You don’t need to look like this: [source] To prove that you’re strong enough to do this: [source] * [source] You don’t need to be able to do this: [source] To prove that you’re worthy of this: [source] You don’t … Continue reading
So, I don’t know if you’ve heard, or even if you care, but a few weeks ago, Oxygen Magazine declared bankruptcy. For those of you who never bought into the message that Oxygen and its sister magazine Clean Eating was … Continue reading
Before you read today’s post, go download Finding Our Hunger Un-Podcast Episode 006: UN-Lived and leave us a review in iTunes! I’ve been having difficulty sitting down to write this post, probably because my day job involves sitting down to … Continue reading
A quick thought before I go back into the science and history of the calories in/calories out myth:
My physical therapist wants me to start going to the gym again. And I am utterly terrified.
I know it’s silly, especially since I’m hoping to make a career of fitness and nutrition, but I can’t help it.
The gym has always been both a haven and a prison. It is where I saw some of my greatest triumphs and my hardest falls. It is where I learned to love my body and hate it, to gain muscle and lose my mind.
Yoga is one thing, but going back to the gym is definitely another.
I just find this very relevant now, as I start to understand the myths that fueled my ED and exercise bulimia–as I start to explore why calories in/calories out is a fallacy, and how obsession is fueled by the false advertising of the fitness and health industries.
I’m not sure how to reconcile the fact that my PT wants me to start doing 5 minutes of steady state cardio with my former impulses to do hours of the same. I’m not sure how to reconcile 3 sets of ten light-weight negative calf raises on the leg press with the desire to deadlift 100+ pounds on the first day.
I’m terrified of finding myself listening to the voices that once upon a time told me the lies that led to my pain.
That being said, I feel a little bit better about the fact that I know that the voices tell lies. That I know that ED is always going to be waiting for me to start listening again. That I know how to tune the voices out–that I want to tune them out.
It’s funny: I was listening to the most recent Paleo Solution Podcast, and someone wrote in with a question regarding the Health at Every Size movement. It seemed strange–Robb Wolf, of The Paleo Solution Diet fame, is all about nutrition and strength training; HAES is more about body image and mental health/perspective. The question seemed out of place, being answered by a man who doesn’t struggle with an eating disorder and really hasn’t focused on Paleo or strength training as a method for coping with overweight or obesity in his own life. And something in the question stuck out at me: it was sent in by a personal trainer who noticed that the several of his overweight/overfat clients who had made significant gains in their health and vitality were the ones who were more likely to be upset when they didn’t see the same results reflected in belly or underarm fat.
What is so striking to me is that those people–people whose health has dramatically improved, whose lives have become infinitely better, whose chances at surviving to live a long and happy life have just increased–were unhappy because they aren’t physically “perfect” (whatever that word means).
All of that to say that I don’t understand why we spend so much time trying to equate health and fitness with aesthetic ideals.
I don’t understand–even though I’ve lived through it–why we have to equate flat abs with health and First Lady arms with longevity.
You know what? I no longer have completely flat abs. My triceps don’t pop anymore. I can’t deadlift or do a pull up (or ten) like I used to.
But you know what I’m more concerned about? The fact that I can’t run up a flight of stairs–or even walk it without getting winded. I’m more concerned about the fact that my gut health is still affecting my skin. I’m more concerned about the fact that walking my dog isn’t easy.
And because I’m spending more time worried about my lack of physical fitness, I’m spending less time worrying about my lack of a six pack. Funny how priorities change. (Would I like a six pack? Sure. But if it means having to starve myself or eat tuna and egg whites six times a day, then it’s not worth it.)
So maybe I will be okay to go back to the gym. Maybe I finally have the perspective that I was missing when I was spending hours on the elliptical, hoping for the “perfect” body (whatever that is). All I want now is the perfect body for me, where I am today. One that will keep me healthy, happy, and living a good, long life.
But that’s just me. More soon,
So, if you’ve been hanging out with me on Facebook, you know that I’m having a fun time playing with WordPress’s web analytics tools and seeing where all of my readers are coming from and how you’re finding me.
It is honestly so amazing to see that so many people can at least identify with my story, whether they’re a long-lost friend from high school or an internet stranger from the Republic of Malta. (Seriously, according to WordPress, people from more than 60 countries have at least clicked on my page. To me, that is incredible.)
On the flip side, however, it’s heart-wrenching to see some of the Google search terms that people have used to find my blog. (Don’t worry–it’s 100% anonymous, so not only don’t I know who typed those terms in, I also don’t know where they came from or when.)
