BODIES In the News and in the Mirror

I’ve been thinking a lot about our relationship with our bodies. Having 10 year olds enrolled in a sexuality education class and listening to NPR a lot really leaves me no choice but to think about bodies a lot.

alienation and lonelinessOn the one hand I consistently find in my clients (and in others I just ask nosy questions of) a negligence of the experience of the body, how they feel (emotionally and physically). We can talk about how we think we feel. We talk about how we ought to feel, and supply plenty of great reasons for whatever conclusion we come to for that “should,” but we don’t spend all that much time actually feeling it. This is so true that people are often befuddled when I ask them how they actually feel, without all of the thinking around it. We are cut off from our physical experience of ourselves except when illness or injury overwhelms our ability to maintain that disconnection.

On the other hand, we are the gatekeepers of our bodies and our ability to watch and guard that gate varies with our beliefs, our self-esteem, our age, and our physical size, our strength, and it seems our capacity for earning a living. This fleshy container from which we distance ourselves apparently needs our watchful eye, our clear-headed awareness, and our protection. We are in the strange and uncomfortable position of guarding something with which we have little real connection.

And that brings me to the third hand (yes, I know but wouldn’t it be useful?). In the absence of a perpetrator doing violence to these bodies, we will weaponize ourselves against them. We need not be concerned with how these bodies feel but we darned well better be concerned about how they look. We had better heed the call to shrink, to get smaller and more meek, to sit down, to be quiet, to discipline ourselves into a secondary stature, to scold ourselves into submission through the deeply wounding power of hostility toward that which is our first and most personal property (because this is the language we all understand, property), our bodies.

This treatment of the female form, this obsessive self-disciplining based on either disconnection or self-loathing, is oppression embodied. The refusal of how we feel is submission. The shrinking for the purpose of pleasing and matching the model is obedience. The setting of impossible standards and punishing ourselves for failing to meet them is collaboration.

A radical act for the new year? Learning to be embodied love – not for our partners and children, not for parents and cousins, not for community and congregation but for ourselves. Imagine each single body a physical manifestation of pure love that radiates from a foundation of self-cherishing (not just acceptance) and proceeds with self care that is deep and multi-dimensional. THAT is healing. Healing for you. And healing for you WILL BE healing for your family (especially your daughters), for your community, for all of us. As our capacity to love and care for ourselves grows, so too do our demands to be treated with dignity and respect, so too does our fervor to participate in ways that ensure a safe and supportive community for all.

diets don't workSome say that our bodies are temples, but in my estimation this lacks life and dynamism, growth and gloriousness. I say your body is a testimony, a living proof of the power of individual strength, perseverance, and cosmic and biological miracles. I say your body is a demonstration of all that is possible, and often of the nearly impossible. I say your body is a compass, a guide, a healer, and a knower. I say your body holds the treasures of the universe for you while you are making other plans.

What would your body whisper to you if you stopped and listened? What could it tell you if you left a pause in the conversation and the self-abuse? What does your body need? What does your body want? What feels like love for your body? What could you do today to take one small step in that direction? What’s stopping you?

 

Eff My Fitbit

Years ago, after my twins were born, I bought a pedometer. It was just a simple thing that I attached to my clothing so I could keep track and I committed to myself to increasing my activity level, in hopes of speeding up the return to my pre-baby weight. I think my first goal was 5,000 steps. Over the years since then I’ve graduated from that simple pedometer to my Fitbit which, in addition to tracking my steps, let me know how long I was sleeping, and a bunch of other stuff I didn’t really pay attention to. I used the Fitbit to keep track of my progress toward that 10,000/day goal. I enjoyed that Fitbit when we were in Rome clocking 20,000 every day surrounded by ancient architecture. Here at home I kept the dog and I moving in precise ways for specific amounts of time to meet my goal.

This relationship with my weird watch seems pretty reasonable if we make some basic assumptions. The first assumption that we have to agree to is that more activity is always an inherently good thing. The second assumption that we have to agree to is that measuring is the way to get that to happen. The third implied assumption here is that if we didn’t use some device to spur on a competition with ourselves, there would be no change.

self-love for weight lossThese assumptions make the Fitbit just one more in a long line of devices and strategies used by women to make our bodies “better,” “right,” “more beautiful,” which means: “smaller.” The goal of being smaller is assumed. We agree that measuring (and shaming) is a good way to get there. And we are certain that without some sort of external discipline giver, there will be no change. We will be hopeless.

