What does fat mean to you?

I was asked this exact question in therapy once. The fear I had around “being fat” was consuming my thoughts and behaviors; I was doing everything I could think of to “not be fat.”

My therapist asked “What does fat mean to you?” The only answer I could come up with was “big.” I didn’t want to be big. Over the course of many weeks we unpacked my fear of fat, and in that process I discovered an uncomfortable truth:

I judged fat people.

Culture is good at communicating that a large body is a bad body. If you are fat then you are lazy, unhealthy, gross, unreliable, undesirable, not disciplined in your eating habits, shouldn’t wear certain clothing, and should change your lifestyle in order lose weight.

I didn’t want to be gross and undesirable; I didn’t want to be thought of lazy and undisciplined. This is what fat actually meant to me.

///

Those who know me well wouldn’t describe me as a judgmental person, and I try hard not to be. Yet in this area I was judging harshly without even realizing I was doing it. I was judging strangers, friends, and family as unhealthy, unhappy, and undisciplined. It was a humbling and healing truth to learn about myself.  Now that I had this understanding, I could see a little deeper into my eating disorder and the anxiety around my food and clothing choices, my social interactions, and my strict exercise regimens. I was seeing myself and fearing myself as that which I was judging harshly about others, and I was starving myself to death to avoid being what I had so irrationally feared.

For example, I would have changed my mind about an outfit believing that I looked fat in it…maybe my arms looked big or my stomach didn’t look flat. I would change simply because I judged myself as looking terrible because I had seen someone else in an outfit where her arms looked big or her stomach swelled out, thus judging her as needing to change her outfit. Body checking others led me to body check myself.  All I was seeing was bodies and body parts rather than knowing the people who lived inside the body shapes.

///

We do this kind of judging as a culture, don’t we? There’s an expectation that larger bodies shouldn’t be in bikinis because what? It’s gross? No one wants to see exposed fat? Several brands of jeans have pants that “slim you down” because what? It’s not okay to show off the shape of your booty and thighs? Folks who live in larger bodies shouldn’t be eating “that cheeseburger.” Why? Because those people are fat and cheeseburgers are fattening and they should be eating a salad instead? Larger bodied people should be on diets to slim down because why? They’d be so much healthier?  (Note: Many folks in larger bodies are healthier than many of us in smaller ones. Health isn’t determined body size!)

Over time we believe the judgements about “fat people” and the expectations of what their lifestyles should be; we begin to apply those judgements and expectations to ourselves.

  • Summer’s coming and my body is so gross right now. I need to lose weight so I can wear a swimsuit.
  • I was so bad today eating those fries. I should have had the salad. I need to lose like 10 pounds. I should do a boot camp.
  • Oh my gosh I can see my rolls in this shirt. Ugh. I can’t wear this.
  • I gained six pounds this month. I am SO addicted to sugar. I need to cleanse and drop some weight.

These feelings suck, but instead of processing why we feel bad, we just avoid the feelings by going on diets, changing our clothes, regimenting exercise. We agonize over menus, ignore hunger signals, dread shopping, and become hyper-aware and anxious about calories, fats, and sugar. The bad feelings don’t actually go away. Anxiety, guilt, and shame around our bodies are constant because the messaging about “fat bodies” is constant. Our sucky feelings just grow because it’s impossible to achieve cultural expectations, thus leaving us constantly unsatisfied with ourselves.

The first step toward body satisfaction is to deeply understand what fat means to you and to notice (honestly) how culture’s messaging about fat is affecting how you view others in larger bodies and thus judging yourself in your own body. This is not an easy, quick, or comfortable step because it requires deep inner work. Body satisfaction doesn’t come from diets; it comes from deep inner work.

So, what does fat mean to you?

///

 

Like this article? Learn more from my free guide 4 Healthy Habits that are Hurting You

Carbs don’t make you fat

I remember when I first heard this statement from my dietitian; I looked at her as if she’d just told me humans grow antlers. It was an absurd statement. Everybody knows carbs make you fat, right? That’s what the health and fitness industry shouts at us every day.

