Tag Archives: community

A Stranger’s Body

When I moved across the country, I started a new life with family and friends who hadn’t seen much of me for nearly 10 years. They aren’t as familiar with my body reshaping journey, and they don’t have the same image in their heads of me that I do.

I was having lunch with my new coworkers, and we were talking about dieting, different food lifestyles, our struggles with our bodies that ranged from weight loss to maintaining mobility. I talked some about how my eating habits changed over the last year and why I’m trying to steer clear of carbohydrates and starch. I get comments now to the effect of, “You don’t need to lose weight.” I then tell them about the eating plan my doctor put me on last year, my highest weight two years ago, and how much I’ve lost over the last year. “You weighed 205 pounds? You?” I don’t feel that different essentially, but I know I look different, and the two versions of myself are still being reconciled in my head.

When I look in the mirror, I see myself as I’ve always seen me, even though the shape is different. I’m still surprised at how my abdomen doesn’t protrude as much and how much better defined my chin is. But there I am, with more wrinkles and gray hair every day, smaller measurements all over.

The real shock comes when I look at photos of myself from the recent past. Scrolling through my Facebook photos is eye-opening. While I don’t regret what I looked like or hate myself for it – I know how hard I was trying to change myself for all those years – I am glad that I no longer have the health problems that came with that extra weight, the frustration that came with living that way, and the feeling that I’d never be able to lose it no matter how hard I tried.

People who know me now don’t realize that the larger version of me is still who I identify with, that that’s who I was for two decades. That’s my story, though, and it’s not as visible as my current body and the story that people might assign to me because of the way I look now. For better or worse, our pasts rule us.  That’s one reason I will always be decent to other people no matter their size – you don’t know their story, and it’s a highly personal story that is never really over.

I’m still getting used to seeing this body in the mirror, fitting it with clothes, and understanding the way other people see it. I love myself in every iteration, but this new me is both exciting and strange… and expensive to reclothe. My boyfriend is a valuable touchstone for shifting my perception and highlighting the changes my body has been through.

I have to cull my clothing collection again to rid myself of shirts that just won’t work anymore. I’m starting to fit into size 10 pants; my size 12s are getting baggy, and I’m wearing my boyfriend’s belts for the first time. This would have been impossible in the past due to the measurement of my waist. It’s a whole weird new world to me that just seems normal to everyone else. Time for me to start getting used to it.

Links: xoJane Articles on Body Policing

I love me some xoJane, having grown up reading my sister’s copies of Sassy as a preteen and following the career of founder Jane Pratt for years. Her current website is a wonderful collection of opinion, confessional, and storytelling pieces by a variety of writers who cover the spectrum of the experience of young women in the United States. I particularly love the pieces that center on issues around weight, society’s view of women, eating disorders, fitness, and how these topics intertwine.

Don’t read the comments is the universal rule of the internet when you want to keep your faith in humanity. S.E. Smith has read the comments for us on an online article written by a law student bothered by an eating disorder-promoting t-shirt (banned when originally released) worn by an alumnus to a university gym.

Being fat in public is hard enough, the way our society works, and xoJane author Lesley gets annoyed along with the rest of us for the concern trolling and revulsion some critics have expressed recently over Melissa McCarthy and Chris Christie. Keep your fat-hating to yourself. It’s not making the lives of the overweight and obese any better; it’s not motivating them to lose weight; it’s not helping them in any way; it’s just poison put into the air, and it’s extremely entitled thinking to believe your opinion should and will make any difference to anyone else about their own private lives. And nobody would like it if someone started policing you on your habits – I don’t care if you live on carrots, kelp, and free-range tuna and run 19 miles a day, you would be pissed if someone started bossing you around, ridiculing your appearance, making you out to be less of a person, and criticizing you for everything you put into your body if the body ideal was something other than what you have.

Basically, these articles boil down to “shut your hate hole” to those who feel the need to police the bodies of people around them with hate disguised as humor, hate expressed in a movie review, or hate dressed up like unsought medical advice. Thanks to xoJane for helping to boost the signal of voices that say you’ve got a right to live in your own body without being told you have to hate it based on the opinions of people who aren’t you.

