My Body Story: An Introduction

This weekend I attended a Body Trust retreat hosted by an amazing pair of women just down the street from my apartment. The location is one of those coincidences that I just can’t help but think was fated.

One of the things we talked about is the importance of sharing our individual body stories. A lot of people’s issues surrounding food, dieting, self-confidence, self love, etc. are deeply rooted in shame. Shame thrives on the feeling that we are in it (whatever it may be) alone. That there is no one else on the planet that can relate to what we are going through. In sharing our stories, the hope is, we take power away from that shame. We start opening the door up to vulnerability and compassion: the two things that successfully abolish shame.

Before I start my story at the chronological beginning (my birth), I want to share the recent events that got me here and then tell you where here is.

RECENT EVENTS

In February, as some of you may recall, I posted about my last before and after picture and in there I shared a brief history of my dieting. Since then I have sprinkled more information here and there about intuitive eating and quitting long-distance running for the foreseeable future. But the truth is a lot more has been happening in the background.

That first post, in my memory, was about approaching working out from a more loving place. So I decided to stop working out because I hated my body and wanted to change it and start working out because I love my body and want to respect it.

But the problem was, I didn’t love my body. I love it more now. But I definitely didn’t love it then. And just stopping the Beach Body program I was on at the time wasn’t going to suddenly make me love my body. It would take much a lot more than that, but I didn’t really know where to start.

In my internet search for inspiration and solutions, I somehow stumbled upon Kelsey Miller’s The Anti-Diet Project on Refinery29. From there I went into a media consumption frenzy, reading every article Kelsey (and eventually her co-writers) had written on the subject. And Kelsey Miller led me to the Minnesota Starvation Experiment, which blew my mind wide open.

I am a scientifically minded person. And that experiment was the first thing that showed me evidence that contradicted something I had taken for granted for about half my life: that I should be eating 1200-1500 calories a day. They were starving these men on 1600 calories…that was more calories than the higher end of what I’ve allowed myself to eat since I was eleven. Of course, there were days I ate more than my allotted amount, more than even what the study used for starvation, but those days were binge days and they were few and far between and they were bad and they were shameful and they were my secrets. This was the first time that I looked at my diet-minded eating as starving rather than dieting.

Now, there were other takeaways from this amazing study. Firstly, it talked about the men’s behaviors when they were starving. They sounded eerily like my behaviors. I can’t tell you how many recipes I have looked up (but never made), how many eating plans I have made (but not followed), how many exercise regiments I charted out (only to stop after day one). This made me realize that my fixation on food was not something that competent eaters dealt with on a daily basis.

The study also goes into the recovery of these men. How it took much longer than anyone anticipated. It took up to a year of the men consuming a higher-than-3000 calorie diet for their behavior (not weight) to normalize.

My favorite thing about this experiment is that it’s only men. All these behaviors that we somehow expect of women nowadays (recipe searching, counting calories, ritualized eating, etc.) is foreign and worrying in the men of these study. For the first time I realized that some of my behaviors around food were concerning. I was obsessed with food because I wasn’t getting enough of it.

After reading this article, sitting with it, mulling over it in my head for a while, I did a few things. First, I went to NEDA and took their online screening. My prognosis didn’t surprise me: I did not have an eating disorder, but I was at risk, I exhibited a lot of disordered eating behaviors. Then, I went to Google and tried to find more sources, blogs, scientists, anyone talking about this different perspective on dieting and eating. I bought Intuitive Eating.

Through this search I came upon The Fuck It Diet. I also happened upon many other sources, read, consumed, sat, mulled, but I kept coming back to Caroline. I think it was her age, her story, the language she used, her appearance and general attitude that drew me back to her site. That and the fact she provided several other sources that really spoke to me.

What really tipped the scales in Caroline’s favor for me, was the issues she explained with Intuitive Eating, issues that I could see myself falling for. Intuitive Eating scared me because it told me I needed to trust my body. But I didn’t trust my body. I was never sure if I was hungry or not. I was never sure what I was craving. I was still worried. Still scared. Intuitive Eating was not for me. And Caroline Dooner made that seem OK.

Caroline also led me to a few other sources namely The Men Who Made Us Thin, a BBC special about the dieting and it’s relation to the Dieting, Pharmaceutical, and Food industries. She led me to Body Respect and Health at Every Size. And she led me to Your Eatopia.

