What’s messy, and why it matters

If you’re a Brené Brown fan like I am, I hope you’ve picked up her newest book, Rising Strong. I’m into it now and can’t help but be inspired by her words and her dedication of the book to the space in between vulnerability and the heroic ending of the stories we are all so excited to get to. She admits that failure is part of life, and says that the journey is messy:

 “We much prefer stories about falling and rising to be inspirational and sanitized. Our culture is rife with those tales. In a thirty-minute speech, there’s normally thirty seconds dedicated to, “And I fought my way back,”…We like recovery stories to move quickly through the dark so we can get to the sweeping redemptive ending.”

I like to think that my blogging here as well as at my old blog was a space for me to share some of my struggles, but I’ll admit that I like to rush to the ending. Sometimes this blog serves as a spot to figure things out, which is great. But as someone who wants to help others to figure their own things out, it’s a disservice to skip to the ending or to leave out the messy parts. So as I’ve been reading Rising Strong, I’ve been thinking about my own mess in the middle.

On a regular basis, there are parts about living my recovered, healthy, life that are not so easy. There are “failures” or stumbles now, and I don’t always want to talk about them. Is it shame? Is it an attempt to inspire and focus on what’s good? Maybe. But talking about where we feel shame, I know, only takes away its power. And being real about the messy parts of life is what is really inspiring to others. Take it from Brené:

“…[T]here’s a vast difference between how we think about the term failure and how we think about the people and organizations brave enough to share their feelings for the purpose of learning and growing. To pretend that we can get to helping, generous, and brave without navigating through tough emotions like desperation, shame, and panic is a profoundly dangerous and misguided assumption.”

She talks about “the beauty in truth and tenacity.” So for the next couple of posts here, I want to share some of the struggles I’ve had and/or have when it comes to living the healthy and happy life I try to stay committed to. I’ll talk about what it’s like to walk around recovered—some of the times where I find myself slipping, or the ways that I have to work on staying true to myself. It’s not always easy, and I hope that this serves to send the message that it’s alright to have to work at recovery or living a healthy life. We sometimes see these images of people who have it all figured out and beat ourselves up for not being as carefree or as put together as them. It’s the whole comparing other peoples’ highlight reels with our behind the scenes footage, and it’s shitty if you’re the kind of person who then beats yourself up for struggling. Talk about kicking yourself when you’re down. I’ve been there, and I hope talking about it both helps me to let go of some of that shame and also to let others know they’re not alone.

 

imperfections

So in the coming posts, I want to talk about what’s tough. Holidays, the scale, comparisons–these are just a couple of the things I want to talk about.

Are there things you struggle with but keep to yourself when it comes to being healthy and happy?
When you tell your story, do you skip to the end? 

Advertisements

Turning to Dr. Google: On sane self-diagnosis

I have a (kind of bad) habit of self-diagnosing on google. Lately, my searches have included things related to my back injury (from dropping a barbell on it in August), to the (likely associated) IT band pain I’ve been having when I try to run, to exercise-induced asthma and bronchitis, to obsessive compulsive disorder. There’s something in me that wants to find an answer.

doctor google

I can remember vividly the kind of comfort I felt when I came across websites about the Female Athlete Triad. According to good old Wikipedia, this is “a syndrome in which eating disorders (or low energy availability), amenhorrhoea/oligomenorrhoa, and decreased bone mineral density (osteoporosis and osteopenia) are present. …[T]his condition is seen in females participating in sports that emphasize leanness or low body weight.” At the time, I was not having a period, I was pretty light, and I had received DEXA results that said my bones were not where they should be for a girl my age. I fit the bill—and I was so glad to have something outside of me.

It’s not my fault.

That’s the thought that I had.

There’s nothing wrong with seeking comfort from knowing that it’s not your fault, but with things like my eating disorder–where it remains tough to know what was biology and what was going on with my own choices—I think it’s worth noting that not being at fault and not being able to help it are very different.

With this week’s searches, I think I was looking for relief. From the guilt of worrying that I’m being a pansy with my leg pain, or that I’m too anxious—from things that I bring onto myself. I want it to be outside of me, even though at the end of the day, the problem doesn’t go away with the addition of a label. When I realized I had that Female Athlete Triad, it wasn’t like there was a pill to make it disappear. In the end, the shifts happened when I tackled what I could with the support of others. It required taking responsibility, which can be hard when we’re convinced that we aren’t at fault.