Sometimes the searches are benign: “bikram yoga 30 day challenge.” “are organic apples healthy.” “bikram yoga fall over sweat.” Others, however, are heartbreaking: “friend looks emaciated exercise bulimia.” “is my body fat or skinny.” “hiding exercise bulimia.” “thinspiration i can’t do this help me.”
It’s heartbreaking, because I know what it feels like to type those words.
I know what it feels like to hear those voices in my head.
I know what it feels like to watch friends and family cry out with similar problems through social media.
I know what it feels like to search for a website that will justify the behavior, reinforce the stereotype, explain away the pain.
And I just thank god that the people who typed those queries found my blog instead.
There is so much damaging media out there–whether it’s the pro-ana thread tucked away into the deeper folds of the internet or the major news sources posting disordered behaviors (and tips on perpetuating them) on their front page. There are so many ways to starve yourself and feed ED, and they’re all at your finger tips…but then again, there is nourishment for your soul just a few search terms away.
I wish there were a search engine that could flag cries for help, disorder detectors that could crawl the net. And instead of bringing up the content that can cause more damage, this search engine would bring you here. And here. And here. And here and here. (I could go on and on…) And show you only a world behind your computer screen that could reflect how beautiful you really are.
I want this for you, just as much as I selfishly want it for me. I’m tired of reading articles that talk about the ways in which we use the internet to hurt ourselves. Even when we’re not searching for negativity, it pops up in our Facebook feeds. There are apps dedicated to quantifying our worth in terms of calories and pounds. Well, where are the recovery venture capitalists? I have an idea for a new business model, and when it saves us from starving ourselves, it will be sure to go viral. I call it:
SEO* for the soul.
There may be no immediate return on investment, no quick way to build the network, no surefire way to hide the self-hate and the negativity from the top web hits, but if enough of us take to the web demanding websites tagged with self-love and positive reinforcement, I think we can make it happen.
Until that day, I just hope against hope that the internet keeps bringing you back to me. Because I promise that here you will never need to hide. Here you will never need thinspiration. Here, you can do this–because we’ll get through it together.
Please reach out.
There is a study making the internet-interpreted rounds, which states that Pro-Ana websites (websites that are ACTIVELY PROMOTING & CELEBRATING ANOREXIA) are actually good for people who are trying to recover from eating disorders.
I’m sorry, but I don’t buy the B.S. about “[belonging] to a safe community of individuals with similar experiences.” And while I’ll concede that this “community” may at least give these girls the desire to stay alive longer than if they were suffering alone, that doesn’t change the fact that anorexia is still one of the most deadly psychiatric diseases–or the fact that staying alive and in the disease is about as useful as being dead from it.
Look, I went through my period of “recovery,” where I still read orthorexic health blogs–you know the ones: women posting pictures of their daily food plans along with their macros*, celebrating their “days off” with “active recovery”**, and posting progress pictures to keep themselves accountable. And during that period, I didn’t get better. I thought I had figured out my relationship to ED, but really I was just seeking a community of women in the same frame of mind who would justify that relationship. I imagine this is what it’s like to be stuck in a codependent and abusive relationship only to have your friends tell you that all is well and good because their boyfriends beat them too.
I’m glad that these girls are seeking something outside of their ED-constructed towers to help them cope, but until there’s a way to make them understand that there are coping mechanisms outside of the disease, they will never heal. And pro-ana (and pro-mia and thinspo/fitspo) are just more ways for ED to keep us from escaping through the window.
Please, if you’ve ever gone online to seek solace (or justification, or tips, or self-medication) through pro-ana (whether you’ve been diagnosed with a disorder or just have disordered eating/body image), please, please, please seek help. Even if it’s as simple as calling a friend or reading a good book whenever you have an impulse to feed the disease, as simple as finding a funny website that isn’t food related or following some inspirational quote-er on Twitter. Whatever it takes, get out of the disease.
And shame on those who seek to justify pro-ana as anything other than a harmful drug. Maybe we can’t regulate it, but that is no excuse to try to justify its use.
…end rant. (For now. And for more on fitspo, check out my earlier post today.)
*Macros are the three macronutrients, protein, carbohydrate, and fat, which make up all of the foods we eat (with the exception of alcohol). When people say they are concerned with “macros”, it means that they are concerned with the ratios of protein, fat, and carbohydrates in relation to the ratio of each macronutrient they strive to eat each day. It’s taking calorie counting to the next level, because not only do you have to worry about restricting the total number of calories you put in your mouth, but also making them fit into perfect ratios to support whatever goal it is you think X amount of fat and Y amount of carbohydrates will achieve.
**Only a two hour bike ride up a mountain instead of going to the gym and doing fasted cardio followed by weights!
Today, I just wanted to say a few words on the “strong is the new skinny” phenomenon, since it seems to have popped up in my life multiple times over the last few days.
