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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.

***

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____?”

 

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.

 

The true beauty of a woman

May we honor this truth for every woman from every/any background of race, culture, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, political backdrop, socioeconomic circumstance, mental health condition, age, educational level, and familial situation.

All women. All equally beautiful. All equally powerful.

What’s the difference between gluten intolerant, sensitivity, and celiac?

Gluten free

*The following post isn’t meant to diagnose or treat any medical condition. It is 100% necessary and encouraged to see your doctor if you have any concerns about your own body.*

With the holidays merely hours away, our little family has three family dinners to attend this week. For each meal I have been lovingly contacted about concerns regarding gluten-free food; as a family member living with celiac disease, it’s hard having me over for dinner. With this in mind, I thought it might be helpful to break down what celiac disease is and how it differs from gluten sensitivity and intolerance.

What is gluten?

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. Most people are familiar with wheat, and often people will say something like, “Oh, so you can’t have bread or pasta?” Exactly, along with about 1, 552 other things, like beer (which is fine with me, blech), most processed food, baked goods, and sauces, soups, and dressings. Gluten isn’t normally listed as “gluten” on a package; gluten is found in ingredients that are derivatives of wheat, barely, and rye. For example, “modified food starch” is often code for gluten.

What is gluten intolerance?

Gluten intolerance means the body has a negative, physiological response when it reads gluten in the digestive process. Intolerance can be broken down into two main categories:

  1. Gluten sensitivity
  2. Celiac disease

What’s confusing is these are two totally different conditions with similar symptoms.

  1. Gluten sensitivity:

Your  body is sensitive to gluten when it reads gluten as a foreign substance and tries to get rid of the gluten for you.  It’s analogous to when you get something in your eye. When there’s a object in your eye, something that shouldn’t be there, your eye starts to hurt and water, which is your body’s response in trying to push the object out. It’s uncomfortable and painful, but once it’s out, you feel better.

When your body is “gluten-sensitive,” your body reads gluten as something that shouldn’t be there and tries to expel it from you. Symptoms can include (but aren’t limited to) gas, bloating, diarrhea, fatigue, headache, stomach ache, and nausea. Some people may vomit (this is a protective response your body activates to get rid of the contaminant).

Just like you aren’t allergic to the pebble or eyelash you got in your eye, you aren’t necessarily allergic to gluten, but your body has a serious reaction nonetheless. It’s talking to you, letting you know something isn’t right. Gluten-sensitivity isn’t trendy. It’s important to listen to your body and be careful to limit or avoid gluten intake.

    2. Celiac Disease

Sick womanThis is a gastrointestinal disease wherein the body attacks itself, specifically the villi in the small intestine, when it reads gluten. Villi are little finger-like extensions that line the intestinal wall and help absorb the nutrients in food. When the villi are damaged and/or destroyed, the intestinal wall becomes analogous to a glass surface, where nutrients essentially slide on by rather than becoming absorbed.

Because the body attacks itself, celiac disease is classified as an auto-immune disorder. It’s genetic and sometimes won’t present itself until well into the adult years. I was finally diagnosed when I was 33 years old, though I had many symptoms for years before I was finally tested. In addition to constant stomach upset, as l listed in the gluten sensitivity section, I also battled skin rashes, interstitial cystitis (fancy name for painful, irritable bladder syndrome– essentially feels like a monthly bladder infection), headaches, and fatigue.

After getting negative results from food-allergy tests, my allergist had a “big picture” moment where we looked at all my medical conditions and symptoms as a comprehensive landscape, and he said, “Let’s test for celiac.” Bada-bing-bada-boom, the blood test revealed anti-gliadin IgA antibodies10 times higher than normal. In addition, I went to a dermatologist to have my skin rashes biopsied. Bada-bing-bada-boom, results came back as dermatitis herpetiformis. This is a fancy name for celiac disease manifested through the skin and confirmatory evidence that I officially have celiac disease.

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Celiac disease is not trendy. Because the body can’t properly absorb nutrients, called malabsorbtion, serious medical issues can occur including (and not limited to) infertility, miscarriages, depression, and severe weight loss.

A gluten-free diet is only the first step and it isn’t easy. I can’t tell you how many times people said to me, “Oh, gluten free is SO easy now!” No. It isn’t. Celiac disease causes gut damage, which means there is a healing process that needs to happen in addition to avoiding more damage. Additionally, there are certain foods the body simply may not be able to process or read properly any more. For me, it took about a year of constant illness before I learned that I am severely sensitive to corn, almonds, cow’s milk, and casein. I also have to be very careful with eggs. It’s imperative for me to read every single ingredient list even when a giant “GLUTEN FREE!” is plastered all over the front of the package.

Cross-contamination is serious matter. The kitchen in which my food is prepared and the other foods surrounding my food have to be gluten free and other-food-allergy-free. I am just shy of being two years past my initial celiac diagnosis and I still get sick, mostly from cross-contamination.

Hence the reason why it’s hard to have me over for dinner. 🙂 Not impossible, just hard.

Each body is different. Every celiac case looks different. Every sensitivity is different. Gluten free dieting is a trendy cultural movement; it’s important to note that gluten isn’t necessarily evil. A lot of people can eat gluten and be just fine, and others can’t. That’s okay. Listen to and know your own body and feed it accordingly.