The Bathing Suit Test

Journal excerpt

July 5

We went to the river today.  I wore my bathing suit all day.  I did not put on a pair of shorts to hide my thighs, I did not put on a large T-shirt to cover everything.  With all my big talk about accepting my body and being nice to myself for the past two and half years, today is the first day I wore my bathing suit without being worried about my body or what I looked like to others. 

When I slipped off the bathing suit to shower, I felt like I had passed a test.  Like I reached some milestone in life.  It’s been easy to talk the talk and say how I feel empowered by eating normally and that I accept myself as I am, but the truth comes in hard doses.

The first truth is that I have gained a few pounds since I broke my ankle. The next truth is that my that my daughter is getting married. We have both been busy making plans and reveling in the joy of it all.  But deep in my mind, a pin prick of self consciousness began to grow.  

I began to think about dresses I would wear, how they would look on me and how I would look in pictures.  I mulled over styles and tried to choose the best one to make me look thinner.  

This began thoughts of maybe losing a few pounds, several pounds actually, for the wedding.  This started me thinking about calories, which led to restricting some foods which led to eating more food which led to guilt about eating some ice cream, which led to…..no, I didn’t binge.  But I did overeat for a few days while sorting all this out. 

And it can be sorted out. It takes some time, soul searching, and some confidence in who I am and what I am about.  It takes reassurance and self compassion. Oh, and it takes faith in myself and faith in something bigger than myself -I call this God.  

These past couple months have brought a whole new perspective on what it is to really accept myself. In the face of a wedding and wanting to look as good as possible for my beautiful daughter, I have had to come to terms with what it means to be my best for my children.  If being my best means that I am skinny, but my mind is constantly on my body and weight, how is that my best?

I will look my best when I feel my best.  And I don’t have to be skinny or even thin to feel my best.

My best is when I am happy and confident in who I am regardless of my body size.

My best is being content with myself so that I can fully participate in the life around me.

I’ve had a difficult time writing for this blog when my thoughts have been about losing weight and looking my best for my daughters wedding…

But I have pretty much resolved this issue. And when I wore my bathing suit for the entire day,  it cemented the idea that I don’t have to lose weight for any reason. I am okay just the way I am. I have passed the test.

Now that my ankle is almost healed and I am able to be more active, I may lose some weight. But I will not force this or dwell on it. For the wedding, I will dress in a stylish way regardless of my size, but I will not think about my thighs or my height or whatever else has kept me preoccupied in the past.  I will be happy for my daughter and celebrate her wonderful day.

Re-think ‘Fake It Till You Make It’

“Fake it till you make it.”  I’ve heard this saying a million times.  And for most of my life I tried to fake it, waiting for that happy day when I could get up in the morning and say, “I made it!”  And even though I am in a much better frame of mind now than I was for most of my life, I don’t think that the ‘fake it till you make it’ attitude helped me at all.

I’m not saying its bad advice. It may be good advice for a rational mind.  A confident person knows it means you don’t have to let your emotions rule you, that whatever your circumstances are, everything will be okay eventually, and you can smile when you don’t feel like it because it will help make you feel better.

But to my broken, irrational, emotional mind, ‘fake it till you make it’ meant I must pretend I am okay so no one else sees the crazy inside me.  So, I pretended every day.  I put on a smile when I felt like a vacuum inside.  I kept hoping to get to a place where I felt real; authentic.  The trouble is, it is hard to be authentic when you are faking it.

I put all my energies into thinking about the size of my body because I thought that being authentic meant being thin. But as my body size changed over the years, whether big or small, I still had that same feeling that I couldn’t be the real me.  No one would want to know the real me because the real me was not a good person.

Then one day I realized that nothing was going to be different if I kept faking it.  I had to change, but wasn’t sure how to begin.  It was about this time I began attending a small church in our neighborhood.  And I’m not saying you must go to church to learn how to be authentic, but for me the timing was right.  I heard something there that resonated with me and started a transformation in my thinking.

The pastor called all the little children to come around him and sit. Then he asked them this question. “What do you have to do to earn Gods love?” All the kids raised their hands and gave answers like, -be good, -obey your parents, or-don’t hit your little brother. The pastor encouraged them and told them all these things were very good, but he was looking for another answer. One little boy in the back of the group didn’t raise his hand, but the pastor called on him anyway. “Jimmy, what do you think?” Jimmy looked at all the other kids like he was trying to think of an answer that wasn’t already mentioned. Finally, he scrunched up his face and asked, “Nothing?”  The pastor bellowed, “Yes, Jimmy, that’s exactly right. You don’t have to do anything to earn God’s love, you have it now, you had it when you were born, you will have it for the rest of your life.”