And I know that the following is out of context if you don’t know the rest of the ankle-and-ED story, but bear with me, since it’s what I’m dealing with right now:
Right now, I am not strong. Right now, I can barely stand on my own two feet. Right now, I literally have no balance.
The infection in my ankle, the synovial inflammation, the atrophy of the muscles, the months of poor, compensating movement patterns–all of these things have kept me from pursuing my “strength” and “health” goals.
I am not fat, but I am not muscular. I am not large, but I no longer wear my “skinny jeans.” I am not unhealthy, but I am not fit.
HOWEVER: I am deconditioned, but not decommissioned.
I am no longer able to do what I used to do, but I have been given a new agency: the power of acceptance. I have let my ankle be an excuse for why I couldn’t achieve the aesthetic goals I thought were so important, but in the end, it became an excuse for me to tell ED “no.” I can’t do hours of cardio. I can’t even go swimming. There is no outlet for my obsession, and so I have had to learn instead how to cope.
And in learning how to cope, I opened my eyes to the Monster in the Mirror who was terrorizing me with images of fitness models and unrealistic goals. I opened my eyes and looked at some of the women who are competing and realized how thin and sickly they look. They are “strong” and they are “skinny,” but I know all too well that somewhere, gestating inside of them, are the seeds of malnutrition, adrenal fatigue and hormonal imbalance, and mental/emotional disorders such as BDD and ED.
I know, because even though I never had the chance to compete, I was there with them. I have all of those problems because I allowed myself to believe that I had to fit an ideal–not of the waif-like skinny models of the 90s, but of the 0% body fat fitness models of the millennium.
Yes, strong is important. But strength has nothing to do with an aesthetic ideal. Strength–and health–can happen even without fasted cardio and tupperwares full of boiled chicken and steamed broccoli. And, yes, I still think muscles are sexy; however at this point, I’ve been forced to accept that it’s not about body fat levels or lack of cellulite, it’s about nourishing my body enough to survive until tomorrow, and as many tomorrows as I can after that one.
I also opened my eyes to the “regular” women (and men) I know, who post and tweet and talk about eating less and exercising more and how fat they think they look. All of the negative self-talk, all of the unnecessary worrying…wouldn’t life be so much better if they could learn to appreciate, nourish, and augment the strength they are already capable of?
Yes, being strong is an admirable goal, but what is strength without balance?* What is weight loss/gain without confidence? What is life without happiness? Where is the strength in a world dedicated to ED?**
I spoke to a woman the other day who couldn’t understand why I was against the fitspo images of “strong is the new skinny.” She is strong, and she is proud of her muscles. And she has every right to be. But for her, muscles are a means to improving athletic performance, not augmenting the clothes she wears. She is concerned with how many pounds she can lift in so much time, not by how much her triceps “pop” in a sleeveless shirt. She uses her abs instead of looking at them. Every person should be so lucky to have that kind of relationship with his or her body. “Strong is the new skinny” makes us want to get fit because we want to look a certain way; the athletic/muscular performance is considered only a side effect.*** But right now, “strong is the new skinny” is something I am not and cannot be–and I am not alone in this.
Letting go of the look and striving for the be is the only cure. And that means letting go of the have to and the should. It means investing in a strength other than the one that ED offers–call it a spiritual strength, call it an emotional strength, but call it anything but “strong is the new skinny.”
With my injury, I have lost the ability to train the way I used to. Even the basics are less available to me as I try to keep the inflammation in my body down (and let the antibiotics do their work). It has been a long time since I have been able to devote hours to the gym, but I have made do. And I am still strong.
No, I can’t do a pull up, but I am still strong enough to chin. No, I can’t run a mile, but I can hold a plank for 2 minutes. I will celebrate whatever strength my body will let me have while I heal, and I will be gentle with myself until I can get my ankle strong again.
That’s the kind of strength I can believe in–and skinny be damned.
*And I’m not just talking about being able to do an overhead press while standing on a bosu ball…
**Even if you don’t have a clinically diagnosed ED, by continuing, spreading, and promoting the negative self-talk, the abnormal and unattainable body ideals, and transmutation of health and wellness into aesthetic goals, you’re helping keep ED alive–even in your own life.
***I’m sure if personal trainers+ had a dollar for every client who came to them seeking to look better and then complained about having to work out, training would be a much better paid profession. If you go to the gym because you want to look a certain way but hate every second of it, there’s something wrong. Find a way to be active that makes you happy, and the aesthetics will follow.
+To clarify, I’m talking about general population trainers, not specialized trainers like strength coaches, athletic coaches, physical therapists, etc.