It’s a lie.

The truth is: carbs don’t make you fat. Carbohydrates are your body’s number one source for fuel and energy. Whether in the form of simple sugars (found in fruits, vegetables, table sugar, honey, etc.) or in more complex forms (such as whole grains, pastas, potatoes, etc.), carbohydrates are specifically needed for brain and body function (including at the cellular level).

Cutting carbs from your diet is dangerous and counterproductive for weight management. The sugar cravings we’re told to control and replace with “healthier” foods, like kale or carrots, are not a result of your body being “addicted” to sugar. The craving for sugar is a biological signal from your body that it needs fuel.  The more you cut carbs, the stronger the cravings will become. And the more you ignore those signals, the lower your blood sugar drops and you become weak, shaky, fatigued, irritable, dizzy, and nauseous. Over time living with consistently low blood sugar takes a toll on your body causing poor sleep, moodiness, chronic headaches, and stress on your heart.  Not to mention cutting carbohydrates from your diet causes dysfunction of your metabolism. As your body tries to function with a lack of fuel, the metabolism slows to a crawl in order to preserve energy.  Over time your body goes into survival or “deprivation” mode.  This means your body will shut down or reduce crucial body functions, like hormone function, digestion, and blood circulation so it can send what little energy it is getting to the heart and brain.

By the way, if you “give in” to a craving after restricting for so long, it’s hard to hear or feel when your body signals that is has had enough of whatever you are eating. Have you ever been so thirsty that you chug a trough of water without breathing, refill your cup several times, and then a few minutes later feel like a swollen water balloon? You drink too much too fast giving your body zero chance to process and turn off the “thirsty” signal, leaving you sloshing around and peeing the excess the rest of the day. The same principle applies to food. When you deprive your body of any nutrient, especially sugar, you’re likely to over-eat the amount your body actually needs, thus causing discomfort and digestive upset… and lots of guilt or shame.

Your body needs ALL nutrients, especially carbohydrates. One of the most vital things I learned in eating disorder recovery is the importance of variety over “balance.” Our culture is strict about “eating a balanced diet,” yet it also encourages cutting carbs, fats, and calories (such a confusing and contradictory message!) However, when you eat a diet filled with a variety of fruits, veggies, grains, sweets, dairy, proteins and fat in a variety of different forms, balance naturally happens. You don’t even have to think or wonder about whether your diet is balanced or not.

How do you know if you are eating a good variety? Your body will absolutely tell you. Focus in on what sounds good. Does a salad really sound good or does it sound like the “healthier choice” over the burrito? If the burrito sounds better, honor your body’s request. Are you really not hungry or are you just trying to ignore the hunger because you’ve “already had those calories”? If you’re hungry, you need to eat and eat what sounds good.

Your body won’t ever ask you to eat more than it needs of any nutrient, including carbohydrates. Carbs don’t make you fat, so tune in and enjoy.

 

America has an eating disorder

America has an eating disorder. We eat by numbers, rules, regulations. We make decisions about the food we eat based on fear, anxiety, and righteous attitude. We restrict, omit, and regiment selected nutrients and food groups.

Our culture has great angst about obesity, weight gain, and body shape. We fear food and weight-related diseases and build our diets and exercises around these fears. We’re scared to be fat. So we put nutrition labels on everything as a tool to help control and avoid fat. We put devices on our wrists and smart phones to track every bite, every step, every heart beat to makes sure we don’t get fat.

We have countless diets and cleanses and every kind of work out program; we have diet pills and calorie strategies; we have workout equipment and memberships; we have safe foods, bad foods, healthy foods, demon foods, healthier foods, poison foods, clean foods. We avoid calories, save calories, burn calories.

We’ve got teachers teaching kids how to read nutrition labels and hanging their snacks on the wall in categories “HEALTHY”  and “NOT HEALTHY.” My eight-year-old daughter came home agitated because the girls at lunch were claiming her chocolate milk was bad for her, but M’s was okay because it was “healthier” as determined by the lesser grams of sugar. L didn’t agree about either one because her mom said all chocolate milk is bad for you.

