diets · eating · eating disorders · weight loss · weight stigma

Losing My (Diet) Religion (Guest Post)

by Mavis Fenn

(This post discusses disordered eating. Please be aware it may be triggering for some.)

 Eating issues began when I was ten. There were two contributing factors. The first was that I was pre-puberty, a time when many children put on additional weight. The second was related to my mother’s health. She died at fifty-eight of early onset Alzheimer’s. It was when I was about ten that her behaviour began to change. Looking back on it now, I realize that this was also the time I began to binge-eat. I clearly remember ketchup and mustard sandwiches on white bread. Yuck!

My parents were older and came from a generation that had survived the depression of the thirties and the Second World War. Not wasting and will power were considered virtues; a lack of frugality or will power was a moral failing. Fat people were considered to be lazy, gluttons with no will power. My dad loved me and wanted the best for me. We were close until he died at ninety-four. He was a great role model and still is. Having said that, family and friends believed that teasing was a good way to correct behaviour. How well I remember, “Your eyes were bigger than your stomach,” when I didn’t finish the food on my plate. Unfortunately, that hurt my feelings; hurting my feelings makes me mad. Thinking, “I’ll show you,” I would eat everything up even if they said I didn’t have to. And the boys that called me names, I ran them to ground and sat on them until they apologized.

For a girl, being fat could be limiting. It didn’t matter how smart you were, how funny or caring you were, you weren’t going to get a good job or a husband who would take care of you if you were fat. So, at about twelve I got on the diet roller coaster. I stayed on it for well over fifty years. It eroded my confidence and sense of self-worth. I was never good enough, strong enough; I was not perfect and it was all my fault. When I was thin, I worried about getting fat; when I was fat, I was anxious and depressed because clearly I was lacking in will power. Eating compulsively was my punishment. It made things worse and I knew it.

I never had trouble losing weight, just keeping it off. I used food in times of stress, knowing that I could lose it when the latest crisis passed. I didn’t know that genetics determines most of your weight range, that only about two percent of people who lose weight are able to keep it off permanently, and that when you begin to gain weight again your body adds a bit more because dieting puts your body into starvation mode. In January 2015 I decided it was time to lose weight again. I struggled and struggled. I couldn’t; I just couldn’t. I was overwhelmed with defeat and shame. I sat down on the bench in the gym, put my face in my hands and cried.

My trainer asked me what I intended to “do” about my situation. I mumbled that I guessed I’d get a therapist to recommend something.  She said not to worry and the next morning my inbox had an email with the contact information for the CMHA Eating Disorders program. I called.

When I met with the nurse, she asked me if I could accept myself as I was if my body stayed the same. My response was, “Absolutely not!” Getting rid of the diet mentality wasn’t easy.

As the introductory workshop wore on, I realized that I had in the recesses of my mind the idea that I was still looking for weight loss. That was not going to work. So, I made the decision to go “all in.” I analysed how I used food, the mind traps I set for myself, and most importantly I examined why I was still allowing myself to be controlled by childhood beliefs about body size. Those were stereotypes of a past generation and they were wrong. I didn’t need to continue to judge and punish myself for not being someone else’s idea of perfect. I was not defined by my body; it is only a part of who I am.

Do I ever think of weight loss or body image? Occasionally, but dieting would cost me my freedom and mental health. I prefer to think about healthy eating and being fit. In the two years since I completed the program, my weight has stayed just above or below my last “set point” (where my body decided we were safe from famine).

The last day we were asked to reflect on completing the course, I wrote this: “I think I have come to peace with my body. Therefore, I am at peace with myself.”

Image description: A plaid pajama clad foot with bright blue toenails stepping on a bathroom scale.

Mavis Fenn is an independent scholar (retired). She loves lifting weights, Yin yoga, and Zumba Gold. She is mediocre at all of them.

eating disorders · Guest Post · weight lifting

The Meditation of Weightlifting (Guest Post)

This is me at the Minnesota Open.  I am doing a clean and jerk.  

To talk about all the beneficial and amazing things weightlifting has given to me, it is necessary to talk about the not so great things that brought me there.  A bit of a perfect storm in my late 20s landed me in the dark and very scary depths of an eating disorder.  I knew I needed help, but I didn’t know how to get it.  I was very lucky to find and be admitted to a new intensive out-patient program in my area.  I was officially diagnosed with a binge eating disorder.  Unofficially I was diagnosed with exercise anorexia and orthorexia, which are not diagnoses recognized by the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM); therefore they are not “official” diagnoses. 