That self-diagnosis represents a relief.

It’s not our fault.

We have a condition, outside of us.

Does this mean that the responsibility is removed?

 

So, if I have a certain condition, I try to think, What caused it in the first place? What can I do to fix it? With the triad example, it was my eating disorder. And with my eating disorder, there were a lot of factors—many of which were up to me to choose differently around. Later, I turned to “adrenal fatigue” to make myself feel better for running myself into the ground. Solution? Take the stress off of my body, little by little–whether the condition existed or not. Basically: Slow. Down. Via different choices.

Knowing this, I still get sucked into the interwebs when I’m not feeling great about something going on with my body. I hope that if you’re a googler like me, you can notice what you’re after when you start turning to Dr. Google to make you feel better. My leg hurts when I run—knowing the name given to the pain I’m experiencing is less important than taking a break and coming back to it with a game plan to run pain free. I’m noticing some weird coping tendencies and some extra anxiety—whether or not this is clinical matters a whole lot less than dealing with what’s driving me to them. Etc. etc. etc.

All of this being said, I don’t want to discount the way that knowing that we aren’t entirely at fault when it comes to our health is not a bad thing. Back to that eating disorder—knowing that I had power but was not to blame was what let me take charge and decide to recover—and kept me going when the going got tough. I say we use our labels to make informed choices, not to let us off the hook or as some strange form of comfort that stops us from taking the best care of ourselves.

ek care

Do you self-diagnose on google?
Do you feel better knowing that you “have” something?

Health as an enigma: why I think we all need to define what “health” is really about

My sister recently bought a house in Windsor, which is just far enough away by car to require a podcast en route. Last time I drove down, I listened to one from “Office Hours” (a favourite of my nerdy side!) where they interviewed Ellen Berrey about her book, The Enigma of Diversity: The Language of Race and the Limits of Racial Justice. I am not particularly well-versed in this area, but she did speak the language of sociology and as she talked about the way that the word “diversity is a hallowed American value, widely shared and honored,” I couldn’t help but think of my own work and the way that the concept of health has come to be taken for granted as universally worth pursuing, without critically considering even the definition of it. Her discussion about the way that the idealization of diversity can actually obscure real inequalities again got me thinking about the way that we idealize health—and particularly the appearance of it. Very rarely do we sit down and define what “healthy” really means to us.

healthy

I couldn’t help but think of some of the people I’ve met who will do extreme things in the name of health—cutting out all carbs, going on extreme diets, running themselves ragged, spending tons of money to lose weight, etc. I see it all the time in my personal life but also as a personal trainer and a professional in the world of health and fitness. Unfortunately, I often see this turn into a slippery slope. My own experience with taking the pursuit of thinness in the name of health too far and straying into disordered eating territory is just one example of the way that trying to be “healthy” can actually compromise that which we’re after in the first place.

Why is this important? In a world where we see all kinds of images offered up as “healthy” (search that hashtag on instagram, for starters), it is more important than ever to be careful not to unquestioningly assume that “health” is defined in a way that fits with us or that serves us. When I was underweight, the natural association between losing weight and getting healthy proved false—just one example of how “health” is not a one-size-fits-all concept. Consider this: with “health” held as an unquestionably worthy pursuit, the association between a thinner body and a healthier body can drive people to do things that are perhaps unhealthy (going on starvation diets, taking diet pills, etc. come to mind), albeit in the name of health. In my humble opinion, I say we get honest about it: it’s not about your health if it’s driving you insane mentally or compromising your quality of life in the process. If we talk about it as being about our health, we’re contributing to that “enigma.”

You eat whole foods and you have a happy relationship with your body, you move it in ways that feel good, but if you don’t look like the images of health offered up in the media, are you actually unhealthy? If you’re, dare I say it, “overweight” by some chart’s standards, are you shit out of luck when it comes to embodying a healthy subjectivity? I don’t think so, but I do think we need to talk about this stuff more (hence this blog). When the images we see of health are all of a narrow range of body types, and when the fitness models on the cover of fitness magazines engage in arguably unhealthy pursuits (cutting out water for photo shoots, engaging in restrictive dieting, etc.), then it’s easy to get confused—so take it easy on yourself. I don’t see the magazines and marketing gurus out there likely opening up the images of fit bodies to encompass all of those that really can be considered fit any time soon, but I do see blogs, social media, etc. as avenues for us to start to open up the definition of “health” to be more realistic and more based on what’s right for each and every one of us. I did just that on this blog not too long ago, and I have been doing my best to come back to that when I get down on myself or my body.

