My weight has been an issue for me for long enough that I’ve written here both about methods I was hoping to use to lose weight and about how to figure out how to do so while not focusing too much on how I looked.
But after a year of pandemic and all that’s entailed, and after years of following Beauty Redefined, then months of following some fabulous anti-diet nutritionists/dietitians I learned about thanks to BR, I am pulling my own plug on anything that looks like or sounds like a diet. No more counting anything, no more saving clothes I haven’t worn for years because they’re much too small, no more waiting on being thinner. I’ve already culled my wardrobe quite a bit and I’m going to do more. This week, I took the brave but own-it step of resizing a wedding band (up) so I can actually wear a ring on my left ring finger. It’s so exciting! My rings have been too small, and I was just waiting for a magical day when I could be smaller too. No more!
I admit I’m not yet in a neutral place (let alone happy) about being heavy, and I miss the days when I could easily buy clothes I felt good in (that’s not the fault of my BODY; it’s the fault of clothing manufacturers and stores!). But thanks to the accounts I’m following on Instagram, I daily see many positive messages and reminders that our society is not friendly to ALL sizes and shapes, even though HUMAN BEINGS just naturally come in all sizes and shapes (and colors!).
I’m working toward an understanding and practice of true intuitive eating and just taking good care of myself, including physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. In times like these, that’s a huge challenge! (Which means that if a number of us have gained weight, for instance, we shouldn’t be shaming them. Everyone has been in survival mode for a stinkin’ YEAR!) My next step is to read the books about intuitive eating and apply all the guidelines so I can trust my body to do its work to nourish me. More to come.
I’ve heard a few times that Winston Churchill experienced depression and referred to it as his “black dog.” It may or may not be completely accurate, but it has become one of those anecdotes that’s oft repeated. I’ve had some black dog times throughout my life, where the giant mutt mistakes me for a dog bed and nearly suffocates me. But I’ve also faced a gray dog often enough, who is mostly content to sit next to me and put his big head on my shoulder.
I am working on trying to pull out of a current visit, shooing away this stray dog who isn’t welcome but manages to barge inside my house and settle in for a while now and then.
I feel sure many people have experienced gray dog times, whereas not everyone has faced the big black dog. I’ve struggled with mental health for decades and am what I consider to be in mostly good shape at this point. I’ve got it managed with good medication and a good psychiatrist and therapist. But I think that means I’m a bit more susceptible to a down time that might not bother others so much if they don’t have a predisposition to depression or other mental health challenges.
So when I lost my job a couple of months ago, it just sent me into the fog. I knew it would be a danger and I knew I had to face head-on the grief of losing something I really enjoyed and I was very good at. But I’ve still had to push on, moving through what feels like mud many days just to keep up with all my responsibilities. I still have three children at home, who are busy and keep me going, and who depend on me emotionally and for taxi-ing and providing nourishing sustenance, among many other things. So I’ve kept on getting up and getting moving, pulling myself to the grocery store, to the errands, taking the girls to their events and practices and so on. Providing a listening ear, an embrace, love.
A very unwelcome side effect of my gray dog visits is that I tend to eat more (gotta eat for me and for a huge furry animal, after all!). I have struggled with emotional eating my whole life, and I have yet to get past it, despite much awareness and much investigation into ideas of ways to combat it. I lost 44 pounds last year and now after the past few months, I’ve regained a lot of it (not all, yet, though!). That, of course, just makes me feel worse. One horrific complicating factor, unfortunately, is that the society we live in does not look kindly on fat, on weight gain (though we cheer others on whenever they lose weight, for any reason; heck, I enjoyed all the compliments when I lost weight), on what is supposedly an outward manifestation of personal weakness. I feel weak, and now I feel others judge me as weak, but in a negative way, not a compassionate way. And I feel doubly bad that I look so weak because society at large is wicked on this count.
But here’s the kicker — as much as I’ve said to those close to me I’d love to have a sign that warns people I come in contact with (and who likely are needing something, expecting something, from me) that I’m not my usual kick-butt, get-stuff-done-with-a-vengeance, talented, skilled, intuitive, amazing woman, and to just give me a little leeway, breathing room; to lower their expectations, to not ask for that favor or expect me to do what they need me to do; I almost DO have one. That weight gain is a pretty good bet I’m eating emotionally, and that means I’ve got a lot going on in my heart and head, and I need some gentleness, some TLC, some hugs, some quiet time, some understanding. And to not ask anything but “would you like to go to a spa?” or “let’s get you a pretty new dress that fits just right and looks awesome” or something similar.
But pretty much no one knows, or believes it, maybe, because I pull off really well that appearance of having it together. Because I don’t have a lot of choice otherwise. And I try to quietly tell people when it’s appropriate that I’m not my best and I’m working on getting back to my better self, because I do want some understanding and I want to be honest. I do know I’ll feel better; it’s just a matter of time, and I can reassure others of this. But I do want to share, in the meantime. I do want to be open.
But I CAN’T FORCE IT, force being better, being at the end of that rough road and back onto a smoother one. And neither can anyone. I have such compassion and empathy for those who are struggling with any of these unwelcome dogs, darkest of midnight black or a paler dove gray. Because anyone who is outside doesn’t get that you can’t do the simplest of things. You cannot say, “But can you just do ____?” Because any of those “just” things are somehow far too hard to do when you’re in fog.