The behaviors I experienced (and sometimes still do) as part of disordered included assigning judgement to food, difficulties with body image, eating large amounts of food, exercising as a form of punishment, eliminating entire food groups, obsession with “good foods”, and a fear of not having food available.  This last one is fairly unique and part of the perfect storm I previously referenced.  I experienced extreme food insecurity for quite a few years, which can later lead to disordered eating. 

As I was working my way towards recovery I spent a lot of time in group and individual therapy.  There were certain patterns etched into my brain that needed to be broken.  On some days it was an all-out internal war, trying to create new healthier thoughts and behaviors.  Even now, in my late 40s, I still struggle and have little relapses that need to be righted.  I can recognize them more quickly and my tool box is much larger and much more easily accessed. 

Part of changing behaviors meant changing my relationship with food.  Nothing is off limits.  No food is a “bad” food and no food is a “good” food.  Food is fuel.  Food is fun.  Food is social.  I am a person who really likes food.  There isn’t anything wrong with that.  For years I felt guilt about enjoying and eating food.  On the same note, exercise is not punishment.  It is not something I have to do because I ate food.  I don’t earn food by exercising.  I don’t do exercise activities I personally dislike. 

For years, therapists suggested yoga as a way for me to increase mindfulness.  I did yoga for years.  Guess what.  I don’t like yoga!  I finally figured that out and I don’t do it.  I do enjoy lots of sports.  I’ve been a runner, a cross-country skier, a martial artist, a swimmer, a biker…  The list could go on.  Recently I’ve found my sporting true love.  I am in love with Olympic weight lifting.  It is a release mentally and physically.  For me, it is meditative.  When I am lifting weights I rarely think of anything else.  I love to focus on all the nuances of the lift and the tiny adjustments I need to make in order to complete the best lift possible.  When the movement clicks, it is like magic.  The endorphins flow and I feel amazing.

There is a saying in lifting, “If the weight doesn’t scare you, it isn’t heavy enough.”  Honestly, the weight I am focusing on these days is how much weight is on the bar, not the weight on the scale.  I’ve learned to fuel my body so that I feel good.  This means having enough energy throughout the day and making sure I have good sources of fuel to keep me feeling healthy.  I know what works for me.  It may not work for others. 

In addition to finding weight lifting meditative and empowering I’ve also discovered a phenomenal group of supportive, body positive people.  When competing in Olympic Weightlifting one must wear a spandex weight lifting singlet, much like the ones wrestlers wear to compete.  I remember my first meet.  I had the singlet and it was under a lot of clothes.  I did my warmup.  I was standing in the line-up area feeling very anxious about getting down to the singlet.  All around me people of all sizes were shedding warm-up clothing and getting down to the business of singlet wearing.  I took a deep breath and off the clothes went.  Guess what?  No one said a word or raised an eyebrow.  As a matter of fact, after lifting I got nothing but a round of congratulations on my lifts.  As I have continued lifting I’ve meet men and women of all sizes who are nothing but supportive, uplifting and kind. 

I’ve used to be a person who literally hid at home eating food and didn’t go outside to exercise due to shame.  Now I go to the gym 5 days a week, but without feeling obligation or like it is punishment.  I go for the pure joy of it.  I’ve found my fitness love and I’ve found my fitness home.  Thanks to an amazing group of supportive athletes, a phenomenal coach (who took the time to learn about eating disorders) and gym mates I am free to be myself and be my best.   

Amy Lesher is a small business owner. She has owned a developmental/behavioral pediatric clinic for 10 years. When she is not running a business she spends her time lifting weights and attending CrossFit classes. She competes in Olympic weightlifting and holds the Minnesota state record for the Olympic lifting total in her division.

diets · eating · eating disorders · fitness · health · overeating · self care · tbt · weight loss

Metabolic Health Is a Feminist Issue #tbt

For #tbt posts I like to go back to the same month in a previous year. Today we go back six years, to February 28, 2013, when I posted about metabolic health. Reading posts from the early days helps me to see how far I’ve come since we started the blog over six years ago. In this post, I finally “got it” about why it’s important to eat enough.