I had bought in. I’ve judged myself in the mirror based on size. I shuddered at the “big boned” title I bore in earlier years. I have been an external discipline-giver extraordinaire. I’ve used all manner of measuring (how many steps, how many miles, how many calories, how many inches, what size number, what BMI, what heart rate). I’ve created a variety of rules for myself (no fat, low fat, high fiber, no meat, clean meat, whole grain, no grain, less sugar, no sugar, no dairy, no soy – no these weren’t all at the same time). I’ve assumed that if left to my own devices nothing would ever change.

What I didn’t realize is that I was never actually left to my own devices because I was not paying attention to the best device I had. I was not paying attention to how I felt. I was not paying attention to how foods felt in my body. I was not paying attention to how different kinds of exercise felt to my body (hello bone spurs and surgery). I was not paying attention to the good feelings I got from healthful foods and stopping eating when I was satisfied. I was not paying attention to the energy and lightness of being that I felt after exercising.

tracking steps for weight lossI needed the external device because I wasn’t paying any attention to the guidance I had all along. I needed the external device because I was determined to look how I “should” and I was sure I couldn’t be trusted to handle that mission.

As you can guess if you’ve been following along for a while, things have changed a bit. Now the internal guidance IS the device. It is where I turn for instruction on how to take care of this body. It is where I turn to hear the signals and feel the signs. It is where I turn to take note of what works and doesn’t work. It is where I turn to decide what weight feels good, what exercise feels good, what kind of food feels good.

THAT is what being left to your own devices can be, if you learn to listen.

I was still wearing my Fitbit until a couple of days ago, mostly out of habit. The toggle button had fallen off a while back, so it’s functions were more limited, but I kept on charging it up and putting it back on. I would occasionally look at it while walking, but more and more often I noticed that I wasn’t using that information to make any decisions.

More and more I was using my own feedback and considering factors like the weather and the capacity of my aging canine friend. We go longer on good days, shorter on bad. The pace and the path are determined by what I and he need. Whether I listen to a podcast or not is determined by whether or not I need quiet. My other exercise has been figured out by trial and error – what makes me feel strong and capable, what makes my body feel good, what leaves me feeling energized and satisfied.

And so a couple of days ago I took that Fitbit off. I set aside its measurements and its task of inspiring me to compete with myself (and others). I set aside the ugly band that I hated seeing. I set aside its online awards and graphs. I am left to my own devices and boy does that feel good.

Only Really Good Chocolate Please

Another Halloween has come and gone.

And, as usual, my estimates for our candy needs were wildly inaccurate.

My purchases for the last several years have been a perfect indication of what is NOT going to happen.

I started with the very large Costco bag of classic chocolate treats which I planned to pair with a bowl of glow in the dark spiders, snakes and skeletons for the non-chocolate crowd. It was a big bag (’cause Costco) but I had a moment of doubt. And so I bought a second very large bag of non-chocolate based treats, telling myself it was best for kids with allergies to have other options that were treats and what if we have as many as we had two years ago and I don’t want to run out and… blah, blah, blah.

So I bought the extra bag. We now have half a bag of each left (maybe a little more of the chocolate than the others) and we only have that little because I totally loaded the last several ghouls and goblins down with handfuls (as the rest of the neighborhood did by looking at my kids’ haul). In years past this would have been a problem. In the past I’ve always seen Halloween as the beginning of the slow slide into non-stop eating for me, starting just one Twix and KitKat at a time.

How to stop eating candyI did eat some candy last night. Little mini versions of two my former favorites and a newcomer (that my daughter gave me). I ate a Twix, still good but not amazing. I ate a 100,000 bar (less good but good), and a Hershey’s dark chocolate over caramel thing (better by far, but definitely not amazing). I discovered that there is really no danger in my having this leftover candy. There really is no danger because I’ve changed.

