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.

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

 

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

cloudslakemountain

 

Choose To Be Present

Roll call in middle school. The teacher called out names in alphabetical order. When we heard our name, we responded “present.” That may be one of the only times I paid attention in school. Most of my time was divided between talking to my desk-mates, writing and passing notes, daydreaming or doodling in a workbook. I said I was present, but I wasn’t.

A good part of my life was spent trying to improve myself, constantly looking for books with detailed instructions on how to make something happen that I wanted to happen in my life. Mostly it was about losing weight. I thought the weight made me different than others. The only problem was, sometimes I wasn’t overweight, but I still perceived my body as problematic. This was just another way of not being in the present moment.

Mind-drifting and distraction may be a tool that allows us to function in a situation where we feel overwhelmed or unsafe, but we don’t have to stay in this mode. We can choose to live in the present, accepting everything as it happens, even if it is unpleasant or confusing.

When I first tried to be present, I took a hard look at the truth of my life. I saw myself as a person who was just trying to make a decent life the best way she knew how. It was difficult to accept that bad things happen and that I may not be right all the time. I wanted to make everything perfect, not just for me but for my family, for everyone if I could.

I’ve learned that being present is not about trying to be present or mindful as much as it is about allowing whatever happens to just happen. That is, I can allow things to happen without reacting to them or trying to make things the way I think they should be. Even if I think someone else is wrong, I can let them be wrong. I don’t have to judge them, give my opinion or make corrections.

This also means I don’t have to worry about what others think of me. I don’t have to get angry or upset. I can choose to not feel guilty about past mistakes or stupid things I do. The less I react to my behavior and surroundings, the better I can see it for what it really is and make adjustments to bring my life into a healthy state.
I am not suggesting that you can be completely immune to hardship or pain. I am saying you can allow yourself to feel however you feel without determining if it is good or bad. Not judging yourself, or others, is one of the first steps to acquiring a healthy state of mind.

Being in the present is very do-able. But you have to figure out how to accomplish this your way. It’s good to read about how others have overcome obstacles and learned how to be peaceful. But I don’t think there is any one sure way to do this. If you have the desire to live in the present moment, you have already learned most of what you need to know to make it happen. Trust yourself and let it happen.

I used to think that if I accepted myself the way I was at any given moment, then I was settling for something other than my best. But I found I must accept myself the way I am now to find the love and self respect which will push me into my full potential, my best self.

Thoughts on building a core of happiness, click here.

If you struggle with bingeing or overeating – start here

 

It’s not my job to judge everyone, its my job to love them.

beach pixabay

A New Normal

Week 43 -Monday 6AM
I open my eyes. I want to jump up and run downstairs to weigh myself. I want to validate that I am doing something right. I will not go downstairs, I will stay in bed. If the number on the scale is higher than I expect it to be, I could be disappointed and mope around the rest of the day trying to decide if my new lifestyle is working for me. If the number is less than what I expect, I could go all vain and ignore the other good changes in my life. If the number is exactly what I think it will be, I will be validated…
Oh, that’s right, I’m not supposed to be using the number on the scale to tell me if I am worthy. After working on this concept for 43 weeks, the same time frame as a pregnancy, you would think I wouldn’t have to re-remember this every morning. Its not the digital blue number that is the problem, it’s the way I interpret it. I infuse it with meaning about respect and pride and love and worthiness. The scale doesn’t just tell me how much I weigh, it tells who I am, it predicts who I could be, it shows me my failures and celebrates my victories. Shouldn’t I want to know the reality of my weight? Its 6 am and already I’m overthinking. I feel like this is part of my DNA or something.

The above was an excerpt from my journal over a year ago.  I usually go to my journal only when I want to get ideas for articles, but sometimes I see an entry that defined me and I wonder how I even made it through that time.

I am in a completely different mindset now.  I haven’t thought about my weight in months.  I haven’t binged in two years.  My life seems almost boring compared to the times when I actively struggled with food and my body. I am what I always dreamed of being, a normal eater.  And, like many things we aspire to, its not as glamorous as it seemed.  But I am happy and content, which is something I never thought I would say.

