Have you checked?

“Have you checked your weight today?”

When you walk in the east entrance of Calhoun Square, you’re immediately confronted with two great promises. On the left, you have Famous Dave’s, which promises to show you what world-famous bbq is really all about (and the smells wafting outside almost make you want to give them that chance). And, on the right, you have GNC, promising you a perfect body and with it, everything you’ve ever wanted. The irony of the all-you-can-eat-buffet signs juxtaposed with supplements promising to make you lose a pound (or more!) a week is not lost on me.

“Have you checked your weight today?”

If the GNC signs of sculpted human specimens, diet supplements, and juice machines aren’t enough, there is a scale next to the store front. With its magical scale powers, it knows every time a person (or maybe just me?) walks by, and through its anthropomorphic skill says, “have you checked your weight today?”

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I know, it sounds as though this could be a metaphor for the way scales call out to us – “weigh in, weigh in!” But this situation holds no such poetry. This scale really talks.

BUT WHY?!

Is the scale genuinely curious if passersby checked their weight that day, a different version of asking “how was your morning?” Does the scale think this question will reveal something important and insightful about the life of a stranger, perhaps sparking a meaningful relationship? I think not. Quite simply, the scale serves as one small cog in the $61 billion weight loss industry in the U.S. (no, that number is not made up. yes, that number is per year).

GNC doesn’t care about making you healthier, they care about getting money from consumers, and they clearly think a talking scale is one effective way to so. If GNC did, in fact, care about the health of its customers (or people in general), I cannot imagine any reason why they would put a talking scale outside their storefront. Implicit within the question of, “have you checked the weight today,” is the suggestion that if you have not, you should. And if you have, maybe you should do it again for good measure. What is the point of weighing yourself? I’m pretty sure it’s not so you can decide you need another cheeseburger. It’s so that number (number: an arithmetic value expressed by a word, symbol, or figure) can somehow reflect your self-worth (self-worth: confidence in one’s own worth or abilities). It’s an inverse the relationship, or so the story goes. Number goes up, self-worth goes down. Lower the number (GNC supplement packs, anyone?), you’re queen of the world.

Problem is, the inverse relationship is one big lie. As you struggle on the treadmill and dutifully turn down birthday-party brownies and opt for salad at dinner (no olives, hold the cheese, dressing on the side), that number might drop, but what are you giving up?
Things that are not worth giving up for the weight of an eighth grader:

  • evenings with friends
  • unique food
  • sharing in celebration
  • enjoying the most basic of human pleasures: eating

The message that dropping the number on the scale will somehow lead to a happier, richer, or more fulfilling life is a lie. A very sad lie that does NOT make people healthier (in fact, it often leads to the opposite) and results in $61 billion in the pockets of weight loss companies each year. So the next time the scale – or anything else for that matter – gives you grief for weighing or not weighing, walk away. The time it takes to weigh yourself could be better spent eating a cheeseburger enjoying your life. 

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Is this the fast I desire?

Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement – is considered to be the holiest day in the Jewish Year. It is a day for reflection and deep introspection. A day to devote yourself to thinking about how you have strayed over the last year, to repent for what you have done wrong, and to commit yourself to being a better person in the coming year. Interestingly, the prayers and meditations on Yom Kippur can only repair the relationship between you and God or you and yourself. To repair a relationship with another person, you must apologize directly to them. Making the day even more significant is the fact that tradition teaches it is on this day that the book of life is sealed, and within it is written who shall live and who shall die over the next year. One’s merit is determined by the sincerity with which they do teshuvah.

Teshuvah translates roughly as repentance, but the concept is much more complicated. It is not merely about regret and contemplating one’s actions. Teshuvah is a turning towards the right – a true change of heart and character. If presented with the same situation in the future, you would do differently. It is a painful and difficult task to truly change oneself, but this is what teshuvah demands. And this is the charge to the Jewish people during the month of Elul and the high holy days, culminating on Yom Kippur. We are to change ourselves, alter the core of our persons, to become better people. On the most holy day of Yom Kippur, we do this by attending services all day, engaging in continuous self reflection and contemplation, and taking the day off of school and work.

And we fast. No food. No water. Nothing.

