Let’s talk — just not about your diet, please

Sometimes, I just can’t think “schoolwork.” I can, however, think “blog.” And as promised, I want to continue to talk about some of the toughest parts of negotiating my happy/healthy life on a day-to-day basis.

Today, I want to talk about fat talk. I consider diet talk a form of fat talk. So I’m referring to the kind of chats about how fat we feel, how bad we were over the weekend, what we’re eating or not eating…you know the type. I’m talking about the endless conversations where we beat ourselves up about diet and the shape and size of our bodies, and the significance that we attribute to all of this.

fat talk 1

Obviously as a personal trainer and a health and fitness writer, I hold health as a priority and encourage dialogue on the topic. What I don’t encourage is an obsession with it, nor the kind of bonding over misery that seems to ensue when people talk about their bodies. That is the “fat talk” that I’m talking about.

The Huffington Post goes so far as to call fat talk an “epidemic.” The article does a good job of talking about what fat talk is, and what’s problematic about it. Even Special K has tapped in on just how rife our world is with it—though they choose to turn it around and call it a “barrier” to weight management (a circular argument, in my opinion, that keeps us focused on weight and needing to fix it).

My hobbies and my job are both active pursuits and as such, maybe I’m exposed to extra body talk—and with it its associated fat talk. Given the preponderance of fat talk, I find myself, at times, going into it. Rather than being as body positive as I hope to be, there are times where I don’t feel like leaving a conversation or feeling left out. Sometimes, I want to stop someone where they are and remind them that fat talk is not helping us in any regards—it’s not helping us change our bodies because it usually involves playing the victim, and it’s certainly not helping us appreciate the bodies we have. No matter what our goals are, I think it’s safe to say fat talk can go.

But I don’t always have the energy or the guts to take a stand for body appreciation. There are some people in my life who are dedicated whole-heartedly to wanting to lose weight. They’ve been dieting for as long as I know, and they may lose or gain weight, but it’s pretty much unbeknownst to me. These are people I love, and part of their identity is their weight. And so dieting or needing to get on a diet or needing to deal with their weight is such a part of them that I fear suggesting otherwise would be overstepping my boundaries. My body is certainly my business, and offering unsolicited advice to others on their bodies is kind of dangerous territory.

When I’m at a party and eating something that someone calls “bad” or vows that they will “eat clean” again soon—you know the kind of conversations I mean—that opinion doesn’t just hurt that person. It makes me and I would think anyone else enjoying cake, maybe, think twice about it. Fat talk is toxic, it’s contagious, and I know that it’s something I have to work to resist. Hearing my gremlins externalized in someone’s voice who is speaking the language of fat talk? That’s not a very nice feeling. Sometimes, saying something or calling someone out might be the wrong choice. We risk looking inconsiderate, or maybe stuck up, or like we have a superiority complex. And we can’t always convince someone.

Yes, I consider myself an advocate for body positivity and acceptance. I struggle with it just like a lot of people. I want to inspire other people to look at their bodies not as problems to be fixed, and I know that “fat talk” isn’t a route to that attitude, but I also don’t want to seem like I know it all or have it all figured out. I also work in health and fitness and know that people can be motivated by things like wanting to fix their flaws and end up finding a healthy relationship to their bodies. It’s my job there to support them, and to emphasize relating to our bodies in positive ways—not to judge their goals.

The nature of writing about the things I find tough means that I don’t have a really solid conclusion, but I’ll end with what I think, even as I struggle to walk away from the latest discussion of someone’s current macro breakdown. What I think is that we can spend our whole lives trying to manage our bodies, but at some point, all that energy turns into an obsession. And after a certain point, we start to lose out on the quality of our lives in something (taking care of our vessels) that was intended to improve it. I think fat talk is related to that, because it overemphasizes just how important the shape of our bodies is. Of course I am pro-healthy eating and working out, because I am pro-taking care of yourself. I am not behind spending so much time and energy on this stuff that it does the opposite of what I believe it should (improve the quality of your life). I am also pro-people talking about things that matter and I fear that for women in particular, fat talk is a means to keep us focused on our own selves, and in particular our physical forms. And the illusion of willpower and thinking that if only you’d try harder and then you’d have that six pack and it’s possible and it’s entirely up to you feeds into this because it keeps us talking about it ad nauseum. And to me, that’s sad. There’s a whole world out there, and our lives are filled with so much more than workouts and diets and numbers on a scale or in a pair of jeans. Taking care of our health is about setting us up to enjoy those other things.