Over the last couple of years I’ve become a curator of what I eat. I’ve paid really close attention to what feels good in my body, what feels good in my brain, and what is worth any not good feeling that it might bring. I’ve discovered that eating lots of sweets doesn’t make me feel good. I knew this and it was a long-term step down for me (a journey my sister and I took together and explain how to accomplish here), but I hadn’t gotten over Halloween candy yet. My attention wasn’t as keenly focused. I hadn’t realized that when I eat it, it makes me hungry. It creates its own cravings and if I listen to those cravings and eat enough of it, I feel jittery and don’t sleep as well. I hadn’t realized that it is so much easier to maintain a weight that feels good to me when I don’t eat much in the way of sweets. I hadn’t realized that I wasn’t even enjoying it in the kind of orgasmic way my kids seem to. But now I’ve noticed all of these things and I just don’t want it the way I used to.

We’ll figure out something to do with this candy (maybe even save the non-chocolate bits for next year because goodness knows that crap never goes bad), but there’s no emergency here. I’ll get rid of it because I don’t feel like figuring out where to store it. I’ll get rid of it because it’s taking up space that we could use for something else. Now that I’m paying attention, I’d rather have nothing than a bag of Crunch bars. I’d certainly rather have one piece of really high quality dark chocolate with sea salt and caramel than a bag of Crunch bars.

Breaking bad habitsAnd now that I’m think about it, this lesson seems to be playing out across the board for me. I’m paying more attention to what feels right in my life and it makes it so much easier to get rid of the things that just don’t fit anymore: the clothes, the stuff, the books, the obligations, the people pleasing… wait, what? Yes, I group them all together – the physical and the emotional – because the beginning is the same in all of those cases: being willing to pay close attention to what I am doing and whether or not it is serving me.

That awareness makes changing habits and decluttering a matter of shedding skin rather than imposing discipline. That awareness allows those changes to be an act of self-discovery rather than a vow to crack down or get serious. That awareness is an act of self-love, and if you are anything like I used to be, you could really use some more of that.

What are you eating? What are you wearing? What’s around your house and on your calendar? Why are you choosing these things? Are you paying attention? Is it serving you? Is it as good as really great chocolate or is it a Crunch bar (yes, they’re my least favorite)? What would paying really close attention change in you?

If you’d like some help in learning to pay this kind of attention so you can shed some old skin, old habits, old parts of yourself, sign up for a Discovery Call. Let’s see if we can’t get that change started for you.

How I Lost Weight

I’ve been getting a lot of questions lately about how I’ve lost weight. I did not have a ton of extra weight to begin with, but I guess I’ve gotten to the point where it is noticeable. I think when people ask me this question, what they are really asking is: “What diet did you try?” OR “What food did you give up?” People want to know what the magic solution is, and I totally get it, having looked for magic solutions many times in the past (grapefruit as the key, really?).

Slide1The truth is my weight loss process has been both easier and more complicated than the answer to the question that folks are asking. I could tell you how I eat, which at this point is pretty significantly different than it used to be, but that would be a woefully incomplete answer. The truth is the first part of my “weight loss journey” (I really hate that phrase), had everything to do with what was going on in my heart and my mind. Why did that have to happen first?

Because I needed to learn how to be happy with myself, no matter what my body looks like. I needed to learn how to build a full life without relying on my dinner to be the best part of my day. I needed to learn to push myself harder so I could figure out what would make me deeply happy rather than being satisfied with knowing another meal or snack was coming.

My relationship with food was complicated. I used it. I used it to cheer myself up. I used it to distract myself. I used it to excel at something while I was a stay at home Mom. I used it exercise some control on my life when things felt out of control. I used it to avoid feelings and to bring on the physical buzz of overeating. I used it to impress people. I used it to practice my writing skills. I made food such a huge part of my life and then was disappointed when the other parts were so small and unsatisfying. I used food as an escape hatch, a wubbie, a friend. Before I could really make good decisions about how to eat, I had to REALLY learn how to deal with my emotions without food making it easier or unnecessary.

Slide2AFTER I did all of that, the question of what I ought to be putting in my body becomes a series of scientific experiments. What can I eat that will fuel me and be pleasurable? It’s so much easier. When I don’t need to eat for emotional reasons, all of these questions about what I choose to eat and not choose to eat just become math and planning that I do rather than some sort of horrible self-imposed deprivation. I get to stop thinking about food all of the time and then beating myself up for it. I get to get on with all of the wonderful things there are to do with my time on this earth. I still celebrate things. I still have friends. I still enjoy myself. All of it is good. In fact, all of it is a whole lot better because I did the REAL work first.

