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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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

 

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

Do I HAVE To Like Myself?

While in college, I once met a guy at a bar.  I know…first mistake, right?  In my defense, the bar was mostly grad students blowing off steam.

This guy was a post grad in engineering and was leaving the next day for a focused study group in another city.  We hit it off with interesting and funny conversation, so we made a date for a Saturday night in two weeks, when he would be back in town.

I lived alone at the time, was struggling with school, being chubby, eating, and life in general.  When we made the date, I figured I could lose at least ten pounds in the two weeks, so the next time he saw me I would look better.  It didn’t occur to me that he must have been attracted to the way I looked that night, but that’s the story of the chronic dieter, right?  I set out the next day to go on the most restrictive diet I could find.

Two weeks later, and ten pounds heavier, I met my new friend for our date.  I was nervous as he approached my car in the parking lot of the restaurant we were supposed to meet.  My pants were so tight, it was hard to breath, and I wore the highest heels I could find, to look taller.  He smiled at me and we went into the restaurant.

During the dinner, I was mortified he would think I was disgusting since it was obvious I had gained weight since we met.  I stammered through conversation that didn’t flow as easily as the first time.  But I thought there was still some kind of spark and wanted to explore it further.  We didn’t go out as a couple after that, but became close friends.

One day, while sitting in the student center, he asked, “Why do you do this to yourself?”
“What,” I asked.
“You know, keep people at a distance. Try not get close to anyone- put up this sort of, wall.”
I decided to be truthful with him.  “Well, for one thing, I was interested in you romantically the first time we met and wanted to get to know you better, but when you saw me the second time and saw how fat I was, you backed off and only wanted to be friends.  It kinda hurt.  Why should I put myself out there to be rejected?”
“That’s, funny,” he quipped, “I thought you were the one who backed off, so I backed off too.”
We looked at each other and laughed.  We never did date but remained close friends.

Sometimes relationships just go like this. And sometimes we make relationships go like this.

After that conversation I began to realize I was ‘doing this’ to myself.  I was the one who thought I was fat and unattractive, so I was giving that information to myself and sending it out to the world.  I wanted to change my outside appearance, not realizing I needed to change my inside appearance.

Fast forward a few decades…one year into learning how to accept myself and my body exactly the way I am. I am beginning to appreciate my value because I am a human being.  Yes, I have accomplishments that I am proud of.  But if I use them as the basis for my self-esteem, I will constantly go through life worried that I must top what I’ve already done.

Don’t get me wrong, striving to be a better person is a good thing.  But when you accept your inherent value and like yourself regardless of what you look like or act like now, becoming a better person is a natural and straightforward process.

Think about it – Do you like to help people you don’t respect or those who don’t like you? It’s the same with yourself… If you don’t like yourself, you will find it difficult to help yourself or do the right thing.

How do you learn how to like yourself?
Know this – You are human. You overeat or binge to quell anxiety and stress.  And even when you are not stressed, you may overeat due to habit.  But your body is doing the best it can for the information you are giving itTake the badness out of this behavior and it becomes manageable in ways that you never even thought of.

With this new understanding, I gave up trying to mold my body and my personality to fit into what I thought others wanted me to be.  I used affirmations and any positive encouragement I could find. After 15 months of this practice, I am still learning new things.  I am happier and healthier in mind and body than I was a year ago.  If I can do this, you can do this too.

 What To Do

Stop using all your effort to berate and criticize yourself and put that same effort into telling yourself  how good you are.  It won’t take long for you to begin to believe in yourself and change your life.

Actions

Say positive affirmations about your worth, out loud, a few times a day.
Read inspirational books and articles.
Listen to encouraging messages.  I recommend  Joel Osteen podcasts (also available on Sirius XM.
Find upbeat people to be around.
Question your motives.                                                                                                                          Practice seeing the positive in every situation.

You CAN do this!

“You are not defective or bad, you do not lack willpower.  You do not have a character flaw or a bad attitude.  You do not have a past or a genetic flaw that you cannot overcome.  You are significant and hold a special place on this earth just like each person does.” MD

stmarysedited

 

 

Is Enough As Good As A Feast?

One of my favorite movies is the 1969 version of  True Grit.  Set in the 1870’s, Mattie is a strong-minded young girl who teams up with a hard drinking US Marshall to find her father’s killer.  When asked why she doesn’t eat more during her first dinner with the rowdy Marshall, Rooster Cogburn, she replies in a straightforward way,

“I’ve had enough. Enough is as good as a feast.”

I have been mesmerized with that saying since I first heard it in that movie.  I used to think it was the brainchild of a savvy scriptwriter, but it’s actually an old English proverb that also appeared in the movie Mary Poppins.

For a long time, I wanted to agree with this proverb, but I couldn’t make myself really feel it or believe it.

