Category Archives: Body image

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.

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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.

 

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

 

 

Dear God, please don’t make me fat

If you trust God with your life, then you can trust Him with your body. And I don’t mean by going on one of those “biblical diets.”

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In November 2014 I told my therapist that I felt like God was going to ask me to let go of something very precious to me. I feared it was my daughter. As I began the process of anorexia recovery, I realized what He was asking me to surrender was my eating disorder. In another tearful session I confessed to my counselor that I had come to a place of acceptance if God wanted my daughter, but there’s no way I could let go of anorexia. Did I really care about my eating disorder more than my daughter?

Where did I think my daughter would go if I surrendered her? To heaven, of course. She’d be cared for in the hands of God, and I trust God. But to let go of anorexia would mean risking getting fat, and that would mean everyday suffering, feeling unacceptable, ugly, imperfect. No way did I trust God with my body.

My therapist reassured me that I wasn’t a bad mother. Rather my eating disorder was telling me terrible lies and manipulating my mind.

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Somehow we’ve gotten into the habit of placing our body trust in the hands of culture and media. God gets to have our trust and faith about life… kids, finances, marriage, decisions, tragedies, etc. When it comes to our bodies, however, we’re more like “Dear God, please don’t make me fat.” We take back the control and decide what weight we want to be, what diet we want to try, what foods we will or will not eat, and what exercise regime we’re going to use to force our body into the shape we desire. These decisions are based upon the body image expectations set by culture, which, simply put, says one must be skinny to be healthy, acceptable, beautiful, etc.  But I submit to you a new perspective:

If you believe God created you

and

You believe God has a plan for your life

and

You believe He knows you better than anyone

then

you can believe that God has given you the exact right body.

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Because God is the creator of you and your body, you don’t need to need to take the reins to make your body different. What’s cool about God is he’s already equipped you with the ability to feed and take care of yourself without the outside influence of the world. The way you stay healthy is connecting to and listening to the body God created for you. The same way you pray and listen for God’s voice in all other areas of your life is the same way you can connect with and listen to your body.

Turn off the media, turn off the outside voices of friends and family. Be still and know the body you are in is made by God.  Remember that God doesn’t think you’re fat. Tune into that quiet space outside your thoughts yet inside your intuition and connect with your body. Start with your breath and slowly work your way down your physical self. What do you feel, what do you sense, what do you love, what do you hate, what do you hear?

I learned to connect to my body through Yoga. It’s a quiet, meditative practice that forced me to pay attention to the most fundamental parts of my physical being. I’ve learned to appreciate my feet because they hold me up through the weight of my days. I’ve learned how strong and able my arms and legs are to carry the loads life hands me (including laundry! 😀 ). I’ve learned the value of a calming, centering breath. Before, during, and after my practice I say prayers of thanks, prayers of confusion, prayers of frustration about my body. I talk to God and ask him me to teach me what is so wonderful about my body. I’ve learned how to connect with both grief and joy about my body and become vulnerable in God’s presence. I’ve learned how to listen to God through connecting with my physical body.

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Through connection you become aware of how amazing you body is, how it communicates with you about everything from hunger, to the movement it needs, to the rest it wants, to the unprocessed emotions it needs to release. And in this process a spark of appreciation ignites that grows into a burning love for this physical body God has given you. Over time you begin to see how culture’s expectations don’t fit with your body. And it isn’t because there’s anything wrong with you; it’s culture that is wrong. I can tell you that what you already have is SO much better that what you or media could ever force your body to be.

If you believe God answers your prayers

then

give trust back to God and pray: Lord, teach me to connect with my body. Let me see, hear, and understand You through this body. Help me learn how to love myself as I am–as You see me. Let my body image bear the image which with You created me. Quiet the voices of outside influence and the doubt that fuels my body dissatisfaction. Teach me to be intuitively healthy, to enjoy food, to find the movement my body thrives in. Thank you for this body and the things it does for me and for You, even though I don’t really understand how it works. Lord, I trust you with my life and my body.   

If you trust God with your life, then you can trust God with your body.

What to do when you’re feeling fat

Fat isn’t a feeling.

I cannot count the number of times I have heard myself say and think, “Ugh. I feel fat.” This statement was usually followed by a flow of self-abusive thoughts about how undisciplined my eating habits were, how lazy I was, and how ugly I was. Then I would vow to get my lazy-ass running harder, longer, and farther and vow to cut more calories, more sugar, and more fat. I would get my act together and be healthier!

Can you relate?

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What I’ve learned is “fat” isn’t a feeling. Sad, inadequate, depressed, embarrassed, unworthy, stupid, humiliated, grief… these are feelings. They are hard, uncomfortable emotions to feel and explore.

It’s actually easier to project hard feelings outward onto the body because we have a certain amount of control of our body. Going back on a diet or trying a brand new diet gives fresh hope that if we look better then we’ll feel better. Trying out a new exercise regimen, complete with a cute new outfit, shiny new gear, and hot new shoes gives us a buzz of excitement that suppresses the hard emotions. It’s analogous to the buzz you get when you’ve imbibed on just enough wine to make you giddy and relaxed, forgetting the woes of the day.  New diet, new gear, new workout stuff is just enough control to make you giddy and charged, forgetting the woes of the real feelings that are bubbling underneath the surface.

Unfortunately, the buzz wears off. And the feelings you were trying to ignore are still heavy and growing worse. The diet is hard, the exercise sucks, and the shine of the new workout stuff grows dull;  you blame yourself for not being disciplined enough and motivated enough. Another diet failed. Unworthiness, sadness, frustration, take over. You feel fat. Again.

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When you’re feeling fat remember fat isn’t a feeling. Find a space where you can sit in silence and stillness. Close your eyes and identify actual emotions. You’re likely feeling more than one. For me I was often feeling unworthy, embarrassed, and stupid. Through therapy and practice I learned to just sit in those feelings and feel them. I cried. I raged in anger. I went to bed (even if it was 10:30 in the morning.) I wrote in my journal. I prayed. Once I spent an entire day lying on my living room floor in front of the fireplace. I didn’t get up until my kids came home from school. And I felt so much better!

Feelings have to be acknowledged and felt at the roots in order for self-love and body satisfaction to grow. You’ll be amazed how much grace you’ll have for your body when you aren’t using your body to suppress emotions.

May you find peace and love within yourself this week, my friends.

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.

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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.

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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?

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