Category Archives: Health

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?

 

 

You don’t struggle with your weight

“She’d always struggled with her weight.”  This statement bothers me when I read it in biographical media or watch documentaries on famous ladies. Why is that even mentioned?They might as well just say, “She was always fat, trying hard to get skinny yet never seemed to get her act together.”

We don’t struggle with weight. No one does. We struggle being comfortable and happy inside ourselves.

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When I was in the depths of anorexia, I was scared of becoming fat because I believed if I became that way then people wouldn’t trust me, wouldn’t find me beautiful, wouldn’t take me seriously; I would be sick, unhealthy, and “less than” in the eyes of others. As someone who craved acceptance, needed to be heard, wanted to be “enough,” fat was scary. So I went to extremes to stay thin. I didn’t know what thin enough was, of course, so I just kept getting thinner. With every comment about how good I looked or adulation about my good discipline, focus, and healthy ways in addition to praises in my work, the eating disorder clawed in deeper and I got sicker.

It wasn’t the weight or loss of it that was the struggle, you guys. I was insecure in my body because I was insecure in who I am and wasn’t sure that I would be seen, accepted, and loved. 

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Hear me well if you feel like you struggle with weight: The struggle is so much deeper than body size. You are constantly told, whether directly or indirectly, through media, doctors, health professionals, models, red carpet stars, and diet companies that larger bodies are “bad.” Larger bodies are unhealthy, ugly, lazy, undisciplined, sick, embarrassing, unreliable. The tragedy for for you if you live in a larger body or think you might be in a larger body is you believe the body labels are definitions of who you are: “If my body is larger then that means I’m fat, which means I must be unhealthy, ugly, lazy, undisciplined. I need to be change. Be better.”

So you wrestle with diets to help you be more disciplined, to be healthier. You get into workout routines you don’t really love, but you love the idea that the movement might make you skinnier. Then when the restriction of the diets are too hard (which is not your fault, by the way) and the hard core workouts become a cursed chore, you give up and further feed the belief that you’re lazy and undisciplined. The weight you might have lost comes back plus a few extra pounds. Then the cycle starts over again, with feelings of inadequacy rooted even deeper.

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From the outside, all the world sees is your body size getting bigger then smaller then bigger then smaller, and judges you, as you do yourself, as “struggling with weight.”  No. The constant rise and fall of weight on any person is simply a symptom of a much deeper struggle with negatives feelings and inaccurate beliefs about who she is inside her body. These feelings and beliefs are rooted in past hurt or emotional/mental damage and are simply exacerbated by cultural ideals and expectations.

A diet will never cure low self-esteem; a work out regimen won’t change who you are. And a thin body won’t bring the happiness you’re looking for. Trust me. I almost died trying. Internal struggle isn’t solved by external work (this is part of the reason why diets fail). Internal struggle is healed through deep inner work, and usually cannot be done without the help of a counselor.

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Do you feel like you struggle with weight? Do you know someone you’ve always thought of as struggling with weight? I want you to see yourself or your loved one as someone who is struggling with inward hurt rather than struggling with weight. There’s healing that needs to be done, and with healing comes the body satisfaction, and even body love, as physical health aligns with mental/emotional/spiritual health.

 

 

Have you been food-shamed?

That is so bad for you.

You shouldn’t eat that.

You should eat [insert food] instead.

Are you going to eat all of that?

Is that all you’re going to eat?

Why are you eating that?

That isn’t healthy.

You should eat something healthier.

Didn’t you just eat?

That looks disgusting.

I can’t believe you eat that!

That has way too much sugar.

That has too much fat.

That stuff contains poison you know.

You’re eating poison.

That is terrible for you; it’s like poison to your body.

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Have you ever heard any of these comments? It’s called food shaming. Food shaming is analogous to someone telling you that you look fat in that dress or you shouldn’t be wearing those jeans. Or when you look in the mirror and harshly tell yourself your thighs are too big or your arms too flabby. These judgments fuel body dissatisfaction, lower self-esteem, and inflate the belief that you aren’t good enough… healthy enough.

Food shaming implies that your eating habits aren’t what they should be and cause doubt about your food desires, health, and even body shape. If you already struggle with food anxiety or self-consciousness when dining with others, invasive commentary about your plate elevates these feelings. Passive aggressive and even direct commentary about your food feed the lie that you’re eating wrong or something is wrong with you for making the food choices you have. Critiquing your food also makes the other person feel better or more “health righteous” about their own food.  No one has a right to judge you or what’s on your plate. 

