“But I don’t like myself at this weight…”

I’ve been hearing this a lot in my Facebook group lately, and it’s not a sentiment I’m unfamiliar with, having passed through it myself on my Health at Every Size® journey to normal eating.

For some people, giving up dieting is easy. Dieters are “falling off the wagon” half the time anyway – this is just like falling off and just staying off. Dream come true, right? Never diet again!

But then the reality of why you dieted in the first place comes crashing through. “I’m still fat!” or “I’ll get fat again!” is a stark realization that breaks the reverie of your no-diet bliss. And if you’ve been living with the fantasy of getting thin, or maybe even the reality of being thin, through dieting, then you’re facing some serious shattered dreams.

So yes, body acceptance is a HUGE part of diet and ED recovery. But where to start?

I think the first thing anyone should know is that you did not learn to hate your body, or fat, in a vacuum. We live in a patriarchy that enforces beauty ideals as a way to keep women busy and unable to achieve real economic and political power. Think I’m kidding? Have you seen the stats on wage disparity and representation in government for women? You may have been very busy dieting and chasing after the false currency of beauty and not noticed, so I’m telling you now: many people benefit when women keep hating their bodies. The diet and beauty industries are great examples of this.

I understand that just knowing that isn’t enough, so I recommend immersing yourself in some of the fabulous work of the many fat activists out there. I’ll take you through my own personal body acceptance journey as an example of how to do this.

The first blog I stumbled across was Ragen Chastain’s fabulous Dances with Fat blog. I read it obsessively for months. I began to see the societal fat phobia that had shaped my life and caused me to keep dieting even when I was unhappy with my body as a thin person. I’ve met Ragen several times and she is just as awesome in person as she seems on her blog. (Plus she’s the guest of our latest podcast episode which you simply MUST hear!)

I also happened to find the book Fat? So!  by long-time fat activist Marilyn Wann. Marilyn is one of my early heroes and this book really set me straight about how I could start to feel good about my body no matter what size it ended up at. I also met Marilyn and I loved her. It’s some kind of amazing thing to get to meet your fat activist heroes and find out that they are truly good and cool people.

Along the way I tumbled down the fabulous rabbit hole of fat fashion blogs. I was like, “This is a thing? Fat fashion is a thing?!” I’m sad to say I’d never seen fat women proudly wearing beautiful fashion in such an unapologetic way. And the hilarious thing is, I thought the first fatshion blog I found was the only one! Turns out, no. There were many, and even more now than a few years ago (hell yeah body positivity!). There was something so incredibly liberating about seeing so many fat bodies portrayed so positively. A big first step for me, before I could totally accept my own fatness, was normalizing the fat bodies of others. Fashion was a great medium to help me do this because I like looking at pretty clothing. It wasn’t too long before I bought GabiFresh’s famous fatkini (yep, I own that exact one, although since then I’ve realized I find one-pieces much more comfortable) . Suffice it to say, fat fashion blogs were integral in my own body acceptance journey. My favorites are listed at the bottom of this post, although the list is by no means exhaustive, so do some of your own research too.

From here I found other fat activist and body love gurus Jes Baker and Virgie Tovar. Get Jes’s book Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls and Virgie’s anthology Hot and Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love and Fashion. Follow their blogs and listen to the podcasts they guest on. They are the very embodiment of fat women living full and fully satisfying lives.

One of the reasons you’ve probably felt your own fat body isn’t fabulous is that we’re surrounded by media images of only one kind of body: thin. Here’s how to fix that: flood your social media feed with fat positive posts, pages and groups. They’re actually pretty easy to find. Most fat fashion bloggers have their own Facebook pages, so start there.

Finally, check out the work of Vivienne McMaster of Be Your Own Beloved. She has e-books and programs that will get you to explore self-compassion through self-portraiture. I took her course last year and it was not only fun but also instrumental in stomping out my inner critic.

And then, once you’ve immersed yourself in positive images of fat bodies, and you’re starting to see how your fat body is also awesome, realize this:

You are so much more than a body.