Our culture calls all of this “being healthy,” but really it’s all to avoid “being fat.”

///

We aren’t healthy, though. We’re anxious because… not enough steps, too many calories, not high enough heart rate, too much on the scale, too much on the plate, still craving “that thing,” not enough days at the gym, gave in, no self-control, pants don’t fit, back fat, tummy fat, butt fat, arm jiggle, thigh gap, not buff enough, not strong enough, no muscle definition, need to lose more, need to have better habits, need to work harder, faster, longer, need to restrict more, need a new diet, need better control…

Despite all the tools, rules, and media information, America still has an obesity crisis. Yet we also have a growing crisis of anorexia and bulimia in our youngest and most precious kiddos. There is something much deeper and more troubling going on here.

I don’t believe our culture is overindulgent. I don’t believe we lack self-control in our lives. I don’t believe we are bad people. I believe as a culture, we’re very sick and we need recovery. We’ve become disconnected from our bodies, obsessed with food as something to be feared rather than enjoyed, and distorted in our understanding of what it means to be kind to ourselves and our bodies.

Eating disorders are not about food. Eating disorders are not about weight. Eating disorders are the compulsive behavior and thought patterns that are rooted in distorted beliefs about food and body. Eating disorders are evidenced by extreme anxiety about food, body image, exercise. America has an eating disorder.

///

Want to learn more? Click on the free guide below:

God doesn’t think you’re fat

God doesn’t think you’re fat.

You think you are.

The world may think you are–judge-y strangers, your doctor, your friends, your spouse, your kids. Whether they say it to your face or not, you can feel the judgement.

The shame, despair, and frustration sink deeply into you. These are sucky feelings; I had them too. I tried working them out for miles on a run or emptying my diet of calories hoping those feelings would empty out too. Maybe a detox would cleanse the heaviness on my body and my heart. If only I were lighter then I would be happier. Do you tell yourself that too?

We fret and feel bad because we live in a culture where we’re categorized as fat or skinny based on the size and shape of our bodies. Judgement of who or what we are is based off which category we’re in:

Fat= bad: unhealthy, not beautiful, lazy, not marketable, not profitable, not worth it.

Skinny= good: healthy, beautiful, motivated, marketable, profitable, worth it.

Our world is cruelly black and white when it comes to body judgement and, subsequently, personal judgement based on body-looks.

We’re left to live from the posture of– If I feel fat, then I must be fat and that’s bad. I need to… I should… Why can’t I just… I’m so bad… I got to be better…

///

It’s easy to forget you don’t belong to the world;  you belong to God. 

God doesn’t think you’re fat.

He doesn’t think you’re fat because fat doesn’t exist to God. Skinny isn’t a thing; it’s unknown to God. Body size, shape, and image have no connection to beauty or personal value. None of these things are real.

But YOU are very real to God.

He cares only about one thing–your heart. Your heart is where your value lives. Right now, you’re hurting and frustrated and stressing out about food, how your clothes don’t fit, and why you can’t just stick to your diet. Your heart is flooded with feelings of shame, guilt, and sadness about your body; those feelings have washed away the truth about your value.

God isn’t asking you to lose weight. He’s not asking you to exercise more. Jesus isn’t telling you give up bread (or wine!) or detox from sugar. The Holy Spirit isn’t asking you to go on a diet or be more disciplined in your health regimen. The world is 100%, absolutely, most definitely telling you these things. But God is not.

All God wants is you as you are right now. There are no judgments, no categories, no expectations for you. God doesn’t think you’re fat, sweet friend.

Rest in this truth today.

///

Did you find this post encouraging? I invite you to receive this guide I wrote for you called 4 Healthy Habits that are Hurting You. 