Cheers to blogging!

Do you consider yourself “healthy”?
Have you ever taken the time to define what “healthy” means to you?
What are the parameters you set for yourself when it comes to being “healthy”?

Weight, vacation, and checking in beyond the scale

Happy Canada Day from…America!

canada

This is my first Canada Day as a Canadian citizen!

We are on the final leg of our journey from the trip we made for the Farm to Fork Fondo last week. I’m enjoying the trip and the extra sleep and the break from being alone with only my thesis to keep me company, but I’m also excited to be home. I am starting to feel better and am eager to ride my bike a bit and maybe swim some laps at the outdoor pool that’s open now, even though I’m tapering for my half ironman, which is coincidentally not very far from where we are staying today, next weekend.

I was thinking today about the scale, and not having one on this vacation. For a few years, I didn’t keep a scale around. I was in the thick of my eating disorder recovery, trying my best to focus on letting my body do what it needed to in terms of size while I got back to a relationship with food that was healthy. Lately, I’ve been using it, albeit consciously, to see what’s going on with my body: not a whole lot. It seems training for a half ironman vs. mostly lifting weights / dabbling in Olympic weightlifting have left me remarkably the same in terms of how much I weigh, and I think in how I look.

This trip, I haven’t had access to a scale. I also have not been wearing my FitBit or tracking anything by hand or on an app. I did see that when we were in NYC the other day, according to my iPhone, Brent and I walked nearly a half marathon – 20km in one day! That seems like a lot to me.

I got to thinking about the way I used to freak out on the last days of a vacation over the “damage” I had done while I was away. Now, this trip involved minimal exercise—one bike ride, one little run—and some admittedly junk food—pizza under the Brooklyn Bridge, s’mores, and a chocolate bar that tasted like my childhood. But, without a scale to measure where I’m at and see if I can “get away” with such indulgences, I’m forced to ask myself if I’m happy with my choices.

The answer is yes, for this trip. For the most part, I’ve been following my hunger signals. I’ve been enjoying the food along the way—the pizza was part of being a tourist, the s’mores were over a campfire, the beer in NYC—and for the most part I’ve been able to eat ‘til full and not stuffed. There have been no binges, no tears, no big fights over food—all things that used to be commonplace for me when I got out of my routine with eating and/or exercising. Do I miss the gym and want a salad? Yes! Do I wish I’d felt better and was able to run once or twice? Yep. Do I wish the weather had been better so I could get out on another bike ride? Yes. But that’s alright—that’s the kind of thing that happens when healthy is your normal and you can enjoy the change of pace on a vacation. For me this time, it’s not about “indulgences” or “cheating” but about being in the present and choosing what’s healthiest and happiest in the moment. Sometimes that’s a candy bar, sometimes it’s an apple. Sometimes it’s sleeping in, and other times it’s getting up early to fit in a workout.

chosen to be happy

When I get home, the scale won’t be waiting for me to let me know how I did. I already know that I’ve had a good trip and that I can go home feeling pretty good about the choices I’ve made, and also with a few lessons about what makes me feel my best to go along with it.

So maybe, rather than the scale, it’s about asking ourselves: How are my food choices right now making me feel? Can I look back on today and say that I made choices I can be proud of? Does what I’m doing fit with my vision of “healthy” living?*

chosen to be happy

*Your vision of healthy living might be something you’ve never thought about. For me, it’s not all kale and wheatgrass, but it’s about letting things be simple: from shopping at the farmer’s market and eating lots of whole foods to taking a break on vacation to having an ice cream cone on a hot day. It’s about doing things that make my body feel good and build it up, not break it down and wear me out in terms of training. It’s about trusting myself.  

…what’s yours?

Body Positivity Tuesday: Be Picky

It’s time for another tip from the body acceptance arsenal. This week is about putting on blinders when it comes to things that don’t serve you on your health and happiness journey…

Week 3: Limit your digital exposure to things that make you feel bad about your body.

