessert’s a possibility now whereas before, if I was having dessert, I wanted to really have it and I was not interested in sharing. I’d order the richest, most decadent thing I could find and I’d make sure that I finished it because if this was my dessert for the month, gosh darn it, I’d be enjoying it—all of it. This Thanksgiving, as I threw an unfinished piece of pie (that had started as a sliver, even) into the garbage can, I ticked +1 for Cheryl leaving her all or nothing attitude behind.

10 cakes

I recently had a discussion with a friend in my life who has started to consistently lose weight that she’s wanted to for a while. Unlike other diets and programs, the nutritionist she’s working with this time around stressed to her the importance of figuring out an approach to eating that will work for 5 to 10 years, not just for now. I loved hearing her talk about how good her progress feels and I’m really encouraged that there are weight loss programs out there that do take health-focused, long-term, and realistic approaches.

Whether you want to lose weight or not, what does your ideal diet look like?

When it comes to eating, are things black and white? Do you say things like “I will never eat a cupcake again in my whole entire life”? How’s that working for you?  My guess is that you’re like I was—you’d do “good” for a while and lose some weight, but then you’d be “bad” and you’d end up eating all the things you’d wished you’d let yourself have while you were “dieting”—in mass quantity. Where a sliver of birthday cake enjoyed with your family could have satisfied you if you’d allowed yourself to have it in the first place, half a cake (that’s probably stale and eaten over the garbage can) can’t take away feelings of deprivation and unworthiness.

So, what might a healthier goal look like? I’d suggest coming up with something that will work for you long term. In this long term, you might find yourself facing a cupcake (let’s hope it’s as cute as the ones I bake). And you might not want a cupcake, and that’s fine—don’t eat it. And if you want one? Have the damn cupcake. I am almost certain you’re going to eat cupcakes between now and the day you die. What’s the use in feeling bad for it along the way? Allowing yourself to have them, you just might find that you eat less in the long run—and that they’re less stale, more enjoyable, and not served with a side of guilt and shame.

What do you think about food rules?
Do you “eat clean” or wish you did?
What’s your stance on cake as part of a healthy diet? 

the tour de turkey and how I’m approaching holiday eating this time around

turkey

The holidays are a time for hanging out with your family and friends, celebration, and getting fat.

I’m kidding.

That being said, for a long time I lived in fear of the holidays—and all the goodies and meals they brought along with them. As someone who has struggled with binge eating, holidays where it’s socially acceptable—even celebrated—to overeat to the point of feeling sick understandably present an interesting prospect.

My memories of Thanksgivings of late are, unfortunately, a blur of bingeing and purging and making up for and making room for and obsessively worrying about food. Not exactly enjoyable!

This year, I’m going on what I’m referring the “Tour de Turkey” – three days, three turkeys, and only the strong survive. Beyond packing a pair of stretchy pants, what’s a girl to do?

Well, even though the common response to what I’m doing this weekend is “Wow, that’s a lot of food!” I’m trying to keep the focus on “Wow, that’s a lot of fun!” Besides meeting three turkeys, I’ll also be getting to see my family, heading to the fair, and spending time with Brent’s family. All of which are arguably better than pumpkin pie.

As a side note, I think there’s actually a gift in knowing that there I’ll be getting three turkey dinners in a 72 hour period. Rather than the need to stuff myself (like a turkey?) because it will be months until I’ll see another turkey dinner, I think eating to a comfortable place will be a heckuvalot easier given that I’ll be eating the same thing in a mere 24 hours. For someone who generally eats to the point where I don’t want to look at leftovers for days, this is novel—and welcome.

Thanksgivings in the past used to involve fat too much obsession—over whether or not I should eat lunch that day, over whether or not I’d done enough exercise to warrant gluttony, over whether or not I could or should eat this or that. Thanksgiving this year is going to involve (a lot of) turkey but instead of obsession, I’m subbing in relaxation and enjoyment.

What are your plans for Thanksgiving?
How do you handle holiday meals? 

think about it: tapeworms and mixed messages

I take a stand for health. That means that no matter how much I want to fit into my skinny jeans or how badly I want to be a faster runner or whatever else my goals might be, I am not willing to compromise my health. Identifying health as a high value for myself keeps my priorities in line, but I’m realizing more and more that health isn’t necessarily valued by everyone and that oftentimes, what we think we’re calling “health” is different from person to person.

I found a video from the Today show last week that was talking about a woman in Iowa who took a tapeworm to help her lose weight.

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After I picked my jaw up off the ground, I started to wonder about what’s going on that people would be willing to sacrifice their health in order to lose weight? Are we really that weight loss obsessed that we will put our health in danger (the opposite of taking a stand for it) in the pursuit of it? And if yes, what needs to change to shift that obsession, which clearly harms individuals as well as our collective health.

I got to thinking. Swallowing a tapeworm is clearly an extreme weight loss measure and isn’t met with social approval (I think the doctor in the video called it “damn dumb”). But there are other extreme measures—the Today piece points to the hCG diet as another extreme example—that people do accept, which is also troubling. People accept obsession as normal, crash diets as acceptable, and all kinds of things that, in my opinion, miss the mark.

If obesity is such a big issue because it’s a health problem, shouldn’t the solution create health or at least preserve it? My thought is that obesity and the discourse around the obesity epidemic are driving us to the point where we single-mindedly focus on weight as the issue.

But the weight is NOT the problem—it is a side effect.

I’ll give the Today piece props with their conclusion:

“If you get to the point of desperation where you will try anything, you need to just get back to the basics and really think about what’s going on in your life, and how you’re eating and how you’re being physically active,” she says.”

This conclusion is simplistic and puts a lot of responsibility onto individuals, yes, but it’s also sane advice, in my opinion.