I’ve not been going to the gym for two months. I got sick twice (that did NOT help this whole matter) and didn’t feel well enough. I always enjoy my workouts. But now I’m out of the habit, in small part, but I’m also stuck in the mode of “I can’t get GOING” on many “extra” things that aren’t absolutely necessary every day. I am denying myself something I enjoy and that helps my health and my weight and even would help improve the depressive symptoms. ! But I can’t make myself do it. My brain is stuck.
I’ve also not been using my CPAP machine. I only needed it once I’d gained a fair amount of weight after my daughter got married (my last real gray dog episode, a bit under 4 years ago), and it did help. But then last year I lost weight and I felt pretty good without it. I know now I need it again. Here is the exchange I have had in my brain a number of nights:
Me: Just put the thing on your head.
Brain: Nope. We are resting comfortably, and reaching over and getting the thing that’s two feet away on the nightstand would be too much effort and then we’d be too worked up to get to sleep.
Me: We need this. It’s so close.
Brain: No. Toooo tiiiired to reach for it. It won’t make a big difference anyway. Why bother?
Me: This is ridiculous. It’s right. there. Good grief, get it already!
Brain: No thanks. Just go to sleep. Maybe tomorrow.
Me: Ohhhhkay. Maybe tomorrow will work. Pfffttt.
So when my doctor tells me, “You need to use your CPAP,” I nod and agree and tell her I’ll do it soon, knowing the mental hassle it’s going to cause. She will NEVER get it. Oh, and don’t get me started on how I have to brace myself when she notices the weight I’ve gained…. grrrr. That’s nowhere NEAR as easy as putting on a CPAP mask. And that’s ridiculously difficult sometimes, as you just read. I (kind of) grin and bear it through any doctor visit.
As I said, when I know that this one tiny, tiny thing, which seems so easy and so obvious to outsiders, is that difficult to actually execute (and this is simply one example of a number of other things I know logically I need to do and that would be good for me), I know that depression, whether it’s gray or black, is NOT something people can just pull out of on their own. Don’t ever say to someone going through this, “If you just…” Because it’s far more difficult than you can possibly imagine if you’ve not been through it yourself.
I managed to actually put on my CPAP two nights this week, so I’m feeling like I’m actually pulling out of the fog. The dog is showing hints it’s going to be heading out for a while. That’s very good news. One or two things get the ball rolling. But it’s on the dog’s time, not mine or anyone else’s. I’ve come to terms with this. And I guess that’s a lesson learned and it’s OK. It’s OK if you’re in this spot, too. I’m with ya.
Following up to my last post about Harriet Brown’s Body of Truth, here’s another reminder of our society’s last acceptable prejudice. Racism still exists, but our society no longer will accept it, and we call it out whenever it appears in the news or the cultural consciousness. Our treatment of and attitude toward homosexuals is something that’s changing and is addressed frequently. Debate over policies is still complex, but how we treat individuals should be pretty clear: just be kind. Don’t name-call. Don’t lump into a category. Don’t assume.
But we’re still in the very early phases of ending the name-calling and shaming over fat. About once a week, it seems, some celebrity or other makes assumptions and puts their foot in their mouth about people who are overweight. Cheryl Tiegs stupidly assumed a couple of things in February about model Ashley Graham: One, that Graham isn’t healthy. Two, she assumed her waist size was 35 inches or more, giving her the basis for saying Graham can’t be healthy.
Here’s what happened: Graham’s waist size was revealed to be 29.5 inches. It’s perfectly within the range of what experts say is healthy (although, let’s be real … doctors really know far too little about weight and health, as Brown writes in Body of Truth, for one). And Graham works out regularly. She seems to be taking care of herself. As she said to the Daily Mail, “There are too many people thinking they can look at a girl my size and say that we are unhealthy. You can’t, only my doctor can!” (I’m guessing she’s lucky enough to have a doctor who sees the big picture of health and hasn’t pushed her to lose weight.)
And the fat-shaming of today comes from Australia, where a fitness expert just assumes that all overweight people must be unhappy. One, it is possible to be overweight and happy, and two, her remarks and attitude likely contribute to people who are overweight feeling dissatisfied with themselves simply because of their size. It’s been shown time and time again that making someone feel bad about themselves, guilty, shameful, etc., will NOT lead to them taking steps to take better care of themselves, such as incorporating some better eating habits and exercising regularly. It may motivate briefly, but in the long haul, they’ll just give up and say it’s impossible. The best motivation to help someone truly take care of themselves for life is to help them feel they are worthwhile as people; therefore, they deserve to take the time and energy to take care of their physical bodies.
One thing that needs to become more common knowledge among doctors and all of us is that fitness is a huge indicator of health. More people should get out and exercise more. Yes. But there are plenty of people who exercise regularly who are not thin. (And on the flip side, there are plenty of skinny people who have never exercised, and on top of that, they eat food that no one would call healthy. But they get a pass in others’ eyes because, hey, they APPEAR healthy, since our society still only equates health with thinness.) And we should be working to get more people fit. But it doesn’t need to be in pursuit of being thin. It needs to be fitness for its own sake.
Let’s just stop the fat-shaming. Let’s stop assuming overweight means miserable and unhealthy. Thinness does NOT automatically = healthy, and fatness does NOT automatically = unhealthy. Fat people are not necessarily unhappy, lazy, or unmotivated. They are people. And how do we treat people? With kindness. As whole, worthwhile individuals.
