Step 1: Compassion

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about negative body image triggers.  Now I'd like to talk about how to deal with them.  No one wants to be stuck in the negative feeling shame spiral for long.  It feels terrible - like running in place while having a seizure and hot flashes at the same time.  I hate that business.

In the awesome Beauty Redefined article I posted before, they say that the first step is compassion.

Self-compassion is all about acknowledging that suffering, failure, and inadequacies are part of the human condition, and that all people—yourself included—are worthy of compassion (Neff, 2003). There are three basic components of this strategy that have GOT to be cultivated in the midst of our objectifying culture and self-objectifying tendencies: 1. Self-Kindness: Extending kindness and understanding to oneself rather than harsh judgment and self-criticism; 2. Common Humanity: Seeing one’s experiences as part of the larger female experience rather than seeing them as separating and isolating; and 3. Mindfulness: Holding one’s painful thoughts and feelings in balanced awareness rather than letting them define or overwhelm you.

Yesterday, I had another body image trigger: my engagement ring wouldn't fit.  There are a number of reasons why this could be - weight gain, hormone fluctuation, the fact that it's a lot more humid than usual, water retention, the fact that I am mostly doing pull-up practice these days, so my fingers might be swollen, etc.

The point is: it doesn't matter, my ring doesn't fit.  My brain immediately flew into the "if I hadn't gained all that weight this year, they would still fit!  I've undone all that good work!  I'm a failure, and fat, and ugly, and this is ALL MY FAULT."

Immediately, I reached out for help, both to a Facebook group about ED recovery that I belong to, and to my two best healthy body image friends, Lacy and Julie.  Everyone said the same thing - that who I was a year ago was actually worse than who I am now.  As denoted here, last year I may have been thinner, but this year I am stronger.  And per my new credo, I want to be BETTER, not smaller

But even knowing all that, I have to overcome YEARS of negative body conditioning.  As much as I may know all this stuff, I have yet to really internalize it, because I've been groomed to believe that thinner is always better.  If I don't have the constant struggle to be thin, who am I?

It occurs to me now, that as part of self kindness, the first step of compassion, that I need to accept where I am Right Now.  It isn't self-loving to believe that there's something wrong with me.  I really need to excise the belief that in order to be acceptable, I need to be thin.  It's not true, not helpful, and it causes a lot of hurtful behavior. 

I'm also not alone in this struggle.  Belonging to that Facebook group and connecting with a lot of you here shows me that.  This struggle is a part of our shared common humanity, and no one is exempt.  We are all struggling. 

One of my favorite bloggers, Jen Dary, wrote a post about accepting the continuum of growth:

Big and small. Mature and immature. Rookie and pro. Stumble and sprint. These are not starting and end points; these are two points on continuums that we bounce along our whole lives. We grow for 18 years and then we're designated adults, but this means almost nothing.
The point, it seems to me, is to get better at forgiving yourself for sliding back and forth. No one has it nailed. We're all growing. Every single day, every single year, every single chapter in our memoirs reduces the growth but it's there behind everything.
So keep moving.

We're all on one big continuum.  Sometimes it's easy, sometimes it's hard.  Sometimes we master it, sometimes we don't.  The point is to be aware of it, to do your best, and to let the rest go.  And most of all: to be kind to yourself about being a gorgeous, strong, creative, and perfect-on-your-own-terms human being. 

Lastly, Josey asked me yesterday to try to be mindful of all of these feelings without ascribing a narrative to them, to feel them without trying to figure them out or put a story to them, to let them wash over me and let them go.  I may just give that a try in my daily meditation practice.  Watching those feelings in awareness gives me a little separation from them, allows them some space.  Then I don't get as stuck, and I don't have to believe bad stuff about myself.  I'm going to give that a try.

And in the meantime, I've started wearing my engagement ring around my neck with a necklace from our wedding.  There might be a time where it fits around my finger again, or not, but I'm wearing it, and that's what counts.


Already Okay

I'm going to start off this blog with a post I wrote about the end of a journey.  I've been participating in the Precision Nutrition Lean Eating program since July 2013.  It's about to end, and I realized a few things when I reflected on its ending.

What if the point of Precision Nutrition was to convince me that I am already okay?  That I am already perfect just as I am?

Because you’d think after months of awareness brought to my eating habits, extensive checklists such as this one:

A chart I've been keeping every week, for nearly a year.

A chart I've been keeping every week, for nearly a year.


…. Routine workouts, a whole foods challenge, and all the rest of it, that I would have dropped a bunch of weight, right?