*Now I want to make something clear, I stick with Caroline because of a bunch of things that she does that align with how I work. She is not the only one doing this work. There are many others and someone else might work better for you. If any of this interests you I recommend you do your research. And if you need help finding other sources, contact me. I have read many. If you do have an eating disorder, please seek professional help. If you are concerned I would recommend finding someone who works with a HAES (Healthy at Every Size) approach.*

Through Caroline, I joined a group that’s comically similar to my Beach Body groups, except for we talk about all our hardships in quitting dieting, instead of our hardships in losing weight. I started exploring my beliefs around food, fat, and my body. It’s been mind opening, nauseating, thrilling, and scary at times.

Eventually, I decided to dip my whole foot (instead of just the toe) in the water and sought an in-person group experience. That’s how I ended up at this past weekend’s retreat. The retreat showed me a few things:

  1. I am not alone
  2. People of all shapes, sizes, and colors can relate to me.
  3. A variety of things can lead to disordered eating behavior.
  4. People on the anti-diet approach don’t always agree on the best path to healing (which is also the case with weight-loss believers so chill) but they all agree being thin and dieting is not the answer.

While the retreat confused me a little, all in all it was a very positive experience. For a  whole weekend I was surrounded by women (but there are men out there too, so don’t think this is just a woman’s issue) to whom I could tell everything and who completely understood me. I actually ended up telling a few people outside the group about my disordered eating and recovery because I realized I wasn’t alone, and that this was nothing to be ashamed of. It also made me realize I needed to solidify what approach I’m taking so as to give me less room to question, waver, and potentially fall back into the dieting pool.

WHERE IS HERE

  1. I believe that our bodies are biologically wired against restriction – they see it as a famine, a threat to our livelihood, and do anything in their power to ensure that we survive the famine.
  2. I believe that over a decade of dieting, calorie-restriction, and mental restriction has done serious damage to my body and my metabolism.
  3. I believe that to recover, I have to eat a lot of food so that my body has the calories it needs to heal the physical damage and learns to trust that I will never ever starve it again.
  4. I believe that the goal is not to be thin or weigh less, but rather to have a stable weight (whatever it may be…still working on accepting that) and a competent relationship with food (ie not thinking about it ALL THE FUCKING TIME).
  5. I believe that every person has a natural weight set point at which their bodies (not their heads) are happiest and at which they are most likely to remain. I also believe this set point is completely unrelated to what BMI deems as normal and cannot necessarily be determined.
  6. A secondary goal is to have other health metrics (like blood pressure and heart rate) at good levels because these are actual indicators of health, unlike weight. This is secondary because I believe my body must heal completely before I can start to concern myself with these markers.
  7. I believe that a central part of this process is fat acceptance and body positivity and this has to be done both in word and in action.

These are the things that make sense to me now. I am not prescribing them to you (except for maybe number five). I urge you to do your own research if this interests you and find what makes sense to you.

 

Fearless Friday: Loved for My Body

For a very long time, I was only loved for my body.

At least that’s how it felt.

The truth is, for a very long time, I valued the attention of men, boys really, over all the other attention I was getting.

I don’t know why this is, or was, the case. Some will probably argue it’s something about our society. I have a feeling it was related to all those Disney princesses (the old school ones guys) and rom com leading women, who often laid everything down for that one man that showed them love.

But there are plenty of women who watched those movies and didn’t react this same way. So the cause maybe isn’t so important.

For a very long time, it mattered less how many good friends I had or how much support they gave me or how much they loved and cared about me.

For a very long time it mattered more that men were happy to sleep with me but not happy to be in a relationship with me.

For a very long time that mattered more than anything else.

This made me feel that my value to men (whose opinions I valued too much, or at least too much more than anything else) lay entirely in my body and not at all in my other amazing qualities: my intelligence, my humor, my kindness, my resilience, my passions.

I am unlearning this now.

Slowly. Painfully. With a lot of tears.

It is hard unlearning something I have believed for so long.

That my value is not only dependent on how men perceive and value me.

That my value is not (and should not be) dependent on my appearance.

And neither is yours.

I hope you know that.