“If enough is as good as a feast, why don’t I ever seem to have enough? I never feel like I’ve had enough, even when I am stuffed full and sick from all the food in my stomach. There is still something inside me which screams, “NOT ENOUGH.”

Of course, I realize now that part of the craving for more food had a lot to do with how I viewed myself and that I tried, during every waking moment, to eat a restricted number of calories per day.

But even now, I have times when I want to eat more than my body needs. Sometimes I DO eat more than I need.  But now I stop when I realize I don’t need any more. My body usually tells me when I’ve had enough.  My mind now agrees and I know it’s okay to stop eating.  So, what is the difference between now and back then, when I had the obsession?

How do I stop myself from eating all the chocolate chip cookies I just took out of the oven before my family even gets home?

When I first started this process a little over a year ago, I would just tell myself, I can eat these cookies now or I can eat them later, or tomorrow or any day for the rest of my life. This took immediate pressure off and I no longer felt compelled to eat whatever I was craving. I could then make a choice about what to eat or not.

If I suddenly found myself reaching for a fourth cookie, I just took notice and told myself it didn’t matter how much I just ate, I could still eat what I wanted at the next meal or the next time I felt hungry. I did not berate myself or tell myself I was a failure in any way.

I said this out loud everyday,  “I can eat whatever I want now or the next meal, in two hours, two days, next week, or anytime, for the rest of my life.”  This helped me to really believe what I was saying.

Once I began believing this, I saw my disordered eating through a different lens.  I realized it was a normal response to the signals I give my body via thoughts about food restriction or permission, and that it is related to beliefs I hold about myself and my value.  In recognizing this, I am able to stop having pity parties every time I do something I consider ‘bad.’

Once the ‘badness’ is taken away from the food/hunger equation, it’s much easier to choose to eat what you think is good for you and stop when you’ve had enough, even if you don’t feel fully satisfied.

But don’t worry, as you continue this journey, satisfaction will be something you will learn how to feel more than ever before.  Most days, you will really feel like enough is as good as feast.  And for those times you don’t – everything will still be okay.

Actions to take to begin your binge free journey click here.

“Just because I don’t feel good at any one time, doesn’t mean better things aren’t happening in my life.”_MG_1186

 

Can I Be Weightless?

My mom used to weigh herself every day. She kept the scale in the bathroom our family shared. She would go in, pick up the scale from the tile floor and gently place it on the fluffy bathmat in front of the tub. She explained to me that placing the scale on the bathmat made you weigh less. For years, whenever I weighed myself, I would try to find the thickest rug to place the scale on. One day, it occurred to me that if the scale resting on a rug was not a true representation of what I weighed, then why was I doing it? I realized that, like my mom, I derived a good portion of my self-worth from where the needle pointed on that scale. I didn’t want to be like that. I wanted to function without thinking about my weight or my body size. I wondered if it was even possible. The allure of the weighing machine was disturbing. It promised changes that could enrich or devastate my day, my week, my life. But it could only do this if I allowed it.

 

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I try very hard to be kind to myself and not judge myself or others based on body size. And just when I think I have become completely nonjudgmental, I find myself being delighted and high-fiving my husband when I mistakenly put on a smaller pair of jeans and they fit perfectly.

In my psyche, there is still a tiny space occupied by a belief that a smaller body is better. It takes up much less space than it used to, but it’s still there.

How do I deal with this? I check my thoughts as they come. When I find myself thinking about my thighs, I don’t judge them and I don’t judge myself for thinking about them. I just notice my thoughts, then let them go. No standing in front of the mirror and pinching my thighs from behind to see what they would look like if they were smaller. Yes, I used to do this.

So, when I was delighted for getting into smaller jeans. I told myself it was okay to be happy about that, but it wasn’t the thing that would make my day. I accepted my reaction and found more interesting things to think about to make my day exciting and fun.

I’m not missing the irony here.  Since I have stopped striving to be thin, and have begun eating what I want, my body is changing to more accurately reflect how I view myself.  But my view of myself is not necessarily thin. My view of myself is that I am a valuable person.  Regardless of what I look like or what has happened to me in the past, I am a good human being who deserves to be here.  By thinking this of myself, my body is conforming to that end – becoming healthier.  That weight loss may be a part of this is just a side bar.

Can you learn to accept yourself as you are – no matter your body size?

Over a year ago, I started to say this affirmation every day. It took a while, but it eventually began to sink in and, most days, I truly believe this. Use this or write your own affirmation to say everyday.

“It doesn’t matter what my body size or weight is.  It doesn’t matter what other people think of my body size. I don’t get my self-esteem from the size of my body. I am an integral part of this universe and hold a special place in it.”

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For tips and steps to take action to stop bingeing click here