Why Reading Tips to Avoid Holiday Weight Gain on the Internet Won’t Help You Avoid Gaining Weight, and Other Thoughts on the Language of Disordered Eating

holiday-weight

I just searched Google for the words “holiday weight gain” in the news. In 0.17 seconds, Google returned about 30,400 results. This isn’t just “evergreen content”—I’m talking about stuff that’s being written right now about holiday weight gain. What does this tell … Continue reading

Your Body is Not a Calorie Counter (and Other Podcast-y Thoughts)

rebootedbodypodcast

I know I don’t normally post on Saturdays, but I had to share this with you. Recently, I was on the Rebooted Body podcast, which is hosted by Finding Our Hunger podcast guest Kevin Geary. It was, quite honestly, one … Continue reading

Cover Your Mouth!: Disordered Eating is a Communicatable Disease

Cover Your Mouth!: Disordered Eating is a Communicatable Disease The seasons are changing, and it’s that time of year when we have to start being extra-careful about our immunity. And I’m not just talking about the flu--I’m talking about body image issues. In case you weren’t aware, disordered eating is a communicable disease--or, perhaps I should say it’s a communicatable disease. It’s not the kind of disease that’s spread by hugging--on the contrary, hugs are an essential daily vitamin that can help you build your immunity. It’s the kind of disease that spreads from person to person through negative self-talk, marketing ploys, and cultural habits. Every year during this time our attention turns to America’s favorite past time: coming up with an excuse for eating and then coming up with an excuse for punishing ourselves for eating. And every year during this time, our TVs, radios, blog feeds, and social media networks turn into a giant discussion about how to binge, how to stop bingeing, and how to make up for bingeing once the season is over. This is the time of year when it seems like you can’t have a conversation about anything without bringing up who’s eating what, where, and when, and how you’ll be doing penance for it. It’s in the national media, and it’s also close to home. For example, just two days ago, during my 2 minute savasana at my yoga studio, one of the newer yoga teachers said in her soothing “savasana” voice (and I’m loosely quoting, because I wasn’t taking notes while lying in corpse pose), “The holidays are coming. And you’re going to eat a lot. But you will come back to yoga, and you will get back in shape.” [Insert sound of a record scratching here.] Um, what? How about, “The holidays are coming, and you’re going to spend lots of quality time with people you love. Food and exercise may be involved, but they’re not all that important in the grand scheme of things?” Or, “The holidays are coming, and if you do choose to fixate on food, know that you’re not alone, and that you don’t have to punish yourself with exercise to make up for it. Throw away your scale and do yoga because it feels good?” Or even, “The holidays are coming, and it can be difficult to be around food and family members and stressful situations. Keep coming back to yoga because it will give you the tools you need to stay mind-full and avoid stuffing yourself belly-full out of frustration or stress?” Look, I know that there’s little I can say in this one blog that’s going to get the Today Show to stop showing you segments about how to cook a 5000 calorie Thanksgiving and then burn off a 5000 calorie Thanksgiving, or TV commercials to stop glorifying disordered eating behaviors (like fixating on or sneaking food), or the inevitable “January 1 is coming so eat while you can but save your money for a gym membership” magazine ads. [source] That said, change has to start somewhere--and it can start with YOU. If you want to have a happy and healthy holiday season, then it’s up to YOU to start changing the way YOU talk about food with family and friends. No, you may not be able to get your yoga teacher to keep your savasana sacred, but when the ladies in the locker room are talking about how fat they already feel because they’re anticipating the holiday binge, you can choose not to participate--and, even better, change the subject by asking them who they’ll be celebrating with or where they’ll be traveling. As soon as food or exercise comes up as the topic of conversation, YOU have a choice to change the channel, leave the room, or redirect the conversation. And if you’re stuck on your yoga mat, you can choose not to listen--or, do what I did, and focus instead on the upcoming asanas (or yoga poses), which you want to try to work on. Whatever you do: Don’t feed the negativity about feeding! Even if you don’t have an eating disorder, if you’re a member of the western culture and even marginally exposed to our cultural practices around the fall/winter holiday season, then you have plenty of opportunities to be exposed to the communicatable disease that is disordered eating. Just as you can spread a cold when you forget to cover your mouth when you cough, so can you spread disordered eating and exercise behaviors when you choose to indulge in the negative body talk about indulging during the holidays. Build up your immunity now by practicing the following: Worried about bingeing on once-a-year foods? Cook a dish or two now, and enjoy it on a random week night so you can remember that Thanksgiving or Christmas (or whatever holiday you’re celebrating) is not the only time you’ll have access to that food. Make a list of non-food or gym-based activities that you’re looking forward to participating in from now through January. Use that list to redirect the conversation when friends or family (or you!) start fixating on food. Get a notebook or a piece of paper, and put a check mark every time you catch yourself saying something negative about your body in anticipation of the holiday season. About the chime in on that “I can eat less and exercise more” conversation with your girlfriends? Check it off. Mind racing with anxiety when a stuffing commercial comes on? Check it off. The benefits are two fold: over time, you’ll be able to start unconsciously making the catches, AND you’ll be able to mindfully redirect your thought process with positive self-talk. Be honest with friends and family: ask them not to make a big deal about food and exercise in conversation. You’re allowed to set healthy boundaries, and as long as you’re being respectful in how you ask (i.e. don’t attack them for bringing up the leftover situation), you can help condition those with whom you spend your time to notice when they’re engaging in triggering conversation as well. Remind yourself that a holiday feast is just another meal. Allow yourself to savor the foods you don’t normally eat, but remember to spend time savoring the company you’re in as well. You’ll spend less time gorging (or restricting but fixating) on the sweet potatoes if you’re having a great conversation with your family and friends. You don’t have to worry yourself sick over your food and exercise situation this holiday season. Change the way you communicate, and in turn, those around you might follow suit. And, just in case, make sure you’re getting plenty of vitamin H* in the meantime. Stay hungry, @MissSkinnyGenes *Hugs, obviously.

