Category Archives: Health

The Dancer on the Treadmill

We were not designed for exercise. We were certainly designed for movement, but not exercise. In our culture exercise has taken on a harsh connotation of militant command: “YOU MUST EXERCISE TO BE HEALTHY! IF YOU DO NOT EXERCISE YOU ARE LAZY AND DESTINED FOR FATNESS WHICH MEANS YOU WILL BE UNHEALTHY, SICK WITH TERRIBLE DISEASE, AND SHAMED FOR YOUR LACK OF SELF-DISCIPLINE AND ABILITY TO CARE FOR YOURSELF.”

So we do one of three things (or cycle through a combination of the three):

1) Muster up the motivation to start an exercise regimen, setting the expectations high with little to no regard for our nature or needs, thus setting ourselves up for failure: “I need to lose _______ pounds, so I will get up at 5:30 am every day and run ________ miles. Maybe I’ll even do a marathon! I’m not a morning person and I hate running and I hate being in the cold and dark, but I can do this!” Three weeks later “I can’t do this. I need my sleep. I am terrible and have no discipline and only fall into bad habits. I am so bad.”

2) Express vehement and righteous hatred for exercise and declare that no one shall ever see us run unless a bear is chasing us. So we don’t even get started because “Meh. Who needs it?”

3) Start a workout regimen and get so obsessed and righteous with it that everyone we know should do it too, regardless of their nature and needs, because it works and that’s how we should all get healthy and we’ll all hold each other accountable and we’ll all love it because we’ll all get skinny, toned, and feel amazing!

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When I was at the gym last week I noticed a woman walking on the treadmill. I noticed her  because her body was decorated in elaborate butterfly tattoos, which made me think about my Grandma E. who loved butterflies. I clamored onto my elliptical machine (I use this in kindness for my cranky knee), which are lined up behind the treadmills, and I studied the woman from behind. She had a larger body, dark brown hair pulled into a messy bun, a turquoise tank top, black leggings, and leopard print sneakers. If she hadn’t had all the cool butterfly tattoos, I probably wouldn’t have even noticed her strolling along.

Until she started dancing.

Smooth as silk she began to hop-skip in rhythm with her walk stride, which was a mere warm up before she began to spin and twirl to the movement of the music she was clearly hearing in her earbuds. She raised her arms and moved her hands like flowing ribbons in cadence with the easy shimmy-shake of her hips. The treadmill had become her dance partner, a steady and trustworthy support under her moving feet, giving her momentum for her fancy footwork and body movements. Her lips silently formed to the words of the song and her eyes never once focused on keeping balance or wondering what other people might be thinking of her. It was the most beautiful, inspiring, and dare I say, sexiest thing I’ve ever seen at the gym.

She wasn’t done, though. Once the dance was over she raised the treadmill to a steep incline and got in mountain climber position, bending way down to grip either side of the conveyor platform with her hands. Then she climbed, bringing knee to nose, knee to nose. Without warning she began to hop her legs out and in, out and in, like lower body jumping jacks in mountain climber position.

After thoroughly confusing the machine to the point the treadmill was like “MOTION CONTROL UNIDENTIFIED. SYSTEM INITIALIZING.” In other words, “WTF IS HAPPENING!?” She switched to a different treadmill and danced again. When she was all done, she grabbed the journal she had tossed onto the floor behind her machine, kneeled down, and scrawled her thoughts onto the pages… in orange ink. My Grandma E.’s favorite color was orange, which became my favorite color the day she passed away.

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This woman wasn’t exercising. She was dancing, enjoying her movement while tuning in with what her body already loved doing.  She cared so little about the numbers tracking on the treadmill dashboard that she literally obliterated system stats and used the machine as a tool to assist her in joyful movement.

And this, my friends, is what we’re designed for. Joyful movement. Freedom to move our bodies in a way that feels good to our nature and needs with no regard to regimen, number tracking, programming, and rigid expectations of how we should be moving. As a culture we’ve distorted exercise into this “thing we have to do if we want to be healthy.” You don’t have to exercise to be healthy. Instead, discover movement your body and mind enjoy that make your heart happy, and when you do, health will follow.

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If you’ve ever chastised yourself for not sticking with a workout program, it’s not because you’re lazy and undisciplined. You’re likely uninspired and out of tune with how your body actually wants to move. Ditch the regimen (and the unkind self-talk!) and approach yourself with curiosity instead.

What kind of movements do you love? What exercise tends to make you go “ugh”? Answer the question “My body feels great when____?”

 

The Religion of Health

Health is the new religion. It’s almost cult-like, but instead of “Drink the Kool-aid” it’s “Get on this diet with us” or “Do this cleanse with me.” The act of getting healthy has become an act of worship to our bodies, but rather than shaping a golden calf from various and a sundry gold, our bodies are molded to the shape of food rules, diet plans, cleanses, and “green and clean”  food.