Over the last few years, my thinking and practice has shifted completely. Rarely do I worry about “eating too much,” unless in the sense of eating to physical discomfort, which simply doesn’t feel good. I think my metabolism has recovered from any damage I did in my decades of chronic dieting with the weight loss-gain roller coaster that comes along with it. Besides the idea of Intuitive Eating, this concept of Metabolic Health really helped me get to where I am today. If that’s of interest to you, read on….

FIT IS A FEMINIST ISSUE

campfire[Note: I am by no means an expert on metabolic health. I hardly know anything about it. I just know it’s an idea with major liberatory potentialFor more information about it, check out some of the links below]

Recently, after blogging about the thigh gap and taking Go Kaleo‘s recommendation to read Matt Stone’s Diet Recovery 2, and then reading Caitlin’s post that reminded us that, hey, we actually need to eat, the penny finally dropped for me.

Yes! I finally understand that metabolic health is a big deal. Huge. Bigger than the next fad diet, bigger than any particular training program, bigger than aspiring to have ripped abs or a thigh gap.

After we posted about fitness models earlier in the month, we noticed some fascinating discussion on a figure competitors’ discussion boards about ways to train smarter with more calories. Sam drew…

View original post 1,140 more words

body image · eating · eating disorders · fitness

Corsets to help that eating disorder along…

Look what came through my newsfeed on Black Friday: “It’s not a corset, it’s shapewear! It’s made of the same stuff as gym leggings. Why? Well, it keeps you conscious of everything you’re eating, it holds you in & basically makes you feel amazing. Grab yours now in the “BLACK FRIDAY Meltdown”

MAKES YOU CONSCIOUS OF EVERYTHING YOU’RE EATING? That’s the line that caught my eye. 

I’ve written before about corsets for working out.  Not surprisingly I didn’t have much good to say. I ended by saying that I’m sticking with exercise clothes that don’t pinch at the waist, like my cycling bib shorts. I am a big fan of breathing. 

Corsets pose a difficult issue for feminists. See The Complicated Feminist Ethics Of Corsets And Waist Trainersand Can We Wear the Corset Trend and Still Be Feminists? and Fit to be tied: Is the controversial corset making a comeback?

My feminism and fashion students a few years ago were torn between “you do you”–it’s all about choice–and thinking it might be fun for sexy fetish wear. No one wanted to defend the corset for daily wear, not in front of the class anyway. What are the daily wear arguments? Some people just like the way they look. Others like the posture correcting effects. And finally, others thought they were a good way to control your appetite because there’s no room for food when everything is tucked in tight with a corset.

Now this ISN’T A CORSET (though I’ve got to say it looks like one). Note though the argument in its favour is food related. It makes you conscious of every bite you take.  Presumably the idea is that there’s no mindless munching. But my worry is that you also eat less. Sometimes that might be less than you need. 

What are your thoughts? What do you make of the diet related reasons to wear a “not-quite-corset”? 

body image · diets · eating disorders · fashion · fitness · Martha's Musings

We are more than a collection of parts

 

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Women being active and not worrying about thigh gap, or hip cleavage, or any other nonsense Photo by Kyle Pham on Unsplash

It’s tiring to be female in this world. I can only speak from a cis-perspective, of course, but it occurs to me, that howsoever you come to identify as a female, there is an endless list of things you must have or prevent if you are to present acceptably as female.

 

First it was thigh gap, that space between a woman’s thighs — the wider it is, the thinner and more desirable the women. Then it was the concave navel. Now we have a new one: hip cleavage, or what I knew as high cut underwear or swimsuit bottoms to show off the hip bones.

We are all familar with the term cleavage as associated with breasts. Plunging necklines in dresses are designed to show off cleavage. There are right ways and wrong ways to show off cleavage in the upper body.

Too much in the wrong way means you end up with sideboob reveals; too much in the right way means you may risk a wardrobe malfunction and subject unsuspecting bystanders to a glimpse of the “girls.” These days, the focus, and perhaps the parts in question, has shifted to the underboob (I can hardly wait to see if there is an upper boob!).

Regardless of the terminology, the prinicpal issue is that women continue to be divided into parts. Perhaps it’s the legs (although it and the toes had cleavage back in the day). Let’s not forget the butt or the breasts, with fashion dictating whether they were perky, ample, lean or sleek.