The seasons are changing, and it’s that time of year when we have to start being extra-careful about our immunity. And I’m not just talking about the flu–I’m talking about body image issues. In case you weren’t aware, disordered eating … Continue reading

It’s Not Just About Food (Or: ED Has Two Mommies)

If you’ve ever dated a momma’s boy, you know how hard that relationship can be. (Or, if you’re like me, and have only lived vicariously through literary characters analyzed through a post-Freudian Oedipal lens, then you’ll at least understand know the pitfalls of such a relationship on an intellectual level–and probably have a very low real-live-dates-to-books-read ratio like me.)

Having lived pretty exclusively with ED for the last 13 years, I know that ED has some serious mommy-issues–compounded because ED, it turns out, has two mommies. Let me explain:

ED was born of an ill-fated merger between Biology and Socialization, perhaps brought into being by the half-witted sperm-donor we alternately call Culture, Social Pressure, and the Mass Media). ED was breastfed on Biology, drinking the milk of imbalanced neurotransmitters and nourished with genetic (or epigenetic) traits that could only be corrected if detected amidst the usual white noise of personality and assumption. ED was brought up on the knee of Socialization, taught habit, ritual, obsession, and isolation. And once ED was unleashed upon the dating scene, he immediately began pushing his issues onto his latest fling: me.

My entire life, I suffered from depression and anxiety, but those “disorders” were often brushed off as hysteria, hypochondria, and a type-A personality. Even as a child, I found it hard to develop real relationships with people because I was constantly isolating myself* by burying myself in books, art projects, and games that could only be played by me. I had obsessive compulsive tendencies** (a merger between the biological and social), and developed habits and rituals that deepened both the depression/anxiety and the isolation.

So when I had my “aha” moment and met ED at the ripe old age of 13–on the day I first gave in to Culture and Social Pressure, the day I reached puberty, no less–I was exactly the kind of girl that ED was looking for. And it took me a long, long time to realize that I needed to get out of that relationship. Like, until this year.

Some of the interventions were medical, and I’ll post about how I broke free from much of the depression/anxiety without using Western medication soon. However the biggest intervention that I’ve needed (and, in many ways, still do need) is social. While biology can be lived with, habit and ritual–and their cousin obsession–are killers. It takes a lot of strength to learn how to break free from the mental and emotional prison that they construct, and even more strength to keep from returning.

I say all of this not to excuse myself from taking the blame for my inability to form solid lasting relationships with people–romantic or otherwise–but to publicly come to terms with some of the issues I have struggled with (and know others continue to struggle with as well).

It’s relevant at this point in my story because the last of my relationships in Florida became the biggest casualties in my struggle with ED–just as they had in the past. And it kills me to write about them, knowing that I was fighting a losing battle and didn’t even know it at the time.

– K.

*My mom’s favorite story to tell is this: when I was three, she put me into preschool. One day, she came to the playground to pick me up. All of the other kids were playing with each other, but I was off to the side, spinning in circles by myself. I think this may actually be a metaphor for my life up until recently.

**Examples include obsessive hand washing, elaborate bedtime rituals that turned into insomnia if performed incorrectly, and perfectionism bordering on hysteria.+

+Ask anyone who knew me in high school about that last one…I guarantee they have stories for you.