My BARE program will help you do that real work AND it will help you discover what kind of eating works best for you, and if you show up and really give it everything you’ve got, you will blow your own mind. The new school year is coming, a perfect time to make a change. I’m ready if you are.

A Simple, But Not Easy Truth

One of the hardest things for most of my clients to accept is that it is possible to love themselves just as they are.

I understand the difficulty because they’ve come to me at a time of some kind of distress; something is wrong, and more often than not they’ve diagnosed that the thing that is wrong is THEM, like internally, inherently, and deeply. I’m familiar with this diagnosis as it is one I found for myself for many years: “There’s something wrong with me.” I could scoop up all kinds of crap with that cup. It’s amazing what kind of evidence you can find for such a thought if you want to keep it. It’s a great big general crap collecting and destruction generating belief. Vague enough to be right and specific enough to really hurt, just like we them, eh?

Slide1Here’s the thing, I tell them. You can love yourself and fix this or you can hate yourself and fix it. I have opinions about which will work better, but I’d like to know what yours are. It’s interesting because most people seem to go with the hate it and fix it school when it comes to themselves. We believe we have to despise ourselves, or at least the part that’s generating the problem in question. We believe that if we love it, we won’t fix it, that somehow loving it will make us complacent, accepting of the offending flaw, that we will forever carry the extra weight or the bad judgment or the poor career choice. We can only fix it through strict discipline and punishment.

Wow.

This is one of those moments when I am stunned by the way we treat ourselves as compared to the way that we treat others. With ourselves there is no quarter. With others… I’m pretty sure we love in spite of flaws all the time, like every single day. Do we dismiss other people because of one flaw? Do we hate them until they fix themselves completely? Do we have to discipline them into being alright for us? That’s a no.

The only relationship I can think of where one might even be tempted to do this from a disciplinary standpoint is the parent/child relationship and even then there is no hating and disciplining. There is loving and correcting. There is loving WHILE they learn, WHILE they grow, WHILE they change. There is loving WHILE they are imperfect, WHILE they make mistakes, WHILE they do the wrong things.

Slide2Could you learn to love yourself and make change if you pretended for a moment that you were your own child? What if you were raising yourself? What kind of adult would you like to help bring into the world? What kind of human would you like to help create? How would you treat yourself if you were simply raising yourself, taking yourself from one stage of development to the next, monitoring your own growth and change, noting problems as they arise, thinking about them and being encouraging, asking questions when it doesn’t make sense? How would that feel? I think it would feel a whole lot more like love. And I think change that comes from love is the change that works, and it works because it FEELS good. It feels good to accept ourselves. It feels like water on cracked earth. It feels so necessary and so overdue.

But I don’t know how, you say. I don’t know what that means. I say start small. Think of one thing you love about yourself. Sit, with your eyes closed and really focus all of your attention on that one thing. Feel into it. Let yourself delight in it. Allow yourself to feel your own affection for as long as you can tolerate it. See what happens. It just might change everything. Why? Because that kind of feeling expands; it grows and self-acceptance that is taken in as a small seed grows the fruit of love right there in your scared heart. It will be okay. You can still want to change, even after you learn to love yourself. I promise.

It’s What’s in Her Head

I had a lovely friend approach me today about my last blog post where I talk about the time (years) when I avoided looking at my body in the mirror. She was shocked that this was the case. She told me she thinks I’m extremely attractive (aw shucks), so she was surprised by what I wrote.

Slide1We talked for a while, trading stories of body image and our first-hand knowledge that attaining a lower weight had not, for us individually, magically created a healthy body image. We digested the stats, that 90% of women are dissatisfied with the shape of their bodies, that up to 50% of women are on a diet at any given moment, that the average woman spends 31 years of her life on a diet, that women – when provided with silhouettes of body types – consistently choose shapes that are larger than they are.

