Body Dysmorphia, Eating Disorders, and Grief

It’s been a pretty rough time in my life.  I’ve experienced a lot of loss.  It’s affected my body in a very real way too.  The result is that there’s been a big hormonal soup to swim through, and of course, I gained some weight because of the pregnancy and massive stress event afterwards.  For a lot of reasons, I’m having a hard time with the extra weight.

For one thing, so much of what’s happened to me has been out of my control.  Bad things have happened to my body, and I’ve had no say whatsoever – from cervical insufficiency and pregnancy loss, to invasive perinatal physical exams that I didn’t really want and were very unpleasant.  And now, about 10 extra pounds I’m not comfortable with.

I’m afraid that pregnancy moved my set point up.  I don’t know if it did or not.  I just know that I feel heavier and weaker than I used to.  There’s fat accumulated on parts that once were more lean.  It’s difficult to not feel like I’ve failed.

When a lot of shit hits you at once, it’s natural to want to find a coping mechanism to carry you through the really rough times.  Sometimes those coping mechanisms serve you – activities like meditation, observation, writing, napping, sexing, nourishing yourself, sitting in a hot tub with a bunch of your hippie friends… those can all help you process and move through the loss.

Confession Time:
But there came a point for me where I was so unhappy with myself, so guilty and angry at my body for causing the loss (even though I know I’m not supposed to think that way), for gaining weight, for being a body going through pregnancy and miscarriage, basically, that I had the thought:

I should just stop eating. I should have an eating disorder. It would cause this discomfort with my body to end.

And for a couple days, I tried it.  

I know!  So unlike me.  But grief does shitty things to you.  For about a week I restricted my calories and tried to eat as little as possible.  I felt anxious and sad, but also light and buzzy.  It felt good to have control over something, when I had so little control over my body the last few months.

However, whenever I go through a bad pattern of thinking, there’s always a voice that speaks up and questions what I’m doing.  My inner spirit knows better than to do this to myself.  

Plus, it’s unlikely to work anyway.  Most people that lose weight can’t keep it off, and I know from past experience that this is definitely true for me.  

Pregnancy probably moved my set point up some, and there’s not much I can do about that.  Medical research suggests that it’s pretty hard to move it back down, because it’s not in our biological interest.  As it turns out, there’s a reason for that: somewhat overweight people have more longevity than normal or thin people.  Doctors just don’t want to believe it because thin privilege is so ingrained in our culture.

So if being a little chubby actually increases my longevity, and doesn’t affect my overall health (because people who lose weight are actually at the same risk for stroke, heart attack, and death as they were before, why do I care?  Because of the relentless body shaming society does on people who aren’t thin.

Well, fuck it.

I have gone through too much to care about what society says.  My body has been on a bigger journey than what I can control through diet and exercise.  There’s hormonal fluctuation going on, some pretty big cortisol releases from all the damn stress of significant loss, pressure at work, and major life change, and a lot of recovery and healing.  My body cannot be reduced to my weight, my appearance, or the measuring tape.

So I am going to find a better coping mechanism.  It’s my head that’s the problem, not my damn cellulite.  

Here’s what that looks like: focusing on behaviors, not outcomes.

My plan is to get back to my normal routine of lifting heavy 3x a week, 3 days of cardio or yoga/mobility, and a rest day, more if I need them.  Also, to plan and prep nourishing food that I am actually jazzed about for breakfast and lunch, and take more of an active role in dinner planning.  To sleep 8 hours a night.  And to figure out some self-care routines, like meditation, writing, and regular massage.  With those habits in place, I’ll have a shot at feeling my best, maintaining my health, and maybe making some gains at the gym.

Even if my set point is higher and I can’t lose weight or be the size I was before, that doesn’t mean I can’t be healthy or take good care of myself.  My goals of what looks like success will change, but that’s actually probably a good thing, because I need to redefine what I want – to actually enjoy my damn life.

Life is fleeting.  I see that even more clearly now.  Do I really want to spend it locked in a mental battle?  To be fighting and fearing my own body forever?  Nope.

Behaviors, not outcomes.  Health, not weight.  Peace, not disorder.  Enjoyment, not regret.

Maya Kern (source) Body Dysmorphia, Eating Disorders, and Grief - superbalancedlife.com

Maya Kern (source)
Body Dysmorphia, Eating Disorders, and Grief - superbalancedlife.com


Step 3: Bodies as Instruments, Not As Objects

Today's post is about Step 3 of my series on how to bounce back from negative body triggers: thinking about your body as an instrument, not as an object.