Staggered Sign-Ups and Long-Term Physical Training

I’ve got a handful of pet causes for which I like to do 5k walks (my body isn’t up for a run yet at all). Now that the weather is calming down after another blazing summer, reminders have been going out for my favorite events, each peppering a different weekend from now until the end of November.

I don’t want to overextend myself through commitment to things I’m not sure I can see through, I don’t want to hassle friends and family for donations, and I don’t always have the cash on hand to register right when I think of it, so I’ve had to set up email reminders in Google Calendar to remind myself of when to register for events. But I’m excited to participate in them, not only for the altruism and community-fostering aspect, but also for the accomplishment of performing a physical feat.

This fall, I have plans to participate in:

  • The Undy 5000 colon cancer event
  • A non-Komen-affiliated breast cancer event
  • St. Jude Children’s Hospital Give Thanks. Walk.

As I have said, my plans to participate in running (not walking) events of any kind are contingent upon my preparing my body to be able to run without further injury. My running will only happen after I’ve worked to ensure that my core is strong, my shoulder is rehabbed well enough to allow me to wear a sports bra without pain, my feet are regularly stretched properly to prevent plantar fasciitis pain, and my knee is well-supported and protected by muscles and my continued weight loss.

To those ends:

  • I’m resuming my 3x/week 45-minute shoulder physical therapy routine at home.
  • I’m adding small parts of my pilates exercises to my routine, evaluating how much further to go based on the presence of pain the next day.
  • I’m getting back on the total paleo-ish eating plan again, since I put on several pounds from emotionally-driven and laziness-driven cheat meals.

I am sorely in need of physical activity again, besides taking the stairs at the office. After my first physical therapy workout in months, my arms have been sore from all that lifting and manipulating three-pound and five-pound weights and stretch bands. I would be more embarrassed about my weakness, but at least I intend to do something about it, and I have the tools, knowledge, and motivation I need to do it.

It may be next spring before I can run in an event, but I want to use the cooler weather months wisely, as my training period, and make myself ready to face whatever challenges I present to myself when I feel I’m ready.

Links: xoJane writers on relationships with food, unwilling weight loss

An avid reader of Sassy when I was a teenager, I was delighted a while back to learn that Jane Pratt now has a website for and largely by women, xoJane, discussing a variety of topics with an edge and different editorial voice than other woman-oriented article and link-accrual sites such as Jezebel or the Hairpin. xoJane regularly publishes excellent articles about body image, weight, and food. Here are two recent stories well worth the read:

Adventures in Topamax: I’m On a Weight Loss Drug, But Not Because I Want to Lose Weight, author Sara Eyre – this touches on feeling out of control with your health, as well as the emphasis people sometimes put on weight loss over health.

My Grandma Died from an Eating Disorder, author Claire Glass – discusses the legacy of relationships with food over several generations of women.

We Are Not So Different: Paleo-Ish and Vegetarian

So, stop me if you’ve heard this one: Paleo Eve and Vegetarian Eve go to a bar, and the bartender says, “What kind of drinks for you, ladies?” Paleo Eve says, “How about a vodka tonic?” And then, Paleo Eve’s friends gather around it and argue that no, potatoes are too starchy, and anyone trying to lose weight should stay away from vodka. Omg! Vegetarian Eve orders an O’Douls, and Paleo Eve says, “Ugh, that’s disgusting, how many carbs are in that thing?” Vegetarian Eve screeches, “Technically, there’s no meat in this! Get off my case! Gawd!!!”

I was a vegetarian for 8 years of adulthood and have been eating lower carb, paleolithic-ish for only the past 4 months. In all the reading done about the paleolithic diet and lower carb eating, I’ve come to realize that if you’re doing the vegetarian diet correctly, it resembles paleo a great deal, with the main difference of avoiding meat and substituting other protein-heavy foods like soy, peanuts, and a variety of beans, nuts, and legumes.

Technically, I knew that vegetarians could eat raw vegetables and seeds, too, but I was much less willing to eat fresh produce than I am now, and more willing to consume processed foods that often packed less nutritional punch and were ultimately worse for me. Oh, how I regret the Bartlett pears that have gone bad in my crisper drawer.