It didn’t take me long to convince her that my body image problem was, at least to some degree, independent of my former body shape problem. In fact, I saw her get it within the first sentence of my response. She got it because she knows, as I think many women do, that for many there is no reshaping of the body that’s going to be adequate. I’ve experienced this many times, reaching (or at least nearing) a weight goal and still only seeing the flaws, setting yet another goal toward recapturing my only minimally adolescent body. Continue reading

The Mirror

I’ve come up against a challenge of age lately. It’s not a BIG deal, definitely qualifies as a “first world problem,” but it got me thinking about some stuff that I thought maybe a few of you could relate to. I have reached the point where in order to do something to my face that requires specificity of location (plucking hairs, putting on eye makeup, applying ointment to something that needs healing), I need my specs. I just can’t see the details that close without them. Problem is the specs get in the way of a majority of the procedures I would need to use the mirror for in the first place. “Ahhhh. THAT’s why those mirrors are around,” you know those magnification mirrors. Sometimes they light up so you can have some kind of notion of how sunlight or club light will affect whatever look you’re working on, but let’s face it, it’s mostly about the magnification. And those mirrors aren’t just sold to people my age (or my ocular age which is a bit higher) and older; all kinds of people are okay with looking up real close at imperfections on their faces so they can do whatever they need to do to feel good about how they present themselves.

Slide1It got me to wondering how we can be SO okay with looking with such great scrutiny and intensity at our faces and then refuse to look at the rest of us in the mirror at all. And notice I say “we” here, because this is something I totally used to do, avoid eye to body contact. The objection here is: “But you look great,” and that objection has absolutely nothing to do with what goes on in MY head. For years I did not actually look at myself in a mirror that showed more than my face while undressed because the critic in my head was OUT OF CONTROL. What other people saw was of little interest to me. It was what SHE saw, that mean girl in my head, that had worn me down over time. Better to avoid her altogether by not looking and getting dressed early in the shower to rest of world progression. Continue reading

A Letter to My Body

Dear Body,

I want to write you a love letter, but I know what you need first is an apology or my compliments will sound shallow and empty. So, there we are. I’m not good at saying it, but I really am sorry.

Slide1I’m so sorry for all of the times I had unkind thoughts about you. I’m so sorry for all of the times I blamed you for the way my clothes fit. I’m so sorry for all of the times I wouldn’t even look at you in the mirror. I’m more sorry for only seeing flaws when I did look. I’m so sorry for treating you like a traitor, an enemy, something to fight and work against. I’m so sorry for not loving you. I’m sorry for the times I decided to eat next to nothing. I’m sorry for the times I decided to eat mostly junk. I’m sorry for deciding that you weren’t worthy of better treatment than both. I’m sorry for not using you better, for either neglecting or deciding to run marathons starting now. Continue reading

Marines United With Us

As usual this week has been chock full of news and things I could choose to get outraged about. I’m trying a new thing where I try to limit and focus my outrage like a laser beam rather than just letting it splatter all over the place ineffectually… So for me there are two big stories this week, that ended up being a little too similar for my liking. The two stories? Marines United and International Women’s Day.

HOW can they be the same at all, you might wonder, a story about men in uniform sexually harassing and humiliating their female counterparts online and the day of a general strike for women’s labor? Pretty much seem like polar opposites, don’t they, that is until we all get to comment on them, until we get to participate with the news, until we become part of the story. Continue reading

Nobody Cares

I realize that title sounds like we’re leading into a “Nobody likes me, everybody hates me…” moment, but there is no worm eating going on over here. Bear with me because I think where we’re going is important.

IMG_4336Last week I had the serious good fortune to be in Italy. Now, there’s a lot to say about Italy, but what I want to say today was also prompted by a friend of mine who just decided, in spite of her vociferous inner demons, to buy and wear a bikini to her local pool. She was pretty freaked out and decided that her fear was her best indicator that this was exactly what she ought to do. She did it, took a picture, and posted it on Facebook.

I’m guessing that the bikini to one piece ratio at her local pool in the U.S. (East Coast if that makes a difference, which now that I’m thinking about it, it might) is VERY different from said ratio in Italy. In Italy, I was one of maybe 4 women on the beach in a one piece, and two of the other 3 were great grandmothers. The other, perhaps another American. I lay there in my one piece which seemed kind of sassy when I tried it on, and felt like a total prude. I saw every shape go by and all of them were playing, at the beach, in their bikinis. Bikinis of all description, covering varying (within a relatively small range) amounts of flesh. The rest of the flesh? Out there, sunning, swimming, building sand castles, applying sunscreen, napping. Perfectly normal. Continue reading