As a blogger, I’m obviously biased towards social media’s potential to be a positive force in our lives. But I’m fully aware how the literally unlimited exposure available to us via the internet and social media to the kinds of content and pictures that can make us feel inadequate can wreak havoc on our abilities to feel good about ourselves. The internet is also a place where people can present things that aren’t even real—as real as they appear. A big step back during my eating disorder recovery was letting go of the blogs I was following who took part in the “What I Ate Wednesday” madness. I realized that part of giving up the obsession with whether or not what I ate was good or normal or too much or too little or whatever was to stop comparing myself to others, especially those who took the effort to document their every bite on the internet.

The remedy? Examine what you expose yourself to on social media. If you’re constantly bombarded with photos to which you compare yourself, or with people promoting all kinds of extreme diets, or with anything that leaves you feeling worse off, get rid of it. We have to be the gatekeepers of what we allow into our lives, and given the way in which we are constantly connected these days, social media is a big part of this puzzle.

respect

Is there anything you’re letting go of after reading this post? 

Fit: What Living Healthy Looks Like

As someone who dabbles in fitness instructing, personal training, life coaching, and more generally considers herself a wellness professional, I’ve had people tell me that I am a great leader. Whether it’s because I blog about my feelings or because I can kick their butts in a spin class, I try not to take the fact that I am lucky to have the chance to influence people on a regular basis for granted.

Sometimes, these compliments can come at strange times—in the changeroom while you’re half naked or when you’re out at the mall shopping with your friends (how do they recognize you without the sweat and spandex anyway?).

Sometimes, they can make you feel better about something you were actually self conscious about (like using the same Britney Spears remix sporadically for the last 7 years of teaching).

And sometimes, they can make you think about the kind of leader you’re being.

I had one of those experiences not too long ago when one of my (favourite) participants from one of my fitness classes told me that she appreciated that the instructors at our gym looked like regular people.

The gremlin in my head immediately shouted at me that having a regular body is a bad thing—that I’m not trying hard enough or that I’m not good enough to work in this field.

In my trainee (and friend)’s defense, she meant it as a huge compliment and actually applauded everything I stand for: a holistic and sane approach to health that is not based on looking a certain way.

orking out

I can attribute my doubts to a lot of things, including a little bit of my own insecurity but also an issue with the fitness industry. I started to remember the way that a friend of mine assured me that he wouldn’t hire someone to help him with his athletic goals who was carrying a bit of extra weight at the time, or the fitness professional who won’t take photos for their website until they’ve leaned down, or the passionate fitness instructee who won’t take the plunge to instructor because they don’t think they match the bill.

While I understand that we live in an appearance-oriented culture and I don’t think that this is something that needs to—or that necessarily can—change, I also think that clarifying what we mean when we’re talking about “health” is important. Too often I think people work backwards and decide on how to eat, or train, or live based on the “ideal” body that they think they should be striving towards.

This can lead us to get caught up in the way the things we do in the name of health are supposed to make us look and if they don’t actually transform our bodies in the way we were hoping, we might not carry with the habits and go back to formerly unhealthy ones. What a loss!

I’d like to see more people talking about things in exactly the opposite way—what happens to our bodies when we do healthy things for the sake of being healthier, rather than looking a certain way?

I know that there are people who can have a six pack and look like a cover model without compromising their health—but I know far more that abuse they bodies and minds in the pursuit of that (short-lived) ideal. I also know that there are plenty of people who are blessed with certain body types that then let them “get away with” (although I think in terms of health you can’t hide from things that are not good from you, even if they don’t show up as fat on your body or immediate health concerns) things. Perhaps I am so conscious of all of this because in an extreme sense, I’ve seen what the pursuit of the ideal (at the time, thin) body can do when I had my eating disorder.

