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?

You Do You

My brother has this saying: “You do you.”  It means don’t worry about what other people are saying about you or to you; you just do whatever is true to you regardless of the outsiders. The last time he said this was in respectful, quasi-disagreement with my views on intuitive nutrition. What I don’t think he realized is he was actually indeed agreeing with me.

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Intuitive eating is rooted in understanding, listening to, and responding to your own body cues–hunger, cravings, fullness, illness, what sounds good, what doesn’t, etc.–without the influence or pressure of external forces (such as diets, family opinions, media, or mainstream science.) Nutrition is just the beginning, though. This principle blossoms into intuitive living as a whole, rooted in understanding, listening to and responding to your body’s cues for rest, crying, movement, celebration, laughter, adventure, meditation, prayer, sleep, etc. without regard to external cultural rules and expectations. You do you. The result of living (and eating) intuitively is thriving in peace with who you are inside the body you have right now.

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You were divinely created by God–your personhood, your heart, your mind, your purpose. He also created your physical body. The same way God speaks to your heart and leads you to/within your purpose on the spiritual level, while also guiding your thoughts on a conscience level, He also designed your body to take care of you on the physical level. Your body was created with all the systems, processes, and communications necessary to keep you thriving physically. Since God created you and you’re the one living inside your body, no one can possibly know your body better than you and God.

Therefore, the external forces that try to convince or control you into thinking your body needs to be different (smaller, lighter, trimmer, tighter, healthier, cleaner, etc.) don’t get to have a say in how you run your body or what your body looks like.

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That’s all well and good, Leanne, but I have ______________ ( fill in the blank–diabetes, sleep apnea, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, etc.) and my doctor–who is a trusted external influence–says I need to lose weight to be healthier and reduce my chances of early death. 

To this I say: medical health conditions are serious and scary; you should absolutely work with your doctor on proper treatment. However, while science says weight is a correlating factor with many health conditions, correlation does not equal causation. Furthermore, there is not one single diet or weight loss program proven to provide safe, long-term, sustainable weight loss. Within one to five years of any restriction-based diet, the weight returns plus more (which is a biological, protective response to nutrient deprivation), along with the mental anguish associated with feelings of failure, shame, and fear.

Weight loss cannot be the focus but rather reconnecting with your body—its cues and communication with you and your unique biology.

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When I went into eating disorder recovery, I was severely underweight for what my body needed, and I was at serious risk of stroke, heart failure, and death. My metabolism was broken, hormonal system out of whack, and digestive system a mess. But gaining weight was never the focus of my recovery to health.  My therapy team focused on teaching me how to reconnect with and understand my body–what my hunger feels like, what my cravings mean and why they are important, what foods I like and don’t like and why. As I got deeper into recovery, I learned what kind of movement (exercise) my body liked as opposed to what I had been forcing it to do; I connected with my  body shape and strength as I meditated and prayed through yoga poses. Most importantly I learned to understand my cues for rest and how to tune out all the cultural messages that say I need to be different.

Eventually my body found its natural set point without ever focusing on “gaining weight.” Your body has a natural set point too, and as you learn to reconnect with yourself and your body cues, your body will find its own healthy place without focusing on “losing weight.”

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 You do you. Learn to connect with your body through your own intuition around nutrition, movement, and living, without external diets/programs and regardless of what folks around you are doing, saying, or expecting. God designed you perfectly and purposefully, so if you trust Him with your life, you can trust Him with your body.

Resources to help you (these are NOT affiliate links):

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.

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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.

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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.