Monday, January 21, 2013

Size Awesome.

This post is continuing on the weight topic I started a couple days ago.  I warned you that it was a can of worms!

I know I can lose weight.  Every time I've seriously tried, I have.  My body responds to the caloric math like it's "supposed" to.  (Calories in - calories out)/3500 = 1 lb weight loss.  Give or take.  I know not everybody is that lucky.  So, the issue is not that that I can't lose weight.  Nor is it that I don't "want" to.  It's a question of priority and balance.  If I could choose between 150 and 140 lbs without changing anything in my life, sure, I'll take the lower one.  But it doesn't work that way.

The fact is, if you took away the societal pressure to be thin, maybe I wouldn't choose the lower one at all.

What do I value more?  Being thin?  Or having a healthy and comfortable relationship with food?  Being happy with myself or agonizing over every bite I put in my mouth and every minuscule change (up or down) that shows up on the scale?  Having the mental and physical energy to tackle projects at home and at work or spending most of my waking moments thinking about food and weight and how I look? I've already spent YEARS doing it.  What else could I have accomplished during that time?

I am a size 12.  What does that even mean?  It certainly doesn't even say anything about body fat.  There are people much "fatter" than me that wear a size 8.  (They are generally quite a bit shorter than me).  And people much skinnier than me that wear a size 12 too.  (The 6'2" "plus size" models, for example).   You CERTAINLY can't tell how "healthy" a person is by their size.  You can't tell how fast they are either.  Don't judge a runner by their waistline.  :)

And so are you. 
HEALTH is NOT a SIZE.  It's ridiculous that an overweight person who eats a healthy diet and exercises daily is stigmatized and labelled as "unhealthy".  (And YES, it is absolutely possible to eat a low calorie diet, exercise regularly and still be overweight.  More on that later. ) It's amazing the things people do in the name of "health" that really probably aren't healthy at all.  Starving yourself down to anorexic proportions so you can look like a Victoria's Secret model (who was probably photoshopped anyway) is NOT healthy.  Neither is living on candy bars, pizza, and potato chips, just because you are naturally thin and don't gain weight from it.

Here's what really bugs me.  Other people.  Runners and fitness/nutrition enthusiasts especially.  SO MUCH judging.  I realize you worked hard for your body and you eat healthy, etc., etc., but that was your CHOICE.  I don't understand why people feel the need to make OTHER people's health choices their business.  Analyzing other people's trash (Irina), or commenting on the obese people at the table next to us who ordered (gasp!) dessert (people at one of my running groups).  People at work stating that they're glad Wendy's is gone from the hospital, because there were always fat people in line there and it made them mad.  Seriously?  Why does that make you mad?  How does that affect you AT ALL?  And of course, nobody blinks when the thin person orders dessert or stands in line at Wendy's.

If you're fat, you're supposed to hate yourself.  You're supposed to be on diet.  If you're thin, you're allowed to eat whatever crap you want, because we don't REALLY care about healthy vs. unhealthy.  We only care what you look like.  People are always talking about the "Obesity Epidemic" which focuses on the symptom, not the problem.  Why not the "Lack of Physical Activity Epidemic"?  Or the "Lack of Fresh Produce in our Diets" epidemic? (Of course those sound terrible, but you get my drift).  I hate the term "Obesity Epidemic".  More fat shaming and making people feel "less than" others based solely on their size is not helpful.  The real problem is the "People Judging Others Based on Their Body, Diet, or Other Personal Habits that are None of their Fucking Business Epidemic".  Pardon my French.

Things like this tick me off:

While this may be true, it's condescending, mean-spirited, and counter productive. 
The thing is, hating yourself doesn't produce change.  If I have a body hating day, all I want to do is eat cake and watch TV.  And then I'll feel guilty about it, and even worse about myself than before.  Cue more junk food.  And the cycle goes on.  If I'm in a body positive kind of mood, I'm much more likely to make better diet and activity choices.