Like I said, I don’t have this figured out. I’d love to hear from you below in the comments, but in the meantime, enjoy these little laughs that make fat talk a laughing matter:

t talk 2

fat talk 3

Do you find yourself engaging in “fat talk”?
Have you ever called someone out on this?

Looking back: Why we need to love who we were

In starting teachers college, I’ve done some looking back on my social media and internet presence to make sure that my digital self is not doing anything that a teacher ought not to do. I’m kind of the one who’s always arguing for safety first and going home from parties early, so there wasn’t too much fear that I’d find anything I need to hide.

In the process, I started to come across photos of myself over the years. One of the things I noticed was the way I would look at some pictures and want to judge my body in them. When I started to think about it, I tried to be compassionate. That girl—whether she was big or small, smiling or pretending to smile—is part of who I am today. It is hard when I look back to not be a little upset with myself—How could I starve myself? And how could I binge and purge? And what would my life be like if I hadn’t spent so long hating and abusing my body? What would I be doing? How would my body be now? The questions could go on for days.

But I know that there’s power in acceptance. I know that I cannot go back and change things. And I also know that just as I encourage my personal training clients not to look at their “before” photos and beat themselves up or feel bad about them, the person we were years ago, 6 months ago, or at the start of our journeys is the person who made us into who we are today.

remember where you come from

Anyone who has gone through a recovery process or who has undergone some kind of transformation (from an eating disorder, around their weight, through an addiction) should give some credit to who they were in the throes of their issues. It was that person who found the strength, the motivation, and the means to start the process of becoming who we are now and who we will be in the future.

suffering start

Looking back and feeling ashamed is a disservice to who you are now. We have to be okay with where we’ve been, and I argue that we have to be proud of who we were then just as much as we ought to be proud of where we are now—on whatever journey we might be on.

love yourself as if

A Pinterest-perfect body: thinking twice about “trouble spots”

My increasing tendency to spend my downtime on pinterest has led me to notice a lot of pins, especially as I look at fitness-related motivation, dedicated towards certain body parts and how to make them look a certain way. Like the magazine headlines that say “A Perkier Butt in 7 Minutes a Day,” I don’t think the routines will do the trick. But even worse, I have noticed the way in which bodies are literally turned into objects—butts, arms, shoulders, abs—to go along with these routines.

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We talk about the objectification of women’s bodies, and this is an example, I’d say. We’re taking this part of a woman’s body and we’re focusing on it, removing it from context and personality. We’re also contributing to something that we take for granted sometimes—this idea that we can pick and choose how we want our body to look in sections and then achieve it through our own hard work.

When I work with personal training clients, I sometimes get the questions about “what am I working now?” and I sometimes have a sense of if the person is concerned with “toning” or afraid of “bulking up” or asking because they want to know about the functionality of what we’re doing. I really try to answer questions about how to tone a certain body part gently and not hold people at fault if they want to have tank top arms. But I hope that people know that just because things like Pinterest make it easier than ever to take for granted that every part of your body can be molded and shaped until you have the most ideal of all the ideal bodies doesn’t mean that it’s realistic or even possible.

When you think about the insane notion that you should perfect every part of your body to match the idea in your head or in the media that you see of what is defined as perfect for each region as insane, you might feel a range of things. Maybe you’re defeated—what’s the point, then? I’d argue there’s lots of points: aesthetics in general, the health benefits of working out, the functional benefits of moving your body, the sense of accomplishment and self esteem you can get from participating in physical activity, to name a few. Or maybe it feels like a relief—the pressure is off and you can be a little more appreciative of the awesome body you’ve got. Those “trouble spots” you were so concerned about before won’t hold you back if you let yourself let go of the perfectionism around our bodies that’s easy to buy into.

I hope that this post leaves you thinking, and I of course hope that you are a little gentler on yourself. Lots of people have one body part that they just can’t seem to “fix.” Our body parts are not mistakes, and this idea that if we try harder or find the perfect routine just sustains our insecurities—and keeps the people who benefit from them in power. Let’s learn to love our bodies as a whole, appreciating all of the parts. My friends over at Fit is a Feminist Issue shared this photo on their facebook page (which is always filled with interesting things to check out, I might add), and I think it is a perfect way to leave you thinking:

worth loving

Does this resonate with you at all?
Do you focus on specific body flaws? 

