Weight loss

Dear Women’s Running

I recently came across an article in Women’s Running Magazine on the subject of disordered eating.  The first time I read it, it bothered me.  I decided to sit with it for a while, and see if the feeling would pass.  After a few days, it didn’t.  So I sat down and wrote the following letter to the magazine.  I have yet to receive a response, and I’d really like to hear what the editors or the author have to say.  I hope they’ll take the time to get in touch with me.

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Dear Women’s Running,

I want to begin by saying that as an avid female runner, I’m a fan of your magazine; for the most part, I think of Women’s Running as a magazine that has positioned itself differently from other fitness-themed magazines targeted to women.  You take female runners of all levels seriously, and provide them with intelligent and empowering content.  Needless to say, a women’s magazine that does this is not at all easy to find.

It’s for this reason that I was, and continue to be, so disappointed by Amy Reinink’s recent article, “Dangerous Relationship”, on the prevalence of disordered eating behaviors in women.  This is a topic that merits far more attention than it gets in mainstream media, so I commend you for publishing an article that addresses this subject matter; however, it also happens to be a topic that needs to be handled with great care, as a failure to do so has the potential to do more harm than good.

Ms. Reinink begins her article by stating the weight, height, and amount of calories consumed daily by Kendra Glassman—for anyone suffering from either an eating disorder or disordered eating habits, information like this could prompt feelings of inadequacy, a need to further limit caloric intake, or criteria against which to judge one’s own body and most likely come up short.

Not only do the details given in this opening paragraph have potential to trigger a reader’s disordered behaviors (and with 65% of women displaying these behaviors, it’s fair to assume that many of the readers of Women’s Running struggle with them on a daily basis), they are also completely unnecessary.  Instead of providing the reader with information that will help her to understand the rest of the article, they reinforce the warped and conflicting definition of health that haunts many women and that is usually touted in magazines like Shape and Fitness.  As Ms. Glassman ultimately learns, overcoming disordered eating behaviors and living a truly healthy lifestyle means putting emphasis on the way a body feels and performs rather than how much it weighs, or how few calories it can be fed before basic functioning is compromised.  Ultimately, the inclusion of these details at the beginning of the article undermines the overall message that Ms. Reinink is trying to get across.  This piece could have served as a platform to combat many of the stereotypes that contribute to disordered eating behaviors.  The fact that it doesn’t is disappointing.

To make matters worse, Ms. Reinink describes Ms. Glassman as “the picture of health”, reinforcing the notion that there are specific looks associated with both EDs and disordered eating, as well as good health.  The implication is that Ms. Glassman fits in with the model of a woman who is thin and conventionally pretty, but that she isn’t rail thin; because an observer wouldn’t be able to count her ribs, she’s healthy.  This could have been an opportunity to take on the idea that having these narrow definitions and images of ‘sick’ and ‘healthy’ is detrimental and dangerous—they prevent us from being able to identify the cases in which someone needs help, and allow us to make assumptions based on very little other than the messages we’ve been sent by society and the mainstream media.

Additionally, in specifying that Ms. Glassman is consuming a nutritionally balanced 1,500 calories a day, Ms. Reinink gives the reader the impression that a diet consisting of a caloric intake this low fits right into the “picture of health” Kendra Glassman represents.  Not only is this a limited caloric intake for a woman training for a marathon, it’s a limited intake for anyone who isn’t actively trying to lose weight.  All this and we haven’t even made it past the article’s opening paragraph.

Finally, although Ms. Glassman’s story has a happy ending, Ms. Reinink fails to acknowledge the fact that many similar stories don’t. Disordered eating is an extremely slippery slope, and overcoming such behaviors is much more challenging than simply refusing to obsess over one’s weight.  In many cases, addressing these struggles may require the help of a therapist or an entire treatment team. Even if professional help is sought, there is no guarantee that the behaviors won’t still develop into a full-blown eating disorder. Moreover, disordered eating and eating disorders require constant vigilance and daily work, and this fact is only vaguely referenced in the article.  Recovery can be a lifelong process for many women, and Ms. Reinink’s omission of the degree to which disordered eating and eating disorders can be life-altering and dangerous really trivializes what these women experience and often fight extremely hard for.  In keeping with this, Ms. Glassman’s suggestion to observe and emulate a man’s eating habits in “Disordered Eating”, the piece that accompanies the article, comes off as insensitive and glib.

I want to make it clear that I am not suggesting that Women’s Running, or this article in particular, are to blame for the prevalence of disordered eating among women.  I also want it to be clear that disordered eating behaviors and eating disorders are not only the result of environmental factors, but are also influenced by a person’s biology.  But in a society like ours, where there is so much environmental pressure on women to be thin and conventionally beautiful, and where this pressure has such a deleterious effect on the way women view themselves, it’s unfortunate to see a publication that has an opportunity to endorse and promote a different message of health throw it away like this.  I can’t help but feel confused and extremely let down by the way this subject was handled.