Poor Choices
I touched upon observing the letter but not the spirit of the vegetarian lifestyle in a recent post about my poorly executed erstwhile vegetarianism. I relied on a lot of soy burgers and fake meat products, anything processed that I could make into a sandwich or throw into stir-fry. Spaghetti practically ran through my veins. (Ok, that was a weird mental image.)

I still ate dairy and eggs, and many processed vegetarian foods are made with dairy and egg ingredients, so it was easier for me to get protein and fat than it would have been if I’d gone fully vegan and eaten more like the way I do now.

In the past, I saw meat, and meat substitutes, as the main part of the meal, and therefore the most essential part of the meal. A dinner built around something other than that kind of main dish was only a snack, or a sign of poverty of imagination (or literal poverty – I mean, who eats just rice and veggies for dinner?). This led me to choose the veggie burger and fries instead of a variety of mixed steamed veggies with a baked potato and salad if I was having dinner at the pub.

While I ate my share of unconventionally structured meals, sometimes that was just due to my misadventures in cooking rather than creativity or fluency in my chosen nutritional path. This thought pattern for every meal of “meat/facsimile and two veg” wasn’t intentional, but it’s something ingrained in a lot of people in the U.S., and it led me to make a lot of poor food choices.

Judgement of That Which Is Deemed Different
I wonder now how much of substituting fake meats but keeping the meal structure otherwise the same was also to downplay the “weirdness” of being vegetarian in a social setting. I had only a handful of friends who were vegetarian or ate with special dietary restrictions, with most of the people in my life enthusiastic omnivores, and little support structure. Most of the people I interacted with were all right with my food choices, because I didn’t throw them in their faces, but occasionally, I’d get hassled by an acquaintance or family member whose bemusement shone through as negative attention that I just wanted to avoid.

If I’d had a spine, I would have been much prouder of my choices. I was almost apologetic and ashamed sometimes about an aspect of my life that only I and the people who truly care about me had any right to meaningfully care about, my food intake.

I am still careful to explain my current diet couched in as many terms as my mind sees as necessary, but I find that people don’t find the details as compelling as they do the broader strokes, so explanation in depth is usually not necessary anymore. As soon as I say, “My doctor put me on this diet,” understanding clicks in, and it’s on to the next topic of conversation. I understand not everyone else who eats like I do has this luxury, and some people are going to be belligerent jerks about the dietary choices of other people no matter what. The old me would have rolled over and taken that kind of prodding (be it good-natured, thoughtless, or trolling), but the new me isn’t about that. All I have to do these days is pull up pictures of me from four months ago and tell them about shopping for new clothes, breathing more easily, and maybe being able to run again someday, and the only thing I’ve changed about my lifestyle is my diet.

Be proud of your lifestyle choices, especially educated and careful choices you make about food and fitness. Don’t let others with no real interest in your health talk you out of doing what is best for you and your body. And those of us who eat differently, remember to be kind and give the benefit of the doubt before you actively judge others. Better yet, don’t judge others at all, since you don’t know their struggles. Sometime when others are negative, they are defensive, feeling like your actions are a judgment of their own. Others may be embittered about their own lack of success and taking it out on you without realizing it (some realize it, and those people are poisonous and should be minimized in your life). Other times, they may have run into someone who made choices like you make and treated them poorly, and they have negative associations they haven’t been able to divorce from the food lifestyle you lead. Their poor reactions from other people toward your diet may be because they feel provoked by the things you say or the attitude you project. Do you brag about your diet everywhere you go? Are you vocally putting down people who eat differently than you do? Be awesome, lead by example, only tell when asked, and follow Wheaton’s Law.

Branching Out
While I still do go for a main dish surrounded by vegetables for many of my main meals, I am also content to eat weirder meals: almond butter with a sprinkling of seeds and nuts, or a bowl of snap peas with cheese (I still love my dairy, so I try to eat quality cheese in measured, reasonable portions). My lunch is usually a portion of deli meat in a sea of raw vegetables, the veggies taking up at least two-thirds of the mass inside my lunch container. During these months when I’m eating with the idea of weight loss, white potatoes are off the menu, but sweet potatoes can be eaten in moderation.

