Acceptance: How I got a beach body in a hurry

For the last week, I’ve been hanging out in paradise (the Dominican Republic) with my mom and step dad. While we’ve sprinkled in the days with some touristy excursions, we have mostly been hanging out at the beach.

When I booked the trip, I started to get antsy about whether or not I would be comfortable in my bathing suit by the time I got here. Any mention of the beach and/or summer takes me back to the days when every year, summer became the deadline by which I saw myself losing x number of pounds or finally feeling comfortable in my shorts.

What helped me get to the beach, bikini in tow, was remembering all the times i had held back because I thought I was “too fat” and telling myself to live “as if.” I know that, regardless of what I weigh or how I look, if I don’t work on feeling “good enough” (pretty, thin, attractive, etc.) and get to a place of acceptance and peace with my body as it is, it won’t matter whether I’ve got the “perfect” body or not.

I also realized how sad it would be if i were to let 10, 20, however many pounds stand between me and seeing my mother, having the chance to wear jorts in February, and playing in the sand!

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Acceptance is a beautiful thing. So is being tan in the middle of the winter!

Have you ever caught yourself using your body as an excuse to hold yourself back?
Are you taking a vacation this winter?

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grizzly bears, weight, and the obesity epidemic: we’re missing the point

Today's post has to do with focus.

Today’s post has to do with focus.

 

This morning, I got sucked into the newspapers that come to my inbox and stumbled onto biotechnologist Kevin Corbit’s piece for the NY Times. “A Grizzly Answer for Obesity” was his take on the obesity epidemic, the work to come up with a cure for it in biotechnology, and his work studying grizzly bears:

“Millions of years of evolutionary experimentation have produced genetic adaptations that enabled bears to cope with obesity, converting it to a benign state in which weight gain has much-reduced health threats. If nature has figured this stuff out for grizzlies, maybe we can for humans.”

If there was a dislike button, I would have clicked it. Instead, I commented on it and thought I’d discuss some of it here.

I think that there are a few issues with the piece and others like it.

I worry about some of the assumptions that go along with this, especially that obesity should be treated as a disease with a therapy that we can develop. With discussions of the “obesity epidemic” it is no doubt that people are after drugs to address the issue, but this misses the point: obesity and weight are side-effects or symptoms, not the issue we should be targeting with a “cure.”

Secondly, why is it that the bear is considered obese when it is heavier? If it is, by definition, healthy for the bear to weigh more than it does in the summertime while it’s in hibernation, doesn’t the notion that obesity is a disease (which requires treatment–or an evolutionary adaptation, I suppose) fall short? The weight of that bear, even though it’s heavy, is obviously “normal” and healthy for it. We are so blinded by the way we view (excess) weight as a bad thing to be avoided that we’re calling these healthy bears fat! Why is the baseline not the larger weight and the summer weight studied as the anomaly?

It’s easy and all too common to get confused when it comes to what to treat in the case of obesity. When we talk about it as a disease, it’s almost logical to deal with it as such and to come up with therapies. While losing weight (on a individual level) and managing the factors that contribute to an overweight or obese population (on a broader level) are harder than coming up with a band-aid to put on the problem, I’ve not lost hope that we can address the “epidemic” from the ground up.

In my opinion, we’re missing the point because we’re so caught up in this idea of obesity as a disease. My thoughts? Weight is a by-product, obesity (if viewed as a problem) should be seen as a symptom, and our efforts will be best spent on promoting health, which by association will get the world to healthier weights (whether or not they fit our “ideals”)–without biotechnologists and drugs to fix things for us.

What do you think about the efforts to come up with a cure?
Science buffs, I’d love for you to read the article and let me know if the take on how evolution works is correct: it seems a little simplistic to me and I thought that a myth was that organisms/species evolved to _________, which I think is what the writer asserts. Thoughts? 

PS This was too cute and random not to include…

This is what happens when you search for grizzly bear memes!

This is what happens when you search for grizzly bear memes!

buying (into) dieting and swallowing balloons: my thoughts

This week has been filled with all kinds of chitter chatter on social media and some of the mainstream media regarding weight, dieting, and bodies. I’ve already thrown myself into the debate over The Biggest Loser because it really got me thinking  and thought I’d round things out by chiming in on two other stories that also struck me.

