UN-Podcast 037: UNwound

Here we go. Starting today—and for the next few weeks—Apple is going to see a spike in productivity app downloads, the internet marketers are going to make a killing on cleanses, and it will become impossible to get a parking spot at the gym after 5 pm.

Over the next few weeks, we’re all going to resolve work a little harder, look a little better, and be much healthier people—and we’re going to base our resolutions on uncontrollable expectations: 6 pack abs, higher salaries, lower cholesterol numbers* (etc.). And these uncontrollable goals, my friends, are precisely why New Year’s resolutions suck.

What makes these goals “uncontrollable?” After all, aren’t these goals quantifiable? I can see my abs, I’ll know when I get a raise, and I can take a blood test to tell me what’s up with my health. I’d like to argue (and I don’t think anyone would disagree with me) that just because something can be quantified, doesn’t mean that it can be controlled.

When I first took on the Muscle and Fitness Hers 12-week transformation challenge that kicked off my third relapse with EDNOS (and finally earned me the classification of “anorectic”) in 2010, I had a (mostly) quantifiable end goal in mind: I was going to lose 10 pounds, have a six pack, and be muscular enough/at a low enough body fat to compete in an NPC body building competition. For 12 weeks, I ate clean, limited calories, lifted heavy, did extra cardio, and controlled and controlled and controlled** everything—from meal timing to supplementation—until I reached the end of the 12 weeks.

Yet, though I had lost a lot of weight, I wouldn’t have even gotten an honorable mention in a bodybuilding competition. Though I could quantify the variables to the best of my ability, my end goal was out of my control.

This is how we make resolutions: I have an end goal that I cannot control, but I want it badly enough that I will convince myself that I can control it. I can micromanage the variables, but the variables themselves are not my focus; I care only about whether or not I reach my goal. And if and when that goal doesn’t turn out the way I’d planned—because I have no way of controlling the outcome—I either punish myself by going further (as I did, which is how I ended up without a period) or swinging back in the opposite direction.

One of the most important things that Bikram yoga has taught me is how to set healthy, achievable goals. When I was bodybuilding the end goal—the unquantifiable possibility—was the focus, and I mindlessly went through the little every day steps (the journey) while focused on the uncontrollable outcome.

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[image source]

In Bikram, I have uncontrollable goals too—I want to touch my head to my knee. I want to balance with both hands in namaskar while in toe stand. I want to touch my full spine to the ground in wind removing pose. I want to strive for full expression of each of the 26 postures—but they are merely the ideals I keep in the back of my mind while I focus on the little steps (the journey) as I take them each day in class.

For example, in one class, when I was struggling with balance, Mike Mayle, the owner of Balance Yoga Center in San Jose, CA, told me to focus on my big toe. Instead of worrying about how beautiful my standing bow looked (how high was my foot over my head? how level were my hips? how low could I bring my body down?) I just thought about my big toe. For the rest of the class, in all of the standing postures that required balance, I focused my energy on my big toe, and I stayed standing. And because I wasn’t focused on the big goal (full expression of the posture), but on the microstep it took to get there, I was actually able to go deeper into my practice.

I wanted to write about this today, of all days, because on Day 1 of the new year, we’re focused on the “full expression” of our resolutions—the uncontrollable possibilities (bikini bodies, higher salaries, better health, etc.) instead of the the little steps that it takes to get there (showing up every day and [metaphorically] focusing on the big toe).

As Mike has said before, “You never forget your first Bikram yoga class.”

And he’s right: I remember that first class and many many many of the classes in between, because each class was a milestone on the way to achieving a different goal.

On day one of my Bikram practice, my goal was just to stay in the room. On day two, it was to come back. On day three it was to start memorizing the sequence. Two years in, it was to complete a 30 day challenge. A few months ago it was to focus on my big toe.

There is no start date, there is no end date; every day is another chance to set a small goal and meet it.

So, instead of focusing on your “New Year’s resolution,” here’s instead to 365 days of learning how to focus on the big toe.

In today’s podcast, we talk with Mike about goal-setting, yoga, and finding your authentic self. I think you’re REALLY going to like this one:

Go Listen Now!

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Stay hungry,

@MissSkinnyGenes

*Not advocating this one, necessarily. See Cholesterol Clarity by Jimmy Moore for reasons why.

**Or should I say “quantified, quantified, quantified?”

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The Challenge [GUEST POST]

The Challenge

Guess what, guys? I’m on the front page of Proud2BMe.org! Proud2BMe, part of the National Eating Disorders Association and founded in the Netherlands by the mental health organization Riverduinen, is an incredible resource that promotes positive body image and eating disorder recovery … Continue reading

A Measure of Worth?