Any of these meals minus the lunch meat would have been perfectly acceptable vegetarian meals, if only I’d thought to branch out from my usual pasta, rice, or quinoa pilaf topped with sad boiled vegetables and a sugary sauce, breaded faux chicken on toast, pasta-riffic frozen lunches, etc. and try some real, unprocessed foods for a change. If I ever go back to vegetarianism, I believe my lower carb, paleo-ish diet has been a valuable education in the importance of the kind and quality of foods you eat.

A cartoon depicting a cavewoman and a hippie in a bar.

If they can get along over a bowl of carrots, then there may be hope for healthy future dietary endeavors.

Image

5K With The Dog

A woman in t-shirt and shorts walking a dog during a 5k event.

Taking my dog out on a beautiful morning for a brisk 5k walk!

I took my dog with me on a local 5K walk last weekend. She did so well! And I felt great at the end. We were both exhausted but happy. It was a bonding experience for the two of us, she kept our pace pretty brisk for the entire walk, and she made friends everywhere she went. I plan to take her with me on more 5K walks once the weather cools down.

Two Rounds Down, More Pounds Down

This past weekend saw the conclusion of my second round of participation in Reddit’s fitness community 90DaysGoal.

It’s very heartening to have a community to report to, that will give you positive feedback and helpful hints. For someone as solitary and independent as I am away from the keyboard, a community of cheerful internet strangers with similar goals is perfect. That means I won’t be pestering real-life friends who may not have the time, energy, or motivation to get moving or eat the same way I do.

And it also means that I have a fairly reliable supply of support from people who are motivated enough to post. I haven’t made close friends there, but at the same time, it’s great going along with these friendly strangers on the fitness, weigh loss, weight gain, and general health improvement journey that they share in their comments on the daily posts.

Round One: Physical Rehabilitation
My targets for the first round, which took place in the last quarter of 2011, were weight loss and physical rehabilitation for my shoulder, which meant lots of exercise and diet tracking. The diet tracking waxed and waned, but I was steady about my exercise until the new year. I stopped my physical therapy several weeks before visiting my doctor in February, as I considered my shoulder mended. My weight loss did not go very quickly. During that time, I checked in almost daily to the posts on 90 Days Goal, partly to keep myself motivated by making myself publicly accountable for the day’s activities.

Round Two: Carrots and Grilled Chicken
The second round, which encompassed the first months of 2012, became much less about exercise and more about weigh loss and eating a paleo-like, lower carb diet as per my doctor’s instructions. Following my doctor’s advice on food has turned out quite well, as I’m seeing more progress on it than I have seen on any of my attempts to change my diet. I checked in much less frequently, but I still checked in from time to time.

It seemed more important to post and comment when I was either having problems or enjoying success. When my shoulder was always sore, when I had just completed a physical therapy session while listening to Greg Giraldo in the spare room, when I hit a weight goal, when I mocked up my calendar… these were things I wanted to share with others.

When my weight wouldn’t budge, when I wasn’t feeling motivated to exercise, when I’d had a mediocre eating week…I did not want to report.

Round Three: Feed the Body, Move the Body
I’m preparing for my third round with 90DaysGoal. I’m still reading and posting in the community, though less frequently. I joined SlimKicker (another fitness/food tracking site that turns weight loss and exercise into a sort of social networking and slow-moving RPG hybrid). I’ve also been exercising some nights, though a major patch was just released for my favorite MMO, and that will be ruling all my free time.

I’m continuing with my eating habits, and that’s the main focus of my efforts at the moment, though once you’ve got the basics in place (planning meals, eliminating temptations, finding things you really like to eat), it’s really easy to maintain this style of eating. I hope that makes it easier for me to get back into exercise, since my eating will be under control. My calorie intake might have to go up, though. Looking at my daily totals these days, I’m really surprised at how little I’m eating. My past self would be very grumbly if someone told her she’d have to get by on about 1,200 calories per day by choice.

Currently, my weight is 175 and falling. I am amazed. And it’s getting less funny that my clothes don’t fit as well. I paw through my clothes in the morning looking for a shirt that won’t gape at the V-neck and show everyone what color bra I’m wearing that day. Belts are a must for most of my pants. I tried on size 12 jeans over the weekend, and they fit fine. I can’t even remember the last time I wore a U.S. size 12 – probably in my teen years. If I ever have disposable income again, it’s going toward new pants, for a start.