balance

2013: The Year of Giving Up

It’s taken me over a month of reflection to feel like I have any real insight into what 2013 was like for me. Even now, in the middle of February, I don’t think I’ve got the full picture. But that’s life. Can you ever really make lasting sense of it?

Looking back, 2013 seems a little bit empty. It wasn’t a bad year and it wasn’t a good year, it was just sort of there, you know? I didn’t race much, I didn’t run much, I didn’t really do anything big or significant. 2013 doesn’t have any distinguishing features…except that I kind of gave up on stuff.

I don't normally go for these quote memes, but this one seemed appropriate

I don’t normally go for these quote memes, but this one seemed appropriate

Giving up has such a negative sound to it, like you’re just kind of accepting that you can’t win and walking away. There’s resignation, and maybe even some resentment, involved. The giving up I’m talking about wasn’t all bad. I mean, it wasn’t meant to be. It was actually meant to be positive, more letting go than giving up: letting go of things that I thought were holding me back, of things that were too much, of things that were damaging. But at some point, I think I lost track of the things I was shedding, and now I feel a little bit naked.

If life is a balance of holding on and letting go, how do we decide which is more appropriate at any given time? I think my biggest fault this past year was telling myself that giving things up would be healthy and helpful, when in reality all I was doing in some cases was justifying the fact that I was throwing in the towel and no longer making an effort for the wrong reasons. Sometimes, the healthy part comes from the effort, while the act of giving up ends up being more damaging. At other times, it really is time to give yourself a break and try to connect with doing less in order to get more out of something.

I find myself thinking about this balance a lot. I don’t want 2014 to be a repeat of 2013. Instead, I want to push myself while still respecting and understanding my limits. I want to do new things without beating myself up if I fail or fumble. I don’t want to give up just to avoid the discomfort that might come from an imperfect outcome, but I don’t want to keep holding on when I no longer stand to gain anything positive from a situation, either.

I guess that as in all cases that require some kind of balance, finding what works will take a lot of trial and error. Maybe that’s what 2014 will be for.

(Congratulations!) You’ve been selected

Here’s a fun story: someone somewhere recently mentioned that Fitness magazine was doing one of those “best blog ever!” award things (you know the ones I mean, where they–or someone–nominate the same blogs over and over again and drive traffic to their website by getting people to vote on their favorites) that it seems like they’re constantly doing. Curious to see if, in fact, the same blogs had been nominated again, I navigated to the site via a link that had been posted in this forum I’d been reading. It turns out, the same blogs had been nominated again! And on top of that, you could nominate your own blog (or, you know, a deserving blog of your choice)! Figuring that getting my blog listed in one of these contests would, in my opinion anyway, count as a minor coup for the positive body image movement, I nominated myself and got an automated message telling me that they’d review my nomination, and let me know if my blog fit the criteria and that if it did it would be listed on the site, etc. As soon as I saw that they were regulating the nominations to some extent, I knew I wouldn’t get through the door.

But lo and behold, what did I receive a few days later? An email from Fitness magazine with the subject line “(Congratulations!) You’ve been selected”. Odd punctuation choices aside, I thought maybe this was the coup I’d been waiting for. HA! Upon opening the email, I quickly realized how naive I’d been. This is what I found:

A bikini body and a free gift? I must be the luckiest girl in the world! All sarcasm aside, I don’t know that Fitness could have made this email more offensive if they’d tried.

First, I didn’t register. Or at least I didn’t think I did–I thought I’d canceled before hitting the register button, but I guess this explains how I managed to get my nomination in without submitting my email address (I should have known it was too good to be true).

Second, don’t reference Obama’s 2008 campaign slogan in your lame attempts to get me to feel that my body is inadequate. Our country was at a very bleak point back then (I’ll make no comment about how where things stand now), and that was an effective rallying cry; a ray of sunshine in a pretty dark time. The state of my body is by no means comparable to the state of the union, thank you.

Third, let’s drop this bullshit about bikini bodies once and for all. As long as I have a body and can put a bikini on it, it’s a bikini body, regardless of what I weigh or how I look. And this whole thing about helping women get back into their bikinis? Is there an epidemic of women forgetting how to step into a pair of bikini bottoms? Or how to fasten a top? If so then it’s really a good thing we have the staff of Fitness to help with this horrible, unexplained decline in motor skills. If not, then they’re just talking nonsense and I’d like to invite them to shut up.