Every single one of these phrases has been spoken to me AND/OR my children. These comments, while sometimes seemingly innocent or meant to be helpful, are harmful to your thoughts, behaviors, and esteem about food, your body, and sense of health.

Hear me well: no one should ever be in your food– including your spouse/significant other, children, and other close family. 

This means no one should be commenting on, questioning, or judging your food. Ever. (Nor should anyone be commenting on, questioning, or judging your children’s food, especially teachers and other students. More on that in a future post 😉 ) By the same token, if you’ve ever said any of these comments to yourself or even out loud to another person about your own food, then you are expressing shame about your own choices. You’ve pegged yourself as “wrong” or “bad” because of your food. Food doesn’t define who you are. Food is simply a fun, creative, and delightful way to honor your body’s need for nourishment.

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It’s important to recognize food shaming when it happens and acknowledge how it makes you feel because it affects your relationship with food and your body. Understanding how food shaming affects you is a powerful step in building body confidence, empowering positive messages, and setting boundaries with others when it comes to your health.

If someone is all up in your food with their shamey commentary, stand your ground and trust yourself. You don’t have to defend your choices or feel bad about your food, and you certainly don’t need to feel bad about yourself. You know your body better than anyone. Love yourself and eat what you love.

 

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.”

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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.

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

You don’t have to earn your food

My son and father-in-law came home from skiing yesterday all damp, chilled, and tired. My daughter and her friend just finished baking chocolate chip cookies, so our house was all warm and smelled of freshly baked goodness. My husband handed the plate of cookies to my father-in-law and said, “Hey Dad! Have a cookie. You deserve it.”

“No,” I said. “We don’t earn cookies. Have a cookie because they smell amazing, and you’re probably hungry after a long day of skiing and driving.”

My husband smiled and gave me a soft, knowing chuckle. “Yes. You’re right. Dad, you want a freshly baked cookie? They just came out of the oven.”

My father-in-law partook, of course! As did my hungry son.

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There’s a message in our culture that you have to earn your food, especially foods that are deemed “special,” “guilty pleasures,” or “bad for you.”

And you believe that message. You wait for special occasions to have that “sinful” chocolate cake; you wait until you’ve eaten your grilled chicken salad with balsamic vinaigrette to enjoy the mint chip ice cream in the freezer (but only a bite because you already indulged in a brownie earlier today); you eat the plate of fettuccine Alfredo because you earned it on the hike this afternoon; you reward yourself with dessert this time since you’ve been “so good lately.”

The opposite is also true. You punish yourself when you’ve “been bad” and ate the extra cookie or two or the whole plate. Working out has become both the reward and punishment for how you earn or eat your food– burning off the doughnuts Joe brought into work today (dang you, Joe!); or burning an extra few hundred calories in preps for the family dinner tonight, because mom is making her dutch apple pie, and you know you won’t be able to control yourself to just one slice.

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You don’t have to earn your food. You don’t have to “be good” to enjoy the foods you love, especially the sweet stuff. You also don’t need to punish yourself for eating, enjoying, and even craving certain foods…you know, the foods with all the rules and regulations about sugar, fat and calories.

When you try to earn your food by being good enough to deserve it (whether through restriction or avoidance of fun foods, or burning off calories in exercise) you are defining your value based on food: “I was bad today; I ate the brownie. I need to run two hours to work that off.” OR “I was so good because I didn’t eat the brownie.”  You may think you’re being healthy by controlling yourself through reward and punishment, but what you’re doing on a deeper level is attaching or diminishing your self-value based on your behavior with food. And that, my dear friend, is not healthy. Nor is it kind to you.

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Your body has no rules about food. Your body doesn’t value foods as “good” or “bad”; your body doesn’t define you as good or bad.  Culture does, but your body doesn’t. Listen to your body, sweet friend.

Your body doesn’t judge you if you feed it mint chocolate chip ice cream before or with your chicken salad (or a bacon cheeseburger for that matter); your body loved the doughnuts Joe brought today because that maple bar sounded delicious to your brain, and your body was able to use that energy to get you through the 10:00 meeting; Mom’s dutch apple pie is both delicious and nostalgic because she would make it for your dad when he returned home from long business trips and your family was together again. Dutch apple pie literally makes your heart happy and your body thanks you for feeding it something you enjoy.

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Eat what sounds good, when it sounds good. You don’t deserve it because you don’t have to earn it.  And you don’t have to work it off because you didn’t eat anything wrong.

May you find joy in your food and peace in your body.

Much love!