When I used to deliver media literacy sessions to high school students, we would talk about the techniques used to separate, disconnect, and isolate girls and women from their bodies. Instead of being seen as whole, unique individuals with our own kind of beauty, women and their bodies are broken into parts and given meaning and value by others.

The obsession with thinnness as a beauty standard has fueled anxieties and nurtured the development of eating disorders; sadly, girls and women continue to starve themselves to fit a largely artificial construct of “female” beauty.

In Canada, those of us who work in health promotion talk about the vitality message — eat well, be active, live smoke free, and support mental wellness. Being active offers tremendous health benefits and it makes me sad to see fitness being used negatively to coerce women into creating and maintaining a body shape that is not natural to them.

 

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Another picture of fabulous women not caring about articifial body constructs. Photo by Clarke Sanders on Unsplash

 

Focusing on hip cleavage is just another stick we use to bash away at ourselves. It’s a stick handed to us by the arbiters of fashion and trends (I keep meaning to ask, who died and made them the rulers of the universe?) and quite frankly, I’m tired of it all.

We need to rewrite the script and start talking positively, frequently, and loudly about all the good things we can with our bodies: how strong our legs are to drive our bikes and our feet on our runs; how powerful our arms are so we can lift, wheel, and strike; how big our chests can be to ensure we can take in the oxygen we need to keep going; how wide our hips can be to birth children or to cuddle them.

We are enough as we are. In fact, we always were. Let’s remember that.

— Martha is a writer and powerlifter in St. John’s.

 

 

advertising · body image · eating disorders · fitness · gender policing · media · objectification · sex

Really, Walmart? Really?

I don’t love Walmart. I don’t love Cosmo Magazine. I really don’t love what Walmart has done with Cosmo Magazine in 5000 locations in the good ole’ USA. Sam brought this article to our attention on our contributor discussion page and said, “Blog fodder. Do feminists agree with conservatives on this one?” I swear sometimes she says stuff just to get me riled up enough to write a blog. . .oh. . .wait.

So in a nutshell, Cosmo will not be available at the checkout where all the precious minds of little girls might get polluted with its sordid sexual content. Dawn Hawkins of the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (Formerly known as Morality in the Media) claimed it as a victory of her organization’s own making, referencing #metoo as the inspiration for this action. Walmart made a vague statement about it being a “business decision” in which it “consulted” with unnamed entities. Cosmo isn’t being banned. It’s just being moved.

Honestly, do I care? I hate Cosmo. I mostly hate it because it over promises on the sex tips. Here’s an example, “7 Best Sex Positions for Female Orgasm“. It says these tips will “guarantee to help you orgasm”. But you know what? That’s bullshit. I’ve tried every one of them. I want my guarantee! They get me every time and dash my hopes. But you know what else is in there? This gem about the fight to include women’s choice into Obamacare. There’s also this one about my current favourite teen that isn’t related to me, Emma Gonzales, and the photoshopped picture of her ripping up the bill of rights.

When Sam asked if feminists agreed with conservatives, I will confess to having a trauma trigger. It all goes back to a time in 1990. I was a young impressionable law student and I read Catharine MacKinnon. For those who are too young to remember, these were troubled times in the feminist movement (I mean, when aren’t there troubled times). There was a general agreement that pornography, as conceptualized by the patriarchy, was not great for women. It was not about our pleasure, it was not about our agency, it was not about our actual bodies. It was about our function and that function was to arouse and get off men. That’s objectifying. That’s an impoverished view of women and women’s sexuality. But in the hopes of doing something about it, feminists teamed up with the “moral majority” of conservative evangelical politics. They argued for an end to the scourge using legal tools and in the process, did a terrible disservice to a lot of women, including me. In this discourse, sexuality became even more of a source of shame and, as happens, marginalized sexuality took the brunt of it. Somehow the mainstream porn industry continued to thrive while it was harder for alternate voices to get in there and change any of these narratives. Things didn’t get better for women as a result of this unholy alliance because it got hijacked by the more powerful partner in the endeavour. (This is an admittedly uncomplicated summary).