Two basic ways to take care of yourself

My family is going through a challenging season with our kids’ mental health. Between doctor’s appointments, therapy sessions, meetings at the school, researching, and writing countless emails, I am TIRED. While tired I still love, support (e.g. help with homework, listen to the social adventures of 3rd and 4th grade, answer questions about the universe, etc.), and snuggle my kiddos who are feeling their challenges first-hand; motherhood knocks me from tired into exhaustion.

One thing my friends and family keep saying is: “Take care of yourself.” I confess when I hear that I do an internal eye roll. In what time-space continuum do I have the opportunity to take care of myself? What does that even mean on a practical level?

However, once I set my bad attitude aside I remember there are two basic ways to take care of myself, both of which make up the foundation of self-love: eating and sleeping. In doing these two things for myself first, I can then take care of my people so much better.

Same for you, my dears. Eating and sleeping are human things, not just Leanne things. If you can’t find any other way to love on yourself, then at the very least consider doing these two things.

///

Eating

The most fundamental way to love yourself is to eat! And I don’t mean eating according to a diet, cleanse, or perceived “good” or “healthy” way. Diets, cleanses and rigid eating are all forms of restricting nutrients that feed you. If you’re restricting then you aren’t feeding your body, you’re controlling it. And control in any relationship, especially with your body, is not love. 

Listen to hunger cues and ask yourself what sounds good. Don’t question or judge what your body says. If your body is asking for something you (or culture) have deemed “unhealthy” or “bad,” I encourage you to throw that judgement out the window and eat the food. Body love trumps cultural rules.

When the challenges of life are pulling your body into fatigue, stress, or worry, eating becomes imperative for brain function so you can think critically and make appropriate decisions in whatever you’re dealing with. Hard times are demanding on the body; love your body–take care of yourself–by eating. Not restricting or starving.

This is not to be confused with eating to cope with your feelings. Eating as a way to avoid hard feelings is just as unloving as starving your body. Feel your feelings. Listen to your body; eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re full.

Sleeping

One of the most annoying experiences is to be exhausted yet not be able to sleep. When you’re anxious or worried or angry, sleep can be elusive, but it’s the best and most loving way to calm down. Sleep also restores energy and keeps your body cues accurate (which is important for eating!). In fact, if you’ve ever labeled yourself a “sugar addict,” I’d encourage you to take an honest look at your sleep habits. If you aren’t sleeping well then your body lacks energy. The body’s natural biological response to low energy is to ask you for fuel that has quick, efficient energy. The most efficient form of energy is sugar. Tada! Be nice to yourself. You aren’t a sugar addict; you’re probably tired.

It’s also important to understand that your body can be fatigued without you noticing or feeling tired. Anxiety has a way of tricking you into thinking you have energy, and thus getting plenty of sleep. This is called an inaccurate body cue.

So how do you know if you need a nap or need food? This can be tricky and you have to tune in to your body to learn the difference. Sometimes you might need both. It’s going to be different for everyone, but a couple of clues might be:

~If you’re not eating much and find yourself thriving on a mere four hours of sleep. This could be a clue that you’re running on anxiety. You’ll need both good nutrition (which will help you sleep) and sleep (which will help reset your body cues).

~If you’re constantly feeding your body yet always feel tired. This is a good clue that you might need more/better sleep.

~ You’ve slept great but have low energy OR you’re extremely tired and calm yet can’t sleep. This could be a clue you need more nutrition. Your body will not sleep or sleep well if it’s hungry.

One last note about sleep. Good sleep hygiene is part of loving your body. This means doing simple things that prepare your body for good sleep like:

~ Meditation to calm the mind and body. (Click here for my favorite bedtime practice.)
~ A hot shower to rinse off the day, soothe tense muscles, and calm your nervous system.
~ Massaging lotion into your feet and toes as an act of gratitude for holding you up all day.
~ Deep breathing to relax shoulders, gut, and butt (common areas that hold stress).

///

Take care of yourself. If those four words cause you irritation or panic because you don’t know what that means or you think you don’t have time, remember the two basics: eating and sleeping. Start there. Listen to your body and honor what it needs.