People assume that fat people sit on the couch all day and stuff their faces.  I'm not saying that they all don't.  But so do some skinny people.  And certainly, there are plenty of "overweight" people who eat a very healthy diet and get plenty of exercise.  Things like the above image are condescending and counter productive.  My own grandmother calls Michelle Obama "lard-ass".  Sure, this probably has more to do with her political views than it does with the first-lady's butt, but I still find it offensive.  Judging by her messages, I think it's pretty safe to say she eats a healthy diet and exercises.  The girl's just got some hips.  And she looks freaking awesome.

Even if it is the case that a person is overweight, eats "garbage" and is "on their ass" all the time, the reasons behind that and the process of changing it can be extremely complicated.

Most people "know" that they "should" exercise and eat healthy.  They know that they "should" aim for a "healthy" weight.  And if they are significantly overweight, they know that too.  You pointing it out isn't doing anybody any favors.

I went to the doctor once when I was on the heavier side in high school, and she made multiple comments about my weight, and how I should work on changing it.  I wasn't there for that.  I get that she's a health professional, but the way she went about the conversation was not helpful.  For one thing, she judged me solely on my weight.  She didn't ask me about my diet or exercise habits.  At the time, they weren't good, but what if they were?  What kind of message would that send?  And of course I already KNEW I was overweight and wanted very badly to change it.  The problem, for me, was that all that self-loathing and focus on how fat I was was only making me miserable and promoting binge eating, not motivating me to make healthier choices.  In my experience,  you have to at least respect your body, as is, before you can really make changes.  I recently read this post, from someone who had a similar experience in the doctor's office.  It was very hard to read.  So many people are struggling with similar feelings.  The last thing they need is your negative judgement.  This is a major issue.  Obese people avoid going to the doctor for YEARS to avoid encounters like these.  There are lists out there of fat-friendly doctors, so you can try to avoid the pain.

Thinness is not a prerequisite for confidence.

I am pretty sensitive to weight comments.  I HATE going home for the holidays.  Prior to the past two years, there were basically two options when I went home.  Either I gained an obvious amount of weight, or I lost an obvious amount of weight.  If I had lost weight, people always noticed.  I know they did because they said things like "wow, you look great", and "how much have you lost? that's awesome!", etc.  And I didn't appreciate it.  I appreciate it even less now.  For one thing, what does that imply about how I looked before?  And it made it that much harder to come home the next time, when I had inevitably gained it back.  Because even though they didn't say anything, I know they noticed, since they noticed the loss last time.  I never commend people on their weight loss.  I don't know how sensitive they are about it.  Or god forbid they lost weight because they have terminal cancer or something.  But mostly because I don't want them to think I'm sitting over here analyzing their body.  I'm not.  You great fat and you're great now.  Or vice-versa, whichever the case may be. (I wasn't always like this.  I used to be the worst culprit ever in terms of analyzing everybody and noticing if anybody gained a pound.  And being glad it wasn't me, that time.)

Part of the reason we have this appearance and weight focused problem is from comments from family and friends, especially when we're young.  Maybe not directed at us, but overheard by us.  How many times have you heard your mother, sister, cousin, aunt, or whoever complaining about how fat they look?  I'm guilty.  Men are guilty too. Sometimes they criticize their own bodies, but most often don't hesitate to critique women's bodies on TV or around them in the community, both positively and negatively.  We (your daughters, friends, nieces) hear that.  And we learn that we're being judged by what we look like.  So knock it off.  Not that it matters. If I ever have a daughter and somehow manage to train everyone in her life to not make comments like that about themselves or about anybody else, there's always TV and magazines to do plenty of damage to make her feel like crap about herself.  Welcome to body hating, yo-yo dieting, and an unhealthy relationship with food dear.  This is seriously one reason I don't want kids.  I don't want my daughter to have to deal with this crap.

Of course, everybody is different, and not everyone is so emotionally tied to their weight.  For them, maybe the issue is simply one of education.  "Oh wow, there are 500 calories in that cookie and I'm only supposed to eat 2000 calories a day?  I had no idea.  I better make a healthier choice instead."  These people probably don't have as many issues with feelings of deprivation and binge eating.  I find that more men trying to lose weight fit into this category than do women, but they do go both ways.  For me (and many women), I started counting calories when I was 12 or 13.  I know damn well how many calories are in that thing.