Just a quick note: we’re getting into some of the most recent (and, frankly, most difficult) parts of the ED here. I just wanted to post a little disclaimer here that NONE of this is to be considered “pro-ana” AT ALL–please, if you feel yourself identifying with some or all of the thoughts and behaviors I’m posting here, please please please seek help. Tell a friend or family member. Find a doctor. Reach out. An ED is a very serious disease with some very serious consequences, both psychological and physical, and you do not deserve to live in pain. Please don’t isolate yourself: there is hope and there is help outside of your own mental prison. 

Moving back to Florida felt like failing.

Here I was: 23, salutatorian of my high school class, having both graduated from college a year early (and summa cum laude) and successfully managed a high school drama department, and yet now I couldn’t manage my own life. I was moving back in with my mother. I wasn’t going to get my MFA from an Ivy League or become a dramaturg at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival or work for the New York City Center’s Encores!.

I felt like my life was completely out of control. Fortunately, ED was right there beside me, offering the magic pill: control your body, control your life.

I was aware that I had a problem–that I was addicted to my new Eat-Clean lifestyle–but I was hellbent on not giving it up. Even though I didn’t yet have a car or a job, I went to the Busy Body Fitness Center up the road each day and worked out. I was nearing the end of my eight-week transformation challenge, and I refused to miss a muscle-building moment.

My post-“transformation” photo

As soon as the transformation challenge ended, I knew that I wasn’t thin enough. Looking at the pictures of the other women online, I knew that I still had work to do. I beat myself up, knowing I hadn’t been compliant enough with the transformation diet–some days I had had a bowl of cereal before bed (old habits die hard) or had even god forbid snuck a handful of chocolate chips past ED.

At the gym, one of the trainers there asked me if I was training for an NPC* competition. I said I wasn’t, but immediately went home and signed up. This was going to be how I made up for my transformation failure: I was going to train for a Bikini competition.

My reasoning was this: if I wasn’t good enough to use my brain to impress everyone–my Ivy League dreams were still stuffed inside the boxes I’d shipped home but never unpacked–then I was going to use my body to prove I was worth something.

I started a new regimen of training, which involved alternating squat and deadlift days–with plyometric days in between. I cut down on some of my cardio since I was no longer running to and from the gym, but I still managed to log hours upon hours on the arc trainer. I poured over pictures of figure competitors and studied training logs and meal plans in my copies of Oxygen, Muscle and Fitness Hers, and Fitness RX while I elliptical-ed away my calories.

I was also becoming more and more obsessed with eating–and eating the right things at the right times. I was downing protein powder two to three times a day (whey in the morning after my workout and mixed with water and cinnamon as a pudding for my mid-morning snack, and casein mixed with water and cinnamon as a pudding for dessert). I cooked batches and batches of boiled chicken and ground turkey and stored them in the freezer for easy access. I made egg-white and oatmeal pancakes. I ate sweet potatoes and green beans and lettuce and didn’t taste a single thing.

The Eat-Clean Diet told me to eat six meals a day, spaced three or so hours apart. I took that to heart and, of course, to the extreme: If I wasn’t shoveling tasteless fuel into my body every three hours on the dot, I would start to panic. ED would start to whisper threats in my ear: My muscles were going to shrink. All of my hard work was going to be thrown away. I was going to gain weight. If I couldn’t get to my cottage cheese and blueberries or dry tuna fish, I would start to hyperventilate, my chest closing up and my head spinning. I felt like I was going to die.

That also may have had something to do with the hypoglycemia from the fact that, despite eating six meals a day, I was starving myself.**

This was no way to live my life. I knew there was something wrong. But I loved looking in the mirror and seeing my beautiful muscles and knowing that they were my justification for not killing myself. My muscles were going to prove that I had worth.***

-K.

*NPC stands for “National Physique Committee.” It is one of the amateur bodybuilding, fitness, figure, and bikini organizations, and certain NPC shows act as qualifiers for a pro committee like IFBB (International Federation of Body Builders).

**I lived my life from meal to meal because I was only eating 100-200 calories at a time. I was constantly hungry, counting down the seconds until I could eat again. When it was finally time to eat again, I would inhale the food, torn between consuming everything as quickly as I could and savoring every last bite. When the food was gone, I would sink into a depression that would last until the next meal time. Needless to say, I wasn’t much fun to be around between meals–and god forbid you get in my way when I was cooking…

***I spent most of my time worrying about what my friends from high school would think of me. I had been one of those “most-likely-to-succeed”, type-A kids who everyone just assumed would go far. I had such a low sense of self-worth, that I took their dismissive “stop-worrying-you’ll-be-great-at-whatever-you-do’s” as threats–in other words, if I wasn’t great at whatever I did, then I would be a complete failure. I was so afraid of disappointing everyone, that I just went ahead and disappointed everyone (read: myself) to prove they were wrong for having had faith in me. It’s taken me a long time to start to separate myself from this need to live up to what I have falsely believed are other peoples’ expectations of me. (And there are still days when I wake up and wish I had a better life to display for those acquaintances on Facebook. On those days, I have to remind myself that I am on my own, non-traditional journey–and that I can’t base my destination on what I imagine is someone else’s ideal.