I always heard that God loved me, but I believed I had to work very hard to earn that love; to be good enough.  The trouble was, I missed the mark somehow.  I just never was good enough for some reason. I held myself responsible for how others thought about me and extended that to God.

When I finally realized that I was valuable just the way I was, there was relief.  It wasn’t like a big rush of liberation, it was more like a pinprick that eased a little pressure.  And each day, a little more tension was released until I truly believed in my goodness.  And with a true belief in my value, I didn’t have to fake it anymore.

Sometimes, now, I smile when I am sad, but not to fake it or hide my sorrow from others. I smile because I know it will help ease my pain and may even help someone else.  And now, I do most things because I want to; not because I force myself to.

Knowing my value allows me to function at a higher level.  It allows my body and mind to be more in sync.  I can acknowledge my feelings instead of hiding them or being ashamed of them, and I know my value is the same, regardless of my emotions, body size, or actions.

I used to think that people who thought they were valuable were arrogant.  But arrogance comes from thinking we have achieved our value only because of our outstanding merits. The truth is, there is nothing we can do, or fail to do, that will affect our value.

We can call this inherent value God’s love or call it our place in the universe.  But the knowledge and acceptance of it takes the need to ‘fake it’ away, and helps us be authentic.

Peace Ya’ll

You don’t have to fake anything.  You are already valuable.

 

Looking For Miracles

Today I will look for miracles.

If I look for miracles, I will find them.

I don’t expect to skip over all the hard stuff in life. But, I know my life is only as good as I expect it to be.

We experience what we focus on.

If we wake up each morning expecting life to feel like a struggle, then our lives will be a struggle. This should not surprise you.

But what if you wake up and look for a miracle today?  The miracle could be as extravagant as healing your disease or as simple as getting a convenient parking spot.  But it will happen. All you need to do is look in the right direction.

In a way, miracles are subject to momentum. They may start very, very small. But once you notice one, the more you will believe in possibilities. And the more you believe in possibilities, the more miracles you will see.

What are you focusing on today?

Miracles happen everyday. But if you don’t look for them, you will miss them.

Expect a miracle.

 

“Just because you have negative thoughts doesn’t mean you have to entertain them.”

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What ‘Feeling Fat’ Means To Me

When I was 14 years old, I babysat for the family who lived across the street. They had two children; a toddler and a baby of seven months. The mom, Kari, was not happy with the extra weight she gained from having the baby. She constantly dieted and exercised. She and my mother often traded diet tips and weight loss stories while drinking black coffee at our kitchen table.
One time, a few days into one of her restrictive diets, Kari came over to our house and sat down. She stretched out her legs, pointed her feet like a ballerina and said, “I feel so thin today. I know I’m not thin, but I feel thin.”
Thinness, to Kari, (to all of us back then) equated with being better, happier, and more attractive. That day, I got the message seared into my brain that feeling thin was proof you had willpower and you stuck to your diet. Fatness and feeling fat was bad, even if it was proof you just had a baby.

From then on, I tried my hardest to follow a diet. I wanted that elusive ‘thin’ feeling. I thought it was the only feeling that would relieve the terrifying ‘fat’ feeling that was beginning to invade my consciousness. So, instead of trying to help myself feel happy or content or peaceful or loving, I chose to work on feeling thin to combat feeling fat.

The things that made me feel thin were -following a low-calorie diet for a few days, jogging every day, or fasting. All these things led to losing a few pounds and I felt thin for a short time. Looking back now, I don’t know how I got through college or managed to have friends. Everything in my life was less important than losing weight.

Throughout my life, I have painstakingly weighed and measured my food, counting every carb, calorie and fat gram. And I did manage, a few times, to get to a weight I was happy with…more truthfully, I got to a weight that I thought would make me happy.

The problem was, in trying to mold my body for the approval of others, I succeeded in learning how to hate my body imperfections. When you are thin, you still think about your thighs, your stomach, the skin under your arms and a hundred other perceived flaws.

So, even though I became petite, my self-esteem was artificial. I felt thin when I was actively losing weight, but felt fat if I ate too much. And inside, I had hole in the core of my being even bigger than before I lost the weight. My self-esteem was linked to the number on the scale, same as always.

Being thin did not guarantee people were going to like me and it did not give me a foundation to handle stress. In fact, it triggered more stress because I felt a more urgent need to stay slim; to not disappoint myself and others. This attitude gave birth to a full fledged eating disorder and years of unhealthy habits (which were even worse than my mom’s fad diets.)