I like to think that in adopting healthier habits and always trying to take a little better care of myself that health—my happiest weight, balanced hormones, overall general well being, etc.—will follow. It is a big shift when you start to think about what you’re actually doing—but it’s also an empowering one. We can control our habits, and while I think we like to think that we can totally control the way our bodies look, I think that’s partially something people use to convince people to buy their products, try harder, and blame themselves if it doesn’t work out. It might be harder to take responsibility and address our habits, but it’s also extremely powerful.

ew are

So are there fitness professionals who represent balance? I think yes, and I include myself amongst them. Molly Galbraith wrote a post about this years ago that has stuck with me. She talks about the body acceptance element and how as a fitness professional she has struggled with it, and that’s where her power is:

“In the industry or not, I train/work with/counsel women from all over the world about nutrition, training, body image, self-image, and much more.  I hear their stories and their struggles.  I celebrate their victories, and help them learn from their defeats.  I laugh with them, I cry with them, and I talk them off the ledge when they’re ready to jump.  So why am I qualified to do these things?

Because I AM one of them.“

Similar to Molly, I think that my own journey to a health and happy place is what makes me trustworthy, inspirational, and “qualified” to do what I do. I try to model the kind of health and fitness that is sustainable and realistic and that feels good—and if that means that I have a “regular” body, then regular I’ll be!

rea

I just hope that I can contribute to a world where it’s not something that people need to comment on that someone has a body that looks like a “normal” healthy person who is in the health and fitness industry. I know there are lots of us out there. I know that whether or not someone has 12% or 24% or 32% or whatever % body fat, a person can be a leader who inspires others to take healthier steps in their lives. I know that “health” is more than an appearance.

How do you define health?
Does your definition of health feel like something you could sustain in your life? 

Meritocracy and our bodies

-we do not get what we put in

-we are not all one and the same

-it’s a lot easier to judge someone based on their habits – so and so has a great body so they’re doing it right, so and so doesn’t fit my ideal body bill so they must not be trying hard enough or know what the heck they’re doing.

FYI there are lots of people walking around out there with “ideal” bodies who have taken unhealthy steps in order to look that way. It’s our fixation on what we think ideal looks like—and the way that focusing on the outcome instead of on the habit—that I have to remind myself is wrong.

finish lines are far and few between: staying motivated in the process

Yesterday, I was driving to the class I do on Tuesday and Thursday with my bicycle trainer, coach, and a really good looking group of people and I caught myself beating myself up for not doing more work. I’d had a good day — it started with a swim, then I had a dentist appointment, but I’d dilly-dallied and spent some time shopping for a Valentine’s Day gift addition (damn you Hallmark holidays!) before spending ~3 hours on my work. Then it sort of dawned on me: I have until the summer to finish this damn thing. And then I reminded the procrastinator in me: A far-off deadline for a huge task is not an excuse to put it off.

You can’t write a thesis in a day now, and I won’t be able to then. So what’s a classic procrastinator to do? Blog.  Learn to aim for progress comes to mind, as does learning a life lesson: in the grand scheme of things, most of our days will be spent working on things that we will finish in the future. It’s a good feeling to be “done” something–I am excited for the champagne I’ll be drinking when my thesis is complete–but we don’t finish big things all that often.

IMG_2041

So, I’m learning, the day to day can be a little mundane–or it can be something we consider success. This year, I am training for a half ironman (my first!), and while I am attracted to and pulled forward by the goal of crossing the finish line, the actual process of making that happen is far less sexy than the albeit sweaty and spandex clad vision I have in mind when I think about what I’m doing. Getting there requires hauling my bike around to ride my trainer with people who actually motivate me to work while I’m on the thing. It involves setting my alarm for 5am and jumping in the pool before my boyfriend has even started his snooze cycle. A particularly tedious part of it involves working on the way my body works to deal with a foot issue that seems to keep on coming back.

…but this is all part of the fun. There are plenty of clichés out there about enjoying the journey or about how our goals are not as important as who we become in the achieving of them. I buy both of them. I am learning and becoming the kind of person who doesn’t mind dragging their bike around the city in the name of better, more social workouts. I am developing the kind of dedication it takes to work on the not-so-sexy aspects of the sport (i.e. injury management/prevention). I am learning that I feel so much better sitting down to my desk when I’ve given myself a good morning workout to start the day.

IMG_2045

Now, it may be a bit cheesy, but I can only hope that these lessons and the way that I’m evolving as a person through all of this is spilling over into other aspects of my life. What am I learning about motivation? What about my reaction to “barriers” or obstacles on my way?