Dear Face

You are made up of two eyes, a nose, and a mouth. Of skin, and lips, and hair.

All in all, let’s call you nothing special.

You are not symmetrical, not even close. Your skin is not flawless, far from it. It isn’t even as smooth as it maybe should be at the tender age of twenty six. Some of your pores are visible. There is hair in some undesirable places.

You are covered in spots. Patches of freckles. Many moles. Some are small and cute. But some are large with hair growing out of them. Sometimes, you even have pimples and zits. Maybe along the jaw-line. Every once in a while, smack dab in the middle of your forehead for all the world to see. Like a unicorn horn.

Have I mentioned how bumpy you are? Passing my hand over you, oh face, feels like passing my hand over the face of the moon might.

Your eyebrows are thick and, surprisingly, curly. But, weirdly, have patches of baldness here and there. They grow uncontrolled when you don’t tame them regularly. Hairs appearing outside of the ideal eyebrow outlines. More on the sides. The dreaded uni-brow is not your problem.

The first time your got them threaded, the Yemeni woman who did them requested that you never try to shrink your eyebrows. That you keep them clean but never change them. They suit you, she said, with some authority and anger in her voice. And you have listened. Even before bold eyebrows were back in style, you quietly allowed yours to do their own thing. Much as you wanted an elegant, sexy arch in your eyebrow, you vowed to never shrink them, and you stuck to that vow. Now, they are not thick enough. You draw them in. Add more oomph. Hope your stroked look like little hairs. Like nature. And not like you filled in the lines with a pencil.

Your eyes, dear dear eyes, aren’t the large doe eyes that you always dreamt of. Sure, maybe compared to your small size overall, your eyes appear large, but you have been assured they are, in fact, not. One of your eyes is actually even smaller than the other. Or maybe your eyelid is just bigger, who knows.

You are blessed, you’ve been told, with relatively thick, long eyelashes that curl just so. They frame the mostly brown irises that are so common in this world. You tell yourself that there is some green in there, that maybe your eyes are hazel, but really they are brown. “Not shit brown,” you have been assured, but brown all the same. And still, you proudly point to a single freckle in one of your irises. Not a freckle, because it’s permanent. A mole. You stare at it longingly sometimes. It reminds you of a girl you once knew who had beautiful eyes: green with gold speckles throughout. That one spot, darker than the rest of your iris, that one spot is your very own gold speckle. It reminds you of the lyrics of a love song.

Your nose, prominent, is displayed smack dab in the middle of your face. Though the more you stare at it, the more it seems to lean to one side. It is, unmistakably, a Jewish nose, with a bump on the bridge and a somewhat turned down tip. You proudly announce that you have a big nose, only to be told it’s really not so big. There are bigger. People don’t hear the pride I guess. Or they hear it, but don’t understand how you could be proud.

The lips. By far your least symmetrical feature. Your lips, weirdly round and plump on one side, are mirrored by tight thin lips on the other. You assume people see only the thin side, so you’ve succumbed to having a small mouth. You’ve tried to even this out with lip-stick. Giving your lips accentuated, pointy tops and a full, round bottom. But you’ve never been able to last too long with lip stick. You feel like a clown. You think people can tell you’re trying to change the way your lips look. You assume they are mocking your obviously failed attempts.

You have round, red cheeks. Especially when you smile. They remind you of a picture of your younger, much younger self. Before all these ideals were drilled into your head. You are smiling in the arms of your grandmother. Chubby cheeks pronounced. Happy. When you were young people loved your cheeks. They pinched them. They kissed them. They told you how cute they were.

You never hear about those cheeks any more. You try to make them more pronounced with blush, hoping to get one of those adoring looks again, only to wonder if you somehow made yourself look like a doll. You wipe that make up off. Quick. Before anyone notices.

But face, dear dear face, your whole is so so much more than the sum of its parts. Your flaws, they tells stories. Moles of days in the sun hiking, swimming, jumping, exploring. Your wrinkles speak of laughter and joy and sure, there is some worry in there. But you have been worried. Why hide that? Your nose speaks to your family and your history. And your cheeks, to your inevitable cuteness, try as you might to be hot or sexy. Embrace yourself, face. Tell your story proudly. Love each and every feature. Each and every flaw. Know that they are what make you uniquely you.