And this is where the problem lies. For me and dozens hundreds thousands of Jewish girls and woman who are struggling, recovering, or recovered from eating disorders. For us, fasting is not a way to think more deeply about justice, repentance, and what is right. On the contrary, it is a direct reversion back to some of the behaviors that we most wish to change about ourselves. At best, fasting is a painful reminder of a troubled relationship with food. At worst, it is a triggering experience that brings with it a return or increase of negative thoughts/behaviors.

The acknowledgement that fasting on Yom Kippur is a troublesome demand for those with eating disorders is receiving more attention. In 2012, the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards (CJLS), the central authority for Jewish law within Conservative Judaism, released a responsa (ruling regarding religious law) titled The Non-Fasting Shaliah Tzibbur on Yom KippurThe overall objective of this responsa was to determine if it is ever permissable for someone who is not fasting on Yom Kippur to be the service leader. Embedded within this larger question is a discussion about which people are excluded from the commandment to fast. In fact, some people are not only permitted to eat, but they are commanded to do so if abstaining from food could cause them harm. For example, if one is ill and fasting could put them at increased physical risk. Within the responsa, the Rabbis note the application to those with eating disorders, stating “it may be dangerous for those who are in treatment for and recovery from eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia to engage in restrictive practices around food consumption.” It seems, then, that there is a green light of sorts permitting those affected by eating disorders to not fast on Yom Kippur.

Unfortunately, the decision is not quite that easy. At least for me. The weight of the decision not to fast feels too monumental. I fear I would be letting down my community, friends, coworkers, family – all of whom are fasting. I worry I am taking the easy way out, making excuses, separating myself from thousands of years of tradition. I worry that I’m ‘too weak’ to handle hunger, that I’m missing an opportunity that would be good for me, that I will regret whatever food I eat during the day….and this is when the eating disorder voice slips in.

And I know I should not fast. I should not fast because in between the meaningful introspection and solemn prayers, I would be obsessing about my next meal, considering how many calories I can eat at dinner that night, if my fast is sufficient to offset the extra calories eaten the night before, and wondering which of the five sizes of pants in my closet (the result of years of weight loss/gain) will fit me tomorrow. Rather than being a day of turning away from those things I wish to rid myself of, it becomes, instead, an invitation for them to reenter my life.

The purpose of the fast on Yom Kippur is not simply food deprivation. In Isaiah 58:5-7, part of the Haftorah reading on Yom Kippur, we read,
is such the fast I desire, a day for men to starve their bodies?…No, this is the fast I desire: to unlock the fetters of wickedness, and untie the cords of the yoke. To let the oppressed go free; to break off every yoke. It is to share your bread with the hungry, and to take the wretched poor into your home; when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to ignore your own kin.”

To me, this is a reaffirmation that lack of food is not the real point. And if fasting makes it all about the food (as is a temptation for someone with my history), then I am, in fact, missing out on the holiday’s true significance. Choosing not to fast is not an ‘easy way out’ or excuse at avoiding the discomfort of hunger. Rather, it is a way for me to access the true meaning and intent of Yom Kippur.

If you are interested in additional reading about the connection between eating disorders and Yom Kippur and the broader Jewish community, check out some of these articles/posts:

Fasting From Affliction: Reflecting on my Eating Disorder on Yom Kippur – on TC JewFolk
When Fasting is Not Teshuvah: Yom Kippur with Eating Disorders – from RitualWell
Eating Disorders in the Jewish Community – from My Jewish Learning
Eating Disorders, A Problem Among Orthodox Jews – from the Huffington Post
Rabbis Sound an Alarm Over Eating Disorders – from the New York Times

Food is Food

When I was struggling with an eating disorder, everything was classified into the good, the bad, and the ugly.

The Good
– fruits
– vegetables
– skinless chicken breast
– fat free plain yogurt

The Bad
– bread
– grains
– red meat
– starchy vegetables

The Ugly
– oil of any kind
– butter
– full fat dairy
– salad dressing
– desserts
– candy
– fried anything

See a pattern?

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Cutting back on these extra calories from fat was one of the first habits to develop with my eating disorder, and it was one of the last to leave. Even after getting away from the bulk of eating disorder symptoms, I stayed all-too-familiar with the non-stick spray can, and you would have been hard-pressed to find butter or added oils in any of my home cooking.

