You wake up and as you get out of bed you think, “I’m gonna pee and then go weigh myself.” You do, in that order of course, and when you find yourself down .2 from last night, you sigh….That’s it?You don’t just get dressed. You pull out 4 bottoms and 3 tops – all different colors. You begin with the first combination. You stare at your self in the mirror. From the front…not bad. From the side… hell no. You rip it off and try again. Black bottoms. Always black bottoms. Why do you ever attempt the gray capris? After trying the 3 tops on, you put them all back (or in my case, leave them strewn about) and grab the black top that, if you were being honest, you knew you were going to wear from the beginning . From the side…Not awful. From the front…You don’t hate it. If you suck it in.
You move on.You make your coffee (not the way you like it though, no no. You’re watching your figure) and open the fridge to find breakfast or grab your lunch for later. You just stare. You run all the possible scenarios: If I take leftovers for lunch, I better portion them out now. Or I could grab a salad at work. But if I do that, I might cave and get blue cheese dressing. Or french fries. No, no, I’ll take the leftovers. But will it be enough? Should I grab some fruit? Or nuts. Yeah, I grab some almonds. I better portion them out now though….When you get to work, you wonder if everyone has noticed that you are sucking it in. Or worse, noticed when you weren’t. You’re a fraud, of course. These clothes don’t fit as well as they should and everybody knows it.Lunch is 12 round boxing match in your brain.
I brought leftovers.I don’t want leftovers.If I buy food, I’ll just regret it.But shouldn’t I eat what I WANT?Ugh, but then I’ll feel bad.And I’ll probably eat too much.Maybe I’ll just go see what they have.Nope, gotta stay the course…I WANT PIZZA!!!!!You eat your leftovers and you applaud your self control.Dinner is only slightly better because it was preplanned. Unless you go out…As you get ready for bed, you think about all the ways you failed your body that day. The extra cream in your coffee…You missed your favorite group fitness class (ahem, BodyJam, ahem) for a work meeting…You ate that dinner roll…or 3…. Even now, you’re not getting to bed early enough which means your cravings will be worse tomorrow and you’ll be able to blame lack of sleep when you reach for the fun size (read: tease) Snickers that you’re already planning to “need” at 3 PM…
Imagine if you could not make a decision without that kind of dialogue running through your head. Not a single decision. If you could control these thoughts, you most certainly would. I know I would. But I can’t. It’s plagued me for a lifetime.
I have trouble going to dinner in groups because I am worried people are wondering why I, who obviously could stand to lose a few, am eating so many chips. I have anxiety ordering my meal. Real, pulse quickening, shallow breathing anxiety. Do I pick the healthy choice or the choice I really want? What will they think about my choice? Why don’t I ever want the healthy choice? No one else needs 4 pounds of chips and queso before dinner. Why do I?
It can be paralyzing. Sometimes my husband has to talk me down off the ledge; help me order and hold my hand under the table. He distracts our friends with something funny while I wipe away tears. And since I’m being real real today, I’ll tell you how I often handle it. I drink more than I should so I can order/eat/socialize in peace. Without anxiety. Without the negative self talk.
Now, Lord knows I got issues! But I bet a bunch of people who do not live with quite this level of crazy read some bit of this and thought, “Yes. Yes. Yes.” We put so much pressure on ourselves to look or act a certain way. I really want to know: Who made the executive decision that thin = better? And how did they brainwash all of us into agreeing?
Body Image, Body Schmimage
I hear there are people out there who have healthy, positive feelings about their bodies and maybe only suffer from a fleeting doubt about their appearance now and then. I am envious, for sure. I know there are others who question themselves more frequently; getting caught up in comparisons with this friend or that super model.
I recently received an email from a reader who had questions. We aren’t super tight, but when I picture this girl, Gorgeous Beast is what I think. So strong. So beautiful. She reached out to say she could relate to what I was going through. She felt societal pressure to look a certain way and while she had grown up confident, the more she worked out, the more she noticed her “imperfections” from magazines and internet fitness sites. Pressure to look like those images.