NOPE.  I’ve gained 10 lbs since I started.  And to be honest, I feel pretty great about that.  Is that weird?  Probably.  Do I care?  Nope.  

You see, the thing is guys, I know I can lose weight.  I did it last year with Whole30 and a couple of Whole14s.  I look at the pictures right after that and feel a little nostalgic.  I look a bit leaner than I do now.  My face and arms are more defined, my chin and arms look like daggers, and my stomach is nearly flat in the outfits I’m wearing.  And that’s cool.  I realized yesterday that instead of feeling wistful that I’m not quite as thin, I should look at that as an accomplishment—my goal back then was to lose weight, and I did it.  Go me!

That should be it, right?  I look thinner, so that was clearly the most successful time of my life, and I should be upset that I’m 10 lbs heavier and a slob, right?  No.

What you don’t see in those pictures is that I had injured my shoulder by overuse and lack of care, and that I was in a really bad cycle of restriction followed by binging.  There was a stark difference between each “challenge” I was on, and whatever came after.  I didn’t know how to take care of myself, nourish my body, or what level of exercise was appropriate for me.  

I was constantly sore, sick, and self-doubting.  And the illness part is where I figured out something was wrong.  It’s not normal for me to be sick every month, but I was.  Every month.  With a cold, usually, but sometimes with strep throat (June) or some kind of wacky infection that took antibiotics and a round of Prednisone to finally heal (September).  That round of steroids had the added effect of putting my shoulder back online, which was rad, but also sad that it took steroids to get it to heal.  Sad/rad.

It wasn’t until this year, and my friendship with Lacy Davis of Super Strength Health, that I finally figured it out and turned it around.  I had a breaking point back in February where, for the first time ever in my life, I felt so low as to be nearly suicidal.  This sounds dramatic, but it wasn’t.  It was sad, and isolating, and scary, because those feelings are totally new for me.  I’m a doer—when shit hits the fan, I like to go out and fix it.  But I couldn’t fix my profound despair that despite my best intentions, I couldn’t lose weight.

Every time I’d try, a small little voice inside of me would say, “Stop it. I don’t want to diet anymore.  This is all just one big diet, and it’s not sustainable. I want to feel creative and free about food. I want to enjoy the process of eating. I am so tired of the mental gymnastics. I am angry that you are putting me through this feast and famine cycle again and again! Can you please just relax into this?  Take it more slowly? Take care of me?  Please! Please?”

And I was low enough and fed up enough and angry enough that I actually listened this time. 

I wrote an article about how diets are a fallacy.  I cried.  And then I ate some cinnamon raisin toast, and went to the gym, and started a weekly yoga practice, and cried some more, and meditated, and thought a lot about what I wanted my life to look like, and I realized that little voice was right.  It was me reaching out to myself, trying to care for me.  It was trying to get me to see that the opportunity to lose weight will always be there, but that it’s not my focus right now.  And that’s okay.

My focus right now is building a healthy, nourished, self-loving body.  It means going to happy hour once in awhile—not always saying no because I have to go to CrossFit.  I haven’t given up or anything.  I still go to CrossFit 3+ times a week, but I don’t feel crazy if I miss a session, or reschedule it for later to take a rest day, or even just some much needed social time with friends.

Because the fitness journey can’t be all there is.  At the end of this, we’ll all die.  A healthy body isn’t proof against death.  It can prolong your life, sure, but if you’re killing yourself to get there? You’ve missed the whole point.

My life now has really awesome, creative recipes, mostly made from this cookbook, and this one. It has a weekly brunch date with Lacy, after we hit the WOD hard, but also laugh and cheer our way through it.  It has a whole, healthy shoulder, recovered from injury, and lifting more weight than I ever have before.  It has a mat, and me balancing on my head, and taking lots of warrior poses, and meditating and chanting because I feel closest then to whatever great big energy is out there, even if I don’t know what it is. It has more flexibility, both physical and mental.  It has people who love and support me and think I am amazing and gorgeous as I am, right now, in this body.

I am embodied.  I’m not hiding from mirrors or windows or even conceptions and dreams of myself. I am aware of how my body feels and I listen to it, rather than listening to other people about it.  And that’s the biggest change: that I trust myself to know what’s right for me.

Maybe that’s what that illusive “maintenance” thing is really all about (even though the name is kind of unpleasant and makes me think of coveralls and paint).  I know how to keep my body healthy and safe and nourished and lovely, as is. And if that means an extra 10 lbs—well, I trust my body to tell me that’s the weight I should be at.