Sometimes I wonder if I am too confident, if something will happen that will break me down and send me running back to food.  But my life is not perfect, in fact sometimes it downright stinks, and I haven’t used food to soothe my soul yet.  I don’t even want to.  Now that I can eat anything I want anytime I want, eating doesn’t hold the mystique for me it used to.  It’s a normal function of everyday life. Ho hum.

When I first realized that chocolate cake didn’t really turn me on anymore, it was a letdown.  But I have learned to do many other things to bring fun and enjoyment to my life.  One of those things is to accept and love myself, not in an arrogant way, but in a…well, a normal way.

If you struggle with food or depression or anxiety or self pity, or any other thing that you want to change in your life, just know that you can change to create a new normal.  But first you must accept yourself the way you are at this very moment.  Instead of trying to change what you don’t like about yourself, like everything about yourself and change those things that don’t fit in with the person you want to be.

 

“Instead of trying to change what you don’t like about yourself, like everything about yourself and change those things that don’t fit in with the person you want to be.” MD stmaryseditedaaaaa

What Makes You Happy?

A few years ago, while attending a rehab retreat in Iowa, I had the opportunity to hear motivational speaker Ward Foley, AKA ‘Scarman.’  Foley was born with serious birth defects requiring many years of painful surgeries.  While working in a donut shop as a teenager, he burned both arms, up to the elbows, in a vat of hot grease.  A few years later, he was almost killed by troubled teens he was trying to help.  He’s been in a serious auto accident and his best friend died of cancer.

Despite everything he has been through, the first words of his presentation were, “I am the happiest person I know.”

Those words burnt a hole in my heart.  I couldn’t imagine how anyone who had gone through what he went through could ever say that.  I always thought happiness was situational.  When things were going my way or were better than expected, I was happy. When they didn’t, I complained.  And when I thought things were really bad, I got depressed or anxious.  This seemed normal to me, being at the mercy of my circumstances.

For a few weeks after I heard Foley speak, I tried to figure out what could make him be so happy after living a life so full of pain, humiliation and heartbreak.  And he wasn’t just happy at this stage in his life.  Throughout his talk, I realized he had been optimistic his entire life.  I thought the secret was that he had a close relationship with his mom who showed him love and support while growing up.  I figured since I didn’t have that, I could never be that content with life.  I was adopted as an infant and didn’t bond with my adoptive mom.  I felt like I missed out on this important love and support and used it as my excuse for not being able to sustain my own happiness.

But something kept me searching for that elusive happiness, anyway.  I eventually realized that I didn’t need an excuse to be happy or unhappy.  In other words, I didn’t have to have everything going my way to be content.  I didn’t need to have been born happy. I didn’t need a loving and supportive parent while growing up to make me happy.  In fact, I didn’t need anything in particular, I just had to have the desire to be at peace wherever I was at this point in my life, and I could choose to be happy for no other reason than just because I wanted to be.

hAPPINESS

That fact that happiness doesn’t have to be sought after is not obvious or popular.  For years I thought happy people were either born that way or had a perfect life that made them happy.  And that could be the case, but the reason someone else is happy has no bearing on my life.  It doesn’t mean I can’t be happy right where I am now.  It took time and effort to learn, but I am glad I stuck with it.  The secret to happiness is, well, there is no secret.

The erroneous thought that I had to do something to earn my happiness is gone.  I no longer feel like I have to wait for a time when I feel worthy, like when I’m thinner or more accomplished, or when things are just right in my life.  And since I decided to be happy regardless of my circumstances, I have developed a foundation of joy inside.  I no longer feel like I have a hole in my core. (which I used to try to fill up with food) This core of joy is what sustains me when bad things happen around me.  I’m not giddy or bubbling over all the time, and things happen around me that are troublesome.  But I do smile a lot, and regardless of what happens around me, I have an inner peace and an optimism that things will always work out.

To be happy and at peace, you don’t need to be thin or rich or possess any certain characteristics or personal qualities.  You don’t need to have everything just the way you think life should be.  I challenge you to figure out a way to say, “I am the happiest person I know.”  Take the risk and watch your life change.

