Author Archives: Leanne

Why I loathe before and after pictures

I loathe before and after pictures. The typical before and after story goes like this:

Before: Woman in larger, softer body wearing clothing too small looks defeated, sad, and tired.

After: Same woman in smaller, tighter body wearing perfectly fitting clothing looks strong, confident, and happy.

This story implies that one cannot be happy, strong and confident in a larger, softer body. And it also implies that if you live in a smaller, tighter body then you won’t be miserable. It’s a story of “either/or” with nothing between, no gray area: you’re either fat and miserable or skinny and happy. The end.

I used to believe these before and after stories without understanding how dangerous and limiting and misleading these pictures are. These photographs don’t tell the whole story and rely simply on physical looks to imply health and wellness (and that the only way to be healthy is to be smaller and tighter).

Let me share with you what my before and after “looks” like.

///

BEFORE: I was in a tiny, tight body that barely took up any space anywhere I went.

I felt:

  • scared to be fat.
  • un-confident in my body, abilities, and intelligence.
  • worthless in value to this world.
  • tense around food, family, friends.
  • uncertain about my relationships, what I thought, and what I said.
  • indecisive about what to eat, where to go, what to do, when to do something and how to do it.
  • nervous around everyone and in anything I was doing, from grocery shopping to having a friend over for tea to speaking in front of a crowd.
  • anxious about how people felt about me, what food was going to do to me, whether or not I was good enough, acceptable, welcome.
  • hungry, yet I didn’t understand what that meant.
  • nauseous because I was hungry, had celiac disease, and was constantly anxious.

I was:

  • obsessive about exercise.
  • judgmental of my thoughts, feelings, and body size, weight, and shape.
  • judgmental about other people’s bodies, nutrition, and health.
  • controlling of my food, my husband’s food, and my children’s food.
  • restricting, counting, and tracking calories, fat, and sugar intake.
  • heavily influenced by mainstream media about nutrition, fitness, and health.
  • immersed in self-created food rules and disordered food behaviors.
  • prone to panic attacks at the grocery store and in restaurants.
  • distrusting of my body and how God created it to operate.

TODAY: I am in nearly four years into recovery from anorexia nervosa. I am still the same exact person at heart except I take up more space everywhere I go, which feels empowering! I don’t have  an “after” because recovery and health and life are ongoing. Sometimes I feel amazing and sometimes I feel like crap, but most days I live peacefully in the middle, feeling comfortable and confident in the gray area called real life.

Most of the time I feel:

 

  • strong and alive inside my larger-than-before body.
  • confident in my intelligence and abilities.
  • energized when I wake up in the morning.
  • valuable as a child of God despite what others may or may not think of me.
  • happy as a mom, wife, and friend.
  • relaxed around friends and most family.
  • satiated through the day as I eat meals and snacks as needed.
  • creative in the kitchen.
  • curious at the grocery store.

I have:

  • zero food rules or disordered behaviors.
  • zero panic attacks.
  • zero obsession with working out.
  • zero clue about how much I weigh and only vaguely know what size I wear.
  • more time and presence in the things I love to do, like write, advocate, and learn.
  • trust in my body, my intuition, and God.
  • insight and support and advocacy for my children, who are surrounded by peers, teachers, and friends who constantly judge their nutrition, intuitive living, and bodies.

I am:

  • human, which means I still have judgments of myself and other people.
  • more aware of when my judgments are actually harmful.
  • practicing how to re-frame my thinking when I am harmfully judge-y of myself and others, or when I am feeling judged.
  • prone to triggers yet aware of what they are and how to deal them.
  • anxious about my body and food when I feel tired, stressed, nervous, scared, or sad.
  • usually aware and understanding of my feelings, how important they are, and how they affect my thinking and behaviors.
  • respectful of my body when it needs rest, food, or movement.
  • respectful of my spirit when it needs prayer.
  • respectful of my heart when it needs tending.
  • the healthiest I’ve ever been in my life.

