Author Archives: Leanne

The Dancer on the Treadmill

We were not designed for exercise. We were certainly designed for movement, but not exercise. In our culture exercise has taken on a harsh connotation of militant command: “YOU MUST EXERCISE TO BE HEALTHY! IF YOU DO NOT EXERCISE YOU ARE LAZY AND DESTINED FOR FATNESS WHICH MEANS YOU WILL BE UNHEALTHY, SICK WITH TERRIBLE DISEASE, AND SHAMED FOR YOUR LACK OF SELF-DISCIPLINE AND ABILITY TO CARE FOR YOURSELF.”

So we do one of three things (or cycle through a combination of the three):

1) Muster up the motivation to start an exercise regimen, setting the expectations high with little to no regard for our nature or needs, thus setting ourselves up for failure: “I need to lose _______ pounds, so I will get up at 5:30 am every day and run ________ miles. Maybe I’ll even do a marathon! I’m not a morning person and I hate running and I hate being in the cold and dark, but I can do this!” Three weeks later “I can’t do this. I need my sleep. I am terrible and have no discipline and only fall into bad habits. I am so bad.”

2) Express vehement and righteous hatred for exercise and declare that no one shall ever see us run unless a bear is chasing us. So we don’t even get started because “Meh. Who needs it?”

3) Start a workout regimen and get so obsessed and righteous with it that everyone we know should do it too, regardless of their nature and needs, because it works and that’s how we should all get healthy and we’ll all hold each other accountable and we’ll all love it because we’ll all get skinny, toned, and feel amazing!

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When I was at the gym last week I noticed a woman walking on the treadmill. I noticed her  because her body was decorated in elaborate butterfly tattoos, which made me think about my Grandma E. who loved butterflies. I clamored onto my elliptical machine (I use this in kindness for my cranky knee), which are lined up behind the treadmills, and I studied the woman from behind. She had a larger body, dark brown hair pulled into a messy bun, a turquoise tank top, black leggings, and leopard print sneakers. If she hadn’t had all the cool butterfly tattoos, I probably wouldn’t have even noticed her strolling along.

Until she started dancing.

Smooth as silk she began to hop-skip in rhythm with her walk stride, which was a mere warm up before she began to spin and twirl to the movement of the music she was clearly hearing in her earbuds. She raised her arms and moved her hands like flowing ribbons in cadence with the easy shimmy-shake of her hips. The treadmill had become her dance partner, a steady and trustworthy support under her moving feet, giving her momentum for her fancy footwork and body movements. Her lips silently formed to the words of the song and her eyes never once focused on keeping balance or wondering what other people might be thinking of her. It was the most beautiful, inspiring, and dare I say, sexiest thing I’ve ever seen at the gym.

She wasn’t done, though. Once the dance was over she raised the treadmill to a steep incline and got in mountain climber position, bending way down to grip either side of the conveyor platform with her hands. Then she climbed, bringing knee to nose, knee to nose. Without warning she began to hop her legs out and in, out and in, like lower body jumping jacks in mountain climber position.

After thoroughly confusing the machine to the point the treadmill was like “MOTION CONTROL UNIDENTIFIED. SYSTEM INITIALIZING.” In other words, “WTF IS HAPPENING!?” She switched to a different treadmill and danced again. When she was all done, she grabbed the journal she had tossed onto the floor behind her machine, kneeled down, and scrawled her thoughts onto the pages… in orange ink. My Grandma E.’s favorite color was orange, which became my favorite color the day she passed away.

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This woman wasn’t exercising. She was dancing, enjoying her movement while tuning in with what her body already loved doing.  She cared so little about the numbers tracking on the treadmill dashboard that she literally obliterated system stats and used the machine as a tool to assist her in joyful movement.

And this, my friends, is what we’re designed for. Joyful movement. Freedom to move our bodies in a way that feels good to our nature and needs with no regard to regimen, number tracking, programming, and rigid expectations of how we should be moving. As a culture we’ve distorted exercise into this “thing we have to do if we want to be healthy.” You don’t have to exercise to be healthy. Instead, discover movement your body and mind enjoy that make your heart happy, and when you do, health will follow.

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If you’ve ever chastised yourself for not sticking with a workout program, it’s not because you’re lazy and undisciplined. You’re likely uninspired and out of tune with how your body actually wants to move. Ditch the regimen (and the unkind self-talk!) and approach yourself with curiosity instead.