I was part of the health religion for over 13 years, following the laws of health and the religious rituals of eating and exercising. Every food and exercise decision had to adhere to the rules of my religion, which could be summed up in its own set of commandments:

1) Thou shalt honor thy body first and foremost

2) Thou shalt never be fat

3) Thou shalt remain thin and tone 

4) Thou shalt never eat sugar

5) Thou shalt count all carbs

6) Thou shalt track all calories

7) Thou shalt ignore all cravings

8) Thou shalt only eat good fats and clean food

9) Thou shalt exercise to reconcile calories in and calories out

10) Thou shalt never rest

If any of these commandments are broken, thou shall suffer the internal shame and anguish of laziness, disobedience, over-indulgence, selfishness, ugliness, sickness, disloyalty to thy body, and furthermore shall be deemed “unhealthy” and suffer the societal offenses associated with unhealthiness and judgements associated with fatness and the mental angst associated with unworthiness.

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Think of what an abusive, controlling relationship looks like. When you don’t follow the expectations of an abusive partner, they get upset and will find ways to devalue you as a person, whether they physically hurt you, manipulate your emotions with guilt and shame, or verbally chastise how unworthy you are with their language toward you. Over time, your life revolves around controlling yourself and/or your environment, regardless of your actual needs and feelings, to keep your partner from getting upset and hurting you. But you never know for sure what is going to set them off or if you’ve done enough to earn their love. There is constant worry and anxiety of whether you’ve followed the rules well enough to keep from getting hurt and if you’ve earn your value as your partner’s partner.

In the religiosity of health, Health became my abusive partner. I was constantly under pressure to earn my value as healthy. I engaged in behaviors, rituals, and beliefs that would force and control my body to look and be certain way so I could be deemed as “healthy” and thus worthy of belonging and validity in the religion. My body had become my idol and working out and “eating right” were religious acts to worship my body.

Whatever was happening with my body would dictate how I felt about myself and life. When my weight went down, I felt righteous in my health decisions; I felt good about myself; I wore my clothes proudly; I walked a little taller. Only for a moment, though, because something in media or life—an article, a picture, a comment—would cause me doubt that I had done enough to perfect my body—to please my idol. When my weight went up, even by a pound or two, then I would feel ashamed, frustrated, and even angry at my inability to stay disciplined enough in my religious acts to stay healthy.

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Because of the consequences I both believed and feared if I didn’t adhere to the commandments of health, my whole life revolved around my body and my food. Every decision of the day was related to how it was going to affect my body… from how I scheduled my day to get my exercise in, to what I did or didn’t eat, to when I did or didn’t eat, to how hard I pushed myself in a workout.

Every meal became a number: how many calories, how much sugar, size-of-portion, how many ounces, what time did I last eat?

Every workout became a number: how many minutes did I go, how many miles did I go, how many did I do, how many calories did I burn?

My body became a number: how much did I weigh, what size was I wearing?

Numbers became the way for me to measure whether or not I was following the rules to avoid the consequences of unhealthiness. But I was never completely certain that I was following the rules well enough and if my body was good enough to be deemed healthy. With Health as both my religious leader and my abusive partner, there was never validation… only more rules and more threats about what would happen if I was not healthy. Whatever honor/value I thought I’d earned for my body–meaning the external praise I received for my body and health from other people–I was terrified of losing. So I was constantly trying to “maintain” my body and thus the honor of “being healthy.” The obsession with my health caused deep anxiety and deep dissatisfaction with my body and myself as a whole. I was tired, stressed, worried, and deeply sick both physically and mentally.

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In my relationship with Jesus, my life was about honoring my body rather than honoring God. I was in relationship with God, but devoted my body to the religion of health.

In my relationship with God there are no rules, and I do nothing to earn His love. I am worthy in this life simply because He created me. But for over a decade (and probably most of my life) the depth of that belief only went so far. I entered into this distorted side-religion and abusive relationship that required so much of  me and made me feel anxious and at constant risk of unworthiness. I had to let go of health as a separate religion and give my body back to God. Through recovery and disconnection from health rules (also known as the diet mentality), I re-entered into relationship with my body, which is a physical extension of my relationship with God. There are no rules in relationships. There is respect, trust, compassion, and love in relationships but not rules.

I no longer follow the rules of what’s “healthy” or “not healthy,” but rather I follow the intuition and physical body cues God has given me to nourish myself. I respond to my body and its needs without judgement and with respect, trust, compassion, and love. Like any relationship, I am not blissfully happy inside my body every day, and I am not goo-goo over God every minute of the day. I’m still human and experience human feelings of discouragement, frustration, and anger. But as a whole I live in peace inside my body and away from the religiosity of health.

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How about you… Do you ever feel pressure in your quest for health? When is the last time you felt worthy or valuable inside the body you have right now?  Does health feel like an abusive religion to you? Have you ever thought about trusting God with your body?

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):

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?