///

Dear reader, ignore those before and after photos. Don’t let them get you down, and don’t let them give you misguided hope. Before and after pictures are missing crucial details that are far more important than how small one’s body shrinks. And there are more than two options for what health looks and feels like; there are more like 7.5 billion unique ways bodies can look and feel and still be healthy. Moreover, you can be the shape of one of the “before” pictures and feel alive, confident, healthy, and strong; you can live in an “after” body and feel completely miserable. Find the loveliest gray area where you feel your best in your life.

 

Before and After Photos

I used to really enjoy looking at before and after photos of makeovers and weight loss journeys. For a moment they would give me hope that I could look better too. But there was also a small part of me that felt jealous and disappointed that I wasn’t what the “after” picture looked like in the first place, and deep down I just wished I could be better.

What I didn’t realize, though, was the bias we tend to have when it comes to these kinds of pictures. We post and view pictures and videos of ourselves or others working out and eating healthy, touting our journeys toward good health and good looking bodies. We publicly announce how much weight we’ve lost, how much weight we can lift, how far we can run, and what the new letter or number is on our clothing. We’re proud of our hard work, our healthy attitude, and our new look.

But when we go the opposite direction and gain weight, well now we have a problem. Even if Person A, who lost weight, and Person B, who gained weight, end up at the exact same size, our cultural bias is to praise Person A and wonder about Person B. We see Person B as “struggling with their weight” on the outside, while they are struggling with shame on the inside… for what? Not watching calories? Eating too much evil sugar and fat? Not exercising enough? Person B looks the same as Person A, but because h/she went up instead of down, there is both societal and personal expectation to change.

The only exception is with pregnancy.  We love to post and view sweet baby bump pictures showing the beauty and progress of pregnancy. We love to see the miracle of a human growing inside another human. I mean, wow!  But what happens shortly after baby is born? All of a sudden that miraculous body isn’t okay anymore, and there’s pressure both within Mom and in culture to get back to “pre-baby” shape. There are no (or rarely) photos of the post-birth stretch marks or pillow-soft belly where that newborn finds safety  when she rests on her tired mama.

///

I just want you, dear reader, to notice the bias, whether you love before and after pictures because they make you feel inspired or hate them because they make you feel inadequate. It wasn’t until I realized the bias of before and after photos that I understood how dangerous and unhelpful these kinds of pictures can be. Especially for people in recovery or in the throes of an eating disorder. These  pictures aren’t accurate measures of what health looks like or should look like.

It’s okay to be proud of the hard work we put into ourselves to feel healthy and good. I’ve spent nearly four years of hard work in anorexia recovery, and not only have I gained weight but also perspective. It is imperative to remember that life is deeper than the before and after pictures. The same drive and ability used to lose weight or meet health goals is the same drive and ability we use to love our kids, advocate for our loved ones, to spark change for justice, or to get out of bed in the morning during a season of depression. These are the deeper things that don’t show up in before and after photos, yet make all of us valuable…  regardless of what we looked like before or after.

 

 

The difference between intuitive eating and dieting

It has come to my attention that while I have explained intuitive eating from more of a scientific angle, as in how the body works and why dieting is hard on the metabolism and why the body craves nutrients and how the body reads nutrients, there is still SO MUCH confusion as to what intuitive eating is. And, more dangerously, there are many “wellness plans” that are disguised as intuitive eating, but in reality are not intuitive at all. So I am going to lay this out as clear as I can. Ready?

First of all, intuitive eating is NOT:

~A diet
~A lifestyle change
~A wellness plan
~Something to “go on” or “go off”
~A weight management program
~Restrictive
~Disciplinary

There is no such thing as being a “perfect intuitive eater” and there are no “results” to measure. Unlike some of the 30-day diet plans or 2-week detox cleanses, you don’t “do intuitive eating” for a certain length of time. You won’t ever hear an intuitive person say “Oh, I did intuitive eating last month where all I did was listen to my body for 30 days. It was amazing. I need to get back on track with that.” Once you learn how to listen to your body and eat without controlling, tracking, and worrying, eating becomes as natural as pooping or sleeping or taking a shower. 