Beauty Refined points out:

When women learn to value their bodies for what they can do rather than what they look like, they improve their body image and gain a more powerful sense of control. Ideas of “feminist embodiment” that have been pinpointed in research include using our bodies to dance, play, move, and be outside the confines of being looked at. As early as grade school, research shows that girls’ activities and thoughts are more frequently disrupted than boys, and those interruptions are often related to weight and appearance. Experts suggest we can resist self-objectification by participating in non-aesthetically-focused sports (like competitive team sports) and other kinds of physical activity. Finally, STEP AWAY FROM THE MIRRORS while exercising. Research shows people who work out in front of mirrors can’t perform as well because they are consciously and subconsciously wrapped up in how they look instead of what they can do.

There's always been an element of look-ism in female sports.  When I played varsity tennis, I was often pretty concerned about looking cute in the outfit, at least until the first serve.  Nowadays, I don't think about it as much - well, until I go to do a handstand and have to remember to tuck my shirt in, lest anyone see my ghost-pale stomach, but even so, I don't spend much time looking in the mirror at the gym, because that's not what I'm there to do.  I'm there to get a good workout, sweat, get red in the face, and get strong.

Love me some kettlebells!

Love me some kettlebells!

It is so, so important to find exercise you like.  Hear me babes, it is VITAL.  Exercise should not be punishment.  You don't have to do it to earn anything.  You don't have to do it "or else".  You don't have to follow anyone else's rules.  Move your body because it delights you to do so.  That is the only way to make it sustainable.  The only way.

Pick something you love.  For me, that was roller derby, then CrossFit, and yoga.  I delight in all of those things.  I want to make out with rollerskating, I get a thrill at learning my body's capabilities at the box, and I love the presence and bodily awareness yoga brings.

I used to do shit I hated.  I do not like long-distance running.  Look at me, up above.  I have the body of a sprinter.  I am not cut out for marathons.  Long-distance running is not for me.  I hate long runs with ever fiber of my being and I want to punch the ground I have to cover in the face.  And yet for years I ran because I felt like I "had" to.  Bullshit.  I'm a grown-ass lady.  I do what I want.

Like hanging:

Like a damn monkey. 

Like a damn monkey. 

If I look happy here, it's because I am.  I finished the WOD, perfected my power snatch, and had a generally bang-up time!  Now, it's not always like that -- some WODs (Workout of the Day) are an effing SLOG, and I fight for every rep.  But you gotta love the general trend of what you do.  It has to be workable.  You have to look forward to it sometimes.  Even in my darkest, most drama-ridden moments of derby, the moments by myself spinning around the track felt like home.

And plus, when you are busy doing something you truly love, you don't give two shits about how you look doing it.  You are in the zone, in flow, and I strongly believe that everyone in that space is totally, undeniably gorgeous.  True love is absolutely beautiful, and contagious.  Watching someone do what they love makes you fall in love with them a little too, otherwise, how do we explain celebrity crushes?

So find that thing you love.  Find something you're good at.  Praise your bod for all the rad things it can DO.  Focus on that, not what it looks like, at least for awhile.  When you feel down about your body, remind yourself of how it supports you, carries you, lifts stuff for you.  Look at your latest personal record, or even praise yourself for getting up and doing the daily grind for one more day.  Because that's a day you didn't let those stupid negative unproductive jerkface internal voices get you down.  That's a day you said, "No thanks, I'm too busy rockin' it over here to care one fig about what you say, jerks.  Now STFU, while I kill this workout."

 

Treatment Plan for Negative Body Triggers
Step 1: Compassion
Step 2: Feminist Beliefs
 

Step 2: Feminist Beliefs

I feel like given yesterday's Confession, it's even more important that I finish my series on how to bounce back from negative body triggers

Step 2 of Beauty Redefined's plan is Feminist Beliefs.  Now, I know not all my readers are feminists, or even ladies, but here's why this is applicable to everyone: because Feminism at its core believes that all people are equal, regardless of gender, race, age, sexual orientation, or anything else.  We are all equally worthy - fat or thin, muscled or not.

Further, feminism gives us some valuable tools:

Women who had feminist beliefs experienced less shame and body dissatisfaction than women who didn’t subscribe to feminism.

Feminism provides women with an alternative way to interpret objectification, and offers specific strategies to resist these ideologies on a personal and societal level.

One of the most important feminist strategies is maintaining a critical awareness using media literacy to resist cultural messages about women’s bodies.

Women need coping strategies as a buffer against self-objectification, such as decreasing self-evaluative statements (“I look fat today”), substituting self-affirming statements (“I am capable of much more than looking hot”), and cognitive reframing of objectification (“that company wants me to feel bad so I’ll buy their product!”).
Beauty Redefined

So with all this in mind, let me give you some rad Feminist blogs that I heart mucho.

Ladies I don't know personally, but follow religiously:

Fit & Feminist - Cannon.  "Because it takes strong women to smash the patriarchy."
Favorite Article: My Husband is More to Me Than a Living Jar Opener

The Militant Baker - "What everyone is thinking but no one will say."
Favorite Article: Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls... So I Will

Bitch Media - I mean, you all know about this one right?  Also cannon.  So important.
Favorite Article: Ms. Opinionated: I'm So Lonely! And My Family is so Critical!
 