I think one of the main problems with the judgers, is that people assume everybody's body works the same way THEIRS does.  Some people can eat anything they want, all the time, and not gain a pound, even if they want to.  Others can diet and exercise to extreme proportions and lose weight very slowly, or not at all.  And some, like me, respond proportionally to varying amounts of intake/expenditure.  The people in the "always skinny" and the "normal" crowd, assume that a fat person must do nothing but eat all day, and never get off the couch, because that is what it would take for them to personally gain that much weight.  The "always fat" and the "normal" crowds tend to judge thin or hyperfit people the same way.  They assume that because it would take extreme dietary restriction and obscene amounts of exercise for them to get as thin, or muscular, or defined, or whatever, as the fit-looking person is, that the fit-looking person must be anorexic, or a compulsive exerciser, or orthorexic otherwise unhealthily focused on their appearance or food or exercise habits.  It's not necessarily true, on either side.  Every body is different, and responds differently.

One of the blogs I follow has been guilty of this.  90% of the time, I love her message, and agree with her conclusions regarding health, weight, food and exercise.  But at least once recently, either on her facebook page, or on her blog (I don't remember which), she made a comment basically stating that many so-called healthy living bloggers were really exhibiting disordered eating/exercise habits, because the "amount of exercise and dietary restriction it would take to achieve those bodies is not healthy".  In some cases, I'm sure she's right.  Many healthy lifestyle and fitness bloggers sure do seem to spend "too much" mental energy focusing on "perfecting" their diet and their bodies.  BUT, she leapt to this conclusion (or at least it sounded like she leapt to this conclusion) based solely on how thin they were or how defined their abs were or some other appearance-based criteria.  She made this assumption because it would take HER an unhealthy amount of exercise and dietary restriction to achieve that body.  They are not her.  She is not me.  If I ate as healthy as she does, I'd be at least 1-2 sizes smaller than I am now.  We are all different.

The other thing I topic I sort of disagree with her on, is her recommendations for STARTING a healthy journey.  She started out losing weight by counting calories and exercising, and maintaining a net negative caloric balance.  As did I.  She is now saying that she wouldn't recommend that to other people, that the goal should be focused on health and moderation, and intuitive eating from the start.  I don't necessarily agree with that.  Counting calories can be very informational.  If you are in the category of people without the psychological and emotional issues tied to food and weight, counting calories is critical for helping to "reset" your ideas of what normal portion sizes are, and what foods should only be eaten in smaller quantities.  Advice to eat what you want, eat when you're hungry, and stop when you're full is great advice.  Assuming all your cues are intact.  For many of us, years of dieting and binge eating have made us so out of touch with our true hunger and fullness cues, that this advice might not lead to much change at all, or could cause us to gain weight.  Also, eating "what we want" for chronic dieters, would mean living entirely on cookies and ice cream for every meal.  When I first tried the intuitive eating thing, I sat down and slowly and deliberately ate an entire 1 lb package of Oreos in one sitting.  And I enjoyed every bite, just like they said I was supposed to.  I never really felt "overfull", because my fullness cues were so out of whack.  Somehow, I don't think that was the outcome they were going for.  Now, however, intuitive eating is really working for me.

Don't get me started on the Biggest Loser.  I refuse to watch it.  I think it sets an unrealistic and unmaintainable example of what it means to be healthy, what it takes to lose weight, and how much weight loss should be expected on a weight loss plan.  If I were overweight and lacking in health knowledge, and took that show as an example of what it takes to lose weight, I'd say "F that, and give me back that package of Oreos."  I get that it's a TV show and they have to get ratings, I just worry about the people that don't really have a lot of knowledge about healthy behaviors, and who use that show as a benchmark for their efforts and successes.