I’ve decided I’m going to make reading this book a once-a-year activity. Body of Truth is just that helpful. When I read it a year ago before it was even published, I dog-eared pages as I devoured it in just a day or two. I made my husband read it. THIS, this, is what everyone needs to know. I read it again this week in a day, dog-eared more pages, and considered making my husband read it again.
Now, I was able to keep my review to a reasonable length, but I’m going to write more about the insights I gained by reading Harriet Brown’s book. And I’ll have to split up the info into a few posts so it won’t get weighed down (ha ha). Today I’m just going to address the damage that is done by dieting. And let me tell you, that is one of the takeaways of this book that has me the most furious.
I never considered myself a dieter until the past 7 years or so. I noticed myself gaining when I was nearing 40. But I had actually dieted when I was about 12 by reducing a bit what I ate and not eating desserts. I didn’t keep track of pounds, just slimmed a little of “baby fat,” you could say. And then each time after my three pregnancies I breast-fed, counted calories (stuck to 1800 or so), and kept up my regular exercise. I got back down and a little bit more and was looking nicely trim at 33. I kept it up until, yeah, almost the 40s. Then I saw 10 pounds creep on and got a bit panicked (ha!). Then I happened to move to a new state and put on another 10 pounds, then another 10, then another 10. All of a sudden, I was a lot heavier and was feeling much different than I had before as generally an average-weight, trim-ish person. I dieted first by just really counting calories (and going hungry often) and lost 30, but it only held for a year or maybe two. It came back on, and then I started looking at other options. I did the hCG diet (yes, I know, I never DREAMED I’d be the person to do something drastic like that), but it worked and I at least lost almost 20 pounds and felt a lot better really quickly. That crept back on, and I did it again a year or so later. A couple of years ago, my best friend started doing Atkins, so I tried it. It worked and I did well enough to lose maybe 20 or 25 pounds and feel it was worth the work and sacrifice. My daughter got married, then, last year, and all bets were off. I ate, and I ate, and I ate. I was depressed and stressed and just went straight to food. And what do you know, I am now by far the heaviest I’ve ever been. I went back on Atkins for a few weeks in the fall, then something crazy happened, and then I went back on it this last month, then my grandma died. And I am 20 pounds heavier than my heaviest weight ever before.
So not counting the post-pregnancy “getting back to pre-pregnancy weight” work, I have dieted, lost and gained, at least four main times, plus a few more little times, in the past 8 years. I have been successful. I have been tough. I have focused. And then I’ve either gone back to semi-normal eating (not being hungry) and gained back, or I’ve had some eat-a-lot periods. And what do you know, I’m completely normal. Studies show very low rates of “long-term” success, which is at most watched over 5 years, and almost nothing for rates past that time period (3 years is really even the limit of most “long-term” studies). Evidence also shows that not only do people who diet tend to gain back what they lost, but they gain more on top of that.
So if I had never dieted, I’d most likely just be at my previous “heaviest,” but not the 20 pounds more than that that I am now. I might even be 10 or more pounds below that. And I’d have saved myself a lot of unnecessary work, focus and energy that could have gone to something more productive. I don’t know if you’ve been in this situation or not (likelihood is many of you have been), but this realization absolutely OUTRAGES me.
Brown writes this:
(An) oft-repeated lie about weight and health is that dieting makes us thinner and healthier. At the very least, we consider dieting benign, something that can’t hurt us even if it doesn’t really help. But the truth is, dieting is actually harmful for many of us for all sorts of reasons. And it doesn’t make most of us thinner or healthier. On the contrary.
And she says this: a 2007 investigation (as one example) confirmed that diets don’t work. “The mind-boggling element here is that we’ve known diets don’t work for a long time, and so has the medical establishment.” But still society at large, doctors, individuals … we all think they can work if people just are motivated enough, have enough willpower, work hard enough. And that big fat lie is causing us health problems. Just think: doctors who are all encouraging patients to lose weight may very well be making their patients’ health problems WORSE.
Here are some sobering points Brown tells us:
“Dieting nearly always makes people heavier over time. In one study of Finnish twins, the more diets people went on, the higher their risk of becoming overweight and the faster they gained weight later in life.”
“Dieters tend to have higher levels of cortisol, sometimes called ‘the stress hormone,’ and free fatty acids, and dieters tend to exhibit diminished executive function, (‘strained bandwidth’), maybe because using so much mental energy thinking, worrying, and negotiating about food choices leaves them too distracted to think about much else” — which in turn actually causes us to gain more weight.
Dieting actually has been shown in studies to lead to binge eating. It’s not just psychological, either; physiology on various levels causes us to eat more after dieting, reversing all our work (brain circuitry even changes!).
”An ever-growing body of research suggests that weight cycling, or yo-yo dieting, correlates with higher levels of heart disease, impaired immune function, cardiometabolic risk, insulin resistance, triglycerides, hypertension, and abdominal fat accumulation.”
Studies have “found correlations between weight cycling and disordered eating, higher stress, lower well-being, and less confidence about food and eating. In other words, the more loops of the yo-yo you go around, the worse you feel about your weight, your eating, your very self.”
Each loop of the cycle then is harder. It’s tougher to drop the weight every go-round. Dieting changes metabolism. “People who have intentionally lost weight generally use about 15 percent fewer calories than non-dieters to perform exactly the same activities, which means they gain weight eating fewer calories than non-dieters.” As one research professor told Brown, “We know there’s some sort of derangement of the metabolic pathways, and that has a cascade effect on everything from the hormones involved with obesity to hunger.”