Don’t even get me started on the “holistic, balanced approach” that they claim to have. A quick glance at their homepage shows how balanced they are: the top headlines are “Dress ten pounds thinner”, “Erase pounds in 7 days”, “Eat more, Weigh less”, and “Drop 10 pounds in 4 weeks”. I’m not sure what their definition of balanced is, but it’s certainly different from mine. Strangely, I can’t figure out how to navigate back to the blog awards page.

Finally, $5.99 for a A FULL YEAR of Fitness? I’d still be paying too much. Fitness may think they’ve won this round by blocking my blog from this contest and firing back with a barrage of inane headlines and copy intended to shame me into subscribing to their magazine while eating a pint of ice cream and sobbing about how fat and disgusting I am and always will be, but in the end, I think I’m the winner. I’m keeping my $6 and my self-esteem which, as we all know, is priceless.

Living by the Numbers

Scale model

Scale model (Photo credit: Brett Jordan)

Last week, while still in the grips of a very bad few days, I did something I hadn’t done for about two years: I pulled out the scale and weighed myself.

I don’t know why I did it. I knew at the time that it was a bad idea, and I hadn’t had too much trouble studiously avoiding the scale since being advised to stop weighing myself when I started recovering. As I was pulling it out from its “hiding place” (which has always been lame–it’s underneath the couch in our studio apartment), a little voice inside me was saying, “It’s not a big deal. It won’t bother you. You’ll just find out how much you weigh, and then you can go back to ignoring it. It’ll be fine! Just do it, just step on the scale!” Somehow, I managed to convince myself it was alright. And then I stepped on the scale, and before I even looked at the number, I regretted it.

The thing is there’s no way I could possibly have not regretted it. There’s no way in which the idea could have been anything other than a bad one. As far as I’m concerned, no good can come from knowing my weight. If I feel like I’m too heavy, it’s bad because I end up wanting to lose weight; if I feel like I’m where I want to be or below, I end up getting obsessed with staying at that point, or continuing to dip lower. It’s a battle I know I can’t win, at least not at this point in my recovery.

Ever since I weighed myself, my feelings about my body and my weight have been nothing but negative. I feel more self-conscious than I did before stepping on the scale, and instead of paying attention to how my body feels (am I hungry? full? tired?) and acting accordingly, I’ve been thinking in terms of my weight and letting it determine whether it’s a good day or a bad day, or whether I’m exercising enough or not. For a while now working out has meant a lot more to me than looking a certain way or fitting into a certain size; I run to feel good, deal with stress, spend time with friends, and do something I love. Getting to this point has taken effort, and it’s something I’m really proud of. But over the past few days I’ve taken a few steps back and slipped into thinking about exercise to lose weight.

The effect those numbers have had on me makes me think of how I used to feel when I would go for a run and feel like I hadn’t run fast enough or far enough based on what my Garmin would tell me. A “good” run had more to do with the numbers on the watch than the way I felt when all was said and done. Now that I’ve run largely Garmin-free for a pretty long while, I find that I’m much more focused on the way running effects my mood, and how good I feel to run a few miles regardless of the pace–choosing to stop living by those numbers made an enormous difference for me and put me back in touch with all the best things about running. Now the bad days are much fewer and farther between, and when I do have them, I dwell on them much less than I used to.

My mood and my attitude about my body shouldn’t be dictated by what the scale says, and next time I feel tempted to get on it I’m going to remind myself of that fact. There’s nothing to be gained from knowing my weight, and I’m much better off working on getting things into balance emotionally and physically and keeping them there. I know it will take me a while to get over the way I’m currently feeling about my body, but I’m glad that now I can at least recognize that I shouldn’t try to measure my happiness and satisfaction in pounds.

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The Problem with Food

As I write this, I’m trying to sit through the very uncomfortable feeling of fullness that accompanies eating. Just trying to process the discomfort–which, in my case, is both physical and emotional–makes me realize that it’s not only been a while since I’ve tried to sit with these feelings, but it’s also been a while since I’ve blogged at all about my relationship with food, eating, and hunger.

Junk food copy

Image via Wikipedia

I wish I could say the silence was because I had nothing to say. Sadly, though, that’s not the case. What’s more accurate is that I’ve had a lot to say, I’ve just been avoiding having to say any of it. Moreover, in avoiding saying it, I’ve avoided dealing with it. I’ve been working to maintain a healthy, balanced diet over the past few months, but I haven’t really succeeded. Instead, I’ve struggled off an on with feeling like I’m not eating too much, and then feeling like I’ve eaten far too much. Most of the time lately, I think I’ve been in the latter category. And that, I think, brings us full circle to where things stand right now.