Ladies I know personally, and love tremendously:

Super Strength Health - the blog of my bestie, Lacy Davis, a rad vegan health coach
Favorite Article: How to calm the voices that tell you your body isn’t good enough

The Span of My Hips - Josey, who is mad smart, writes about body love, mental health and critical theory
Favorite Article: Why Capitalism Relies on You Feeling Shitty About Your Body (brainy, and good)

Whole Body Health - Julie is strong, compassionate, and awesome, and studying to be an R.D.
Favorite Article: Why Do We Keep Going On Diets If Diets Always Fail Us?

Rebel Grrrl Living - Raechel is a professor, vegan, and awesome lady.
Favorite Article: Fitspo and Healthy Living Memes: A problem of appropriation, decontextualization, & depoliticization (more food for your brain)

 

Add to your RSS feeds!  And refer back whenever you're having a bad body day.  You'll feel pretty badass in no time. <3

More in this series:
Treatment Plan for Negative Body Triggers
Step 1: Compassion

Confession

I've thought a lot about this post. Even so, it may come out like a grab bag of thoughts. And there's some pretty serious stuff in here, just be forewarned.  We gonna get real.  Real real.

For the past few weeks, I've been really angry at my body.  I know it hasn't seemed like it.  There have been victories in there too, and moments where I've been very happy with it.  But this body journey?  It's complicated, difficult, and life-long.  You don't ever get to a place where you're done.  You can't mark it off a list.

And I am very much struggling with that.  It's been especially hard lately, because of my injury, because I've been gaining weight, and because, without disclosing too much here, I'm on a fertility journey that isn't going so well.

I realized yesterday that I feel like my body has betrayed me, and I am so angry about that.  It got itself injured, it's failed to get pregnant, and it's been slowly gaining weight over the last 6 months.  And that all feels bad.

The injury is healing, and the pregnancy stuff takes time and is a whole separate thing, so let's focus on the weight gain for a moment.  Despite my best intentions to deal with it, and a little denial that it was happening, it's now a thing.  My ring and some of my clothes aren't fitting properly, and that's triggering to me nearly every day now.  And even though I feel like I shouldn't let that bother me, and that letting it get to me is a betrayal of the body positive community, it really does get under my skin. 

Feeling the tightness of your clothes is uncomfortable.  I feel too big to be contained by them.  I have some pretty damn cute clothes, which is making it all worse.  I don't want to buy new clothes - I want to fit into the clothes I could wear six months ago. 

Wanting to lose weight is a really loaded thing.  I feel like I should clarify what I want, because what I want (weight loss) is going to be either evaluated as a superficial concern, considered a backlash against all the body positive work I've done over the past few months, or dismissed as less valuable than a getting stronger goal.

But sometimes, when a lot of your clothes are tight, and you feel heavy and stuck, and you realize you've been (okay, confession time) binging a bit because you are just so angry about it all, an answer gets teased out of the mire.  And that answer is complicated, and goes against what you thought you wanted.

My big epiphany yesterday was that what I am most angry and sad about is the realization that I will have to be mindful about food for the rest of my life.

I can't just eat thoughtlessly anymore like I did when I was 21.  For one thing, it makes me feel shitty and over-full, and for two, that's how I gain weight - by looking the other way, because I am bored and tired of thinking about it.  For the rest of my life, I'm going to have to be aware of what I eat.

And that felt like a big loss, somehow; the loss of innocence, maybe.  And the withdrawal of some level of relaxation/pleasure/ease, etc. - basically, the loss of my binging coping mechanism to deal with discomfort.  It's easier to check out.  It's more fun, it feels good, and you get to be someone that everyone likes, someone who is very easy to please because they eat everything.  I miss being able to be that person.

But I also know that the cost of being that person, the mood swings, the weight gain, the frustration over the weight gain, the tight clothes, the feeling of being undone and having no control - that's not worth it.

So what now?

Well, that's the interesting part.  I'm working on some kind of plan to get me back into my pants.  I do know that it won't be ridiculously restrictive, because we all know how badly that goes for me.  I know that I need to grieve the loss of my coping mechanism of eating mindlessly (a.k.a. binging).  My therapist says I need to find something I can actually live with. 

My plan is to do that - to find a workable, long-term plan - and then espouse it forever, to identify with it readily, and use it to make choices easily.  Because I do think it works better to be able to say, "No, I'm choosing not to eat that" vs. "No, I can't have that."  In the former case, I am empowered to choose what to eat based on my principles, values, and desires.  In the latter, I am following a system someone else has designed.  I want to be empowered and embodied, not be a sheep, mindlessly following rules other people have set.  Damn the Man.