So people who feel fat or have been told they’re fat and need to lose weight feel “incredible shame.” Our whole culture reinforces that. Doctors reinforce that. And it’s not helping anyone. It’s not helping health; it’s not making anyone motivated; it’s not making us feel good; it’s a wicked prejudice that is still allowed. Feeling the outrage yet?
In the next few blog posts, I’ll focus on some of these last ideas and more.
According to Goodreads, I read 51 books this year, a total of 18,639 pages. There were just a few more that I didn’t enter onto the site, but that pretty well sums it up. Thanks to that site, I end up not having to plow through many stinkers, so I did enjoy almost all of the books I read. A few stand out, however. Here are my 10 faves from this year of reading.
Illusions of Fate, by Kiersten White: This was practically perfect. I borrowed it from the library but then had to buy it because I loved it so much. Kiersten White has created a world not unlike ours, set in a time much like that of the early 20th century, but has imbued its nobility with magical powers only they know about and use. Her heroine is smart and courageous and all too human, and though she is “just an ordinary girl,” she is a force to be reckoned with. That’s what makes her — and the book — so great. I just lost myself in the setting, the characters and their interactions with each other, and the story. I absolutely adored this book. Bonus: it’s clean. I rated it Mild on Rated Reads.
Circus Mirandus, by Cassie Beasley: This middle-grade book is about faith, magic and hope. It’s about opening your eyes to the possibilities. It’s about family, love and dedication. It’s sweet, poignant, delightful. It’s written for children, sure, but adults will be charmed as well. It’s one of those books everyone should get to read and keep on a bookshelf at home. And since it’s for younger readers, it’s clean. I rated it None on Rated Reads.
The Storyspinner, by Becky Wallace: This book with a strong female heroine is an engaging tale of danger, cunning, political intrigue, magic and a few touches of romance. The plot and writing are excellent, seeming to have come from a more seasoned writer, and once I got into the story, I could hardly put it down. It’s clean; I rated it Mild on Rated Reads.
The Weight of Feathers, by Anna-Marie McLemore: The prose in this Romeo-and-Juliet tale set in the Central Valley of California that swings between two carnival families is just so, so lovely, and the writing is so masterful it’s hard to believe this is a debut novel. It’s gotten some hype, and it actually lives up to it. I rated it Moderate on Rated Reads.
Challenger Deep, by Neal Shusterman: This book is one of those Important Novels people should read to gain a bit of empathy, understanding and awareness about mental illness, particularly in teens. It could have foundered in less skilled hands, but Shusterman has the chops to make this brilliant. He writes in an author’s note at the end that his own son “journeyed to the deep” and with his help, he’s “tried to capture what that descent was like.” He also points out the reality that helping people who are dealing with mental illness “is not an exact science, but it’s all we have – and it gets better every day as we learn more about the brain, and the mind, and as we develop better, more targeted medication.” I rated it Mild on Rated Reads.
The Lake House, by Kate Morton: Yes, I adore Kate Morton’s books. This one did not disappoint. Morton is a master at crafting these kinds of novels: long and richly detailed stories of family secrets that span generations and decades, that have long-reaching consequences. As I reluctantly and slowly closed the back cover, I was overcome by that sadly delicious, mixed feeling of completion that means a book has brought me much gratification as I’ve taken it all in but regret that the experience is over and can’t be duplicated. And it’s clean reading: I rated it Mild on Rated Reads.
Us, by David Nicholls: The book is practically perfect: it examines so beautifully a longtime marriage between two very different people, the highs and lows and in-betweens, without resorting to cheap plays for readers’ sympathies. Even serious matters that could, in the wrong hands, be maudlin are deftly and lightly handled. Nicholls’ previous book, One Day, was a good one, but it did resort to a big bang of a twist that could be seen as a nasty trick by the writer. Here, however, the story plays out naturally and is balanced wonderfully. There are laugh-out-loud moments that gave me no choice but to read them aloud to whoever was near and descriptive passages that made me in awe of Nicholls’ cleverness. I can’t say enough about how well written this book is. It’s not clean reading, though: I rated it High for strong language on Rated Reads.
Body of Truth, by Harriet Brown: I have not yet posted a review of this on Rated Reads, but it’s coming soon. I’m also hoping to write a nice in-depth analysis on here in coming days. It’s that important. Brown shares what she’s learned in a decade of examining research on weight, obesity, eating disorders, etc., as well as from interviewing hundreds of women and scientists. The reality is this: our society is completely obsessed with weight. And though the media and doctors tend to go on certain “truths” as givens, those are not necessarily true or even based on solid research. Weight is a very complex matter, and we still know far too little about how best to regulate it. We certainly know far too little about how to help people lose weight and keep it off “for good.”
A Path Appears: Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunity, by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn: Husband-and-wife writing team Kristof and WuDunn explore ways that we can all make a difference by donating our time, talents or resources to help others in this world. Even a little helps. They share inspiring stories and then tell readers specifically how to make our money or time really count. I was galvanized by this terrific book. It’s simply inspiring, but it’s also practical and addresses concerns and problems with charities even as it shares solid advice on how to tailor your giving to your own interests and capacities. I rated it Mild on Rated Reads.
Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory, by Caitlin Doughty: If you are a fan of Mary Roach’s fascinating book on what happens to our bodies after death, Stiff, you are likely to appreciate Caitlin Doughty’s book focusing mostly on the aspect of cremation. While the book is informative and curiosity-slaking while also liberally sprinkled with dry wit and gallows humor, it’s also a reminder that Americans today are far removed from death. And this is much of Doughty’s point: after spending about a year working at a crematorium in Oakland, California, she then decided to pursue the career and attend mortuary school. The experiences served to incite in her a passion for helping people in our culture reacquaint themselves with death. Rather than fearing aging and death and dead bodies and shoving all we find distasteful off onto professionals who work behind a screen, we would be better served mentally and emotionally if we had more to do with the whole process. I rated it High for language on Rated Reads.
Ever had a problem; been frustrated, angry or a little depressed; felt stuck? Ever had someone tell you, “Well, if you just did this ______, you’d be fine?”
I’ve had people say that to me. And it shuts me up. It doesn’t help me, but it stops me from talking to those people. I don’t know if I’ve ever said it to someone else; I hope I haven’t. I know I’ve thought it. But at least for a long while now, I’ve known better than to say it out loud. And I’ve tried to remind myself of the truth:
Any one of us can have problems and challenges that, compared with someone else, somewhere, can look tiny, easily surmountable. Sometimes it’s helpful to realize others have it worse. If we look at our lives with appreciation and gratitude for the good things we have, it can help. But usually, trying to tell ourselves logically (or have someone else “helpfully” do so) that our problems shouldn’t be such a big deal does squat for our feelings.
Here’s why: we are allowed to feel how we feel. We’re meant to feel. We’re meant to have feelings in response to life situations, whether they’re kind of everyday things or unusual things. We’re meant to have all kinds of feelings all over the spectrum of emotion. And those feelings include “bad” ones. We’re meant to just feel those feelings. And what usually happens is once we allow ourselves to feel them, really feel them, we can move on to other feelings about other life events.
The problem is when we stunt that natural process by telling ourselves we shouldn’t be feeling “so bad” or by having someone else tell us so. It stops us from moving through the feelings, talking or thinking through the ideas and emotions.
Same applies to things we could or should be doing or doing better, not just what we’re feeling. Likely we’re comparing something we’re just naturally not so good at with something that really is easy for someone else, so we feel inadequate. Or we could compare something that’s easy for us with something someone else finds more challenging. And we say those dreaded words: “Just do ___.”
We all not only have a complex mix of weaknesses, strengths, natural talents and acquired skills, but we are at different stages in life. Something that was hard for us 20 years ago might be much easier now. Ditto for those around us. And something that was easy for us a year ago might be harder now because our circumstances are more challenging in other areas or we’re struggling with events that are zapping our emotional strength.
For me, I’m finding that I am feeling a general sadness in one layer of myself/my life because my oldest daughter got married a few weeks ago and moved out. But I hate to say anything to anyone because it just “seems silly.” She lives only an hour’s drive away and we can talk and visit. Every other parent my age has already had children go off to college or serve as missionaries for our church, during which time they’re gone for a solid 18 or 24 months and only generally in contact via email or letter once a week. So I feel ridiculous saying out loud that I’m grieving a little over the “loss” in a way of my first, amazing child. But it does make me sad she’s not around all the time anymore. I miss the daily interaction and talks and jokes and hugs and smiles and everything that was our relationship while I was raising her. Things are changing, have changed. It’s real to me. But I don’t want to say anything to anyone else for fear of being compared, of essentially having my feelings belittled because their “loss” is bigger. Their child is across the country or across the world … or something “bigger.”
I also find that I feel down on myself because I have generally been doing well with eating healthy, cutting out sugar and a lot of carbs, this past 10 months or so. But the past month, since right before my daughter’s wedding and since, I just haven’t had it in me to “diet” properly. I’ve been eating junk, and lots of it, and I feel physically yucky. I feel bad because I had done so well. But I also realize that circumstances are different: I’m “recovering” from all the work and stress of preparing for my daughter’s wedding; my kids are now out of school for the summer and my “alone time” is a lot less; I’m adjusting to the change of our family dynamics, and I’m trying to “play catch-up” for some work and things that got put on hold with all I did for the wedding (because I am not just an awesome mom but very capable in planning things and organizing, and the wedding was awesome too). In short, it takes a lot of work for ME to eat well. And even though I feel yucky physically and would really like to feel better, I have to have the emotional and mental energy to focus on taking care of myself, truly properly. Others might say (and heaven knows plenty of “professionals” and bloggers say) “just do it.” Just stop eating sweets. Just stop emotional eating. Right now, for me, it’s akin to saying, “Just stop smoking. It’s so easy.” I’ve never smoked, but I have certainly heard how hard it is to stop.
I’m trying to allow myself to feel, to validate my own feelings. I’m talking to a few trusted friends who are kind enough to listen and validate as well. I’m also trying to allow myself not to take it too hard that I’ve gained a few pounds and am having a hard time with the junk food. Because I also know that I’ll be fine soon enough and will get back to where I should be. If I’m not there at this very moment, today, it’s OK. I will be soon. And that’ll be OK.
In short, I’m giving myself permission to feel, to not be “my best.” And I strive to do that for others. When they talk about feelings or issues they’re struggling with, I know that even if they sound “easy” for me, they’re not easy for them. I nod, I listen, I hug. I say, to them and to myself, “That is hard. I’m sorry you’re going through that. I love you and care about you.” And it’s true, and that’s really all it takes.