How does this all relate to ‘feeling fat?

In the first ED program I attended, I was encouraged to express my feelings in a group therapy session after lunch each day. If I, or anyone in the group said they felt fat, we were told to find another word because ‘fat’ was not a feeling. This never helped me come to terms with the feeling of being fat, it just kept me trying to escape it. I kept  thinking I was wrong about my feelings. I felt invalidated. And even though I looked for other words on a printed out list of feelings, none of them expressed how I felt.

I agree that we need to stop equating thinness with happiness, and fatness with negativity. I spend a significant amount of my time reading and writing about this. I am on that bandwagon. But emotions and feelings are very complex subjects, and trying to explain that fat is not a feeling just complicates things even more. Only by embracing my experience of feeling fat could I learn to recognize other emotions and get some meaning back into my life.

We view feeling fat as a negative event because of our beliefs. Initially, we get our beliefs from how we are raised, what we learn from society, and the experiences we have in our lives. If we dismiss feeling fat as an erroneous emotion, we can never come to terms with it. It will forever have a negative connotation.  By not allowing ourselves to examine the feeling, it becomes this ominous thing we are afraid of.

If we are going to change the perception about fat and feeling fat, we have to face it head on; we have to study and re-define it.

Feelings and emotions serve us for survival, not to cause unnecessary suffering.  So, by allowing myself to explore my ‘fat’ feeling I can determine the cause. How I interpret that feeling is really what counts. If I keep trying to vanquish it, I will never get to what my body is really trying to tell me.

For me, feeling fat is an expression of a mild physical discomfort, it’s not a debilitating pain, its not a negative thought,  and it does not change my value as a person. It could be that I ate too much, or I feel bloated from a certain food, or my clothing is uncomfortable. Fat is the word I use to express these feelings. ‘Uncomfortable’ may be a more acceptable word, but fat fits my feeling more precisely.

Its not unlike having an itch or feeling sleepy or any other feeling you can name that requires you to attend to something about your body.  Once the itch is scratched or you take a nap, you can go on with your life.

The problem most of us have is that when we feel fat, we think it means we should lose weight.  We think it is a negative thing that cannot be alleviated by anything other than exercise, dieting and weight loss.  But if we study it carefully, we can make ourselves more comfortable in our own skin by making a few adjustments.

Sometimes these are physical adjustments like loosening our clothes or drinking water instead of soda. Sometimes they are mental adjustments, like remembering that feeling fat is not a negative event.  And like most other issues, when we acknowledge it and open ourselves up to it, we will have a clearer mind. With a clearer mind, we then have a choice to either accept it for what it is -a mild discomfort, or take reasonable measures to resolve it.

For more on trusting your body – Your Body Is Brilliant

For more on body image issues – Can I be Weightless?

 

“The breakthrough will come when we can embrace and examine feeling fat instead of trying to conquer it or run from it.”IMG_0048

 

There’s More Than Just Accepting The Past

Someone once wrote me that she was sorry I shared her “sorted history” of dieting and body image issues. It reminded me of someone saying ‘I’m sorry for your loss’ at a funeral. But this got me thinking, am I sorry for my past? Was my past a loss? How much of my past still haunts me?

I used to regret my past because I thought I was broken in some way. My past was proof I was a bad person or that I ended up where I am because of my failures or the failures of others. But I don’t think that way anymore.

Growing up, I had a sense that something was not right, like I didn’t fit in. I was adopted at 10 days old, and raised as an only child. My adoptive parents were both alcoholics, with my dad being in and out of rehab most of my early childhood and my mom drinking to cope. My dad was happy-go-lucky and let my verbally abusive mom dominate. We were in a low to middle socioeconomic class and my parents were old enough to be my grandparents. They sent me to a Catholic grade school where the nuns were cold and unforgiving.

I had this litany of complaints about my childhood, regretting everything that happened to me and mulling it over and over and asking God, “Why me?” I felt victimized by my parents, the nuns, and my birth mother. I had the story down pat and would tell anyone who would listen how I wished things could have been different, if only I wasn’t adopted, if only my mom treated me better, if only…..

One day I was talking to my parish priest at a social gathering, and I began to tell him (not for the first time) how I wished my life as a child had been different. Right in the middle of my speech he excused himself and walked away. I was stunned. But it occurred to me that talking about what I wish the past would have been didn’t make any sense, and no one really wanted to hear it. The past was part of who I was, but it didn’t have anything to do with what was happening at this point in my life. I was the one keeping it alive.