To totally ditch the fat phobia, I’ve had to learn that fats add more than flavor to foods. They are an essential part of overall health and body functioning. Here are few reasons why you need to eat fat (and plenty of it):

  • fat is the food that provides the body with the greatest level of satiety, so without it you will constantly feel hungry
  • without fat, the body can’t process and retain nutrients fully, and you will feel weak and fatigued
  • the brain is over 65% fat, so you need to consume fats for clear thinking and productivity
  • without eating fat, your body will have a much harder time keeping warm
  • fat keeps skin healthy, helps hair grow, increases immunity, and stabilizes blood sugar
  • fat protects your organs

Moral of the story:

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Overcoming my fat-phobia has made me feel healthier, stronger, more energetic. Oh, and my food is tastier. 🙂 Eating out is no longer an anxiety-ridden process (how much hidden butter/oil is in my dish?!) but is, instead, a fun opportunity to try new and delicious food.

Check out some of the items in my kitchen these days:

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The big breakthrough with all of this…fat doesn’t make you fat. It makes you healthy and happy. And I’m okay with that. 🙂

They say, You are what you eat! That’s funny. I don’t remember eating a sexy beast this morning. ecard[image source]

Look Up and Laugh

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Tough times will happen to everyone. Unless you’re…..no wait, couldn’t even think of any example to put there.

I have had a tough week, but I am a strong believer in taking perspective and looking at the positive. I may not have realized too much perfection, as Buddha says, but I’ve still managed to have some laughing at the sky. Reasons to look up and laugh:

1. Impulsive 15-mile bike ride on my way home from work

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Maybe I just wasn’t ready to go home, I needed to clear my head, and the weather was gorgeous. This did me good.

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2. T-Swift is my girl

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Taylor is my iPod’s best friend. Now. Always. Still. Did I mention one time I saw her in concert?! And by one time, I mean TWICE. She is a lyrical genius. (yes, Papa Bear, I know you’re smirking).

harry styles and taylor swift, harry styles, harry styles taylor swift breakup song, tim urban, tim urban haylor song[source]

3. Fresh laundry smells so good

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Sometimes a roll on the bed with a fresh load of laundry will do wonders for your health.

4. I feel recovered – no quotes

Something very interesting happened this week, and I feel like I passed a major milestone. I have been under a fair amount of stress, but – for weird reasons I am not quite sure about – I also feel like I am more powerful, thoughtful, balanced, and stronger than I have been at any other time. Like I said…weird.

It’s not a secret that even though I would say I’ve been ‘recovered’ from my eating disorder (quotes intentional) for several months, I will have serious struggles occasionally. See here for the most recent example. But, right now, for the first time, I really feel confident to say I feel RECOVERED. No quotes. 🙂

I feel as though I have managed a tough situation without any input, tips, or shoulder-whispering from ED. And the best part is – and the part that makes me feel so strong about all of this – I didn’t even fight it. It just wasn’t there. It’s like ED knew not to even bother since I was taking care of things myself.

I know this doesn’t necessarily mean that I will never have another struggle of this variety, but this felt like a major turning point for me. I have learned that I can really support myself after all, and having that realization allowed what was left of my self-doubts to fall away.

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So, I guess there was some perfection after all.

Sticks and Stones

Before I write another post about my Italy trip, I want to share something that happened while I was in Rome that wasn’t so spectacular. I’ve been talking a lot about the great food and sights, but when I first got to Italy, there was an incident that made me feel like the trip would be ruined.

As I mentioned in a previous post, Noah and I took a free walking tour around the city center right after I arrived and got settled.

The tour guide counted our group at the beginning to see how many we were. 11..12..13…and then pointing at me twice…14.

Me: “um, what?”
Tour Guide: “you’re pregnant?”
Me: “um, no.”

There may be people who would let something like this slide right off them, or laugh about it, or tell it as a funny story later that day. I am not one of those people. At least not right now. Maybe one day…hopefully. Because what I experienced in that moment felt truly horrible. On the outside, I was doing everything I could not to start crying right that moment. On the inside, my thoughts were something like this: you are fat. you are horrible. you are disgusting. your belly is so huge and fat that you look like you’re pregnant. everyone thinks you’re enormous. you need to lose weight. why do you eat so much? you used to be skinny, how did you let yourself go this far?

You get the idea. Needless to say, with this soundtrack running in my head I was completely miserable for the rest of tour and pretty much the rest of the entire first day.

eating disorder recovery, inspirational photography, quotes, nature photo, beach, Ocean, sea shore[source]

My emotions were…

mad. Why would the guide say that? Did she have any idea what her comment had done to me?

embarrassed. How many people heard that? Did they agree?

self destructive. How could I let myself look that way? I should be ashamed to be in my own body.