I think this stuff is important. We want to achieve great things—and that is great! I am all for the exciting feeling we get when we think about our bucket lists, complete with things that seem almost impossible. When it comes to goals though, I think most people want to achieve them ASAP. I don’t think I’m alone in loving less the messy, in-between part where we are working towards our goals than I do the sexy parts of setting them and achieving them. But one good workout doesn’t get us ready for a big race. A single day of healthy eating and exercising doesn’t translate into the brand new body of your dreams. As much as we want it to work differently, we get from A to Z by taking a bunch of little steps. We fall in love with people over the day-to-day, which isn’t romantic comedy material but is where we find ourselves becoming attached to those we love. We buy big things that we couldn’t possibly afford all at once, which requires us to be okay with being in the process.

Those little steps can seem mundane, but I would argue that when they’re attached to a bigger goal, they’re not so bad. I say let yourself get sucked into the allure of setting big goals, but don’t forget the part where you think about what you’re going to need to do to get you there. Start to give meaning to those little things that might otherwise seem like a chore or like run-of-the-mill things you just do, going through the motions. If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go write another page on my thesis before I go do a training run for that half ironman I mentioned.

IMG_2040

Running, vaccines, and trust

If we let every (interpretation) of every article out there that shakes up what we think drive us crazy, we’ll always be thinking we are doing the wrong thing. I know that diet books are designed to sell something, but I like to think I can have faith in the good ‘ol scientific method. That being said, when it comes to health, there are so many factors that go into things, so many ways that people can take an abstract of an article out of context, and so many people competing to convince you that their way is the right way that I think we need to take things with a grain of salt.

This week, there was research in the news about vigorous running being bad for you—as bad as sitting on the couch, apparently—while moderate running was better. Some media just reported on it, others tried to sort it out for people. Naturally, Runner’s World was on the side where the research was flawed.

Every day I seem to see things about vaccines in the news or on my social media. I don’t usually say much, but I saw on the local news website that 20% of Ontarians believe that there’s some kind of link between autism and vaccinations. I don’t know where the stats come from—they didn’t ask my house!—but I do know that this is one of those things that matters—a lot. I guess I feel like if you choose to run vs. if you don’t choose to run is not as big of a deal as being involved in a resurgence of an entirely curable disease. I don’t get it—even the journal that originally published the research that put the link out there retracted it, and there’s no one that seems to be able to replicate the original research.

But we latch onto ideas that are sold to us—by the media, by “professionals,” by our parents. Look at the way the Paleo diet has taken off, or gluten free diets for the average joe, or the way that people used to avoid cholesterol because they thought it was the reason they had heart disease. I can see when I’m reading a diet book that there’s a vested interest in convincing me, but I think given the way that everyone seems to be marketing themselves nowadays (hello facebook page as a serious means for self-promotion), there are a lot more sources out there to be weary of. Right now, I’m trying to convince you to be on my side—for no monetary gain, but simply because I, like so many other bloggers, like it when people are on my side. I also like it when people talk about things, think about things differently, or learn something from what I write (bonus points if they comment about it).

It is one thing to keep running when a bad study tells you that it will kill you earlier—besides your family, you’re not hurting anyone—it is another not to vaccinate your kids because a retracted study started an unfortunate trend and you got sucked into it—you’re hurting other peoples’ kids. I think what we need is to step back and think about what we believe, why we believe it, and what that all means for us and for everyone else. This kind of issue gets at bigger things—who should be able to decide if we are required to vaccinate our kids? Are we the ones in charge of our health and our health decisions? What’s different because we live in a country where we all share the health care costs?

I don’t have the answers to these questions, but I do hope they make us think.

PS Here is one of the “lighter” responses to all this debate on facebook – “I’m an anti-breaker”

Recovery: 10 Truths I Wish I’d Known

It is Wednesday, which is usually a pretty boring day. But this Wednesday happens to be smack dab in the middle of Eating Disorders Awareness Week, which deserves a little recognition. In the fashion of all the “10 thing I wish someone had told me before I…” articles that float around the interwebs, here are ten truths about recovery that I wish someone had mentioned to me back in the day:

