health at every size

Good Days, Bad Days

Sometimes I think I’m over it.

That it doesn’t matter how I look, or what size I wear, or what I grabbed to go from Chipotle on my way home from work because I’ve been pulling 13-hour days a few too many times this month, and sometimes you don’t even care that guac is a dollar more.

But sometimes I feel like I’ve been lying to myself all that time.

It can be any number of things that set the feeling off.

A glance down when toweling off after a shower, which even after all this time I studiously refuse to do, because the wave of sadness I get from looking at my new Buddha belly hurts more than I usually feel comfortable admitting.

Another goddamn rejection letter, when for some reason I really thought we were going to get somewhere this time.

Another lunch break sacrificed to a meeting or a project I don’t feel like I understand, or that I’m good enough to do. Hello, impostor syndrome, my old friend.

Whatever it is, it usually ends the same. Lying flat on my living room floor, staring at my bookshelf without any intention of picking up a book, wondering why my current lifestyle refuses to let me lose weight.

Yes. Yes. I know.

I know that diet culture is a cruel cocktail mixed by capitalism and the patriarchy.

I know that before I chose recovery I was no happier, in fact much less happy.

I know that I still reap the benefits of thin privilege in about a million different ways, and that my health is not in any way connected to the way my body looks.

I can rationalize my way through that. Most of the time I do. I can hit you with a Health at Every Size–based rant at the drop of a hat, literally or figuratively. Like, if you actually throw a hat at me, I will catch it and say “$20 billion annual profits of the US weight loss industry” in the same breath.

But some nights I don’t want to.

Some nights I want to wallow a little in the self-pity I try not to allow myself too often.

I want to acknowledge the weight of a small creature perched on my chest, pressing the breath from me and keeping me here on the floor, this small creature that does not feel exactly the same as my eating disorder did, but is close.

Quieter.

More subtle.

It is the whisper in the back of my mind that says “You failed at being thin. Just exactly the way you fail at everything else.”

I wish I weren’t writing about this. I realize that it isn’t helpful. But maybe the admission that I don’t always have it all together, that I’m not always here to be helpful, maybe that’s worth something. I don’t know. I’m not convinced my thoughts make sense, and I think it might be important to admit that, and edit a little less. Radical honesty does not always make for lucid prose.

But that’s all theoretical. What matters is tonight.

Tonight, I will let these feelings hang there, for the amount of time it takes to write this blog post. Because they are real, and they matter.

And then, also tonight, I will stand up, close my computer, and go do something else. I don’t know what. Sing along loudly to the Sweeney Todd  original cast recording, or finally start the latest Toni Morrison novel, or watch the rest of Season Two of Orphan Black. Anything else.

Because my residual ED feelings are part of my life, but so are all these things.

And they are real.

And they matter, too.

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Recovering Like a Vulcan – Fighting Feeling with Logic

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Last week(end), for those interested, marked the 2014 iteration of the San Diego International Comic-Con. Given, this has a very minimal impact on my day-to-day life as a blogger living in Michigan who personally would welcome a decrease in superhero movies playing at the local multiplex. (Except for those with Loki in them. Because I don’t know if I’ve talked about my Loki feelings lately, but they are powerful, visceral, and 120% positive.) Anyway, what I’m getting at is that Comic-Con is an unapologetically cheap and easy segue into what I want to talk about today: rationalism and emotions.

Weight gain and recovery, in some manifestations of eating disorders, go troublingly hand-in-hand. It’s important to note that this isn’t always the case: EDs don’t always result in being dangerously underweight. There are many kinds of eating disorders, and you can’t tell who has one or who doesn’t just by looking at them. (Super-intentional link barrage is super-intentional.)

But for me, and for many readers I’ve chatted with, fear of weight gain is one of the reasons that resistance to recovery is so strong. Recovery is something like full-frontal exposure therapy in these cases. Throwing yourself straight into your worst fear on the word of friends, family, and support either IRL or online that everything will turn out for the best. Imagine a man terrified of sharks being told to watch Jaws in an underwater cage in the Pacific in the middle of Shark Week. It’s something like that. Only without the smell of chum.