Saying this happens too often is like saying Adam Levine is just a little bit good looking. Overly obvious. Outrageously understated.
How about this little anecdote a client shared with me last week. She has a 20 month old baby girl at home and she also has a very well meaning mother. Her mother suggested she start introducing her baby to frozen yogurt instead of giving her ice cream so she’ll get a taste for it. Because, “You know, when she’s older, it will be better for her figure.”
20 MONTHS OLD.
How do we even begin to change mindsets that are so deeply embedded they worry about their baby granddaughters’ future weight?
For some though, myself included, concern about body image reaches another level.
I am haunted by obsessive thoughts – usually negative – of how I look. I feel like I am fighting a losing battle every day. It doesn’t matter what I do. I could always be 5 lbs lighter or 3% leaner or for others, their boobs could be (should be?) juuuust a bit bigger or their noses smaller – whatever – there is no end to it.
It’s difficult to understand how consuming those thoughts can be or to grasp how real it is if you do not live it daily. It’s hard to know how those thoughts define every decision I make from the time I wake up until my heads hit the pillow at night – and even then – some nights it’s what I dream about.
It is the reason I ate Weight Watcher desserts at birthday parties when I was 10. It is the reason I tried the Grapefruit Diet in high school. It is the reason I gained 60lbs in college. It is the reason that after college I tried Weight Watchers, Spark People, My Fitness Pal, Metabolic Effect, hormone therapy – both conventional and holistic, excessive exercise.
I just spent almost 3 months trying to fix my gut. My “safe food” list went from small to miniscule. I did learn a few things about what disagrees with my gut. But I didn’t lose a pound and I just made myself and everyone around me crazy.
I want to be healthy. Mentally, physically, emotionally. What’s the right way?
What does “healthy” mean?
I think it’s imperative that we look for ways re-frame what health and happiness really means to us individually. Do you want to be healthy? Have you said those words to yourself? If so, I ask you to take a step back and define what that really means for you.
- Is “healthy” a certain weight? If so, how did you arrive at that number? Did you read it on a BMI chart or did you remember a time in your life when you felt great and that’s the number?
- Is it your nutrition plan? Where did you get it? Do you just eat what fuels you and tastes good or did someone who does not live inside your body write if for you?
- Is it a state of mind? Do you come to it naturally or with the help of friends, family, alcohol, prescriptions?
- Does it include being emotionally healthy? If it doesn’t, it should.
I get a lot of questions about what the next best step for my clients, friends and family should be regarding their health and/or fitness situation. Here’s what I think:
Until you know what you really think about the questions above, I wouldn’t suggest dropping a penny on a nutritionist or a trainer. They will tell you what they think is healthy which may be legit or may be swayed by their personal experiences. If you don’t already know for yourself, you can easily be sucked into their plan for you, instead of utilizing their expertise to facilitate a plan that is focused on your own goals.
I am guilty of this. Over and over, I look to my trainer friends or nutritional gurus to help “fix” me. There is nothing wrong with asking for help or talking with experts, but I tend to just blindly follow. I don’t connect what they are saying to how my body will or is responding.
Be smarter than I am. Please.
These days, I am chasing the ability to honestly prioritize nourishing my body for life’s challenges over feeding (or starving) it for an outward appearance. An outward appearance that, by the way, may never, no matter how small I get, temper the inward contempt I feel. I realize I need to deal with it. The contempt, that is. I know that it would be so much healthier emotionally to STOP focusing on the scale and START focusing on the stuff that matters in life. And I don’t mean “being fit” or “healthy.” I mean the stuff that really matters. Like being a truly good person. Spending time with friends and family. Helping others. Instead, we – or at least I – let physical appearance top my Most Important list and that is…well…shameful. It’s self absorbed and shallow and I think of all the good things I could be doing with that brain power instead of being so focused on hating my body. I’ll get there. I will because eventually I’ll be too tired to keep up the cardio and the lifting and the meal planning and the and the and the…. And I will HAVE to. Stay tuned for the next chapter….