Body Positivity Tuesday: Make a Bucket List

I spent a lot of years “future-tripping,” caught up in all my worries about the future. I would think about what I was going to eat the next day, wear next Wednesday, and how I’d fit in my workouts next July (seriously). I’d be tallying my calories for the day, prepping my food for the next week, and obsessively trying to control my world by taking it out on my body. While I think it’s great to take responsibility for our health, I know that crossing the line into obsession took my focus on my health to a point where it no longer served me. A big shift for me was realizing that I want to create health in my world so that I can live the life I want to live, no longer wanting to live my life as a slave to food or exercise or the pursuit of perfection when it came to my health. 

This shift, though it didn’t happen overnight and still requires me to step back and gain some perspective from time to time, opened up a lot of energy to use towards doing things with the health that I do have. Running races, learning new sports, building relationships, taking up hobbies, reading books…these are all things that I can do with the energy that I used to spend loathing my body or obsessing over how to “fix” it.

So, what do you want to do? Even if it’s not an eating disorder that distracts us, sometimes we can get so caught up in our day to day lives that we forget to dream. I think making a bucket list is a great way to channel our inner dreamers and reading over it is a great way to re-inspire ourselves. This should be a different kind of to-do list, one that excites you.

Today’s task is to come up with a little list for yourself of things you’d like to do, places you’d like to see, people you’d like to meet. These things don’t have to be directly related to loving your body, but notice that if you’re being body positive and taking care of yourself, you’re a heck of a lot more likely to have the energy to do the things you’ve decided on and to enjoy checking things off the list.

If you have trouble thinking of some things, maybe start here:

  • Where would you like to travel?
  • When you look back on your life, what would you like to remember?
  • What is your dream vacation?
  • Do you wish you could learn how to play an instrument?
  • Is there a class you want to take?
  • Do you want to learn another language?
  • What is the race of your dreams?
  • Who do you want to meet?
  • What do you want to do before you retire?

etc. etc. etc.

I keep my bucket list on my computer, updating it on a regular basis. It’s never complete, and I like that. Things come off as I complete them or, at times, as I decide they are no longer for me. New things get added on as I discover new passions. This is by far my favourite to-do list of them all!

you shoudl go do them

Do you have a bucket list?

Body Positivity Tuesday: Video Reminder

When the going gets tough, it can seem a lot easier to just buy the damn diet book or sign up for the next weight loss transformation. But before you throw your hands up in despair, remember why accepting and loving your body is “worth it” (hint: because you deserve to be on your own side). This video might help too…

Week 4: Watch this video.

At times, I doubt myself and the time and energy I’ve poured into blogging and talking and working on body positivity in my own life and in my world. Usually, I catch the gremlins who are trying to hold me back and can get right back on track. When that fails, and I wonder Why am I doing this?, I can usually motivate myself right back to passionately promoting body positivity and body acceptance by watching this video from Melissa A. Fabello.

 

Conditional acceptance: The problem with the performance focus

I’ve blogged about the need for believing we’re worthy before, but it’s an issue that’s close to my heart and that I’m continuing to work on, so here we go again.

Before I start, let me add: I say yahoo! to anything that shifts the emphasis for women away from how it will make their bodies look (Will pilates give me the toned abs I’ve always wanted?). But the more I read about woman after woman finding her self worth in her abilities, the less comfortable with the whole idea I get.

For my thesis, I’m reading issue after issue after issue of CrossFit magazines and The CrossFit Journal and looking particularly at constructions of healthy femininity. One theme that comes up a lot is CrossFit saving women from their body image woes. Time after time, women are saved from their eating disorders or years of self-abuse thanks to learning to appreciate what their bodies are capable of. In general, these are women who are extremely talented at CrossFit, pictured in sports bras with six packs, and who echo the same sentiment: the route to empowerment is via doing.

I call (at least a little bit of) bullshit.

The route to empowerment is different for all of us. Basing it on ability leaves out those who aren’t able, firstly, but it also sets us up for a conditional kind of self-acceptance that I don’t think will give us the kind of lifelong healthy relationship with our bodies that I am working on creating for myself (and starting a discussion about via this blog and my work in the world).