Now, you ask, why the deuce did you bring up Comic-Con in that first paragraph, then segue into Jaws, and then somehow end up at recovery? Well, two reasons. One, because I mix metaphors like bartenders mix the ingredients for a Manhattan: into a delicious concoction that goes down smooth every time. And two, because my best strategy of coping with the difficulties of facing recovery’s weight-related fears is to think like a Vulcan.

I’m a little young for the Shatner series, but I’ve seen the more recent Star Trek films (because of Benedict Cumberbatch, and because my former roommate took to yelling “KHAAAAAAAAAN” every time our toilet failed to flush or our stove caught on fire again), so I think that basically makes me an expert in the Vulcan’s inability to process or express emotions. Life to the inestimable Mr. Spock is a math problem, a physics equation, a series of numbers and probabilities that can be followed to its natural and logical end. “Feeling fat” or “fearing weight gain” has no place in the Vulcan universe. You are what you are, logically, rationally, ipso facto. That’s it.

I’m the kind of person who bursts into tears at the smallest provocation, so clearly this isn’t a kind of lifestyle I’m apt to fall into particularly easily. But thinking about issues surrounding weight gain, I find it helpful during tough times – like now. A year and a half after I started blogging about the recovery process, I’m now at my highest weight to date. If you’d told me at the time I would be where I am, I imagine my swirling maelstrom of emotions would have had a thing or two to say about it.

But now, looking at it objectively from a much healthier, much more stable place, I can start to take it apart. The last few days have been a little rough, and I’m still not exactly comfortable moving around in my body the way it feels right now. If we’re being honest (a practice I favor, generally),  I wouldn’t mind losing xx pounds in a healthy, slow, and reasonable way. But when the going gets particularly bad, I’ve started to pull back and ask myself the important questions.

  • “What’s the absolute worst thing that could happen if I wasn’t able to lose weight from here?”
  • “What, really, is bad about the way I am right at this very moment?”
  • “If something happened and I was stuck at this weight forever, what would I lose that I could have had otherwise?”

Answer key, for those playing along at hime:

  • Well, I wouldn’t be able to wear those super-comfortable jeans from two years ago I bought on sale for $20. Which would be sad, but reasonably, I could always buy more jeans. Even if I do hate shopping, it would be about thirty unpleasant minutes. I sat through PompeiiI can handle more than thirty unpleasant minutes.
  • What’s bad about the way I am? Well, I’m not happy. It’s easier to work on being happy with the present than changing it into something it’s not meant to be.
  • What would I lose? Well, those pants. And the privilege of saying that I “got back to my high school weight,” which is apparently an important thing for some reason. Other than that? I’m having a tough time.

I’m not claiming that this exercise is always easy, or that it works every time. But it’s helped me through many a tough morning. For example, a few days ago was my monthly allotted trip to The Scale, when I learned that my newly instated exercise habit had failed to make an ounce (#RecoveryPuns) of difference. The emotional part of my brain was wildly disappointed with this, but after a few minutes, I tried to put my response into the same logical question format.

What exactly were you hoping to accomplish here? Have you accomplished it?

I exercise to feel powerful in my body. I exercise to take care of my heart and my legs and my muscles and my various other et caeteras. I exercise because it’s nice to start a morning with a jog and the chance to listen to the ever kick-ass John Oliver and Andy Zaltzman on The Bugle.

Why does weight logically need to come into that? I can be healthy and happy at any weight. Sure, there’s still that initial moment of “crap, I worked so hard and what do I have to show for it?” I don’t know if there’ll always be that moment, but for right now it’s pretty tough to deny it completely. But what’s important is to cut the thought process off as soon as is logistically possible and really, critically, think about it.

If you’re having a tough recovery day (and we all do), try sitting down for a few minutes, alone and away from distractions, and really asking yourself the question.