For those of us who find ourselves sucked into the dieting industry’s ways–I know I’ve been guilty of this–here’s an interesting read on what one writer says the dieting trend for the year is: “Let them eat cake for breakfast.”  I think she hit the nail on the head:

“The cycle of weight loss and gain that characterizes most individual diets, applies to the industry as a whole. You bought Atkins, you failed at Atkins and now, here it is, the title you’ve been waiting for, published this month and announcing a new chapter in the whole sorry cycle…”

My (non)diet books (the vegetarian ones, the paleo ones, the “lifestyle” ones) are on the shelf right next to my anti-dieting and intuitive eating books. Ditto for my podcast collection–there’s Jillian Michaels and there’s interview with Geneen Roth. I have signed up for online coaching groups about giving up dieting right after I’ve signed up for a 30 day challenge. Usually, it goes something like this: I, drawn by the lure of “health” (a convenient stand in for “weight loss” or “getting skinny”) have found myself cutting out food groups or experimenting with my diet in a restrictive way. Then, I find myself coming back to the realization that dieting is not the answer and turning to the opposite site of the spectrum to justify eating all the cookies it to myself.

This all seems a little silly when I think about the fact that “the weight” I have gotten so concerned over in the past would probably change my BMI by about 1. Small beans. I know logically that my body is perfectly healthy the way it is and that’s the reminder I’m taking away. Simple.

This article (also from the guardian) about a weight loss gastric ballon pill that has launched in the UK, got at a more complicated issue.

My thoughts? WOW! Science is CRAZY in the things we can do. Also, people are CRAZY. I don’t understand how we’ve gotten to a point where the band-aids we’re slapping on the issue of weight are balloons that we can swallow. Jumping on a fad diet fad diet suddenly seem cute in comparison to this option, touted for being non-invasive. The article says the balloon pills could work for people who don’t qualify for traditional gastric bypass surgery.

After all the talk this week about how sad and unfortunate it is that the winner of the most recent season of The Biggest Loser appears to have taken her weight loss too far, passing into the extreme category, I did a serious face palm when I found this story. Regardless of whether someone is overweight or obese, my stance is that extreme is extreme—and when it comes to our health, extreme isn’t the answer. Weight loss should be a process that addresses nutrition and activity along with viewing the person as a whole.

I suppose that while swallowing a balloon isn’t as ridiculous as swallowing tape worms in the pursuit of a smaller body, I’m still not celebrating the pills. Those who say that more people will be able to address their weight raise a good point, but I’d rather see more people being able to address their health, taking an approach that addresses them as a whole person rather than singling out obesity as a disease and approaching it as such. We can dedicate our time and our resources towards coming up with strategies like this to deal with what we’ve decided is a problem or disease or epidemic, or we can start to look at weight and too much of it as a symptom and get busy re-approaching the way we eat, exercise, and live.

Thoughts?
Have you been on the diet train? How did you get off of it?
Do you think the gastric balloon pill is a good thing?
What do you think the best way to address obesity is: is it an epidemic we need to cure or a symptom we need to prevent?

My takeaway:

take care

the biggest loser loses again

There’s only a few TV shows I watch on a regular basis: Parks and Rec (I want to be Leslie), Reba (don’t hate), Suits, and The Today Show. A few years ago, The Biggest Loser would also be on the list. But after I wrote a paper for my fourth year social theory class on some of the key narratives in the show—personal responsibility, health as a moral issue, etc.—and thought about the effects that their dominance might be having, I stopped buying the seasons on my iTunes and started to realize how much better off I am without the show.

Today, when something comes up about the show, I enter with caution. This morning’s uproar over the latest winner caught my eye:

“Newly crowned “Biggest Loser” champ Rachel Frederickson’s dramatic 155 pound weight loss earned her a place on the show’s record board — and criticism from viewers.

The 24-year-old voice-over artist from Los Angeles dropped nearly 60 percent of her body weight, which is the highest percentage of weight lost by any contestant in the show’s history. Her noticeably thin frame caused fans to express their concern for her health and shock on social media.”

Along with photos of Frederickson, we also get photos of the “shocked” faces of the show’s trainers and her fellow contestants.