What kind of movements do you love? What exercise tends to make you go “ugh”? Answer the question “My body feels great when____?”

 

The Religion of Health

Health is the new religion. It’s almost cult-like, but instead of “Drink the Kool-aid” it’s “Get on this diet with us” or “Do this cleanse with me.” The act of getting healthy has become an act of worship to our bodies, but rather than shaping a golden calf from various and a sundry gold, our bodies are molded to the shape of food rules, diet plans, cleanses, and “green and clean”  food.

I was part of the health religion for over 13 years, following the laws of health and the religious rituals of eating and exercising. Every food and exercise decision had to adhere to the rules of my religion, which could be summed up in its own set of commandments:

1) Thou shalt honor thy body first and foremost

2) Thou shalt never be fat

3) Thou shalt remain thin and tone 

4) Thou shalt never eat sugar

5) Thou shalt count all carbs

6) Thou shalt track all calories

7) Thou shalt ignore all cravings

8) Thou shalt only eat good fats and clean food

9) Thou shalt exercise to reconcile calories in and calories out

10) Thou shalt never rest

If any of these commandments are broken, thou shall suffer the internal shame and anguish of laziness, disobedience, over-indulgence, selfishness, ugliness, sickness, disloyalty to thy body, and furthermore shall be deemed “unhealthy” and suffer the societal offenses associated with unhealthiness and judgements associated with fatness and the mental angst associated with unworthiness.

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Think of what an abusive, controlling relationship looks like. When you don’t follow the expectations of an abusive partner, they get upset and will find ways to devalue you as a person, whether they physically hurt you, manipulate your emotions with guilt and shame, or verbally chastise how unworthy you are with their language toward you. Over time, your life revolves around controlling yourself and/or your environment, regardless of your actual needs and feelings, to keep your partner from getting upset and hurting you. But you never know for sure what is going to set them off or if you’ve done enough to earn their love. There is constant worry and anxiety of whether you’ve followed the rules well enough to keep from getting hurt and if you’ve earn your value as your partner’s partner.

In the religiosity of health, Health became my abusive partner. I was constantly under pressure to earn my value as healthy. I engaged in behaviors, rituals, and beliefs that would force and control my body to look and be certain way so I could be deemed as “healthy” and thus worthy of belonging and validity in the religion. My body had become my idol and working out and “eating right” were religious acts to worship my body.

Whatever was happening with my body would dictate how I felt about myself and life. When my weight went down, I felt righteous in my health decisions; I felt good about myself; I wore my clothes proudly; I walked a little taller. Only for a moment, though, because something in media or life—an article, a picture, a comment—would cause me doubt that I had done enough to perfect my body—to please my idol. When my weight went up, even by a pound or two, then I would feel ashamed, frustrated, and even angry at my inability to stay disciplined enough in my religious acts to stay healthy.

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Because of the consequences I both believed and feared if I didn’t adhere to the commandments of health, my whole life revolved around my body and my food. Every decision of the day was related to how it was going to affect my body… from how I scheduled my day to get my exercise in, to what I did or didn’t eat, to when I did or didn’t eat, to how hard I pushed myself in a workout.

Every meal became a number: how many calories, how much sugar, size-of-portion, how many ounces, what time did I last eat?

Every workout became a number: how many minutes did I go, how many miles did I go, how many did I do, how many calories did I burn?

My body became a number: how much did I weigh, what size was I wearing?

Numbers became the way for me to measure whether or not I was following the rules to avoid the consequences of unhealthiness. But I was never completely certain that I was following the rules well enough and if my body was good enough to be deemed healthy. With Health as both my religious leader and my abusive partner, there was never validation… only more rules and more threats about what would happen if I was not healthy. Whatever honor/value I thought I’d earned for my body–meaning the external praise I received for my body and health from other people–I was terrified of losing. So I was constantly trying to “maintain” my body and thus the honor of “being healthy.” The obsession with my health caused deep anxiety and deep dissatisfaction with my body and myself as a whole. I was tired, stressed, worried, and deeply sick both physically and mentally.

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In my relationship with Jesus, my life was about honoring my body rather than honoring God. I was in relationship with God, but devoted my body to the religion of health.

In my relationship with God there are no rules, and I do nothing to earn His love. I am worthy in this life simply because He created me. But for over a decade (and probably most of my life) the depth of that belief only went so far. I entered into this distorted side-religion and abusive relationship that required so much of  me and made me feel anxious and at constant risk of unworthiness. I had to let go of health as a separate religion and give my body back to God. Through recovery and disconnection from health rules (also known as the diet mentality), I re-entered into relationship with my body, which is a physical extension of my relationship with God. There are no rules in relationships. There is respect, trust, compassion, and love in relationships but not rules.