As it relates to me, I know that athletics helped me a whole lot to appreciate my body. I’ve mentioned before the way I keep my picture of my big ol’ deadlift PR around for when I’m feeling shitty about myself. I hang my latest race bibs around to remind myself that I’m badass for signing up for things that force me outside of my comfort zone on a regular basis. And moving away from the need to burn calories and burn off food to testing out my performance and seeing what I can do with the body I’ve been given has certainly helped me feel better about what I’ve been given.

capability

But.

Since I’ve started to focus on triathlon training again (with lifting things on occasion more for fun than anything and because I like to feel strong), I’m not as strong as I used to be. I can’t do as many pull-ups as I once could, and I sometimes find myself beating my self up for letting myself slip. And on the triathlon front, I don’t run or bike as fast as I did when I was in the midst of my eating disordered days.

But.

I’m healthy. I have balanced hormones. My weight went way up and then has started to come down a bit (not much by the standards of those who employ 30 day challenges or body transformations, but 10 pounds over two years without losing my period). I like training and understand that when my body is whispering no, I should listen so it doesn’t scream. These are perhaps more important than winning an age category at a race or impressing people in the gym and on instagram.

priorities
So in my recovery and body love journey, I’ve seen that impressing myself with what I can do is certainly a tool for me to, like I said appreciate my body. But acceptance requires me to dig deeper. Yesterday I got a migraine and missed my workout. If my self-worth is based on what I can do, what’s a girl who’s stuck in bed and only wants to eat cereal and chocolate to do?

I think the answer lies in realizing that we can’t find the kind of self-love we want outside of ourselves. Some of us look for it from guys, some of us keep on trying to show that we’re good enough by taking it out on our bodies, and some of us don’t even realize that we want it.

This all comes back to a piece of advice worth repeating over and over again ‘til we get it: we are inherently worthy. Whether or not we work out, whether or not we can lift as much as someone else—or our former selves, whether we run faster than we did last year, whether we put pants on in the morning, whether we eat “clean” or choose cookies. Loving ourselves doesn’t require us to be better than yesterday, because we weren’t bad or unworthy yesterday.

can be already are

Loving our bodies doesn’t require that we do exceptional things with them. I think our bodies are exceptional just by virtue of the fact that they let us live our lives. It’s great when we can also appreciate what they’re capable of, but getting to a place of acceptance is another worthy goal, in my opinion.

Sometimes I forget this. As a goal-oriented and ambitious person, I struggle with feeling worthy unless I’m productive, or I work out, or I do this or that. But I for one would like to accept my body so that when things that stop me from performing as I might like to – injury, pregnancy, illness, life – come around, I still feel like a boss. While we by all means celebrate what we’re capable of, let’s give this acceptance thing—no conditions required—a go!

love yourself first

Do you struggle with this? What’s helped you?

Photoshopping, Instagram, and Playing Nice When it Comes to Bodies

This morning, as I was going about my normal caffeination process and getting lost on the interwebs, this article about a woman who photoshopped her body into what commenters on her instagram account suggested would make for a perfect body came my way.

I like the video portion of the process, where we see each of the steps from normal body to “perfect” in action:

The responses to her photoshopped photo on Instagram might be the most upsetting part of all this—some people thought she still wasn’t good enough, others applauded her for losing weight or for having a great body—albeit one totally faked.

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“Photoshopping and body image — all of that — is such a big problem that a lot of girls deal with because magazine covers are Photoshopped, and even people on Instagram Photoshop their photos,” she told People. “You really don’t know what’s real and what’s not anymore.”

And reminding me of my post on Monday about being in this health and fitness industry, I think Ho’s message in the end of it is one worth sharing:

“I realize now that I am not just an instructor at a gym, but that I am a role model and leader in the fitness industry. It is my responsibility to do whatever I can to help people get healthier while feeling confident and happy in their body,” she told Forbes.

The video gets at the way in which it seems ridiculous to force one single woman to do this to herself. But for some reason, we accept it every day. The fact that day after day, we strive to “fix” our imperfections, telling ourselves we’re just not good enough, makes me as sad as this video did. We judge one another and we judge ourselves, and it’s maybe even sadder the way that we think it’s despicable to do it to someone else, but do it to ourselves nonetheless.