The point of all this body acceptance stuff, is not to encourage complacency or justify poor health choices.  I'm all for trying to get healthier, if that is important to you.  Sometimes, that means losing weight.  For some, it means gaining weight.  For me, I think it means not caring about weight.  My exercise habits are solid.  No need to improve there.  My diet, on the other hand, has plenty of room to improve.  Not that I necessarily eat "too much", but that I often make poor quality food choices.  Years of counting calories have pushed me toward choosing processed foods, because the calories are easier to count.  They're listed right there on the label.  Fruits and vegetables?  Basically nonexistent.  Counting the calories in those is harder.  To be accurate, I would have to weigh and measure them.  Not that I haven't done my fair share of weighing and measuring food, but when you count calories and have a busy schedule, it's no wonder you would choose restaurant options and packaged food that have the calories right there on the label or on the website.  On my most recent weight-loss trip, I lost 30 lbs subsisting almost entirely on Jimmy John's and pop-tarts.  Calories in minus calories out.  Didn't matter where the calories came from.

That said, I still have no desire to be a health nut.
Because occasionally, I want this.  And I'm not going to feel bad about eating it.  Yes, I added ice cream, hot fudge, and peanut butter sauce to my chocolate chip pancakes.   I didn't want the whipped cream.  They did that on their own.  And they're whole grain pancakes.  So it's totally healthy.  :P  More importantly, it was AWESOME.  That smile would have been much less radiant if that was egg whites and dry toast on my plate.  
Cake and cookies (and other equally delicious "junk food") will always be a part of my life.  But the majority of the time I can stick with healthier choices, more than I have in the past.  My short two week stint on weight watchers did really get me eating fruits and vegetables.  I went from having maybe 1 legit serving of vegetables per day and fruit maybe a few times a month, to 5 servings a day in no time flat.  (Because you don't have to count the points in fruits and veggies on WW).  Here are some changes that I am going to make, regardless of their impact on the scale:
  • Eat a fruit or a vegetable with every meal or snack.  (I'm not really into absolutes, so when I say "every", I am not expecting perfection.  I want it to be the norm.  Not having a fruit or vegetable will be the exception.  I'll be aiming for 5 servings a day. 
  • Aim for 3 servings/day of dairy.  I love Fage yogurt, cottage cheese, cheese, and milk, so this shouldn't be hard! 
  • Be cognizant of caloric values.  I'm not planning on limiting myself to certain number, but looking up calories values and just being aware of them before you eat them is helpful so you can honestly evaluate whether or not you want to eat it.  And tracking calories does help keep food in perspective for me.  The longer I go without tracking, the more I revert to choosing lower quality food (french fries, pizza, too-frequent cookies).  I gave my WW online login information to my sister, so I will be going back to to track.  My info is available here.  In the spirit of weight watchers, I am not going to count the calories in fruits and vegetables, to continue to make them an easy choice to make.  
  • Make food at home.  This will be the hardest one for me, and I'm not completely invested in it yet.  The time and energy it takes to decide what to make, buy the ingredients, make the meal, and cleanup is a huge deterrent for me.  I was going to say I'll do it "once a week" but I'm not even ready to commit to that yet.   I'll do it when the mood strikes, and continue to save recipes that look good and are quick, and work on doing it more and more as time goes on.  As it stands now, I usually wake up around 5pm, workout, go out or pick something up for my biggest meal of the day (Jimmy John's, Subway, or Zoup, most commonly), pack a lunch for work (a bunch of fruit, a cottage cheese, and either a yogurt or a lean cuisine or something), and then come home and eat something after work (cereal, coco wheats, an egg white omelette, leftover carryout pizza, whatever.  This one really varies depending on how hungry I am and what's in the house). (For the record, I used to usually buy all THREE meals out of the house, so buying just one, then packing a lunch, and making my third meal at home is actually a really big improvement.) 
  • I will continue to weigh myself, but am going to try to limit it to weekly.  Every time I have gained weight it has been when I have sworn off the scale.  Weighing in regularly allows me to make micro-adjustments to my diet and maintain very easily, without feeling like I'm "on a diet". Weighing in daily, tends to promote maintenance for me, while weighing in weekly is more conducive to losing weight.  Since I am interested in losing weight (to get faster race times, but only if I can do it comfortably without feeling deprived and restricted), I am going to go with weekly weigh-ins.  In the same vein, monthly measurements will allow me to see any changes that aren't reflected in my weight (positive or negative).  Side note:  I had a friend once who at her lowest adult weight was in the largest size pants she had ever worn, because she had lost muscle mass and gained fat.  Weight isn't everything, fo' shizzle.  
  • Obviously I have not mastered this art of body love, but I'm working on it.  There are plenty of times when I feel like the fattest person in the world, and resolve that I MUST lose 20 lbs NOW.  (Usually right around the time I scroll through RACE PHOTOS).  But I at least recognize that body hating isn't doing me any favors, and know that hating the way I look right now, is only going to make it harder for me to lose weight.  
  • I read on Katie's blog once about "only making changes you can live with for the rest of your life".  I 100% agree with that.  Right now, these are changes I can live with.  It might be more or less than what other people are able to do, and it might become more in the future.  Or not.  But I'm doing what I can to be healthier, and not hating myself along the way.  
I'm starting to realize why I put off posting on this topic for so long.  This is exhausting.  On the bright side, I'm hoping to get this all off my chest in this one post, so I don't have to ever talk about it again.  This is a running blog, after all.  :)