It’s important to come to peace with this body you’re in, but feeling pretty isn’t required. Physical beauty, however it’s defined by the society you’re in, isn’t important to the actual living of your life. You may think it is, and others may try to reinforce this, but in fact, it’s bullshit.

Your value as a human is more than your ability to fit into made-up societal beauty standards that were created to control us. We don’t need beauty standards and you are not an ornament for others to admire.

You are a person with a life to live, dreams to fulfill, gifts to give.

Fat Fashion Blogs:

Gabifresh
GarnerStyle
Le Blog de Big Beauty
The Curvy Fashionista
Curvy Girl Chic
Life and Style of Jessica Kane
MamaFierce
Nadia Aboulhosn
Nicolette Mason
And one for the dudes: Chubstr

Last Call: Registration for Dare to Eat closes tonight!

Dare to EAT Logo with Text HALF sizeMy 5 week online program, Dare to Eat…As much as you want, without guilt, in total freedom starts this Monday, July 19th.

Come and learn how to develop a peaceful relationship to food once and for all.

Registration closes tonight at midnight Pacific time. Click here for program details and to sign up.

Becoming My Own Beloved

Be Your Own BelovedLast week was a bad body week for me. You know the kind I’m talking about. Suddenly the outfit I was totally happy with in the AM felt all wrong by the PM; I had massive bloaty-belly syndrome for most of the week (classic stress response for me); and I felt my body was taking on proportions and shapes that were more alien than human (body dysmorphia learned from years of dieting in full effect). I just wanted to be at home, hiding in my sweats, not thinking about what I looked like, calming my tummy. Yep, even the most ardent of body-acceptance advocates can have a bad body day (or days, in my case).

Hey, it happens. I’ve accepted my body, mentally and physically uncomfortable days and all. I have so much appreciation for the process of learning to accept my body as is and what that acceptance has given me. Thinner-and-afraid former me wouldn’t be doing what I am doing now –  putting myself way the hell out there with this blog, hosting a podcast, and writing for a magazine – because I was so afraid of losing even one ounce of acceptance from others. It’s much harder to take big leaps when you’re in constant fear-mode.

So it’s nice to not care nearly as much about acceptability to others. But I am still my harshest critic. I hide a lot in photos for fear of what my own personal inner critic will say. I sometimes even hide from mirrors in public (I’m completely cool with my home mirror, don’t ask me how that works), or my reflection in windows.  I’m still not entirely familiar with this new, non-dieted body, and I could use some help.

viviennebio
Photo credit: Vivienne McMaster

That’s why I’m excited about this week’s Dietitians Unplugged Podcast. Aaron and I interviewed the very cool, very awesome Vivienne McMaster of Be Your Own Beloved. Vivienne helps others learn to love themselves through photography. I love taking photos, so this is something I can totally get behind. We were both so into this idea that we decided to join Vivienne’s July 1 class, and we’re inviting our listeners to join along with us. Let’s go on this awesome body-love journey together.

Enjoy this week’s podcast. It was one of our favorites. And hope to see you in the next Be Your Own Beloved class!

PS – This time only, Vivienne is including her 10 day class, Beloved Beginnings, in the price of her 30 day program. The 10 day class starts June 13. She has lots of other courses and e-books on offer so have some fun clicking around her gorgeous site.

Listen to Dietitians Unplugged Episode 10 – Be Your Own Beloved with Vivienne McMaster here:

Dietitians Unplugged on Libsyn
iTunes
New! Now on Stitcher

I’ll Blame My Body

Thinker-damnI was having a particularly bad day, the accumulation of a bunch of things starting to weigh on me, and a few fresh annoyances as well. I had just bought a very nice, expensive bed for the first time in my life – and hadn’t had a good sleep for three days…with at least 27 more days of the trial period (and potentially 27 bad sleeps) before I could exchange it. I was feeling the pressure of saying “yes” to too many obligations that I didn’t feel passionate about. And there was just the general malaise I get occasionally where I feel the world isn’t a great place to be. I needed sleep, I needed solace, I needed self-care. So what did I do?

I blamed my body.