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I think that all the hubbub raises some interesting questions: What is “too thin”? Who decides how we define what is acceptable and where the line is? Along with this, when does one become “too fat” or “fat”?

As a side note, I feel bad for the girl. First, she was “too fat.” To turn around and now criticize her for doing what she was “supposed to” and winding up “too skinny” for our collective taste can’t leave her feeling very good. I think the whole situation is unfortunate.

I also think it’s unfortunate that it took someone showing bones and crossing the line into what we think is too thin in order to stir up popular consciousness about the fact that The Biggest Loser is messed up. Dedicating all of your waking hours to exercising, losing weight at all costs, severely limiting your caloric intake, and measuring your worth based on your weight are all things I associate with a disordered approach to eating, exercising, and our bodies. Unfortunately, these are the things that the show makes normal and even celebrates. For the people at home who are genuinely improving their health by adding in some moderate exercise or eating more fruits and vegetables, it seems like small potatoes. If someone is losing weight and compares their (healthy, sustainable, realistic) 1-2lb loss/week to the contestants’ (they lose 15lbs, 8lb, 13lbs on the regular and when they lose 2lbs, they freak out and call it a “bad week”). Given our culture’s obsession with quick fixes, it’s no wonder we love seeing people drop half their body weight over a single television season. While I’m sure there are some people for whom watching the show could be inspirational, I think it’s still worth watching with a critical eye.

Like I said, I think it’s unfortunate that the only reason we’re talking about the show with a little bit of critical awareness is because someone’s body upsets our normal metre. What is fortunate, however, is that now that we’ve considered what it’s all about, we have one more reason to turn the TV off.

What do you think about the “too thin” and “too fat” question?
Do you watch The Biggest Loser? Do you think it’s inspirational? 

PS: Enjoy this, fellow Parks and Rec junkies.

 

exercise and eating: not a zero sum game

There’s no shortage of benefits when it comes to exercising:

  • increases your life span
  • increases your quality of life during that longer life
  • improves your fitness
  • helps maintain a healthy body composition
  • increases confidence
  • provides a social outlet
  • reduces stress/anxiety/depression
  • benefits psychological health
  • increases bone density
  • maintains flexibility and agility
  • builds confidence and
  • promotes other healthy behaviours (i.e. smoking less, drinking more water, etc.)
  • prevents and protects against disease

The list could go on and on and it’s safe to say that from most perspectives, exercise is a win win win. But what’s absent from that list? Anything to do with burning off excess consumed calories and/or punishing yourself, that’s what.

As someone who loves exercise but has also been down the road of using it compulsively (exercising through injury, fixating on the number of calories I needed to burn before I was allowed to eat, etc.), I think this is a really important and bold statement to make: I work out because I love my body, not because I hate it. 

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When I started to do less cardio and to focus more on yoga and CrossFit, I got nervous: I was using exercise to justify the food I’d eat when I was stressed or anxious and thought that I’d certainly gain weight if I made any changes to that. What I’ve realized is that using exercise to make up for the food we eat is an unhealthy perspective: it makes eating seem like a failure and serves up a short term solution to a bigger issue.

As often as people talk about food as fuel, I think it’s safe to say that food is much more than fuel–and that’s fine. To use food for social purposes or even as a comfort isn’t the end of the world. What is problematic is if food is your only coping mechanism. Whether it’s restricting your eating to give yourself a sense of control over something in a crazy world or overeating as a way to deal with your stress, food and eating should not be the primary ways in which we deal with our emotions and our lives. 

Before I go any further, stop. If you are someone who uses food on a regular basis to deal with the things in your life, you might be feeling like you’ve dropped the ball right now. But before you beat yourself up about it, I encourage you to accept it. Say to yourself that in the past, food may have been the best option you knew for taking care of yourself. From here on out, you are ready to take care of yourself in more life affirming ways. 

Along that same vein, if you know that you use exercise to “make up” for what you eat or to punish yourself if you feel like you’ve overindulged, I encourage you to shift your mindset and to see exercise as something that builds you up and adds to your life. Ask yourself: are your exercise habits are draining you or sustaining you? are they’re life-affirming or a form of punishment? Take exercise back as something you do for your health.

exercising makes me happppy

What do you exercise “for”?
What forms of exercise make you feel the most alive or healthy?