///

Intuitive eating is:

~A way of being
~Something you already embody
~Part of who you are
~A neutral approach to food
~Unique to you
~Freedom to live and eat in a way that feels good to you

Eating intuitively means turning your attention inward (away from outward influences such as diets, cleanses, and health rules). You are:

~listening to your own body: what sounds good, what doesn’t sound good; what do you want; what do you need; do you like this or do you like that?

~understanding your body cues: when you’re hungry and when you’re full and when you want more or less or have had enough; why are you craving a certain nutrient or feeling a particular way (maybe sluggish or maybe energized); do you need water? More sleep? Am I feeling anxious or sad? Your body may be telling you something outside of food.

~honoring your body with nourishment without judgment: food is not good or bad for you; healthy or unhealthy; fatty and sugary; high fat and low fat. Food is simply food. Eating is eating. Body size is simply an objective descriptor (like my brown hair or your sparkly shoes).

///

Other points to understand:

~The way you eat will look different than the way I eat which looks different than how she eats over there, because our bodies are different, reacts to food differently, enjoys or dislikes foods differently. So we don’t  judge our own food, and certainly not the food others are eating. Intuitive eating is unique to each body, and we’re all going to eat differently and look different. It’s important to remain food-neutral. For example:

Someone who lives in a larger body eating a hamburger is simply someone eating a hamburger. She is not better or worse because she’s larger;  her food is not bad for her because she’s larger; she doesn’t need to “watch what she eats” or modify her food in any way to be healthier.

If you are in a smaller body and honor the need for a grilled chicken salad then that’s all that’s happening. You are eating a chicken salad. You are not healthier because the salad is better for you than a hamburger; you aren’t “being good” because you’re eating greens and protein; you are not earning your calories for margaritas later.

~When you are an intuitive eater, you may or may not lose weight. You may go up; you may go down; you may stay the same. I gained weight because I was malnourished from restricting food for 13 years. Intuitive eating allows your body to find its way to its innately designed homeostasis, size, and shape. Dieting, on the other hand, forces your body into a desired size or shape with erratic ups and downs or in and out of that desired size. Whatever weight happens for you is what it is, and that weight will adjust depending on what kind of intuitive movement (exercise) you’re doing, and the physical wellness or being of your body (did you just have a baby? Are you injured? Are you recovering from surgery? Are you sick?). Weight is not solely dependent on food; there are a plethora of factors that determine body weight.

~There is zero restriction in intuitive eating, so there’s no amplified obsession or heavy guilt associated with certain foods. You always have permission to eat your favorite things as they appeal to you, which brings down the “holy grail” value of your food… the wanting, the desiring, the yearning, the wishing, and the bingeing. So when you smell freshly baked brownies at your friend’s house, you’ll get excited because you love brownies and just made some last week at your house. You’ll eat a brownie or some brownies (whatever you feel) and you’ll enjoy them with your friend.  Since there is no judgement, there is no guilt or feeling the need to “work them off” or “punish” yourself with a salad later. It’s just brownies.

Conversely, if brownies are merely a “treat” you restrict yourself  to once in a blue moon, then when the smell of warm chocolate hits your nose, you become anxious and self-judgey and might even fear that you’ll want all the brownies, and you won’t be able to stop thinking about them because you want some but feel bad because brownies aren’t Whole 30 compliant and if you cheat with just one you won’t be able to stop at just one because you are so addicted to sugar and it will be embarrassing if you eat all the brownies so maybe you’ll only eat one and then pick some up at the store on the way home and eat them all in your car so no one will know and then you’ll work out extra hard at the gym so they don’t stick to your butt oh God why did she make brownies!! *deep breath, friend*

See the difference?

I hope this clears up some of the confusion about intuitive eating. Food intuition is something you already have. You were born with it, but cultural noise and life experiences interrupt the connection with yourself. You can definitely reconnect with your body and learn how to eat again. Your body doesn’t need to be controlled, it just needs to be heard.

 

Confession of a body advocate

“What does fat mean to you?” asked my therapist. My heart dropped into my gut with a giant ugh. This was the same question she asked me three-and-a-half years ago when I first entered recovery. I started to cry and replied, “Am I really back to this place again? I thought I processed this already… I thought I was over it.”  Problem is I was sitting in her office confessing that I had spent the previous day restricting my food, something I haven’t done in at least a couple of years.