I now see my past as being necessary to get me to where I am today. After all, if things had been different in any way, would I have the children I have now? Would I have met my husband? Would I be any happier? Would my life be any better? There is no way to know.

When we regret the past, we automatically think that if it had been different then, things would be better now. This gives us an excuse to not make things better now. The truth is, even if we had an idyllic past, there is no way of knowing that any aspect of our lives would be better than it is now. This is an assumption we make; a guess. But there is no proof. And if there is no proof that anything would be better, it’s not logical to waste time lamenting the past. This just keeps us stalled in an unhappy ‘now.’

How did I come to terms with my past?

I began with changing my perspective. I took myself out of the equation and observed it as an outsider. I pretended that my past had a physical dimension, like a kitchen table. I had only been looking at it from one angle.  I felt like a plate sitting on the top of the table. I could only see what was happening around me.  And back then, I did what plates do; I took everything that was laid on me and didn’t ask any questions.

I realized that if I was looking into the past, I didn’t have to be the plate any more. I could just be me, as I am now, and look at everything.  I crawled up under the table and looked at the underside. I inspected the legs that held it up and examined the entire structure. I made new conclusions about its existence.  I no longer felt like the plate or the victim or at fault.

After that, I began to remember things a little better. It’s not that my memories were faulty, it’s that they were not complete. I remember all the bad things because it’s easy to do that. It’s a survival mechanism.  We easily recall the bad stuff so we can stay away from it in the future. The problem is, when we do this, we forget the okay stuff, and even the good stuff.  But, if we think hard enough, we can find those good times that were overlooked.

So, here’s the new version of my past. It’s the same as before, only from a new perspective.

My biological mom was only 18 years old, with no education or money, when she got pregnant with me. No surprise that I was put up for adoption. My adoptive parents were madly in love with each other and tried many years, but could not conceive a child of their own. I was the answer to their prayers. My dad drank a lot, but he worked hard to put a roof over our head. I was a typical ‘daddy’s little girl’ and loved him lots. My mom and I weren’t as close, but she was a great cook and housekeeper. She worked part time cleaning other people’s houses to give me piano lessons and send me to a private Catholic school. A few nuns were mean to me, but most of them and the other teachers were supportive and taught me well. When I was little, my mom and dad took me camping and fishing at the shore most weekends. My adoptive parents tried hard to make a good life for me.

This change in thinking about my past did not come about in a day, a month, or even a year. I have spent my life trying to reconcile it. But I now realize that by just trying to accept my past, I limited myself. I must embrace my past to be happy about who I am now. I must be content that things happened just the way they did, or I will always harbor a shadow of regret.

I have no regrets now.

For info on how to create a binge-free life – click here

 

“My past has no hold over me unless I let it.”

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Broken and Blessed

 Several weeks ago, I broke my ankle. In the past, I would have had a giant pity party and lamented the pain and inconvenience to everyone around me. And even though it has put me a little behind in my writing, it hasn’t dimmed my enthusiasm or caused me much distress.

I am writing about it now for two reasons. The first is, I wanted to use this real-life situation to share how negative events can give birth to positive things – that is, if you look for them. The second is, it put a tiny glitch in my binge free life that I had to figure out how to deal with.

Positives From Negatives

I broke my ankle playing tennis. I know, it’s not a contact sport, right? But I couldn’t help going for an overhead that was way out of my reach. As soon as it happened, all play stopped on three courts and everyone rallied around me. They got me to the ER and stayed until my family arrived. After a few days, and when the swelling went down, the orthopedic doc cast it all the way up to the knee.  People sent cards and called to check on me. One friend even sent me a bedside bell. It sounded just like the bells on Downton Abbey except that when I rang it, no one came to my see what I wanted, I just heard peals of laughter coming from the other room.

Since our vacation was set for the following week, my husband rented me a scooter. With one knee propped up and my good leg pushing me forward, I felt like a kid at play. It was an enjoyable conversation starter too. People commented that I needed to have it motorized. I talked to more strangers and made more friends on vacation than I ever would have in the past.

While packing for vacation, I discovered that I could pack four different shoes instead of two pair. I’m not a clothes horse, but I like shoes, so I thought this was a good thing. And since I could not drive, I enjoyed the scenery while my hubby drove from our home in Georgia to the Florida coast.

I also found myself on my knees a good bit. I had to crawl in my bedroom and up and down the stairs. Being on my knees reminded me that I don’t pray as much as I could. It helped me to get back into the habit of praying, whether on my knees or not.

The Glitch

About two weeks after my ankle broke, I noticed my pants were feeling a little tight. I had gone from being active every day of the week to being non-active. At first this caused concern. The old thoughts started taking over.