Meanwhile I wasted 10 years of my life not doing fun sexy things that I wanted to do because I thought it would make me a bad feminist. Did those well meaning white lady anti-porn feminists mean for any of this to happen? Of course not. But you can be sure that the folks like Ms. Hawkins would be pretty pleased that I stayed away from all that perverted hanky panky I was trying not to think about.

So, back to beleaguered Cosmo. I wish it was not such a trashy mag. I wish it portrayed more real bodies. I wish the sex advice was better. But other than that, it’s not the worst. They have stopped putting diet advice on the cover. There is a lot in the magazine that speaks to women’s agency. That it reports on celebrity gossip is not a thing that should banish it to the back shelves. I’m curious if that trashiest of trash piles the National Enquirer can still be found eye level with the kidletts? Likely. The hypocrisy is beyond the pale.

A brief perusal of the website of the NCOSE indicates that its main focus is on enforcing and strengthening obscenity law, educating young people about the dangers of overconsumption of porn, prohibiting the exchange of sex for money and somehow “stopping the demand for purchased sex”, I guess through the punishment of being caught (?). While their goals are around the protection of women and vulnerable young people, their tools involve repressing the material, not educating or empowering the victims in the ways I think are helpful. Their aims are also decidedly not sex or sex work positive. I guess that’s where we differ, me and Ms. Hawkins. Cosmo is imperfect, but it is somewhat educational. It reflects reality. NCOSE targeted Cosmo because it is a somewhat sex positive liberal trash mag. I will take that over a sex negative conservative mouth piece of a shameful president any day of the week.

So the answer, Sam, is NO!

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A Gif of an older glamorous white woman in big sunglasses and a scarf wagging her finger and shaking her head, “Nuh uh, honey”.

diets · eating · eating disorders · sports nutrition

Chocolate: A yummy delicious treat

I’ve had a bag of these in the house for awhile as my go to treat in lieu of dessert. They’re delicious.

Unlike Tracy, I haven’t broken up with chocolate.

But while the chocolates are often the yummiest part of my day, chocolates are not necessarily the healthiest thing I could eat. That’s fine by me. I didn’t choose them for health reasons. I was looking for the yum. They’re a treat

Chocolate isn’t evil but it’s not exactly a health food ether. Here’s the nutritional facts.

So these are an occasional treat, not a health food. I don’t eat them as meals. They’re pleasure. An indulgence.

Maybe that’s a bit fast. Isn’t it dark chocolate supposed to be good for all that ails you? I have friends who eat dark chocolate to help with the common cold. Others who swear it helps with arthritis.

Is it really good for you? The Guardian weighs in this week.

They talk about the rebranding of chocolate as a health food and how that occurred.

“Recent years have seen chocolate undergo another transformation, this time at the hands of branding experts. Sales of milk chocolate are stagnating as consumers become more health-conscious. Manufacturers have responded with a growing range of premium products promoted with such words as organic, natural, cacao-rich and single-origin. The packets don’t say so, but the message we’re supposed to swallow is clear: this new, improved chocolate, especially if it is dark, is good for your health. Many people have swallowed the idea that it’s a “superfood”. Except it isn’t. So how has this magic trick-like metamorphosis been achieved?”

So chocolate is supposed to help with blood pressure, dementia, stroke risk and the common cold but the problem is the quality of the research which is almost all funded by the chocolate industry. Go read the Guardian story for details.

James Fell in his anti dark chocolate rant gets it right, I think.

…If you’re buying into the health washing while rationing nibbles as your reward for sticking to a soul-destroying diet, just stop. Eat a mostly healthy diet, and then when you feel like eating chocolate, you eat the shit out of it. None of this “I’ll just have a square of dark chocolate now and then” bullshit. Get some fucking Turtles, or a Caramilk bar, or a Crispy Crunch, or one of those triangle shaped Toblerone things. Get a Jersey Milk and dip that sucker in the Skippy peanut butter and say, “Mmmm … G-M-Oh-my-God-that-tastes-good.” Eat your favorite chocolate and LIVE, DAMMIT!

Want to know more about chocolate? There’s a talk on the chemistry and physics of chocolate by the University of Guelph’s Prof. Alejandro Marangoni in Waterloo, Ont., by the Royal Canadian Institute for Science on April 18.

Enjoy the talk and the occasional chocolate. Just don’t fool yourself into thinking it’s a health food. Or worse, don’t eat dark chocolate in a medicinal manner not enjoying it at all.