More info on Ward Foley- Scarman.

The picture inside this article is a work by artist Rodney White called ‘The Hardest of Easy Choices’ .  For information on his art and other works, click here.

Sunset image from pixabay.

brake-clipart-13309573511112670181decorative-lines-2_large-hi“Instead of trying to find the thing that makes you happy, be happy and you will do what you are meant to do.” MD

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The Anti-Binge

No one wants to be told what to do, especially a stressed person who is actively binging. They feel the need to have everything under control themselves.  If one thing goes wrong, like eating some cookies, getting an urge to eat chocolate cake, or even if the weather isn’t what you wanted today,  the binge is on.

This mentality gets you stuck in, what I call, shamedom.  You either hide what you are doing so no one will know, or you eat in public, with a chip on your shoulder, daring anyone to even look at you funny. No wonder food never seems to satisfy!

The goal of my writing is not necessarily to commiserate about how difficult this journey is or to tell about the unpleasant things I have been through. The goal is to help people, who are actively learning how to eat normally, accept themselves and get some kind of dignity back in their lives.

With that in mind, I want to share the story of the first time I actively thwarted a binge. This was also the last time I ever had an uncontrollable craving, and that was over a year ago.  It would be easier to just write a list of things you should do to stop bingeing and eat normally, and in some posts I may do that.  But lists of things look a lot like rules.  And let’s face it, none of us likes to follow rules.  If we did, we wouldn’t be in this situation, right?

Here’s my story:

Its been three days since I started telling myself I could eat anything I want, any where I want, anytime I want.  I am walking through the grocery store and spot a package of Otis Spunkmeyer chocolate chip muffins.  I try to remain calm as I pick them up and look at the nutrition label.  Before I remember that I don’t need to do this anymore, I see the information- Calories 360, Total Fat 18g, Total Carbs 46g.

I put them down and think to myself, “I want something sweet, I am allowed to eat something sweet. So I will find something sweet and chocolate that is not as bad as these muffins.”

I rush over to the bakery department and as soon as I turn the corner on the last isle, I see tables full of cakes, cookies, pies and muffins.  They ALL call to me.  I am overwhelmed at how much I want to eat every single chocolate baked good I see.

I start to wonder if I could eat a whole cake in the car and hide the evidence before I get home.  I am disappointed.  My cravings seemed under control when I decided to eat what I want, and now I’m planning a car binge. Why?

Just then, a thought emerged,

“If you can eat anything you want, why do you think you have to settle for the low fat, low calorie or low sugar stuff?  If you want the Otis Spunkmeyer muffins, eat the dam muffins, eat a hundred of them if you want. You REALLY are allowed to eat ANYTHING you want. It’s okay”

I go back and pick up the muffins, thinking they will be good with a cold glass of milk when I get home, if I am still in the mood.

Those muffins stayed on my counter for three days before I even opened the pack.  And not because I forced myself to stay away from them, but because I allowed myself to eat them whenever I wanted.  This permission took the urgency to eat them away, and I didn’t open them until I felt like it.  I ate two in the next week and had to throw the last one away.

In my experience, if I had continued on the path of trying to find something to replace the muffins and trying to fight the urge to eat all the other sweets I saw, I would have bought a couple boxes of the bakery muffins and gobbled them down on the way home -all the while berating myself and telling myself how terrible of a person I was.

In the beginning of my journey, any thought of restriction or limitation was fuel for a craving. Once I decided to take off the restriction,  It took several days to realize that I did not have to actively try to limit my portions, and I did not have to find alternative foods for things I wanted.  Of course, it took me several years of therapy, reading and striving to be a better person to even get to the point where I could say, “I can eat whatever I want.”

But, after practicing this for over a year, my thought now is, “Why would I NOT eat exactly what I want?”

A list of tips and advice on how to Take Action to stop bingeing Click here

“I live the life I want to live.  There is no need to struggle if my actions are in line with my needs and desires. When my own needs and desires are met, I can help care for others with an open and honest heart.” MD

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