About an hour ago, I had a late lunch: a bowl of penne pasta with vodka sauce. Nat brought it home for me after being out for a little bit, correctly predicting that in his absence, I hadn’t eaten. I’d had some pretzels (and what I consider a surfeit of junk food–a bagel with cream cheese for breakfast, and a salted caramel blondie, the last of a package of four Nat brought home on Friday). I wasn’t particularly hungry when I ate the pasta, and now I feel almost sick to my stomach as a result of eating it. I felt obligated to, though. And therein lies the problem with food, especially when you’re recovering from an eating disorder.

Food, I think it’s safe to say, is widely viewed as a means of comfort; it’s the centerpiece of family meals, a way to show sympathy in difficult situations (just think of how common it is to cook a casserole for a neighbor when someone in their family passes away), and a method by which people care for someone who might not be able to do the care-taking themselves. But seeing it in that context doesn’t make it any easier for me to want to have anything to do with it. And in fact, all it really does is add a level of complexity to the act of eating that I really just don’t need in my life. When I’m presented with a package of blondies because I had a long day at work, I’m grateful for the emotion that spurred the purchase. I can also appreciate the motivation behind coming home with ready-made pasta and a huge slice of red velvet cake. But I have a very hard time when I then have to deal with the fact that I’m meant to do something with these gifts (specifically: eat them). At times like these, I can’t help but feel burdened by a sense of obligation, guilt, and expectation. If I don’t eat the food that’s presented, I’m not only rejecting a present that’s been offered, I’m also caving into my illness.

Perhaps the hardest part of all of it is how difficult it is to explain to someone who doesn’t have similar feelings about food the reasons why I’d prefer not to have to deal with edible gifts, especially given how appreciated and accepted they are by others. How do you tell someone you don’t want a plate of cupcakes or cookies on your birthday, or that you’d prefer meeting for coffee instead of going out to dinner? When you’re in the minority, it can be really hard to express to people that what they consider a warm, friendly gesture has the potential to come off as somewhat uncomfortable or thoughtless to you. Obviously I don’t want to come off as ungrateful or accusatory, but it can be tiring enough when normal interactions with food are stressful. When you add the dimension of social obligation or expectation, the entire thing just becomes a mess.

I can’t help but wonder if there is a way to get people to understand that although I appreciate the thought, I would prefer not to come home to find a slice of cake waiting for me. Or is it possible that as someone with admittedly disordered behaviors and thoughts about food, I should be responsible for adjusting in such a way that makes gifts like these more welcome? When (or if) I figure it out, you will all be the first to know.

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Embrace: Responding

For a long time, my mom and I have had this joke about a website we want to create. It would be called Doctor Commonsense, and would consist of really straightforward “problems” that the good doctor would solve.

An example:

“Hungry? Try eating something! You’ll be surprised at how well it works!”

I’m not sure how we came up with this ridiculous amazing idea, but the farthest we’ve gone with it is to create a tumblr. You have to start somewhere, right? The thing is that the website is funny because it’s all so obvious. OR IS IT? (dun dun dun)

Obviously knowing how to satisfy our most basic biological urges is something we assume everyone can do; knowing how to deal with hunger and thirst is so built-in to our nature that we take it for granted, right? Well, yes and no. As I’m constantly having to remind myself, sometimes basic self-care (including feeding and watering) is hard to do. I’m hungry. I know I should eat. But do I? Not necessarily. I’m thirsty, and I live in a city with great tap water. Do I drink it? Not necessarily. Dealing with these things involves more than just instinctual behavior, and all because where there’s food, there’s Feelings.

In my case, those Feelings revolve around whether or not the hunger is “valid”–how valid ends up being defined can depend on any number of variables. And I’m guessing that I’m not alone in this, given how often I see articles that suggest that feelings of hunger might actually be stress, or boredom, or thirst, or something (anything!) other than hunger. Basically, we live in a society that is trying to instill in us a deeply-rooted mistrust of our bodies. It can be hard to remember that magazine articles and posts on the most popular “health” blogs* don’t have a better understanding of what our bodies need than we do.

Recently, I’ve been making an effort to listen to what my body is telling me. I’ve spent years trying to make it shut up, and separate myself from it (as though that’s even possible) in order to suppress needs and urges. Now, though, I’ve arrived at a point where I’m starting to appreciate what my body is capable of telling me. I’m actually listening, and understanding that I have a responsibility to respond.