I sincerely hope that in the future, topics such as this one will be explored with much more care and sensitivity than were on display in this article.

Sincerely,

Emilie Littlehales

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What’s Going On?

You are beautiful - 2

Image via Wikipedia

Weeks like this really make me wonder what it is about the idea of being thin that is so appealing.  Somehow, thin has come to describe not only the size of one’s body, but also a variety of other things about one’s life.  The idea of thin is also the idea of perfection, beauty, ease, elegance…every time I see a thin girl walk down the street I can’t help but think, “Why can’t I be like her?”  It’s not just the thin body I want, it’s the entire thin life, with all the right clothes, and a great job, and a ton of friends, and everything else that I need to make my life perfect.

Of course, I have no idea what her life is really like.  It’s just the fact that she’s thin that makes me think that everything she has must be better than what I have, and all because I consider her body to be better than mine.  And I know from experience that being thin doesn’t make things perfect.  It’s not a magic wand.  There’s no such thing as a magic wand.

I think a lot about whether or not other people ever see me and think, “Why can’t I be like her?”  There’s a perverse aspect of me that wants nothing more than for someone to think that about me, as though their belief that I’m somehow special or that I represent some ideal they want to achieve will clear away all the difficulties I have with my own body.

Someday I’ll be happy with my body, and when that day comes I know I won’t be obsessing over what I’ve eaten, what I’ll be eating later, losing weight, and how much I’ve exercised over the course of the week.  Although I can’t say for sure, I’m also pretty sure that I won’t be looking at other people and wishing I could be more like them and less like me.  I can’t wait for that day to come, and until it does, I just have to constantly remind myself that I’m beautiful the way I am, that my body doesn’t determine what my life is like, and that I am already as close to perfect as I’ll ever need to be.

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Confession

Lourdes confession

Image via Wikipedia

Here’s a confession: for the past couple weeks, I’ve been pretty fixated on all the little parts of my body that I wish I could change.  Several times I’ve seriously considered the various ways in which I could try to lose some weight.  More than once I’ve completely given myself over to the idea that if I were thinner, my life would be great and I’d have no problems!

Reality check!

When you have trouble with food and eating, it’s probably not a good idea to go on a diet.  It doesn’t help to obsess over all the parts of your body that you wish were different.  And if you were thinner, you’d have all the same problems, and maybe even a few more.  Sometimes it can be hard for me to fully internalize these things, even though I can understand them perfectly well on an intellectual level.

Wouldn’t life be so much simpler if we could just love our bodies and not worry about these things?  Or if there were at least some easy way out of these body-hating ruts we can sometimes get stuck in?

When I’m having a difficult day (whether it’s because I’m depressed, or disappointed, or angry, or whatever), Nat basically just hugs me until I feel better.  It’s like a full-on attack of love and even though I sometimes resist it at first, when I eventually give in and accept the hug, I’m able to let go of a lot of the things that are bothering me.  And maybe that’s the best way to deal with these sorts of feelings when they come up: instead of giving in and becoming submerged in these negative ideas about ourselves, we should try fighting back with a barrage of self-love and acceptance.

It could work, right?  And even if it doesn’t, there’s really nothing to lose.  A little self-acceptance never hurt nobody.

 

 

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Embrace: the Futility of Hating Your Body

This past weekend as I was catching up on my blog reading, I came across Samantha Angela‘s post, “Why hating your body is futile”. I’m a fan of her blog, and this post is no exception; I was really happy that she was kind enough to grant me permission to repost it as part of the Embrace:Me project. Her message in this post is, in my opinion, one that is often overlooked: the negative messages we receive about our bodies can often keep us in a vicious cycle of self-loathing and poor self care. Ironically, accepting who we are can be just what’s needed when it comes to losing weight (if you are looking to do so) and feeling better about ourselves overall. I’m not looking to lose weight, but I am going to remind myself of the ill-effects of negative self-talk the next time I find myself falling into that trap. 

woman in mirrorI’d venture to say that most of us overweight women are not happy with our bodies. Images of glamorous women praised for their ability to hide behind a matchstick are unavoidable. As are the advertisements for weight loss regimes and rapid weight loss schemes. I’m not thin enough! I get it. Enough already.

We’re suffering from some serious anxiety issues. No wonder we’re all on prozac or self-medicating with pints of Haagen Dazs and retracting to unhealthy lifestyles. We’ll never be good enough anyway.

But what if you learn to accept who you are and what you’re capable of? What if you learned what triggers your eating and how to deal with it? What if you started to believe that you were beautiful? Would it help you become a healthier person?