“I can’t stand this.”
“I have to control my eating so I won’t gain weight.”
“What if I gain so much weight I won’t be able to fit into my clothes?”
“What if I get so bored, I can’t stop eating?”

I spent a couple days trying to work out what to do about these thoughts. And during that time, I noticed my anxiety level was high, my eating was erratic, and my pants were getting tighter. I finally remembered that my body is an amazing biological machine and it did not need me to tell it what to do. It knows how to heal my ankle and it knows how much sustenance I need to make that happen. I had to get back to trusting it.

So, I did what I have trained myself to do from the beginning of this journey. That is, I acknowledged the existence of the anxious thoughts without judging them as good or bad. This means accepting them as being a normal part of my (or anyone’s) journey. This quelled the thoughts and opened my mind up to a better understanding of my situation, which is -I don’t have to restrict my food.

My body will tell me what I need to eat to heal. And if I listen, it will also tell me when it’s time to increase my activity to strengthen my muscles.  If I gain weight during this time, it’s not a bad thing. I can still trust my body without expecting it to be any certain size. This attitude allows my body to function at an optimal level.

If I had not already been on the binge free path, this broken ankle may have put a major dent in my life and caused me much angst. But I thank God every day for my blessings, despite the broken ankle and other trials. It is true for me that mindset, and not circumstances, determine my happiness. This experience has cemented my belief that when I look for the positive, even in the negative, I will find it.

For more on beginning a binge free life start here.

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Perfect Imperfection

Last week, I was looking online for the perfect photograph to use as a background on my computer.  I found a shot of a lake surrounded by snow dusted mountains.  The mountains were ragged and brown.  The lake sat haphazardly at the bottom of the scene and dark clouds loomed over it, allowing only a few slivers of light to shimmer on the water.  I wondered what made this picture seem so beautiful.

Nothing in the scene was painstaking.  I mean, the snow didn’t worry about where it landed.  The mountains didn’t discuss where they thought it would be best to rise out of the earth, and they didn’t agonize about the shape of their peaks.  And the clouds didn’t care that they blocked out most of the sun.  The photographer took the perfect photo, but what the camera captured was imperfection.  And yes, these are inanimate objects, and I am, well, I’m human, but that landscape is proof to me that beauty in nature, including our bodies, is perfect in its imperfection.

I used to aspire to have the perfect body.  I thought I could control exactly how it looked by going to the gym and following the latest diet.  But no matter how hard I tried, it never looked the way I wanted.  And the harder I worked to get it to fit my ideas of perfection, the more out of control I became.  Like many women, this was one of my main thoughts day and night, and it led to bouts of depression, anxiety, bingeing and for some years, purging.

By the time I began my binge free journey a couple years ago, I had already been through body image therapy.  I can remember how agonizing it was for me and all the women in the group to say even one nice thing about some part of our bodies.  I was relieved when the course was over.

For a long time after that, I tried hard to love my body.  But no matter how hard I tried, that did not happen.  I couldn’t make myself love it, just like I couldn’t make myself love a person I didn’t respect.  But once I began to nourish myself and not restrict foods, something in my psyche shifted and I decided it was time to respect my body.

I began by appreciating what it did for me.  I started with things we take for granted, like -my lungs expand and contract allowing air to enter my body, my blood gets infused with oxygen, my heart beats and distributes that blood through my body, then my cells use the oxygen rich blood to nourish themselves.  How amazing is that?!  I don’t have to force my heart to beat and I don’t have to remind myself to breath, (well sometimes I hold my breath, but you get the gist, breathing is natural!)

I couldn’t make this process happen if I tried, its automatic.  And the body does much more work at a deeper level.  So much more that scientists don’t fully understand everything our body is capable of.

This awareness that my body functions pretty darn well without me having to tell it what to do, helped me to trust it to eat when I needed to.  And once I ate with no guilt or shame, I became aware of true hunger cues.  This took patience and practice, and it was imperfect.  But it happened.

My body may have lumps and bumps, but it has kept me alive even when I tried to force it into someone else’s mold.  It is imperfect perfection in its function and design and I appreciate every inch of it.  It is the representation of me on this earth.  And whether it is thin or fat or in between, I love it enough to present it to the world in the best way I can, but I respect it enough to allow it to look and function the way it was meant to.  And most of all, I don’t worry about what other people think about it.

“I believe there is perfection in our flaws, grace in our missteps and beauty in everything that surrounds us. I am perfect in my humanness, no matter what it looks like.” MD

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