After so many years of knowing that it is not my body’s fault when I have a bad day, of knowing intellectually that the body is merely a quick and easy stand-in for dealing with non-body problems and bad feelings, of knowing that just two days ago I had no problems with my body, in fact liked it quite a bit in my cute summer sundress in the middle of a hot SoCal February; even as an advocate for body positivity and self-acceptance…I blamed my body.

I stood in the mirror, second mirror in hand, checking out the back of my hair, which I discovered was in need of a haircut (but not really; sometimes I also blame my hair). The inner running commentary took off as my eyes drifted down to my butt (too big, wrong shape), then the width of my back (too wide, droopy folds); then I turned sideways to attack my chin (weak and disappearing), and then full frontal as I assessed the belly (bigger than it ever used to be). After that mental beating, my problems went away and I felt fantastic about my life. JUST KIDDING! My problems still existed, I didn’t feel better, and in fact I felt a hell of a lot worse!

It happened, as it often does, too quickly. But after a time, I said to myself, “Those things are not the problems. The problems are the problems.” Knowing at least that much, I can at least stop myself from going on a loathsome diet and instead deal with the actual issues.

Why do we do this? Why is our body the punching bag on which we try to resolve problems that have nothing to do with it? It probably doesn’t help that we live in a culture that continues to weigh women’s worth by their appearance. (Need proof of that? A male friend of mine recently saw Caitlyn Jenner at Starbucks and said, “She had no ass.” The same person who was once lauded for being an Olympian is now judged solely for her perceived lack of ass. Welcome to womanhood.)

There are times when my body has presented real problems. I have foot problems that two surgeries have not resolved. I have overly tight calf muscles that seem to be wreaking havoc everywhere else in my legs. My particular reaction to chronic stress and fatigue is acid reflux and to become itchy all over. I have digestion issues that extreme dieting may or may not have caused, and which now prevent my total enjoyment of a lot of meals. These are real body problems, and they sometimes get me down, but unlike with my fake-body-problems, I know the solution is some TLC and R&R (and sometimes an ice pack or Pepto-Bismol) and I give it to myself.

How I used to resolve my fake-body-problems? I would try to make my body disappear by going on a diet.

I wish I had known this body-as-problem-solving-substitute was a thing, and a thing that I was doing. I might not have gone on extreme diets that messed with my metabolism and probably gave me chronic tummy troubles – real body problems. I might have faced relationship problems head-on, or even recognized bad or unsatisfying relationships for what they were. Instead, I insisted that a smaller body would be the remedy for everything – and when it wasn’t, the problems were still there, and I had to fix them while I was hungry. Not the easiest thing to do.

Occasionally my real problems still get me down. I might still walk around feeling unattractive when this happens (I’m working on getting a new mental reflex) but I know that it has nothing to actually do with my body. And that’s a relief. It frees me up to feel my feelings, fix the problems I can fix, make peace with the problems I can’t, and wait to feel a bit better. That’s what real self-care is all about.

What did I eventually do to tend to my tattered psyche? I cooked, because I love to cook and it calms me and grounds me like no other activity. Knowing I can still feed myself and my family reminds me that on the most basic level, I can still take care of myself.

What do you do to care for yourself in tough times? Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments!

 

Check out the Dietitians Unplugged Podcast!

Listen on Libsyn or iTunes. Give us a review on iTunes if you like us — this helps to spread the non-diet love to more people. Feel free to like our Facebook page!

 

 

 

Inside This Overweight Woman…

oprah_winfrey
Oprah, you are better than this.
I’m not the first (this was the first I saw and my inspiration for this post. And it’s awesome!), or anywhere near the last, person to be ticked off at Oprah Winfrey for her Weight Watchers ad in which she says, “Inside every overweight woman is a woman she knows she can be.” As though literally everything Oprah has already done in her life – hosted a long-running talk show, launched careers, empowered girls in Africa to go to school, become a media mogul with her own network all while probably dealing with racism, sexism and sizeism along the way – somehow isn’t totally awesome because she wasn’t thin while she was doing all those things.