Easter Sunday had been a tough day. While getting dressed for dinner, I was frustrated that none of my shirts were fitting comfortably. Since quitting Taekwondo last June due to a knee injury and restricting cardio exercise as per doctor’s orders until my knee is healed, my physical activity has waned significantly. I’ve been in physical therapy building strength and stability in my knee, hips, and core, but my whole body is in process of finding it’s new weight set point and shape. So my clothes are fitting differently and, in some cases, too small.

On Sunday my eating disorder simply told me I was getting fat. After a lovely ham dinner, I was comfortably full, but my eating disorder told me I am fat; I needed to eat less because I was eating too much; I am not exercising so I need to eat less; my body isn’t “changing shape” but growing fatter; and on and on and on. I was depressed all evening, and on Monday I couldn’t stand the feel of my body in my clothes, I couldn’t stand looking at myself in the mirror, and I couldn’t stand the thought of eating a whole day’s worth of food. So I made the conscious choice to restrict my food intake, including skipping lunch.

///

So why was fat such a big deal all of sudden and why wouldn’t it be okay if I was fat? I had come to terms long ago that fat and skinny aren’t terms that God sees or uses let alone attaches any value. So why did the size of my body matter to me?

Well, unfortunately it turns out cultural judgments about fat were starting to become my own judgments again. American culture says “If you live in a fat body, then you are unhealthy.”

I don’t want to be regarded as unhealthy. As a food and body advocate I fear people won’t trust me if I live in a larger body. I don’t know where my body is going to settle, but if it settles larger than what’s considered appropriate or desirable for “healthy” according to our societal standards then I may lose credibility… my value as an advocate. This feels scary and disheartening to me.

So, I did what anyone with an eating disorder and feeling lack of value does. I restricted my food in an effort to keep my body from getting any bigger. It was a terrible idea on many levels, and I felt miserable by the end of the day from starvation.

///

Sitting here now a week later, after using my support network, I have a much clearer focus on reality that I want to share with you:

    • Healthy doesn’t come in one size. It comes in all the sizes, including larger, shapelier sizes. You and I can live in a fat body and be 100% healthy–feeling good, living well.
    • Fat and skinny don’t exist in God’s realm, but they do exist here on earth. We can’t get away from those terms, but we can change how we think of them. We need to learn to use them as neutral facts. The way a shirt is pink or shoes are black or hair is blonde, so can a body be fat, a pair of legs be thin, a butt be round, or cheeks be plump. Fat and thin are observable descriptors rather than judgments of value or desire.
  • The human body has an amazing feature where it adapts itself based on life circumstances. It is literally the smartest device we own:

~When a woman is pregnant the belly stretches to accommodate space for the baby and adds weight wherever necessary to support baby’s growth and dependence on our body’s resources.

~When we have an injury, the body adjusts appetite to promote healing and changes shape to accommodate new movements and build strength where needed.

~ When we’re sick, it utilizes stored resources (like fat and sugar), pauses internal functions in effort to send energy to sick or damaged areas… always with the goal of keeping us alive.

~ When we’re over or under weight, causing medical malfunction, the body works hard to send signals of what it needs in nutrition and movement to find its best natural set point based on the life we’re trying to live.

///

I confess I lost my focus last week, and, worse, lost trust in my body, in where my value truly lies, and in what God is asking of me as an advocate. I judged fat and I got scared of what it might mean if I was fat. My only excuse is that I’m human… living in a disordered culture that values thin bodies and regards health on a single dimension… recovering from an eating disorder that still lives inside my brain and causes doubt sometimes. But thank GOD, literally, I have an amazing support network and an open line to the Holy Spirit to help me bring the truth back into focus.

 

 

Do you wonder:  What does Healthy Mean?

 

 

How to get closer to Jesus without giving up chocolate for Lent

One of my most shameful moments in eating disorder recovery was learning that I’d rather risk the death of my daughter than to risk being fat. In summer of 2014 I had a heavy feeling that I was about to lose something very dear and precious to me. I became convinced that I was going to lose my daughter, and I had mentally worked on preparing myself to surrender her to the Lord should he ask for her to come home. The thought of losing her was devastating, yet deep in my heart I trusted that if God wanted her home, then I knew she would be safe.  When I went into anorexia recovery later that fall, I realized how completely wrong I was. The thing I was about to lose, the thing that was so dear and precious to me that God was about to take away, was my eating disorder.