What’s the worst thing that could happen if I gain XX pounds? What’s the worst thing that could happen if I embrace recovery and the physical changes that come with it and after it?

Try as hard as you can not to let anything subjective or exaggerated enter this mental discussion. Be honest with yourself. Accept that “physical perfection” is a social construct that means objectively nothing. Be gentle on hard days and do something that makes you happy, because in recovery self-care is a radical and revolutionary choice.

And if you can figure out a way to beam me up somewhere, please drop me a line and let me know. I’m still operating without a car and it would be really lovely not to have to bum rides all the time. Thanks.

Excuses, Excuses – Maria Kang and Body Positivity

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What’s my excuse? Didn’t know I needed one.

Over the last few days, the above image has circulated around the Internet with the fervor usually reserved for cats on robot vacuums or whatever Miley Cyrus is up to now. Featuring a thin and toned mother of three posing in a sports bra and matching panties around her three children, aged 8 months to 3 years, this picture of Maria Kang has apparently succeeded in pitting half the virtual world against the other.

On one side, we have the supporters: “Good for you! This inspires me to lose the baby weight and get in the best shape of my life! Don’t let the haters get you down!”

And then the other side. Mine.

Now, let’s be clear. I support Ms. Kang’s right to take care of herself in whatever way she sees fit. (No pun intended.) If her lifestyle involves regular workout sessions, “clean” eating, and rigorous self-discipline, and that makes her healthy and feel good both physically and mentally, then more power to her. No body positive movement that I support will shame people for any reason, whether they are slim, full-figured, athletic, prefer a marathon of Breaking Bad to a workout, or any combination of the four.

Moreover, I do not and will not support body shaming of this woman. My body positive movement will not stand for the shame and criticism of this woman’s body shape for any reason. And neither should yours. No calling her out for being “a bad mother” or “self-obsessed” or any of those things. Positivity is part of the movement for a reason.

That said, though.

The message conveyed through this picture is not one of supporting a healthy lifestyle through a balanced diet and regular exercise. The message here is work hard enough, and you can look like this.

If Ms. Kang provided a picture of her three kids sitting down with her to a balanced meal full of healthy whole grains and vegetables, or the three of them partaking in mommy-and-me aerobics or whatever her workout routine actually is, I would be completely behind this message. You absolutely can take good care of your body regardless of your family size (though for some it might be more difficult because of economic circumstances, work schedules, physical disability, etc). Advocating health for everybody is totally in line with body positivity. Hey, if we want to love our bodies, shouldn’t we take care of them?

Kang’s apology, though, doesn’t address the real problem that I think should be mentioned about this image: it equates health with body size and sexual attractiveness, which is simply not true.

You can be thin and fit, just as you can be fat and fit. The Health at Every Size (HAES) movement has been trying to spread this message, but apparently it has not caught on as well as it should. Looking good in a sports bra (and hey, who’s to say that her way of looking good is the only way?) does not mean that you can run a marathon, or that you are getting an adequate amount of nutrients, or that all your muscles and organs are in tip-top working order. They can do that just as well at a higher weight, or a different body shape.

If Maria Kang is healthy and happy in her current body, more power to her. But I don’t need an “excuse” not to look like she does. Why? Because even though I look different, even though my abs will never do whatever thing hers are doing and my thighs have some more give to them, I am perfectly capable of being healthy in this body. Just as you’re perfectly capable of being healthy in yours.

Now, I’m all for free speech and first amendment rights. I’m not saying that Kang should take the image down, or that she should stop anything she’s doing. I’m just asking that we think critically about the social movements that lead us to believe that health equals thinness and “conventional attractiveness.” (The only way I can express my disdain for this concept is through quotation marks, because I don’t know how to punctuate an eye-roll.) Consider that athletes, and all women for that matter, come in different shapes and sizes, and one shouldn’t be more valued than another.

What’s my excuse for not looking like Maria Kang?

I look like me.