For anyone who is familiar with eating disorders and treatments, you know that dialogues with ED are a helpful and powerful tool. For those who are unfamiliar, ED stands for eating disorder, and those who struggle with disordered eating learn to think of ED as a separate entity that tries to influence how they think, behave, feel, etc. Creating dialogues with ED are incredibly powerful tools because they let the individual separate themselves from their eating disorder and allow backtalking to ED. Here’s an example of how an internal dialogue might go:

ED: You are fat. You shouldn’t wear that outfit because it makes you look fat.
Me: No it doesn’t. I like this outfit and I am not fat.
ED: Yes, you are. You should lose weight and then you would look better in your clothes.
Me: My clothes look fine, and you make me unhappy. Go away ED.

In that dialogue, I won. Basically, the point is to learn to stand up for yourself and realize how destructive ED is.

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And the good news is, I’ve been winning a lot lately. Pretty much all the time in fact, and I think I had almost forgotten what it felt like to have ED win. That’s why this ‘pregnancy incident’ felt so destructive. This time, the conversation went more like this:

ED: You are so fat you look pregnant.
Me: I can’t believe that happened.
ED: Remember all those times you talked back to me and said you weren’t fat? Well this proves that you were just deluding yourself and you are pregnant.
Me: Maybe she was confused? Maybe it was the way my clothes were falling at the moment?
ED: She wasn’t confused. Those clothes are on YOUR BODY. Which looks pregnant. If you weren’t fat, she wouldn’t have said that.
Me: You’re right.
ED: I can’t believe you let yourself become like this.
Me: I can’t believe I let myself become like this.
ED: You need to do something.
Me: You’re right.

At that point, I felt powerless to talk back and felt as though the entire trip would be ruined. How tragic that literally the first thing I did in Rome involved this incident?! It seemed almost laughable then that only a few hours ago I had been on the plane excited to enjoy lots of good Italian food without letting ED get in the way. haha

I made it through to that night without losing it, and then lose it I did. I felt like all the hard work I did had disappeared, and I told Noah that when the guide said that to me, it was as though something inside me felt completely destroyed.

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Then, Noah said something that really resonated with me. He said, “you don’t have to let her destroy you.” What a concept?! When I was in the thick of my recovery, ‘you always have a choice’ was a little bit of a mantra for me, but in my current state of distress (and feeling a bit rusty at combating ED), I had lost sight of that. So, it was back to basics:

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Once I mentally retook ownership of my fate from ED, I immediately started to feel better. I won’t lie, the comment continued to sneak into my mind over the next few days (and even now), but I have been able to combat it and remember:

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Yes, I was brought down and totally caught off guard by this incident. But I’m up and moving now.

I know that ED blew this incident out of proportion, and that my body is fine. More importantly, I know that I am loved and hopeful and blessed in so many ways.

Sometimes I really believe that 100%, and sometimes I feel like I am just talking back to ED. Either way,

How to fly quote mamavision[source]

So, on that note, to me and anyone else struggling…


and

🙂

New Rules of Weight Lifting for Women: Overview

I’ve mentioned my weight lifting workouts on a few occasions, and since I know everyone must be dying to get the full scoop…here goes!

I learned about the New Rules of Weight Lifting for Women (NROLFW) from Meghann over at Meals and Miles.

The New Rules of Lifting for Women

You can read Meghann’s final review of the program here.

Basics of the Program
NROLFW is a 6-month strengthening plan designed specifically for women. It is highly structured with specific workouts, sets, and reps that you are supposed to complete 3 times a week. There are seven different Stages of the plan, and each Stage lasts 3-6 weeks and includes two different Workouts (A and B) that are alternated throughout the Stage. It sounds a little confusing, but all of the details for every Stage and Workout are clearly outlined and organized within the book. Example:

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Stage 2, Workout A

Then, there are training log sheets that you can print out online (or copy from the book if you prefer) where you track the weight used for each set and workout within the stage.