  1. You will learn more about yourself than ever before. So many people go through their lives never questioning the way they think about or talk to themselves. Recovery will force you to think about these things and will expose those not-so-self-serving beliefs that your gremlin has convinced you to think. It will also give you the opportunity to reframe them.
  2. You will get angry. I have never been so mad at myself, at the people in my life, and at society in general as when I was going through recovery. Processing that anger is part of the journey.
  3. You will get sad. It is sad to think about the time, energy, and life we lost to an eating disorder. I will never get another chance to, for instance, go to my sister’s wedding and not throw up in the bathroom. But I will get the chance to live every day of my life from here on out without hurting myself, and the sadness I feel is a sign that I recognize that I deserve—and have always deserved—more self-love.
  4. People say that it will be hard, but it will be hard. Like crying your eyes out because you don’t think you can do it hard. Like your best friend is starting a sugar detox while you are trying to normalize your eating by having a bowl of ice cream tonight hard. Like someone close to you doesn’t get why you don’t just lose weight if you hate your body but you know it’s not about the weight Like getting rid of the cute clothes that only fit when you were doing things to your body that you never want to do again hard. Like every day needing to remind yourself about the reasons that you care enough to keep trucking along hard.
  5. It gets easier. Think of something you’ve learned that was extremely difficult at the beginning when you were just learning, but got easier and easier over time and now feels like second nature. I’m thinking of driving. Just like driving, if we’re used to a disordered relationship with food and our bodies, living a life where we take care of ourselves is a brand new thing. I wanted to lose weight since I was a little girl—of course it was going to feel foreign to start to focus on wanting to love myself and take care of myself. But just like learning to drive, we can learn new habits.
  6. You’re going to make mistakes. To go back to the driving analogy, the first night I got my license I scratched another car—no lie. Did I stop driving? Nope. The same goes for your recovery process. Binge the first night you have decided to start working with a dietitian to help you? You can dust it off and start again. A “relapse” is not a reason to give up—it’s an opportunity to see what went wrong and to learn from it so that you can do better from there on out. Curiosity and the ability to forgive yourself will go a long way.
  7. You are going to inspire others. If you tell your story, you will inspire people. I know that talking about my own eating disorder was scariest at first. I also know that I’ve touched people’s lives and helped them take steps in the right direction. That is a rewarding thing.
  8. You are going to doubt yourself. You will run into someone who seems more confident than you about something: that carbs are going to kill you, that you should never eat chocolate, whatever. And you will want to believe them. But…
  9. You are going to learn to trust yourself. In our world, there are people who literally live off of convincing you to hate your body. There are entire industries that capitalize on confusing people about what to eat. We need to limit our exposure to the kinds of things that try to convince us that we are wrong or broken and to throw us off of our healthy paths, but when we are forced to encounter them, there is only one thing to do: stand strong and stand up for yourself.
  10. It will also be the most rewarding thing you’ve ever done. At some point, you’re going to look back and see how far you’ve come. You’re going to realize that you are a whole different person with a whole different orientation to your life.  For me, that meant the shift from wanting to survive to wanting to live. That’s a pretty big deal and something absolutely to be proud of.

happppppy

Wherever you are on the beautiful journey that is recovery, I hope you stop and give yourself some credit. Looking back like I had the opportunity to do in writing this is such a good way to reaffirm what we are doing. If you are struggling, and not sure where to start, I encourage you to keep educating yourself–read a book, but also to reach out–to a dietitian, to a friend, to a therapist, to a counsellor, to a loved one, to a doctor. You are not alone, and you are worth recovery! 

diet advice: think twice about who to trust

Yesterday, I shared an article that got me to thinking yesterday called “Opinion Stew”, which was by (medical doctor) David Katz and talked about the craziness that is the way in which we find our diet gurus and called for some common sense when it comes to deciding who to trust. The gist:

For now, anyone who shares opinions about nutrition or weight loudly and often enough — or cleverly enough — is embraced as an authority, with no one generally even asking what if any training they’ve had. This is compounded by the fact that, in the famous words of Bertrand Russell, “Fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser men so full of doubts.” It is the least substantiated, most uninformed opinions about how to eat that will come at you with the greatest conviction. That’s your first clue that something is awry, because true expertise always allows for doubt.

We have created a seething stew of opinion about everything to do with nutrition, including, presumably, stew. That leaves us with far too many cooks, many lacking credentials to be in the kitchen in the first place. I trust everyone knows what that means.”