But it’s Oprah’s choice. She can feel however she wants about herself, her career, her body. She can go ahead and diet for the millionth time, as though Weight Watchers were some well-kept secret that she just hadn’t caught wind of while she was busy failing at weight loss with her personal trainer and chef.

What I must completely object to, however, is Oprah’s insistence on speaking on behalf of “every” overweight woman. As an overweight – actually, obese, according to my BMI! – woman, I simply disagree that what is in me is a thinner woman whose life is better than my current fat one. I know because I already tried that.

When I discovered my thinner woman inside, I found she came with a deep insecurity about measuring up to others’ standards. I found a thinner woman who probably could have earned a PhD for all the time she spent adding up points and obsessing over food and weight. This woman may have had other interests outside of food, but she couldn’t fully cultivate them because there simply was no room left after food, exercise and worrying about how she looked.

Despite what Oprah said about looking in the mirror and not recognizing your own self because you’re buried under all that fat, this thinner woman, at her thinnest and hungriest, frequently looked into the mirror and didn’t recognize herself at all. She felt a strong sense of disconnection from herself, as though this was not in fact her own body but some borrowed, alien body with which she was not entirely familiar or comfortable. As though she knew the ephemeral quality of it already.

Oprah could not possibly know what is inside every fat woman. She only knows what’s inside herself and if she chooses to view all her amazing accomplishments as less than amazing simply because she was not thin, that’s her choice.

Because inside this fat woman is someone whose worth is not determined by her appearance, and knowing that, is just fine with the way she looks, and even more excited by the things she is. This fat woman dared to not diet, dares to take care of herself in a nourishing, not punishing, way, and dares to have her voice heard. She had the guts to start a blog and a podcast – things the thin woman never would have dared to do –  and to reject the anti-woman, anti-fat culture that is ever-present.

Oprah’s weight journey has been so public and I feel for her. She doesn’t know that her size really doesn’t matter to the amazing person she is. But, Oprah, please speak for yourself only. Because didn’t you hear? It’s okay for us to feel fine about ourselves without having to turn into something we’re really not. It’s okay for each of us to reach inside and see that the woman there is already the woman we want to be.

Podcast!

Have you checked out the Dietitians Unplugged Podcast yet? No?! Check it out here then!

Listen on Libsyn or iTunes. If you like us, leave us a review, as this helps to spread non-diet love to more people. Also check out our new Dietitians Unplugged Facebook page! More episodes coming very soon.

Body Confidence and The Wizard of Oz

ruby slippersI love a good pop culture analogy, and so I was pretty happy when this one popped into my head while I was walking down the hall at work recently. In the voice of Glinda the Good Witch no less!

I wasn’t dressed particularly well, I wasn’t having a great hair day or anything, in fact I’m pretty sure I looked a little meh, but I just felt happy to be alive. And because of that, I was walking tall and I was smiling. If I had to guess, I was probably the picture of easy confidence. People smiled back and said “Hello” as I passed by, and I greeted them in kind. It was a good day.

That’s when it hit me – this must be what confidence feels like. And it surprised me, because this was not something I came by easily when I was younger, thinner, probably cuter. Which is ironic, because isn’t that one of the reasons, or so we are told, that we try to lose weight in the first place? For a long time, I was pretty good at faking confidence. Faking it can be useful – you know the old adage, “Fake it till you make it.” But frankly, in those years, I never quite made it. Maybe because this particular brand of confidence was but a thin veneer over a deep layer of insecurity about my looks and my general worthiness. It was based on others’ approval of my appearance, not my own sense of self-worth.

I’ve always been a bit of an oddball (so my significant likes to remind me of OFTEN, but he means it as a compliment) which was fine until about the age of ten, when I became self-conscious about not quite fitting in. Coupled with becoming aware of apparently being in the “wrong body” – a fat body – well, this was not a recipe for confidence building (as it probably is for no one).

As I made my way through high school, college and early adulthood, although I became less self-conscious about my oddball self as I learned to make the most of my sense of humor, I became increasingly more self-conscious about my shape and weight (especially after my doctor told me, at the age of 15, that I was getting too fat). I did everything I could to deflect notice from my real self: big distracting hair, lots of make-up, clothes that shrouded my body. I was hiding some serious insecurities.