I hope that today, thinking about this all, we can be a little kinder to each other—and to ourselves. Our bodies are beautiful, and health can take a whole lot of different shapes. Let’s celebrate them and celebrate what we do and who we are!

e kind

Did you see this video?
What do you think about the idea of “photoshopping” on instagram? Are filters and selfie sticks the same as this?

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? 

Body Positivity Tuesday: Choose a (body) positive role model

This is the second of a series of posts I am putting out on Tuesdays to encourage you to continually work on embracing your body and loving yourself a little more. 

Week 2: Choose a (body) positive role model 

One of the people who taught me that sharing our stories and our strategies for recovery is not only inspiring but also healing is Jenni Schaefer. Her books, which came from her personal experience overcoming her eating disorder, were immensely powerful in my own recovery! Jenni is not only an example of someone who has made a full recovery from an eating disorder, she is also the kind of person who uses adversity in a way that turns it into a positive thing. I admire this greatly!

Maybe your role model has nothing to do with how we think about our bodies—and I would say that is fine and dandy! If you look up to Oprah, consider what it is about her that makes you feel inspired. Maybe it’s a teacher you have or a parent. Next, consider whether or not the appearance of your role model’s body has anything to do with what inspires you about them. I’ll guess that it’s something else, and I encourage you to think about that when you think about who and how you want to be in the world.

I’ll end this one with a quote (by Maya Angelou):

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Act accordingly.

tend to become

Did you have any role models before you read this post?
Who did you come up with?
How have your role models changed over time? 

PS If you are in London, please get involved with our Love Your Body day! Like the facebook page, come by the rec centre for the events on the 8th, and tell your friends. Stay tuned for a finalized schedule, but please mark the day on your schedule!

Body Positive Tuesdays: Love Your Body Campaign and an activity to help you love more about yourself

I am a firm believer that self-acceptance and loving ourselves is a practice, not a one time thing. Recovering from my eating disorder taught me that every day, I am the one responsible for taking care of myself and every day is an opportunity to take really good care of myself. Lately, body positivity has been even more on my mind than ever, though, with the upcoming Love Your Body day at Western, where I am a (forever, career, etc.) student. This will be the fifth year of the campaign, which is about promoting body love and a healthy relationship with exercise and nutrition.

As you might know, my eating disorder was awful but I appreciate it for forcing me to re-learn how to take care of myself in a new and healthy way. I sometimes share some of my strategies for what keeps me in a healthy and happy place on the blog (happyisthenewhealthy.com).

This year, I’d like to piggyback on that Love Your Body celebration, which is on April 8, with a way to keep body positivity in our minds for a little longer. The cool thing about the internet is that we can reach all kinds of people, regardless of where they live or whether or not they can join in on a day of festivities at one university.

My plan is to share some of the best ideas I’ve come across when it comes to building a healthy relationship with my body each week on Tuesdays, an otherwise kind of lame day. I encourage you to give the ideas that resonate with you a go, but not to put any pressure on yourself in the process. Say you try four of my suggestions. That’s four more than had you decided that your relationship with your body isn’t worth the time. Trust me, it is. Please share the ideas that really resonate with you and talk about this in your own community and on your own social media. Here’s to moving a step closer towards a body positive world out there, one day at a time!

Week 1: Write 10 things you love about yourself and/or your body.
For the first week, we’ll start with a task that (at least seems like it) will be easy.
However, so many of us are experts when it comes to beating ourselves up. We know exactly what our flaws are and what we’d like to change, but faced with the question of What is awesome about you?, it can sometimes take a little convincing that we aren’t being “too proud” if we celebrate ourselves a little.

When you make your list, try to think of some physical and some non-physical attributes that you appreciate about yourself. Do you love the way that you get a pair of cute dimples when you smile? Do you love the way that your laugh is contagious? There are no rules about this list, but a good idea might be to keep it handy for days when you just can’t seem to be your own cheerleader.

What is on your list?
How did you feel when you were going through this exercise?

PS If you are in London, please get involved with our Love Your Body day! Like the facebook page, come by the rec centre for the events on the 8th, and tell your friends. Stay tuned for a finalized schedule, but please mark the day on your schedule!