We like to think our society in 2015 has made great strides in treating everyone fairly. Too often, however, we’re reminded that just isn’t the case, whether it’s in race or gender issues. And even saying you’re pro-whatever might brand you as something you’re not. For example, I guess I’m a feminist. I’m pro-life (anti-abortion), fairly conservative when it comes to politics or “values,” but I am a feminist. Pretty simple: I believe women should be treated with the same respect as men. Women should vote, hold office, run companies, raise families, … whatever they would like to do. Their opinions should be given the same weight as men’s. They shouldn’t be abused by men, they shouldn’t be raped. These are very basic principles. Goes the other direction, too, of course: women need to treat men with respect and kindness.
Same goes for color. I was raised just believing we’re all alike. Sure, we’re all different where it counts, in our personalities, our talents, our interests, etc., but how we look certainly has no bearing on those real matters of identity. Heck, I married an Asian, we have three half-Asian, half-white kids, and we adopted a black girl. I respect whatever cultures we bring to the table, but they’re not the defining things about who we all are.
I could go on and on. But I hope you get the idea: we’re all people. And all people deserve kindness, respect, civility, hope, opportunities, the chance to pursue happiness, and so on.
I’m always disappointed, however, when I see that other people apparently don’t see others of the human race that way. The latest story in the news is just that an 8th-grade girl’s T-shirt got Photoshopped out of a class picture because it stated that she’s a “feminist.” I’m still not quite sure what about that is offensive: like I said, if you believe women and men should all be treated with respect and have equal opportunities, it’s pretty simple.
It struck home because right now I’m angry (yes, I got angry about this!) because my daughters’ high school allowed sexist (insulting, demeaning) messages on posters at a pep rally a few weeks ago. The student government/leadership group (ASB) led the charge on a “Battle of the Sexes” theme that’s been going on for some years (at least all four years my oldest, who graduated last year, attended). Done right, could be fun. But done wrong: ka-blooey. Here’s what some posters said, according to some students: “Stay in the kitchen,” “Female president? Nah” and “You woke up ugly”. Here’s a photo of one.
Anyone think these are respectful, fun, kind? This school and all the others in this system are always stressing how they are trying to instill character in the students, such as respect. The principal’s official online message even says this: “To help provide a safe and secure learning environment for everyone, staff members require students to treat every person at (our school) with respect, both in and out of the classroom.”
Hm. Curious. So in this situation, where the student “leadership” group’s members actively wrote and posted for the whole school to see messages that were disrespectful (and ridiculously antiquated: what decade IS this?), staff members who are required to be in place as overseers and advisers OK’d these messages.
I complained to the principal about this situation as soon as I could. We had a good conversation. I told him these messages were anything but respectful, and I said it would be a good opportunity for him and other staffers to use this as a learning situation for the students involved. Teach them what kind of messages we do want to send to others, whether it’s of the opposite sex or other races (can you imagine if the posters had been talking about race?!). Then have them take some responsibility for their poor choices and apologize themselves to the student body at the next rally.
Well, the next rally came and went last Friday, and the principal did none of these things. He stood up for three minutes and talked about how great the ASB is, how more students should be involved in it, and that some posters at the previous rally had bothered “some people” and he took “full responsibility.” The ASB teens were, after all, just 15- and 16-year-olds and didn’t really know what they were doing entirely. He pseudo-apologized and that was it.
This isn’t news because it’s unusual, just like the Ohio girl’s “feminist” message being censored from a class photo. It’s news because it reminds us just how much we still accept or gloss over disrespect to others, even when we know in some part of our brains that it’s “wrong” and we even get regular, “packaged” messages about respect. In practice, though, we treat people of other races differently and “less.” We accept all kinds of ridiculous messages in the media about how women should behave and look; we’re all about image, and the vast majority of us who don’t fit a certain image feel less than. Weight shaming is still tolerated. Commenters still somehow feel they’re perfectly entitled to comment online about how fat a certain celebrity is getting (see Pink or Kelly Clarkson, just in the past few weeks). In what universe does this all really seem OK? Ours, apparently.
When is this stuff going to stop? When are we going to put our collective foot down and say, “This is NOT OK!”? It’s not OK to body shame, it’s not OK to call names because of gender or race? It’s not OK to insult. Kindergarteners know this. Why do teens and adults seem to have forgotten?
When will we all just be people: people with all kinds of fascinating diversity of backgrounds and interests and talents and personalities, people who happen to look different because of color, because of disabilities, even?
I was hoping that day would come much sooner. In the meantime, I am putting my foot down, and I am saying loudly that respect to all matters. People matter.
I am about to turn 45 and haven’t been pregnant for almost 13 years now, but I have a number of wonderful younger friends who are still firmly in their childbearing years. I am writing today to them.
Dearest friends, I see your adorable posts on social media and am thrilled with all the sweet experiences you are having now, just as I remember enjoying a decade and a half ago. I can’t help but “like” your comments and pictures of growing bellies and ultrasounds and new babies. What an amazing period of life you are in — and difficult and challenging and exhausting and … the list goes on. The joy is equaled by the fatigue and all the other challenges that can come from pregnancy and taking care of an infant.
But I’m going to say this with all the kindness and tenderness I can show in the mere printed word (hopefully you know me well enough “in real life” to be able to hear me saying this): please stop worrying about your weight.