So when I went on a diet and lost weight – my personal adventure to the Land of Oz, where everything was new and shiny but also illusory and threatening – and suddenly had a body that I felt more approximated the mainstream ideal of beauty, I did feel like I was owed a little more confidence. Not that I actually was more confident – but that’s all a part of the deception of Diet Oz.

Here’s why: that confidence was built on a house of cards. I secretly felt I only fit in because I now better approximated the cultural standard of beauty. While I was still me on the inside, I thought people’s attitudes changed toward me because I had gotten smaller, more “normal” looking, and if I ever changed back, I’d lose all that approval that was the basis for my confidence.

And in fact, the “worst” – in my mind – did happen: I eventually gained back all my weight after I had decided I could no longer tolerate the miserable life of dieting I had created for myself. The consequence, for me, of becoming a normal eater was weight gain. At first, I was dismayed at the unraveling of my external image, but committed now to a quality life, nothing in the world would make me go back to dieting. I decided to learn to like and accept my body, however it was going to turn out. In for a penny, in for a pound (or 40), and damned it I was going to go back to feeling bad about myself ever again. That’s when I decided I needed to get the hell back to Kansas.

Remember at the end of The Wizard of Oz, when Glinda the Good Witch says to Dorothy, “You’ve always had the power to go back to Kansas…” That’s what I realized, this confidence — this feeling good and okay with being me in my fatter body — was in me all along. I only had to decide on it.

In a world that fosters and profits from our self-doubt of our bodies, it has become more necessary than ever that we believe in ourselves and like our bodies and not rely on others for that validation.

So I clicked my ruby red slippers together (and perhaps this explains my life-long obsession with red shoes), decided on being just fine with me, decided that I was the only approval I needed, and after some serious emotional and intellectual work around this (and, I must add, a soupçon of “Screw you, stupid society standards!”), I arrived at some real confidence (the kind that remains even in the face of a bad hair day).

I am by no means saying any of this was easy. It was not. This journey will be different for everyone, and may be harder for some and easier for others. But I do think it’s worth the trip. And hey, if you can skip that totally futile jaunt through Diet Oz in the first place, even better.

Dorothy got back to Kansas and realized that what she had all along was pretty damn good. It took her a long, dangerous trip through Oz but she figured it out in the end. I learned to feed myself and let my body be what it was going to be, and gained a genuine sense of confidence about my whole self. Because, like Dorothy, I had the power in me all along.

Need some help getting started with body love? Here are some suggestions of places to start:

Buy this book: Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls: A Handbook for Unapologetic Living

Check out fat fashion blogs. This really helped me normalize fat bodies. These are some of my favorites:
Gabifresh
Curvy Canadian
GarnerStyle
Le Blog de Big Beauty
Flaws of Couture
The Curvy Fashionista
Curvy Girl Chic
Life and Style of Jessica Kane
Nadia Aboulhosn
Nicolette Mason
Clothes and Shit
A
nd one for the dudes: Chubstr

These are just the ones I check out. There are SO many more!

Boogie Boards, Bicycles and Body Image

beachAs summer gives way to fall (well, not in LA, it is still blazing hot as I write this in the middle of October), I’m thinking back to my August staycation-vacation.

One of the reasons I love staycationing in LA is that it’s got everything I love in a vacation: heat, beach and no need to fly anywhere. We took advantage of some of LA’s best: biking along the Pacific Ocean bike path (“The Strand”), and of couple of glorious beach days.

We own boogie boards but had never quite mastered the art of catching a nice wave all the way into shore. On this day, though, the waves were perfect for it. We waded through a kelp forest to get to the sweet spot and then sped inward to shore wave after wave after wave – pure, unadulterated fun. On one turn, I passed by a couple of young teenage girls gingerly wading in the shallows, their dad recording their every pose on his phone. Wearing a look of manic joy on my face, I screeched, “THIS IS AWESOME!!!!” as I passed by them; the look on their faces was best described as mild, pleasant embarrassment for this middle-aged lady. However, not long after, I saw those girls back in the water with their own rented boogie boards and wearing the same thrill in their faces and no longer paying attention to their dad with the camera (or the middle-aged lady, probably).