I no longer follow the rules of what’s “healthy” or “not healthy,” but rather I follow the intuition and physical body cues God has given me to nourish myself. I respond to my body and its needs without judgement and with respect, trust, compassion, and love. Like any relationship, I am not blissfully happy inside my body every day, and I am not goo-goo over God every minute of the day. I’m still human and experience human feelings of discouragement, frustration, and anger. But as a whole I live in peace inside my body and away from the religiosity of health.

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How about you… Do you ever feel pressure in your quest for health? When is the last time you felt worthy or valuable inside the body you have right now?  Does health feel like an abusive religion to you? Have you ever thought about trusting God with your body?

How to connect with your body rather than demand from your body

How does one “connect with his/her body”?

I talk all the time in this blog space about connecting with and listening to your own body rather than listening to all the cultural rules, diets, and programs geared toward changing your body. But how do you do that? And what if you don’t like your body or certain parts of your body… why would you want to connect with something you don’t even like? Shouldn’t you change your body into what you do like so you want to connect with it?

First off, no. You don’t need to change your body before you learn to connect with it or even learn to love it. In fact, it’s the other way around. Learn to connect with and love your body as it is right now and watch change happen.

Second, I’ve learned in recovery that journeys happen one step at a time. Part of my anorexia disease came with an element of body dysmorphia, which means what I physically saw in the mirror wasn’t even close to the reality of what my body actually looked like. I saw flaws in my body that weren’t even there. So not only was I disconnected from my body and its cues, I was also disconnected from reality. Learning how to reconnect with reality and my body took slow, careful baby steps starting with the most fundamental body function I have:

Breathing

And that, my friend, is where we can all start learning how to connect with our bodies. We rarely notice the one thing that keeps us alive… what it feels like to breathe; how our body moves when we breathe in and how it moves when we exhale; how the new air going in and down feels in our belly and nose, how the muscles in our shoulders, neck, and spine relax as we cleanse through a breath out. Connecting with our breath connects us with being alive inside our bodies.

We ask a lot of ourselves, don’t we? We expect much from our minds and bodies in the mess and stress of living. Not only do we ask our bodies and minds to stay tough and strong and capable through the expectations of daily living, but we require that we look good and be healthy doing it. So we run ourselves through the ringer of diet and nutrition and exercise trends, demanding cooperation and results from our bodies. When the diets don’t work or we’re too tired for the exercise regimens, we blast our minds with negative self-talk and self-blame.

I am suggesting we let go of all the requirements and learn to connect with what our bodies are saying rather than telling our bodies what to do and abusing ourselves when our bodies don’t listen to us. The best place to start listening is in the quietness and simpleness of breathing.

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Confession: In preparation to write this post today, I did the breathing practice that I am going to share with you in just a minute. As I laid on my yoga mat with my hands resting with love on my belly, the gentle rhythm of my breath made me emotional. I began to cry as my body softened. I didn’t realized how disconnected with myself and my emotions I have been these past weeks. While my recovery is strong, life was both stressful and tragic in August. I rode the waves of emotion as they came through the month, but I hadn’t taken the time to truly connect with myself–mind, body, and heart–to understand my body was both taking the brunt of my feelings and still taking care of me. My neck, shoulders, arms, and back were grateful for the breathing cleanse as they were finally able to relax with every exhale; my brain was able to rest with its only focus on my most fundamental need… breath.

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The video below is all about breathing and connection–no scary yoga shapes. Keep an open mind and try. Yes, this is a yoga instructor but don’t be intimidated! Yoga isn’t always (or rarely is it) about twisting your body into inhumane shapes. The Yoga with Adriene mission and motto is “find what feels good” and she caters to beginners.

Two things to think about:

1) There are no rules about how this is supposed to look or work. I have a cranky knee, so even just sitting on my knees isn’t available to me, but I modify movement as needed and will even come to a simple seated position. Be kind to yourself and do the same for your body if you need to.

2) Body connection takes practice! Breathing takes practice. Have grace for you if you find yourself distracted or frustrated. Baby steps, remember?

3) I would love to hear about your experience if you try this! What did you notice about yourself and your body as you connected with your breath? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

Much love to you all!

Namaste.
 

