Body Acceptance- What Is Normal?

Several years ago, when I was very thin, my best friend took me aside and told me I was too thin and should try to eat better and more normally to gain some weight.  I pretty much told her to mind her own business and continued my careful diet of salad and lean meat.

Fast forward to now and I look at a picture of me with my family, taken at that time, and see exactly what my friend was talking about.  The skinniness that made me happy back then looks sickly and out of place now.  What was I thinking back then?  How could I reason that the thinness I experienced at that time was normal?

Most people with struggles of some kind say, “I just want to be normal.” If we overeat, we want to eat normally, if we are fat we want to be normal, which means thin to us.  If we are depressed or anxious, we wish we had a routine life.

The problem with normalcy is not the regularity itself but the fact that it is subjective.  I will go one step further and say that none of us really wants to be normal, we want to be special, we want to stand out -but in a good way.  We all have a definition in our heads of what that means and when we don’t reach it, we feel like we have somehow failed.

A few weeks ago, I discovered the work of an artist/photographer who traveled the world taking pictures of people’s reactions to her obese body.  She calls her project “Weight Watchers.”  In the photos, she poses herself on busy streets, in parks, on beaches and other places people gather.  For the most part, she doesn’t smile or attempt to interact with anyone.  She just poses or walks.

The looks on the peoples faces appears to show that they are disgusted with the large size of her body.  But I think its a little deeper than that.  Are they reacting to her or to the fact that she appears out of place?  Or the fact that she is posing for a camera on a tripod? Or because she is trying to elicit a reaction?  Or eating on a busy street corner?  Or appears unkempt?

The point is, no one knows exactly what anyone else is thinking and we all have our own ideas of what is acceptable.  Some of the people who appear repulsed are, themselves, overweight. Do they look at themselves the same way when they look in the mirror?

All this got me to thinking about my self perception -how I treat myself and the things I say about myself when I look in the mirror.  I used to see a reflection that didn’t jive with what I wanted to see.  And why did I even want to see something different than what was being reflected back at me?  And how did I change that perception?

Body acceptance is not an easy thing to accomplish, but it is doable.  It is not perfect everyday, but I am much happier than when I was striving to be thin.  And it doesn’t really matter what my size is.  When I was 40 pounds lighter, I still had a desire to be smaller, better, more fit.  The reflection I perceived in the mirror came more from my brain than my eyes.  Meaning that no matter what we see, our brain has to process it.  In this processing, we place a value on what we observe -so the problem is not what is observed, but the meaning we attach to it.

Things that helped me accept my body

1. I purposely look at my body in the mirror each day, taking in all the things that normally would repulse me. I have no thoughts, no judgment, good or bad. This is sort of like desensitization, but it works for me.

2. Buy clothes that fit well. I like my clothes to fit, but not be restrictive. So, no tight clothes, but no baggy clothes either.

3. Begin to appreciate all the things your body can do regardless of its size. It is keeping you alive and functioning. Really get to know the good things your body does on a daily basis.

4. Stop criticizing your body. In fact stop criticizing yourself in any area. We all have things we wish were different or better about ourselves. Just take note of them with no judgment and go on.

5. Just because you don’t feel valuable doesn’t mean you are not valuable. Be honest with yourself. Self pity is not helpful.

Each day I am more accepting and comfortable in my body exactly the way it is.  I don’t have to lose weight to love myself and I don’t think of myself as normal or abnormal anymore.  I think of myself as me and what I have to offer this world.  We all have gifts that are unique to us and that makes us all special…

For article and photos of “Weight Watchers Project” click here.

Bingefree- Start here.

 

                     “Why do you want to be normal when you are already so special?”

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Body Image -Perception or Reality?

The picture wasn’t valuable, it was just a copy of a painting, but it was my favorite.  It depicted a beach house -not the whole thing, just a partial exterior wall showing two windows and a door.  I loved the colors and shadows.  I felt at peace when looking at it; almost as if I could reach out, open the door and walk into a calm place.

As I took it off the wall to wrap it up, this one last look made me feel a respite from the drudgery of moving a household.  But something seemed different about the picture now, something in the window I hadn’t seen before.  There, almost as big as the window itself was an angel painted in profile.

I couldn’t believe my eyes!  How long had I owned this picture, admiring it everyday when I walked into my bedroom -four years or more?  And I never noticed the angel.  In fact, if I had spotted it before, this art wouldn’t be hanging in my home.  When I purchased it, I was an atheist.  Angels or anything resembling Christian or religious heritage had no place in my house.

But recently, I had recovered my lost faith.  Was this a divine event or a message from God letting me know that the angel was watching over me even while I was an unbeliever?  I wanted to believe this…and in some form, it may have been true.  But in reality, I knew that my perception of the painting was skewed because of my beliefs.  In my atheistic mindset, I didn’t perceive the angel.  I liked the painting and wanted it in my house. Not seeing the angel allowed me to take it home and admire it without compromising the beliefs I held at that time.

We perceive the world based on our mindset and beliefs.  When I was in the throes of an eating disorder, I perceived my body as being bigger than it really was.  In the mirror, I saw a much larger me than reality.  If someone pointed out that my perception was inaccurate, I was convinced they were the ones with the skewed perspective, not me!