Things I didn’t think about while boogie boarding at the beach: how my body looked in my swimsuit. I am WAY into body positivity and feeling good about oneself and accepting what we have now, but this is a process. After at least 34 years of being so focused on the size, shape and look of my body (I became aware of my body in that way around age 10), it’s not easy to just stop (It’s easy to decide to stop. But after that…process). The beach, however, is one of the places I am happiest and most in-the-moment and therefore least aware of how my body looks to others, despite being in the least amount of clothing. Maybe it’s all the other sensory input: sand on my feet, cold salty water on my skin and stinging my eyes, the sun warming and sometimes even burning my exposed skin, the waves crashing into me – I love all of this. I become aware of my body in another way that has nothing to do with how I look, and everything to do with how I am experiencing the world at that moment.

On another day, we rented bikes and rode along the bike path that follows the ocean. I haven’t ridden a bike with any frequency since I was in grade school. It was so fun!! I felt so lucky at that moment to live in Southern California and to be able to ride a bike. We rode to a restaurant in Playa Vista and had the most delicious sandwiches. Bonus: former child actor Anthony Michael Hall was having lunch in the same place!! (The Breakfast Club is seriously one of my favorite movies). It was a hot day and my honey and I were both sweaty. I probably looked pretty messy as I always do when I’m doing any sort of exercise or activity. As always, I was in my fat body. And once again, I just didn’t care. My body was a vehicle to enjoy these wonderful moments – how it looked was irrelevant.

I’m not saying that in order to appreciate our bodies we need to completely forget about what they look like. But once in a while, I think it can help. Boogie boarding and biking reminded me that our bodies are here to allow us to live life. In our appearance-focused culture, it can be all too easy to let worries about our fat bellies, thighs or hips, or our sweaty armpits or our disheveled hair distract us from the real living – the fun or the learning or the meaning of what we are doing. When we can let go and focus on those things, we truly become body positive.

What’s Your Life’s Masterpiece?

you're awesomeSomeone left a message on my Facebook page along the lines of (and I’m paraphrasing because I deleted it toute suite) “This comment probably won’t be appreciated here [correct!] but this page seems like a big excuse for people to be overindulgent and lazy. You don’t have to do crazy fad diets or anything but people should try to eat better and be the best they can be.” It was left by a gentleman who was very muscled and shirtless (and notably, headless) in his FB photo, so based on that and the general negative tone of his comment, I’m guessing he disapproved of my message to love our bodies as they are through a Health At Every Size® approach.

I deleted the comment because of the negative, accusatory tone – I intend for my Facebook page and blog to be safe, positive spaces for people practicing HAES®, body positivity and Intuitive Eating. People of size, people who have suffered from eating disorders, even people with “normal size” bodies who want to step away from dieting – we all hear enough pro-diet, negative body talk in the world every day. I don’t owe anyone a platform for their thoughts, and there are plenty of places on the internet where those kinds of comments will be appreciated. But one thing I do want to address here is the particular sentiment of “People should try to be the best they can be.”

First of all, while I would love to encourage people to be the best they can be, the word “should” is troublesome because who are any of us to tell anyone what they should do? People can do what they want and they don’t need anyone’s permission.  But say some folks decide they want to be “the best they can be” (if they feel they aren’t currently at their best)? Great! Does that necessarily have to mean our bodies??

Maybe my commenter’s version, based on what he said and how he’s choosing the represent himself in his online persona, involves doing what it takes to have a body shaped similar to his: lean, large, muscled. Perhaps his body is the masterpiece of his life and that is his idea of being his “best.” That is absolutely a-okay because that’s what he wants. That works for him.