 

 

 

 

It’s okay to be fat

Does that statement make you cringe? Make you want to argue? Make you uncomfortable?  I saw the following on the Facebook page of one of my favorite people in the body positive industry, Christy Harrison. Below is her original post, and I am going to follow up with my own thoughts. Ready?

Does this statement make you uncomfortable? Do you find yourself resisting or arguing back with it in your head (or in the comments)? That’s because diet culture has inculcated all of us with fatphobia and weight stigma, and most of us have internalized those prejudiced beliefs to such a strong degree that we can’t possibly imagine believing that it’s okay to be fat. ———- But really, being fat is every bit as okay as any other human trait—being short, or being dark-skinned, or being highly sensitive, or being gay, or having brown hair, or being trans, or using a wheelchair, or sweating when it’s hot out, or having autism, or snorting when you laugh—which is to say, 100% okay, and part of the diversity that makes our world beautiful. And shaming or discriminating against someone for the size of their body is every bit as harmful as any other form of prejudice. ——– It’s our responsibility to create a world where this statement isn’t seen as radical. Where we can proudly and loudly exclaim that *all* bodies belong, and that people in larger bodies are just as deserving of respect as anyone else. ————-Thank you to @bampowlife AKA Victoria Welsby for this quote, and for coming on the show this week! Be sure to give the new episode a listen 🙂 If you want to hear more about HAES, intuitive eating, and body liberation, head on over to wherever you get your podcasts and download the latest episode of Food Psych today! ————- And if you’re ready for a deeper dive into all things anti-diet, come check out my intuitive eating online course at christyharrison.com/course ❤

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First thought: Diet culture says fat is not okay because it’s unhealthy. Mainstream science, which is also influenced by diet culture, often touts weight as the cause of many health problems, such as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, strokes, and even benign aches in joints and muscles. The problem is while these health conditions are correlated with weight, correlation does not equal causation, which is a concept rarely (if ever) considered. Additionally, all these conditions can be found in smaller bodies too. Larger body or smaller, no one is immune to unfortunate health problems. You can live in a heavy body and still be 100% healthy. Fat doesn’t necessarily mean you’re unhealthy; thinness doesn’t necessarily mean you’re healthy.

If weight is a contributing factor to poor health and poor quality of life, weight loss programs and diets are NOT going to be the answer. Diets and wellness plans have yet to be effective and sustainable for long-term weight loss, nor do they come without complications around feelings of shame regarding body image and food. When my weight was too low, compromising/complicating my health and quality of life, we didn’t focus on weight gain. My treatment was focused on body reconnection, food and body trust, intuitiveness around food and movement, and improving my relationship with my body and with food. With treatment my body found its natural weight, but more importantly my overall quality of life and health healed. The same treatment can (and should be) applied to folks who are struggling with poor health complicated by weight that is too high. Health care providers should NOT be medically and psychologically treating thin bodies differently than fat bodies.

Second thought: God made the human species with variety:  Blonde hair, black hair, curly hair, straight hair, wavy hair, light skin, dark skin, fat bodies, thin bodies, medium bodies; blue eyes, green eyes, blind eyes, big feet, small feet, tall bodies, short bodies, somewhere between bodies… shall I keep going? It’s okay to be fat just like it’s okay to have curly hair, freckles across your nose, and an adoration for the color orange. To believe fatness is not okay is like believing brown hair or black skin is not okay. Fatness cannot be and is not designed to be singled out as an upsetting moral value to be stereotyped and stigmatized and criticized. Body size and shape are merely physical descriptors. That’s it. Nothing more. The end.

Third thought: Culture says it’s not okay to be fat because fat isn’t beautiful, attractive, or sexy; fatness won’t allow for true love, good sex, or partnership for life with another human. I call skubalon on those notions. (That’s Greek for bullshit.) Beauty and sex appeal and attractiveness come from how you carry yourself, which comes from what you believe about yourself. If you believe you’re beautiful and sexy, then you’ll carry yourself as beautiful and sexy regardless of your size. Larger bodies are not unlovable bodies. Don’t believe the lie that says otherwise.

Let’s go a little deeper, shall we? If you treat people beautifully and live in a way that honors others without harsh judgement and with love, you will be regarded as beautiful, lovely, and attractive. The relationships that matter will be with people who love you, respect you, and honor you at the heart level without regard to your fatness or thinness.

And for those who find you repulsive or unattractive because of your body size and shape, you don’t need them. They aren’t the right people for you. It’s still 100% okay to be you when others say you aren’t okay.