But as much as I applaud this message, if the same people (media, etc.) who are calling out these extreme dieting measures and urging us to take more moderate ones are the ones who are referring to the “obesity epidemic” or talking about “the war on fat,” I think a mixed message is being sent. If obesity is a disease and the cure is weight loss, I get why people turn to quick fixes (I still don’t understand why anyone would knowingly ingest a tapeworm) that often end up compromising their health.

I think it comes down to a need to approach weight in a different way—as one indicator of health and as a byproduct. That’s a tougher and more complex way to approach the issue but also changes the perspective on body size in a way that I think has the potential to generate a healthier, happier population along the way—and healthy and happy is what I’m all about.

What’s your reaction to the tapeworm as weight loss aid story?
How do you think we can position health as the goal instead of weight loss when it comes to talk about body size and weight? 

food for thought: seeing—and talking about—the “good stuff” of CrossFit (hint: it’s not a six pack or thinner thighs)

For my independent study course right now, I’m looking at some of the issues of SweatRX (a Canadian magazine dedicated to CrossFit). This week, I specifically looked at an article called “Beauty and Strength in Balance.” While I see a lot of potentially empowering stuff coming from CrossFit and from the media that surrounds it (including SweatRX, which I am not bashing in any way), I get discouraged when I see stuff like women in ball gowns and high heels holding 15lb kettlebells to demonstrate how beautiful being strong is (would we ever see a guy just hanging out with a dumbbell in his fancy pants?). Considering my own experience with CrossFit and how I’ve found that the emphasis on what my body can do instead of how it looks, I don’t like to see this kind of emphasis on the aesthetic, even if I do recognize that it helps to sell magazines (and gym memberships, products, etc.) in a world that’s pretty image-obsessed.

Luckily in the midst of this discouragement came an encouraging experience at the gym last night. After a pretty crappy workout (I couldn’t lift as much as I’d like, I felt uncoordinated, and it was busy so I ended up doing a random WOD that didn’t feel like much of an accomplishment), I was showering and getting cleaned up in the changeroom when I got to talking with two women who were just about to do their first CrossFit class.

One of the women was talking about how nervous she was but said that she was ready to get started with CrossFit because she wants a flat stomach and nothing else had helped her. Standing there in my tight jeans with my bra on and my not so flat stomach, I wondered what was going through her head (“This girl’s been doing this stuff for a year and she doesn’t have a flat stomach—uh oh!” came to mind). One of the other women in the bathroom commented on what she hoped would change about her body (I think she mentioned her love handles and something about her thighs but I really am getting good at tuning out the specifics of people’s body gripes).

Instead of entering into the body bashing conversation, I decided to make a point of emphasizing what I think is great and potentially empowering about CrossFit. I told the women that while I think CrossFit will definitely affect their bodies, that I have a feeling it will affect them in ways they don’t expect. I told them that I’d love to hear what they think in a month and mentioned that without mirrors, my experience of CrossFit has surprised me in just how little I focus on what I look like during the workout and instead think about how much weight I can lift or how quickly I can move. While I’m not sure if they wanted to hear this—“You’ll definitely have a six pack by next month” might have been more along the lines of what they were hoping for—I’m sure of one thing: it felt really good to focus on what I think is positive instead of doing what I’ve traditionally done and join in on the body hating and fat talk.

In the same way, rather than letting the things that I’m critical of when it comes to the stuff I look at with my work in school drag me down, it pays to look at the fact that there’s encouraging and empowering stuff going on too.  Yes, people will continue to take up CrossFit (or cycling, or Zumba, or yoga, or whatever) because they want to change the way they look—and positioning it as a route to do just that might be a lucrative way to approach things. But just because it’s one (lucrative) route doesn’t mean it’s the only way. I know from the comments I get on this blog, the feedback I get from people I meet, and my experiences coaching people that even in the midst of aesthetic goals and the pursuit of the perfect body, there are people who want more. There are people who want to let go of the obsession and there are people who are genuinely interested in finding an alternative to constantly trying to fix themselves. And if we bring that attitude to CrossFit, I think it can help us do just that. Figuring out the shortcomings of CrossFit or of the CrossFit media might be important for a paper I write, but the focus I bring to things in my day to day life and interactions with people doesn’t have to be critical. Instead, it can be empowering. Focusing on what is good about what I’m doing (or what the women in the changeroom are about to do) feels a hell of a lot better. Empowered and empowering is not such a bad way to feel, so why not emphasize what’s good?

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What I want for those women in the changeroom is to realize that there’s something better than a six pack available to them. I want for them to recognize the opportunity to start appreciating what their amazing bodies are capable of. I want for them the feeling I got when I finally pulled my chin over a bar and realized that I can do a lot of things that people like to tell me that I can’t. I want for them the feeling of power and accomplishment that came with putting in the work and getting to a 300lb deadlift. I want for them the satisfaction of being able to Rx a workout the 4th time they see it up on the board (I refuse to do “Jackie” for at least a few months). I want for them the feeling of being supported by a community of people who want you to do your best. I want for them the permission to focus not on what they look like or on how a workout will make their bodies look but on how incredible they are. I want for them all the empowerment and all the good stuff that is there for the taking.

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I want you to watch this video (which I’ve struggled with — do I like it? do the images or the part about “discipline” over your body’s shortcomings make it not worth watching? why is it making me cry?) and I’d love to hear your take on it, but I challenge you to watch it and look for what is good and what is empowering about it.

Have you had an empowering experience with CrossFit?
If you do CrossFit, what drew you to it in the first place (functional, aesthetic, something else)?
How do you make sure to take a positive focus on what you’re doing?