My perception of myself was not based on truth, it was based on a feeling.  And that feeling came from a deep-seated belief that I was not good enough the way I was.  It manifested itself in the thought that I had to be thin to be a good person, to be acceptable to society.  I chose to see my chubbiness as a critical defect in my being.

Of course, all these beliefs came from somewhere, some traumatic experience in my childhood or being teased and mistreated because of my weight.  But to me, it doesn’t matter as much how I got them, what matters more is how I changed them.

When I began this binge free journey, my expectation was that I would stop bingeing and overeating which would result in weight loss.  But the further I got into this journey, the more I began to appreciate my body for what it is.  Not struggling with food has given me a new awareness of what it means to be healthy.  I don’t have to be “thin” to be healthy or good looking.  Health and beauty come in every shape and size.

One way I came to terms with my body was to make a list of all the awesome things it can do -like walking, showering, laughing, stretching, even breathing.  All these things may seem mundane, but without a functional body we couldn’t do any of them.  I also found the things below helpful in getting me to appreciate the body I have.

-While looking in the mirror, I say positive things about my body, looking at every part with kindness, not disdain.  I smile while doing this.  I didn’t feel it at first but after a few times, I felt happier in general.
-I take pictures of myself having fun with others.  If someone else takes a picture of me on their phone, I ask them to send it to me.  I look at those pictures with kindness and appreciate that I am having fun.  I don’t criticize my body or tell myself that I need to change anything.
-I don’t make jokes about my size or belittle myself in any way.  If I find myself doing this, I don’t chastise, I just stop the negative talk and go on.

No matter your size, you are a valuable person.  Thin, fat, tall, short, whatever, it doesn’t matter.  If we base our value on our body size, we are missing out on the best part of life. Take a chance.  Be honest.  See the value you hold that isn’t related to your size or what you look like.  When you are open to it, you will perceive it.

First time to my blog? Start here.

Read thoughts on Food Addiction

The Vanity of Change

In my early thirties, it seemed like my life was one big crisis after another.  I was newly remarried with small children.  My eating was disordered and I was convinced that I had to take medication to keep myself together.  One time, wanting some sympathy from my mom, I jokingly told her I felt like I was the family drama queen.  Instead of sympathy, she blurted out, “You are the family drama queen!”

The realization that I did things to get attention was devastating.  What others had seen in me for quite some time, I finally saw.  For most of my adult life, I had staggered in and out of programs, religions and philosophies trying to fix myself.  Now I realized that in the quest for a “cure,” I was making myself crazier.

That made me realize I wasn’t in this thing alone, that my behavior affected my family and friends. I didn’t want to be the family drama queen, I wanted to be the wise one, the stoic one, the lucky one, the happy one -anyone but the one you would roll your eyes at when she walked into the room.

I wasn’t sure what to do.  And for a long time, I clung to the belief that things had to be exactly as I wanted them to be and that I had to be thin to be happy.  But little by little, I began to be honest with myself.  I realized that life could be good even if I wasn’t perfect.

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The further I get into this binge free journey, the more I appreciate my life and everything in it.  Finding peace with food has taken so much stress out of my life that it makes me wonder what I could have accomplished if I had done this many years ago. But since I try not to ruminate about my past or base my value on accomplishments anymore, those thoughts are fleeting.  Mostly I just enjoy the moments I am in and let my thoughts meander in and out of my brain.

If my thoughts are disrespectful to myself or someone else, or negative in some way, I let them come and go.  By not worrying about them or chastising myself for having them, they will fade away.  When I first began this change, I used to purposely replace negative thoughts with positive thoughts -and every now and then I still do this.  But mostly I just let the thoughts be what they are, and my mind will flow in a positive direction.

Being content and happy is a good thing but it can lead to something not so good -pride.  And I don’t mean the healthy kind of pride in ourselves that helps us feel confident, I mean the kind of pride that makes us think we are better than someone else -also known as vanity.

Vanity has a way of seeping into our brains and propping us up with lies about our significance.  It validates our worthiness by pointing out the faults of others.  So, when I find myself thinking how great I am because I ate well today, or having thoughts that I must be better off than someone who struggles with food, I have to stop and check myself.  I am the same value whether I have an eating disorder or eat the perfect diet, whether I am thin or fat or in between.  And this is the same for everyone.

So, I find myself feeling good about where I am today compared to my past.  It could be called pride, but it is more a feeling of relief.  I didn’t work to get where I am as much as I just allowed myself to be.  I now allow myself to be content no matter what I am feeling.  This means giving myself the luxury of wasting time, being wrong, or being selfish or boring  – all things I used to try very hard not to be.

In accepting my feelings and unshackling myself from guilt, I have become more compassionate to others and more productive when I worried about these things.  This is still not to say that anyone else’s journey will begin or end like mine. Or that my way is the only way or even he best way to change.

It was the best way for me because I truly believed it was.  I could have taken a different road, but chose this path.  Just as you will choose your path and you will know it is the right one.

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If you are new to my blog, you can read about how I began this journey and the steps I took to make it happen.

 

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