In the past few weeks, the tension in my shoulders has become incredibly distracting; for the past couple days, my lower back has felt slightly weird; I’ve been tired and a little bit groggy, and had a bad headache since the week started. These are all things that need to be acknowledged, and dealt with. Obviously, it’s time to work a bit more on stress management, strengthen my core muscles to help with the back pain, and probably get back to drinking a lot of water in order to get rid of my headaches. Responding takes work, and conscious, deliberate action.

What is your body asking for? Take some time to listen and respond. You’ll be surprised at how well it works!

*Scare quotes what up? If I’d really applied myself, I probably could have worked a set into every paragraph. Still, three in one post ain’t bad.

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Embrace:This!

I knew yesterday that I wanted to write an Embrace:Me post today, since I had something else in mind and couldn’t give it its usual Monday night spot. But then I got home from work and started reading about this H&M mini-scandal, and got sort of intrigued by the whole thing. That, of course, made me wonder if maybe I should write about what it might mean that a major retailer is no longer even trying to make people believe that it’s using images of real women’s bodies to sell its clothes. Ultimately, though, I realized that I wanted some more time to get my thoughts together on that whole matter, and that I should probably just stick to the original plan. And so here we are.

When I first started the whole Embrace:Me thing, I had grand visions of it being wildly popular, and receiving consistent contributions from people who wanted to share their stories of learning to love their bodies, developing a healthy body image, and winning the fight against bodily-motivated low self-esteem. Needless to say, things didn’t quite go that way; as a result, I’ve gone back and forth between trying to build the project into something that is sustainable but not entirely dependent on other people for content, and scrapping it entirely. Recently, though, I had a tiny revelation: why not just tweak it a bit, so that its focus isn’t as narrow as I originally planned for it to be? There are, after all, about a million ways in which we can talk about improving body image–Embrace:Me doesn’t always have to be centered around one person’s story.

In a way, this would really be sort of a continuation of what I’ve been doing with it for the past while, except that it would be a deliberate building of the project and not just me trying to come up with something to write about in order to make sure that the whole enterprise doesn’t just disappear entirely. Sometimes I feel like the things I ramble on about here can get a bit too disconnected, and I’ve been trying to come up with a way to preserve body positive content while still writing a blog that’s mostly about running; I think this might be the way to do it.

So! From now on, Embrace:Me will be embracing body image-related content in a more general way. I still really want to share any stories or tips you have relating to your own struggles and triumphs with learning to feel good about yourself, so if you have anything to send my way, I am more than happy to receive it. Otherwise, I’ll be serving up other kinds of body-lovin’ goodness every Monday night. So make sure to report back so that you don’t miss anything!

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For the Next 30 Days: December

This morning, I rather serendipitously came across a Facebook post from Thais about a 25-day “yogathon” she’s doing. In spite of its name, it’s not all about yoga. The main goal is to cleanse the mind, body, and soul. That was part of my focus with the 30-day project I had in mind for November, which was basically to do as much Bikram yoga as possible. Well, that fell through (you may have noticed. And by the way, thanks to Bikram Yoga Grand Central, for having non-existent customer service). So I thought this month might be a good time to try again (or at least try a variation).

A yoga class.

Image via Wikipedia

Everyone has their own concept when it comes to cleansing the mind, body, and soul, and I’ve spent a fair amount of time today thinking about what this sort of challenge would consist of. As I thought about it, I began to realize how much my anxiety has flared up over the past few weeks. The holidays are a stressful time, and rather than find effective ways to deal with difficult situations, I’ve been trying to ignore them. Guess what? It’s not a very good coping strategy! In fact, it just makes you more anxious. Deep down, I know that the best way to deal with anxiety is to face up to it, and have a toolbox of coping strategies that you can turn to in order to keep it from getting really bad. So my December yogathon is going to be working to put some things in that toolbox, and hopefully managing my anxiety a bit more effectively as a result.

The tools:

  • Yoga, obvs. Along with running, it’s one of the best defenses I have against everyday anxiety
  • Meditation. A new thing for me, but something that other people have used (for hundreds of years!) with great success. Why not give it a try?
  • Journaling. Also a new thing, but an effective way to deal with difficult situations. I find that when I am able to articulate what it is I’m anxious about, it really helps defuse everything that’s building up. Not only that, but often when I actually express it, it becomes a lot less scary than it was.

What I’m aiming to do is use one of these tools every day, and get into the practice of doing something about the things that are getting to me instead of just letting them sit there and build up until they become too big for me to keep ignoring. Nothing good ever comes from that. 

What would you do to cleanse your mind, body, and soul?

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