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If you live in a fat body, that’s okay.  Seek strength, energy, confidence, and self-love in whatever body you’ve been given.

 

**For more body positive encouragement in your life, definitely add Christy Harrison to your social media feeds. You won’t be sorry.

 

What NOT to say to someone with an eating disorder

When you have a friend or family member who either has an active eating disorder or is in recovery from an eating disorder, it’s important to be mindful and respectful of what you say to avoid triggering your loved one into disordered and harmful behaviors. Eating disorders are mental illnesses, so flippant talk around food, body, and dieting reinforces distorted beliefs your loved one may have about his/her own body and food habits, thus spiraling them further into their disorder and/or making their road to recovery far more difficult that it already is.

Not to mention you need to be kind and gracious to yourself. Negative and judgmental comments around your own food and body beliefs can have harsh effects on your own mental health and sense of well being.

Unfortunately, much of the harmful talk we hear or speak around food and body value is so normal in our culture, we often don’t realize we’re being hurtful or dangerous. The following list of comments is not an exhaustive list of the commentary that is harmful to both you and your loved one, but these are the most common phrases of which to be aware (and that I hear and/or have had spoken to me).

DIET TALK

  • “You should try ___________ diet.”
  • “I’ve been on __________ diet and feel so much healthier.”
  • “I am so much healthier since being on _______ diet.”
  • “I need to go back on _________ diet.”
  • “I can’t eat that because I am on __________ diet.”
  • “I am trying this new _________ plan. My friend/daughter/mom/husband/coworker has had great results!”
  • “I’ve lost so much weight on this ______ diet. I feel great!”
  • “I’ve heard _______ diet is so great. You want to do it with me?”
  • “It’s not a diet. It’s a lifestyle change.”
  • “This is more of a wellness plan. Not a diet.”
  • “My office is doing a weight loss challenge; we’re on day ______.”
  • “I’m on day ____ of _____ diet. I feel_______.”
  • “What diet are you on? You look great!”
  • “Let’s do _______ together and then compare. We can hold each other accountable.”

BODY IMAGE TALK

  • “I feel fat.”
  • “I am so fat.”
  • “Ugh. My _______ is/are so fat.”
  • “I’ve gained ________ pounds.”
  • “I’ve lost _________ pounds.”
  • “I didn’t lose weight but I lost inches.”
  • “I hate how these pants/ this shirt looks on me.”
  • ” I hate my __________.”
  • “You want to look through my clothes? I’ve lost so much weight I don’t fit into them anymore.”
  • “You are so skinny. I hate you.”
  • “Those pants are so slimming.”
  • “This color camouflages my rolls.”
  • “I can’t wear______. They make me look fat.”
  • “Have you lost weight? You look amazing!”
  • “How do you stay so fit/thin?”
  • “I just read an article that says if you exercise ________ per day/times per week you lose ______ pounds!”
  • “I don’t want to lose weight but maybe just tone/tighten up a bit.”

FOOD TALK

  • “This is so bad for me/you.”
  • “You should try ________. It is so good for you!”
  • “This has like _________ calories. I am so bad.”
  • “I’m going to need to work this off at the gym later.”
  • “This doesn’t fit with my _______ diet/plan, but I’m just going to cheat.”
  • “This is so unhealthy, but I don’t care.”
  • “This is so much healthier than ______.”
  • “Today is my cheat day!”
  • “I am such a _______ addict. I have no self-control around __________.”
  • “I haven’t eaten this in so long, I’m just going to indulge.”
  • “I’m going to be good.”
  • “I’ve been so good all week, I deserve this treat.”
  • “Ugh. I can’t eat that. I’ve been so bad lately.”
  • “I am going to have the ______, but without the ______ so it’s healthier.”
  • “Well it’s not the healthiest choice, but….”
  • “Did you know _______ is so bad? Studies have shown.”
  • “Are you going to eat all of that?”
  • “Is that all you’re going to eat?”
  • “I just ate _______ servings. I am such a cow.”
  • “I already had my amount for the day.”
  • “I read an article that said you should eat ________.

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When in doubt about whether or not to say something, here’s a little tool I learned from my son: THINK

T: Is it THOUGHTFUL?
H: Is it HELPFUL?
I: Is it INSPIRING?
N: Is it NECESSARY? (This is the most important one to consider.)
K: Is it KIND (to both yourself and your loved one)?

What are some other comments you’ve either heard or said that might be better left unsaid?