 Some of my (facebook) friends shared the link and others commented in thought-provoking ways. I felt stressed out over thinking “I shouldn’t have shared this—I’ll certainly offend ____ [insert handful of names of people I know who dole out nutrition advice who are not dietitians and/or doctors].”

But if you read my post on why I think Paleo did me more harm than good from a few weeks ago, you’ll understand that I’ve personally been led astray by these not-so-credentialed gurus and books. I started to think maybe I would be better off not saying a darn thing about the way I feel about nutritionists vs. dietitians, but the shame I seem to be feeling about failing at the kinds of diets put out there by people who aren’t mainstream dietitians is something I’m probably not alone with. Even if some diet “works” for a 25 year old girl who is blessed with the ability to eat pretty much anything and still look “fit”—and is willing to talk about it on a podcast or blog about it or base a nutrition counselling practice off of it—that doesn’t mean that it’s healthy or that it’s the right choice for everyone. I’m a self-conscious person and sometimes I can think that because I don’t have a six pack or haven’t got the “perfect body” figured out I should just shut up. But ouch.

A couple years ago, I was en route to becoming a Registered Dietitian. I didn’t finish my degree in Nutrition and Dietetics, but I do have the (kind of crappy) orgo mark on my transcripts and the hairnet and lab coat I saved from spending a summer in Food Science to remind me that the kind of training dietitians go through is not something to be scoffed at. On top of the degree, there’s the internship, not to mention the competition those budding dietitians have to go through to earn one.

I also briefly considered taking a natural nutrition program or going through some program to become a health coach. But the warnings about those programs as “drive through degrees” or scams were enough to make me reconsider (I chose to take my Coactive Coaching instead because there are professors at Western who use it in their research, plain and simple, across a variety of issues—health and otherwise). I haven’t been through one of those “alternative” options, so I can’t speak on how hard or how easy they are. I have talked to people who have been through it and said that they don’t feel like they should be giving out advice, but then I’ve met plenty of people who do. I’ve also seen the way in which the lines of who to trust are blurry—recommending blogs and podcasts over even common sense.

And I’m mad at myself for believing the people who so confidently convinced me that everything I’d believed about nutrition was somehow wrong. But the writing is on the wall when it comes to my own story: I have been my healthiest and my happiest with my body when I’ve been working with a dietitian—not a nutritionist or someone who calls themselves an eating coach. Add to it that dietitians tend to have some experience working with people with eating disorders, and I know that I would rather spend my money paying someone who has dedicated a significant portion of their life to learning about nutrition and about how to help individuals and communities to be healthier than giving it to someone who decided to capitalize on their own success with a single diet. My biggest fear when it comes to the kind of alternative diet advice that more people will end up confused and doubting their own judgment and perhaps straying down the path of disordered eating. To pick on Paleo some more, let’s consider a nutritionist who has no formal training and then tells an individual to cut out a whole (foundational) food group. I don’t need to read the criteria of anorexia or the warning signs to know that cutting out a whole group of foods is a slippery slope. I don’t doubt that some of these nutritionists might recognize an eating disorder in their clients, but I also don’t doubt that some of these nutritionists have their own messed up relationships with food. I don’t doubt that some of them might have the guts to refer them to someone with training to help their client with their issues, but I also don’t doubt that there are some nutritionists who would just push those clients to try harder. I don’t doubt that there are some that would give up on their clients and blame them for not doing it right. I don’t doubt that there are people who are being led into disordered patterns of thoughts and behaviours around food because of the mass nutrition confusion that Katz talks about in the article I shared.

This is NOT to say that I don’t think people should talk about what they’re doing with eating and nutrition. Hearing about someone else’s experience with a diet or training program might be interesting (I read the posts that go along with the Human Health Experiment the owner of my gym is doing on himself). But I don’t think we should use that as a platform from which we can advise other people and charge money to advise them on how to take care of their own (very different) bodies.

So, that is a lot of words to come to the conclusion that I’m glad I shared that article. I want people to think twice before they share an article by someone who positions themselves as an expert—what are they really saying? I want people to think twice before they spend their money on any kind of diet or health or nutrition help or product. In short, I hope that the article—and my rambling on about it—makes you think.

Here’s the link again — “Opinion Stew” 

Did you read the article?
What’s your take on nutritionists vs. Dietitans and where to spend your moola?
Do you think there’s danger in the way things are right now?