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you can’t see the details, but here’s the general idea

The plan is good for me because I definitely need big time structure in a lifting plan if I’m going to follow it. When I’m on my own, I’ll lift weights here and there, switching it up based on whatever I feel like that day. Unfortunately, that approach doesn’t lead to actually getting stronger. Education on how to ‘actually get stronger’ is, in fact, a primary topic of the NROLFW book. Much more than just a listing of workout plans, the first 120 pages of the book are completely devoted to teaching the reader about why weight lifting is important and how to do it in a way that will actually make your muscles stronger. (spoiler: to get stronger you need to continuously be increasing the weight you use. Increasing the number of reps won’t do anything for increased strength, only endurance)

Nutritional Stance
The book also has a lot of information about nutrition and the importance of protein in our diets (both in general and particularly for someone who is trying to gain muscle). I’ve read more than my fair share of nutrition and diet plans, and they generally seem to all follow the same outline: high emphasis on counting calories and making that count a low number, low emphasis on where those calories come from and proper balance of nutrients. Most diet plans I have read about in either books or magazines suggest somewhere in the range of 1,200-1,500 calories a day, sometimes adding in extra ‘reward’ calories based on exercise. I expected something similar from this book.

Thankfully, I was pleasantly surprised! The nutrition and food advice given by NROLFW is a refreshing departure from the standard calorie restriction diets promoted to women in essentially every other ‘nutrition’ plan I have read. The section focusing on food is titled ‘You Aren’t What You Don’t Eat,’ and the author, Lou Schuler, goes on to describe typical diet advice as a fatally flawed “war against food.” One particularly poignant argument that Schuler makes has to do with the number of calories women are generally encouraged to eat on typical diet plans.

In a sub-section titled, ‘Calorie Restriction is the Worst Idea Ever,’ Schuler describes an organization called the Calorie Restriction Society. The organization believes that people can live longer, healthier, and better lives by limiting the amount of food they consume. Still, their website has a ‘risk’ section warning against some of the serious dangers associated with cutting calories. Dangers include: depression, loss of strength/muscle mass, deteriorating bone mass, hormonal disruption, diminished energy, infertility, and hunger (duh.). How many calories does the group encourage people to eat? Numbers starting at about 1,400.

Schuler then compares this practice to the first stage of The Sonoma Diet eating plan (a previous New York Times bestselling book with 4.2/5 stars on Amazon). The Sonoma Diet’s initial stage – as well as the general guidelines of nearly every other diet plan I have read in magazines or books – instructs dieters to eat 1,200-1,400 calories per day. Schuler sums it up too well to paraphrase:

Yes, the maximum calories [allowed] in the first phase of [the] diet is equal to the fewest calories eaten by members of a cult who try to live longer by teetering on the precipice of starvation.

That is seriously messed up.

Moral of the story: I am excited to do this plan because the book offers not only a potentially effective lifting plan but also a positive and healthy perspective on food and fitness.

Read details of each lifting Stage here!

Stage 1 – completed
Stage 2 – completed
Stage 3 – completed
Stage 4 – completed
Stage 5 – completed
Stage 6 – in progress
Stage 7 – coming up

 

Too Much?

Imagine this situation: You are at some type of communal meal with LOTS of delicious [or not so delicious] food, and at some point between chewing and talking you realize that you are full. Like, really full. Like, borderline uncomfortable full. But for some reason you keep eating.

I imagine that this situation is not entirely unknown to most people out there. There are meals, in fact, where it seems we are expected to overeat in this matter (think Thanksgiving, Passover Seders, and other holidays). Still, with my history, that ‘too full’ sensation can bring on feelings of negativity, hopelessness, loss of control, and disgust with myself. Reading back over that last sentence, it all sounds a little melodramatic. But truly, feeling “too full” or as though I’ve eaten “too much,” can leave me with low self-confidence and high self-criticism. Why the “quotations?” Because I know, rationally, that while being too full is a real physical sensation, the imagined consequences of that “too full” are fictional. As I was told a hundred times during recovery, “it all evens out.” Yes, if I stuffed myself every time I ate, then there would likely be some perceivable difference after a period of time. But occasionally eating a meal that is too large will not instantaneously change my body or my being. It will ‘all even out’ through my regular healthy lifestyle.

Confession: Tonight I ate too much. My body was full, but I kept eating.

There was a time when this fact would have led me to restrict my diet tomorrow and hit the gym for much of the day. But, not today. I know now that a healthy weight and lifestyle are not determined by one meal or one event. It is about balance.

Confession #2: Even though I ate too much, the food tasted good, I enjoyed the people I was with, and I have a great weekend ahead of me.

I know that what’s most important is not how I chose to eat one meal, but how I choose to live each day.

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