But does that mean improving one’s body is the universal meaning of “be the best you can be?” Not for me, it isn’t. I tried for many years to make my body the masterpiece of my life, and all it ever did was leave me unhappy. Even with all the societal approval that I “won” with my acceptably-small-sized body, I was simultaneously profoundly unhappy with my body and fearful that I would lose what I had created. My masterpiece left me wanting so much more out of life, not the least of which was peace of mind.

I realized my body did not have to be the culmination of my life’s work, that there were other things I could be “my best” at – like loving myself without judgement and then learning how to stop judging others for the thing I had agonized over in myself.

I learned I could learn things – like chemistry! – that I never thought I could when I was so busy creating my “best” body. I learned that when I did learn new things – microbiology, ho! – I felt much better about myself than when I had dutifully eaten like a dieting all-star all week. Sadly, I could have earned two PhDs for all the unhappy time I had spent thinking about ways to maintain my societally correct body.

The “best” me can have vigorous conversations about politics, science, pop culture, sociology, religion, fashion – things that don’t even involve my profession, nutrition (but I like talking about that, too) or my body (a topic which, frankly, bores me). The “best” me want to read books that bring me a new understanding of the world. And – unlike my body-shaping efforts of years past – doing these things actually makes me happy!

I learned that “the best I can be” is different for everyone, and that there was a better “best” inside of me than out. You get to choose what your best is, and it will involve your body, whether you want to conquer a sport or have a better understanding of constitutional law or become an ace quilter.

So I’m sorry I couldn’t let your post roam free on my Facebook page, dear commenter, but my followers don’t deserve to be shamed for choosing different paths to the best they can be.

*edited from original to add a link I had forgotten to add!

No Duh: Bodies Change

Your body will change. But apparently your dress style doesn’t have to.

The concept of bodies changing throughout a lifetime really does belong under the category of No Shit, Sherlock. We all understand this logically and intellectually, and most of us probably aren’t going around saying, “I’m going to have this fantastic 27 year old body for the rest of my life!” And yet, over the years I’ve heard many women AND men bemoan their changing bodies once they start to get older. “My [belly, hips, thighs, butt, arms] are getting [bigger, wobbly, saggy, poochy] – and they NEVER used to do THAT!” To be fair, I was once included in this group of complainers that I like to call everybody.

We live in a time that is positively phobic about aging (and maybe there was never a time where this wasn’t true for women, I honestly don’t know). Women are encouraged to “fight” the “signs of age” and now even men are increasingly expected to retain the taut physique of their youth. But bodies do change over the course of a lifetime. So why are we so damn freaked out when it actually happens?

Recently a gorgeous friend of mine lamented that all her pants had become too tight and she didn’t want to buy new ones. She’s a very healthy eater and regular exerciser, but she had just turned 30, so maybe things are starting to…shift. I recalled that right around the time I turned 32, my body, which had maintained its relative thinness for 9 years, also began to change. While my weight remained the same, there was some…sagging. Some pooching about the waist. Some poufing of the hips. I can guarantee you no one else noticed this but me. That’s okay, I noticed it enough for everyone. I decided to “fix” this “problem” of my maturing body with more dieting, more exercise and much more misery. You know how the rest of the story goes.

Now that I’ve had time to contemplate the ridiculous rules of the world, I haven’t got a clue why we are so determined to stave off age; after all, I was a mess in my 20s and much of my 30s (a fun mess, but a mess nonetheless), I struggled professionally in unsatisfying jobs, and in general nobody seemed to be rewarding me for my dewy youth. I have learned so much about becoming a better human in the past 20 years that I wouldn’t trade all my hard-won self-confidence and knowledge for a smaller waist or less saggy face. Those things wouldn’t mean I hadn’t gotten older anyway.

After I gained back all of my weight, I weighed as much as I did when I was 22 (before dieting). But I’m 44 now and my body is much different. I’m more muscular in some areas (probably from exercising) but my stomach is a fatter and for the first time in my life I have hips. Some of the changes in body composition might be from dieting (one theory is that we lose muscle mass which is then replaced with fat, a much better energy storage unit), but I suspect a lot of it is related to aging as well. The number-one complaint from my beloved middle-aged-lady friends is about their stomachs. Women’s stomachs get fatter over time because as estrogen production from the ovaries decreases, fat migrates to the stomach. The reason for this isn’t abundantly clear, but it may be because belly fat produces estrogen. If I had to guess, increasing belly fat after menopause most likely has a protective effect, but currently our fatphobic society focuses only on how to get rid of it (don’t do an internet search on this topic if you want to save your sanity points).