I have seen your posts over the course of months and been concerned for you when I’ve noted multiple comments about how much weight you’ve gained (in exact number of pounds) and how you were already planning during your pregnancy to lose it post-delivery (yes, I see your Pinterest boards too). I’ve worried a little for you when you talked about your weight a mere two weeks after giving birth.
Believe me, I was there. Three times. I gained the exact same number of pounds each pregnancy: 38. And each was different. I started out about 25 pounds overweight with my first and ate pizza almost nonstop and didn’t exercise at all. With my second, I started out maybe 10 pounds overweight and exercised for about the first six months and ate a little better. With the third, I was at just about an “ideal” weight starting out and exercised up until a couple of days before delivery (I looked pretty ungainly, I’m sure, with my huge belly on that elliptical machine, but it felt good). I still gained the same amount of weight each time. And every single time postpartum, I breast-fed my girls and counted calories (keeping them to a reasonable amount for nursing) and exercised after six weeks had passed after delivery. On the last one, I got back down to a really good weight for me six months after my baby was born.
I went into all that detail to show you that, yes, I’ve been there. And for me, losing weight postpartum was work. I felt the pressure. Yes, I hated seeing the pounds pile on during each month of pregnancy, especially after working so hard to take them off during previous ones. I feel bad saying that now because I wish I hadn’t been worrying about something so superficial as how I looked while I was growing the amazing human beings I’m now proud to call my daughters. But the (sad) truth is, I would feel the same way again even now if I were to be pregnant again. I struggle more now with my weight since I’m older; it’s even harder now! And I struggle with the struggle. I want to be healthy but I don’t want to allow myself to be caught up in our society’s “religion” of thinness, of image, of appearance. I am working to be kinder to myself and try to separate myself from the bombardment by media and culture that tells me how I look is a huge component of my worth.
Because this is the truth, one that goes completely opposite to the messages we see and hear all the time in our media-saturated culture: My worth is not tied in any way to how I look, whether it’s how much my body weighs or how many wrinkles I have (or that aging neck that’s manifesting itself) or how gray my hair is.
And that’s true for all of you. Even though society is pretty much shouting from the rooftops (and our ever-present computers and handheld devices) that we’re supposed to be thin, that it is possible (because, hey, look at the celebrities!) during pregnancy, except for a cute “bump,” and then entirely thin (no more bump) immediately after giving birth, and thin all the rest of our lives, that is just A LIE. Pregnancy changes us. Life changes us. And we’re all different anyway. We all have different body shapes and shouldn’t be worrying about trying to fit our square or triangular or hexagonal pegs into round holes. People come in all different shapes and sizes and colors. Make the best of your own shape, size and color. Take good care of your body. Value it for what it can do for you, for the part it plays in who you are as a whole. Treat it kindly and with respect. But don’t spend a disproportionate amount of your time and energy trying to make it what society says it should be. It’s only going to make you more exhausted than you already are, and when you are pregnant or taking care of a baby, you have NO ENERGY TO SPARE. You know this.
So, my dear friends, stop posting about your weight and size. Stop worrying about it. Take gentle loving care of your body and your psyche. Delete your Pinterest “Fitspiration” board. Those things are just plain dangerous. And please keep posting those baby pictures. I can’t get too many of those.
You know when you dream about eating something off-diet and demanding of some complete (thin) strangers walking by, “Do you ever eat?!”, you’re self-conscious (and frustrated) about your weight.
I’m half-proud, half-embarrassed for myself that I embarked on a strict diet last week, mainly because, yes, I want to look better. And I want it to happen fast. Here’s the thing: I have felt very self-conscious about my weight in photos of late, and I have several big events coming up for which I’ll be in numerous photographs, and I don’t want to look fat.
Yep, there it is.
As much as I talk about self-image and how bad our society is about focusing on looks, whether it’s regarding weight, age, or relative size of body parts, I still struggle with it myself. Sometimes not so much, other times mightily. As I most recently mentioned to my therapist, “I feel horrible about how I look.” Her response: “Right now you’re very stressed and not feeling good about yourself in lots of other ways, so that’s not surprising.” Meaning, essentially, try not to worry about it; it’ll pass when you manage to process everything else that’s had you down.
So I kind of feel like a hypocrite when I’m urging everyone, male and female, to be more aware of how media and society all around us dose us liberally and continually with the religion of thinness and image, of airbrushed (impossible-to-achieve) perfection, and I am struggling with it so much still.
It’s complicated by the matter of health: when I’m stressed, I eat sweets. I overeat. That’s simply not good for my body, and that’s important. So I do also want to work on that. I want to break my physical and emotional addiction to sugar and my reliance on food as a crutch. But I would like to figure out how to separate that out from my worries about how those habits affect my LOOKS.
Here’s another thing: plenty of people out there have far worse eating habits than I do, but they’re thin. So their health might be in need of improvement, but they either don’t worry about it, or they don’t worry about others seeing them as fat. Because don’t we tend to judge people who are overweight? We automatically think, They need to eat less. They need to have better self-control. They need to take better care of themselves. But health and thinness are not always directly correlated.
That’s not to say I excuse myself for slipping into bad habits. I can do better by my body sometimes. But our society judges on appearance, and I judge myself. I have a lifetime of negative messages to overcome. And that simply makes it much more difficult to just take care of myself the way I should because I’m devoting so much emotional energy to the image part of the equation, which is NOT the important part; overall health is.