I'll keep you posted.

And P.S. my new plan will still include one of these from time to time, because consistent, infrequent indulgence is really important.

Pebbles Donuts. My favorite is the Salted Caramel.

Pebbles Donuts. My favorite is the Salted Caramel.

The Upper Echelon

The other day, before I ended Precision Nutrition, I got really triggered by an email they sent out about their finalists for the women's Lean Eating program.  You can see the content here: Women's Lean Eating Finalists

What I found so triggering about this email was the Before and After pictures.  I felt profoundly disappointed that I hadn't achieved such radical transformation during my own PN journey.  I felt like I'd failed.

Even though we all know Before and After pictures are bullshit, and even though I know my goals ended up changing during the challenge, I still felt like I "should" have lost a bunch of weight, gotten super toned and tan, and had amazing After shots.

The "shoulds" really plague me you guys.  Not just about this PN thing, but in a lot of other stuff.  Lately, it's been coming up around CrossFit and not being part of "the upper echelon". 

Photo courtesy of Kris Bates at Grassroots CrossFit

Photo courtesy of Kris Bates at Grassroots CrossFit

In my box, we have a wide range of ability, from those just starting CrossFit with no athletic background, to athletes looking for more crosstraining, to intermediate CrossFitters, and then those who are looking to compete in CrossFit competitions.  When I started CrossFit, the gaps weren't so wide.  We had folks across the spectrum in the everyday classes, and I got to know some of them pretty well and enjoyed working out with them.  Now, because of Team Training, there's more of a divide, and I realized the other day that I'd been feeling envious of what the upper level athletes could do, and left behind, sad that I couldn't keep up.

But here's the thing: I was never at that level to begin with.  And even those who started at my level and worked really hard to get better are different than I am, because we are are fundamentally different from one another.  What works for those bodies may not work for my body, and vice versa.

My friend Lacy often tells me, "You have to realize that healthy comes in many different types of bodies."  And she's right. 

I'm doing what's right for me.  I know myself well enough to know that I try really hard.  It may not be obvious to everyone around me, and if the "proof" of health is killer 6-pack abs, then my fitness is probably not obvious to anyone.  But so what?  I know how exhausted I am at the end of a CrossFit WOD.  I know that I've been crushing my upper body and core workout 2x/week, plus a bunch of recovery work as I heal from my injury

I could be one of the upper echelon at CrossFit if I worked out 5-6 days a week (maybe even multiple times a day), ate a totally clean diet, and pushed myself constantly to get to competition level. 

I could be one of the Precision Nutrition finalists if:

  1. I'd made it my only goal for the year
  2. I was willing to sacrifice my relationships and mental health in the pursuit of weight loss, and
  3. if I'd had worse health to start out with

Because here's the thing about amazing Before and After photos: you have to look pretty out of shape in the Before picture to have a dramatic After photo.  True fact.  And I was in pretty damn decent shape before Precision Nutrition, so my After photo wasn't going to be off-the-hook incredible anyway.

But the truth of the matter is that I am doing everything I am willing to do to have a fit body, and I am healthier for it.

Juli Bauer, one of my favorite bloggers, writes in PaleOMG about how she's changed her perspective on how to train because of a similar realization:

My body is different than every single other person in this world. Completely different. I could workout the exact same, eat the same, sleep the same and do everything the same as one of my jacked competitive CrossFit friends, and I would look nothing like her. That’s because my body is different. And my goals are now different than they were. Before, I wanted to compete. That’s it. I did that and then I changed my mind so I could live a happier lifestyle. I didn’t think I would ever stop training and stop competing, but I did. Have you ever thought you wanted something and changed your mind along the way? If you haven’t, you’re boring.

I eat a healthy, whole foods-based diet, I work out multiple times a week at CrossFit, I go to yoga when I can, and I exercise sometimes for the sheer joy of moving my body.  I meditate every day.  I make time for my friends and loved ones, and I try not to stress too much about moderate indulgences from time to time.

That's what health looks like to me.  And I've determined that as much as I envy the upper echelon sometimes, it's not really worth the sacrifices I'd have to make - the strained relationships with friends and partners when they want to go out and I don't because I'm afraid of lack of restrictive eating choices, the scheduling everything around my gym time, the mental gymnastics of when to eat and how much and how to structure training. 

I'm sure people that are really committed to competition love figuring out all that.  To them, it must seem like a really awesome puzzle to work out.  And as a Type A overachiever with an analytical, problem-solving side, I kinda get that.  But I tried doing it for a year and it didn't work for me. 

I'm someone who loves creativity and spontaneity, and ultimately, balance.  I'm not willing to make training and/or weight loss my life.  So I'm focusing on what's real and achievable for me.  And the nice thing about that?  I don't resent the upper echelon any more.  They're doing them, and I'm doing me.  And that feels pretty damn great.