Back to my friend and her dilemma. I asked her, “So what will you do about your tight pants?”

“I’m going to try to exercise more,” she said.

“And if that doesn’t work?”

She paused and then sighed a little. “I guess I’ll have to buy new pants.”

And that’s the moral of the story: our bodies are going to change, and eventually you are going to have to buy new pants. You can do all sorts of crazy things to manipulate your body, or you can just buy some new pants, learn to appreciate all your body has done for you, and then work on the parts of you that really do get better with age: achieving wisdom, intelligence, kindness and happiness.

Do I Have to Love My Body?

I'm ok
Okay with the selfie at last.

“Allow me to suggest a revolutionary action: Let’s try to be okay with our bodies. I am not saying you have to love your body. I can’t help but notice that this goal is frequently pushed on women, but never men, and if men don’t need to love their bodies, it seems to me that women can get by without it, too…Perhaps loving your body is something to strive for, but all we really need to do is respect our bodies, appreciate them, and be generally okay with them.” –Traci Mann, PhD, author “Secrets from the Eating Lab”

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I’ve been reading Secrets from the Eating Lab: The Science of Weight Loss, the Myth of Willpower, and Why You Should Never Diet Again. I love so many parts of this book, like all the scientific evidence for the failure of weight loss diets. I’ll talk more about the book in a future post, but for now…see above quote.

Why did I love this quote so much? Because I found it to be profoundly freeing.

Part of the talk around giving up dieting revolves a lot around learning to love your body. As someone who dieted for most of her adult life, I didn’t even know what this would look like in practice. I tried a fake-it-till-you-make-it approach, telling myself that I loved my body and that I wasn’t going to torture it anymore. In reality, I no longer wanted to punish myself with deprivation and food obsession not for the sake of my body, but for my peace of mind.

But I espoused body-love because it seemed like a good idea. Even on this blog I talk about learning to love one’s own body, and loving my own body. What I probably come closer to, though, is this idea of being okay with my body.

I was raised, as most of us were, in a world where fat bodies were not seen as attractive. We still live in that world. One of the first things I did, after discovering Health At Every Size®, was to find ways that I could see large bodies as attractive, or at least not unattractive. I’ve never been one to focus too much on the outsides of other people…I reserved that obsession for myself. But I bought the party line that fat was not attractive, because that’s how I had been treated and that’s what everyone said. So I spent time on fat fashion blogs and I started looking at fat people around me with a neutral eye and I realized that there is nothing inherently unattractive about fat bodies. With just a little bit of practice I soon was able to see every body without bias. While it was easy to see others’ fat bodies as completely acceptable and even lovable, I still struggled with my own evolving body.

As my body continued to change dramatically after quitting dieting, I was unable to look at it in photos for a long time. With GI problems that cause severe abdominal bloating after even a small meal, I sometimes even avoid mirrors. While I don’t particularly have any animosity toward my body, loving it just seemed…a tall order. And a lot of work.

All of that doesn’t mean I’m not 100 percent okay with my body. I’m not embarrassed about my body with others – I’m not shy about being in a bathing suit or wearing body-con clothing. I have enormous gratitude for my bod and what it allows me to do. When I have those momentary “ehhh” photo moments, I remind myself that I’ve been under the unrelenting influence of completely unrealistic expectations for how women should look for all of my life. I also remind myself that I want to be more than about how I look. How I look is really the very least of me. And in the end, I really did become okay with my body.

I don’t require others to love my body, so I’m not sure that I need to either so long as I respect it and have some gratitude for it. What I want most of all is for my body to occupy zero space in my brain for most or all of the day – for it to lose the importance it has held in the past. My body is not my life’s work. What I do, how I am, is. Being okay with my body is frankly enough for me for now.