I have had a lot to deal with the past months, the past year, with a few breaks in the onslaught of expectations, responsibilities, and struggles to catch my breath. I anticipate having some breaks to catch my breath and focus more accurately on taking care of my health — emotional, mental, spiritual and physical — fairly soon, but in the meantime, I’m just getting through it as well as I can.
And dieting. Like I said, I’m a little embarrassed because I’m doing it almost exclusively for the reward of looking better in pictures. It’s not the example I’d like to set but I’m doing it anyway, just because right now so much has beaten me down I don’t feel good about myself in many ways; I feel weak and run-down and just not up to snuff. I feel like I’m letting people down left and right because I simply can’t do everything everyone needs me to do at all times. So that feeling extends to how I look.
I’m going to keep working on my self-image, my self-esteem, the ways I look at myself and talk to myself. I’m going to do better. Just forgive me the lapses right now in my actions and how they don’t match my ideals. It’s a process for me, and it’s a process for us all as individuals and as a society. For me, this topic mixes my mental health awareness-raising with my awareness-raising about society and image. The intersection is a little delicate, and I’m navigating it as well as I can in this tricky time. I hope I’m making progress in it all because all I can do is just hope I’m slowly doing better. I’m going to just try to remember to pat myself on the back for what I’m doing better: life isn’t about improving overnight. It’s a journey with all kinds of intertwined paths leading to a place where we’re our best selves in all aspects.
I wrote recently about how we as individuals and families need safety nets and support from extended family and society around us. What’s on my mind the most is that of all the issues we as families (and in my case, being the mother and “home manager” of a family of six) face, it’s impossible to fix them all or deal with them all on our own.
As just one example, I have many concerns about public education, but I can’t change them alone; I can only try to speak up when I can and get involved in the big picture (higher levels) in what are fairly limited ways at this stage of life. I also have decided I am not capable (mentally, mostly) of home-schooling my kids, so I send them to public school and try to be involved and aware at the school level.
Health is another big topic. Health care and health coverage systems are a part of that. I’ve written a little about that and found one book really a great overview and resource: Catastrophic Care, by David Goldhill. Another issue we face that is part of our health is that of our food supply. Obesity in the U.S. and in other developed nations is a huge problem, and one I’ll admit I personally struggle with. (And might I point out that I exercise daily and cook healthy meals at home almost daily, and I’m STILL significantly overweight. What about all those out there who don’t exercise at all, who don’t cook, who eat junk food, etc.?) Yes, there are some “obvious” issues, such as the easy availability of food that’s bad for us, sedentary habits, and the heavy marketing and research done by large food corporations (just read Salt, Sugar, Fat by Michael Moss: Yikes!). But there are also more insidious things going on with our food supply that are affecting everyone: hormones and antibiotics and other fatteners being fed to the animals that we eat for meat, pesticides, and even sugar substitutes (just to get a taste of these problems, read a recent article on Salon).
If we’re having a hard time as a country educating individuals and families about healthier ways to eat, just putting together balanced meals at home with vegetables and lean proteins, etc., as well as getting people to just move more, it’s going to be a pretty hard sell to get everyone to eat organic and/or locally produced food, including dairy and meat, which either costs more money and/or takes an extra trip (or two or three), to get to farmers markets or specialty stores. Again, I consider myself to have the motivation, interest, and time (as well as a decent income) to be able to shop well and cook well on the first count. But I admit I balk at spending three times or more the amount on produce and meats and dairy to get foods that supposedly come without coatings of pesticides or added hormones or antibiotics, though that would certainly be ideal.
There are possibly some alternatives to the above pricey/time-consuming options for me and others who might have the time and at least a little extra cash to put towards them, such as growing your own food (if you have the time, the space, the know-how, etc.), contributing to raising a community garden, or just shopping local. But these options, again, are ones that are going to work when education efforts get past just the simple things of getting people to eat better, cook, and exercise.
No, this goes back to our society as a whole, including how our government is involved in regulating (or not overseeing) our food supply. It’s becoming more clear and more substantiated that these pesticides, hormones, antibiotics, plastics, etc., are contaminating our food and introducing all kinds of chemical problems into our bodies, making us fatter and just less healthy, maybe causing cancer. But government is slow to regulate and corporations are certainly not going to change of their own accord unless we as consumers really get educated and speak up with letters/phone calls to these companies or at the very least speak with our wallets by not buying their products. But that latter option leads again to this issue: what are average Americans going to buy if most of the big food producers aren’t providing healthy food? Most can’t afford organic or specialty stores.
As a mom and home manager, I am daunted and sometimes overwhelmed by all that is wrong and all I have to “protect” my family from, all that I need to “fix” or address in some way. What about all those others who don’t have even the luxuries of time and some extra money that I have? I feel a responsibility to do all I can not just to make life better for my own family, but for them. But I don’t have THAT much time or extra cash.
Yes, government can and must do better. Companies can and MUST do better to be responsible to consumers. Those with greater wealth and time to do good can do better to help those who don’t have what they have. Each of us can do a little something to spread the word, to raise awareness about whatever issues we’re facing, and to just speak up and let our voices be heard: voice our discontent, ask for specific things to be changed and improved. It comes back to my starfish post: I can’t save everyone, but by doing a few small things, they might add up to saving at least a few others. Give back by doing just a little, just whatever you can do.