Researchers at the Technical University of Lisbon say yes.

So there’s this study that they did says that hating your body is futile.

Well, okay, so it doesn’t say that exactly but that’s what it implies. If you’re a large and in charge woman you’d best be putting down them diet books and swapping ‘em for some body love mantras because that’ll get you to shed more pounds.

Overweight women were enrolled in a weight loss program for a year.The control group was given“general health information about good nutrition, stress management, and the importance of looking after yourself,” while the treatment group attended “30 weekly group sessions where issues such as exercise, emotional eating, improving body image and the recognition of, and how to overcome, personal barriers to weight loss and lapses from the diet were discussed.”

The study found the women on the body love plan lost more weight over the year than the control group– 7% compared to 2% of their start weight.

woman in the mirror

(source: etsy)

The results aren’t that surprising though.

I mean, we’re overweight women, we’re not ignorami. We don’t sit down to a meal of potato chips, deep fried chicken, and a pint of ice cream and think we’re eating healthy. We don’t binge in the middle of the night when there’s no one around because we think it’ll help us shed a few pounds.

It takes a lot more work to recognize why I want to eat yet another cookie than it does to list off nutritional information about why it’s bad for me. Maybe I want the cookie because I’m bored, or maybe because my body is craving sugar, or maybe it’s because I think I look like shit anyway, so I might as well indulge in something that will make me happy.

I know what’s good for me and what isn’t. I know when my behaviours and eating habits aren’t healthy but I often don’t really understand why I am doing them.

So maybe we should shelve our diet books for good and start learning more about ourselves than what’s on our plate. …maybe we’ll end up looking better in the end anyway.

For a Different Self

Sometimes when I’m bored and tired and don’t have much energy to muster, let alone put toward doing something productive, I’ll just flip through pages on StumbleUpon.  Occasionally, I find things that are interesting, like that video about David Goggins; sometimes I find things that I feel entirely indifferent toward; and at other times, I find things that I can’t help but stop and consider just because of how disconnected from them I am in my day-to-day life.  Case in point, this page:

Image via Self

It’s been a long time since I’ve picked up an issue of Self, Fitness, Shape, or any magazine of their ilk.  I used to be an avid reader. In fact, I used to tear out pages from them and keep them in a binder, vowing that I would do the exercises in the vain hope that I would end up like the model demonstrating the moves.  Most of the time, trying to do this resulted in me feeling frustrated, sore, and extremely disappointed in myself.  To top it all off, the articles and features always made me feel slightly inadequate, like I hadn’t cut enough calories, or I had overindulged, or there was something wrong with me because I wasn’t thin like the women in the pictures.  So much of my life was wrapped up in my body, how it looked, how it felt, and what it was able to do.  Reading women’s fitness magazines as often as I did only served to enforce the negative messages I was already sending myself, and affirmed my belief that I wasn’t working hard enough to really feel good about myself.

I would be lying if I said that since throwing out all the back issues of those magazines that I had lying around, my relationship with my body changed entirely, because it didn’t.  That fact is well-documented here on this blog.  Indeed, as I sit here writing this post I can’t stop thinking about my mid-section, and how unhappy I’ve become with it in the past couple weeks.  But I can say in all honesty that my priorities when it comes to fitness have changed dramatically.  I no longer exercise to fit a certain standard, and these days my reasons for wanting to change my body have much more to do with athletic performance than appearance.  I do need to invest more time in core work, for example, but it’s not so that I can look like the woman in the yellow bikini above, it’s because last year during the Philadelphia marathon, that part of my body fatigued far earlier than it should have, and I want to avoid having that happen again.

I’m relieved to be mostly free of my near-compulsive need to act in a way that would be consistent with the lifestyle described in women’s fitness magazines.  In spite of my current struggles, I have come a long way and I’m far from being the person I was for most of the last decade or two.  My definition of health and fitness differs pretty drastically from the one these magazines share, and to me, that’s a victory.  Now when I see a headline about flat abs, guilt-free treats, or losing X number of pounds quickly, I find myself hoping that other women can take a step back and see that there’s more to a healthy lifestyle than whatever’s on the cover of Self.

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Shaping Up

Shapes of colours!

A good example of shapes. Image by Alessandro Pinna via Flickr

Here’s another expression to add to the banned list: “get in shape”.  Let’s just throw it out, along with cankles, fat days, bikini body, and all those other insidious phrases that really only serve to highlight all the ways in which we find ourselves inadequate.

I will readily admit that lately the idea of getting into shape has been sneaking into my thoughts a bit too often.  I woke up this morning feeling sore from the yoga I did yesterday.  My first thought: ugh, I’m so out of shape.  My running has been a bit inconsistent lately, and I find myself wondering if I need to get into better shape.  Every now and then, I’ll catch myself thinking this way and feel the urge to grab myself by the shoulders and give a good shake.  “Wake up!” I want to yell to myself. “Get in shape?  What does that even mean?!”