I was so petrified that I would have rather Him taken my daughter. The shame I felt in understanding this truth living in my heart was so heavy I could barely stand.

When I confessed this to my therapist, Tamara, I expected her to recoil and affirm that I was indeed a horrible, selfish mother.  Instead Tamara shrugged her shoulders and said, “Well, that makes sense. If your daughter dies, you know where she’s going, right?” Heaven, I agreed. “But, to lose your eating disorder is to risk becoming fat, and there’s shame in that because we live in a culture where it isn’t okay to be fat. To stay here and live in larger body sounds like suffering.”

Boom. To live a life of suffering shame in a larger body, which is what my eating disorder was telling me would happen, was far scarier and much more of a sacrifice than knowing my daughter would be safe in the arms of Jesus.

///

Growing up as a Christian, I understood the season of Lent to be about sacrificing something for 40 days to simulate a fraction of the suffering Jesus felt when he spent 40 days in the desert repeatedly tempted by the devil. We usually “gave up” stuff that we loved or found ourselves “indulging.” In my family all the way into my own adulthood, the sacrifice was often some kind of food–chocolate, sugar, chips, etc. Even into my adult years, I watched friends giving up cheese, Fritos, beer, chocolate, cake, coffee. Food was and still is often a go-to sacrifice to suffer without for 40 days, resisting and suffering through the temptations to cheat. And boy did I feel guilty when I did, as do many of my friends when they post pictures of themselves enjoying pizza and beer with the caption “Sorry, Jesus. Maybe next year.”  Really, Lent was more like going on a mini-diet, a religious regimen to work on healthier habits and lose some pounds under the guise of getting closer to Jesus.

Rarely did I ever feel closer to Jesus giving up food, and I am going to be bold in assuming most people don’t. Lent has become more of a New Year’s Resolution Reboot to give up the culprit foods we think are contributing to the inability to lose the weight we set out to lose back in January. And when we “cheat,” giving into the temptation of whatever food we sacrificed, not only do we feel guilty about eating the food but now we get the double whammy of failing Jesus.

Two years ago, I changed tactics. I asked Jesus what he wanted me to sacrifice for Him. What did he want from me during Lent so that we could be closer? “All I want is you.” That’s the response that whispered to my heart over and over again. That’s all Jesus ever wants… from me, from you, from all of us. He just wants to be close to us.

After realizing losing my daughter would be easier than losing my eating disorder, every plate of food became a little altar of sacrifice, and my prayer was (usually through clenched teeth and child-like sass-itude ): “Dear God, I am eating this plate of food for you. I am scared to death that it will make me fat, but I am trusting you to nourish me and make me healthy. Thank you for loving me and holding my hand through this. Amen.” This was a stressful, hard, suffering practice for months, but with every meal I felt better, freer, and more trusting of my body and of God. God’s intention wasn’t to make me fat, but to make me healthy and strong for the work he needs me to do.

///

If you want to be closer to Jesus, try giving up the diet mentality for Lent, and give control of your body to God. If you hate your body right now and are in the throes of trying to change it, then letting go of control and lifting up your body as-is into the hands of God without leaning on diets and scales and food rules is suffering. Because you’re risking staying in or growing into (what you believe is) a fat body, and culture shames people who are fat.  Make sure you understand what I am saying–it’s risky, not inevitable. Resisting the temptation to count calories, restrict “demonized” foods, check fat and sugar contents, eat Paleo or Whole 30 “compliant” requires full reliance on God and trust that the body he has created for you is the best body for you. This whole notion is a hell of a lot harder than giving up chocolate, but the focus is more meaningful and productive in achieving closeness with Jesus. And you can still eat chocolate!

To trust God with our bodies is risky… oh but what a risk worth taking if it snuggles us closer to Jesus. And all He wants is you.

Related post: “Dear God, please don’t make me fat”