Obviously I know what the meaning of the word ‘shape’ is, and I also understand what’s meant when people use the term ‘get into shape’.  However, the phrase’s implications extend beyond its literal meaning: when I tell myself I need to get into shape, what I’m really saying is that the body I have is wrong, and I need to change it physically in order to make it right.  After all, what ‘shape’ are we talking about if not the shape of the ideal ‘healthy’ body?

Although I’ve said it a million times, it always bears repeating that health and fitness do not come in one size.  They don’t come in one shape, either, and when we use expressions that even benignly suggest that they do, we do ourselves a big disservice.  I may be sore from yoga, but what that means is that I should probably start practicing more consistently again; the quality of my runs may be uneven, but that could be the result of a number of things, like the intense heat and humidity we’ve been experiencing lately.  Neither of these things has anything to do with my body, and there’s no guarantee that they would be any less a problem if I were to trim my problem areas, flatten my tummy, and firm up my glutes in order to fit into the ‘shape’ that we tend to associate with being fit and healthy.

And so: a ban on getting in shape.  We can replace it with descriptions of what we actually need, and do away with this idea that being thin and perfect will solve our problems once and for all.  Maybe we can even come up with some new, more positive phrases.  Any suggestions?  Share them in the comments below!

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Embrace: No More Fat Days

Mondays always have the potential to be hard because if I don’t take time during the previous week to solicit a contribution for Embrace:Me, then I’m left to my own devices when it comes to a post idea.  As you can probably guess, today follows one of those weeks and since I am hell bent on keeping this series alive, it’s to my own devices I’ll turn.

This evening before I started writing, Nat asked me what I was going to post about (he does this every night, sometimes it really stresses me out).  “Fat days,” I answered.  “Fat days?  What’s that?” he asked.  “You know, fat days?  ‘Blech, I’m having a fat day’?” I said, at a loss as to how one might explain a fat day further than that.  He stared at me blankly.  “A day where you just feel fat?”  I ventured.  “Oh,” he responded.  “I’ve never really heard of that.  I haven’t heard anyone use that expression, at least.”  Well, in that case I guess I should get credit for not having complained of having had a fat day within earshot of Nat.  Beyond that, though, let’s just go ahead and say it: what the hell?  Who doesn’t know what a fat day is?

Image via HealthyGirl.org

If you think about it, though, it’s not all that surprising that Nat would be perplexed by the concept of a fat day.  I mean, really?  A fat day?  The phrase itself is nonsensical.  Is it like Mardi Gras?  How does one have a fat day?  It seems physically impossible–I mean you can’t just go from one physical shape to another overnight.  And that’s where things start to fall apart, because fat days have no basis in the quantitative.  They have nothing to do with actually being fat; they exist on a plane that is completely independent of your height, weight, size, or any other physical attribute you have.  They exist solely in your head.

If I hadn’t abolished the very notion of fat days from my system of thought, I’d go ahead and say that today I’m having a fat day.  My jeans feel tight, I feel icky, bloated, crabby, laze, and annoyed.  It’s as though I turned into a slug somewhere between yesterday when I went to bed and this morning when I woke up.  It’s totally disgusting, right?  Well, no, actually.  Wrong.

In spite of the way I may be feeling, I’d be hard pressed to really and truly call today a fat day.  For one thing, saying that those adjectives I listed above are synonymous with being fat is extremely unfair and only serves to perpetuate the stereotypes that have unjustly been created to describe what fat people are like (and in many cases, to justify discriminatory and prejudicial behaviors).  That right there, in and of itself, is extremely problematic.  For another, fat isn’t a feeling, it’s a physical descriptor.  I may be feeling lazy, run-down, and crabby.  I may actually be bloated because I’ve had too much salt lately, or because of (ahem) hormonal fluctuations.  These things don’t add up to “feeling fat”, they add up to feeling kind of crummy and having kind of a bad day.  Finally, and this is related to my first point, what’s wrong with being fat?  When we say we’re having a fat day, we’re accepting the fact that society has taught us that fat is a stand-in for a variety of negative things.  It’s not.

So I want us all to take on a challenge: no more fat days.  When you feel compelled to say you’re having one, dig a little deeper and try to identify what you’re really feeling.  Me?  I’m stressed out from a job I don’t love, and uncertainty about the future.  I’m tired.  I’m frustrated about living in a city that is, even on the best of days, hard to live in.  That’s what’s really going on, and now that I’ve articulated those things, I can address them.  And isn’t that better than calling it a fat day, throwing up my hands in despair, and buying into the idea that everything going on is hopeless and beyond my control?  I think so.

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