If you made it this far, this is probably a topic that interests you, and I'd like to share some links and articles that I've found interesting.  If you're not interested, go ahead and skip, but it might not hurt to investigate some of these sites.  If you have never been overweight, you might be surprised to read some of these things, and get a different perspective.

  • America's Hatred of Fat Hurts the Obesity Fight
    • "...some Americans value thinness more than life itself. In a 2007 study, 24 percent of women and 17 percent of men said they would trade three or more years of life to be svelte."
  • "Overweight" News Anchor Fights Back on Air
    • This is amazing.  News anchor responds to an email from a viewer critiquing her body as a  bad influence on the community
    • Follow up interview on the Today Show
    • And after it went viral, this douche still stands by his statement.  
  • Fit Villains : Encouraging Body Love Will Not Make Everyone Unhealthy
    • I love this post.  She addresses the contradiction between accepting your body as it is, while still wanting to change it.  
  • A "Fat" Girl, on going to the Gym
    • (it's hilarious)
    • ".....for fat people, there's an even more intimidating challenge on top of that.  It's entering a building where you know that every person inside is working toward the singular goal of not becoming you."
  • A thin person makes an honest mistake
    • Charlotte, of, offends a fellow (obese) gym patron unintentionally. 
  • Gaining Weight, dealing with the doctor
    • I linked to Mary's post in the body of my post above, but wanted to call it out again in case you missed it.  It is clear how much she is struggling.  It is painful to even read.  
  • FU Diet
    • Dr. Sherry Pagoto, founder of the famous #plankaday movement, blogs about the psychology of weight loss.  Lots of good information, from someone with actual authority on the subject.  
  • 18 year old woman embraces "body positive" (photo, NSFW)
    • "WARNING: Picture might be considered obscene because subject is not thin. And we all know that only skinny people can show their stomachs and celebrate themselves."
    •   Reading some of the idiotic comments people made on this girl's photo is infuriating:
      • "I sure hope that there won't be many chubby ladies following this example."
      • "Actually.. Its pretty fucking easy to lose weight, if you're not weak minded."
      • Soo you're lazy, have no self control and don't want to work out and we should be proud of you for it? You're a real role model. I'm gonna stop brushing my teeth and get people to be proud of me because that's my body and I don't want to take care of it"
      • Thankfully, the positive comments seem to outweigh the bad. 
    • Here is a clip on the Today Show, featuring the girl. 
  • "Because we don't hate fat kids enough" 
    • Couldn't agree more.  Biggest Loser adds children to their victim list.  
  • Losing Weight Won't Fill the Emptiness inside, Only Cake Will.
    • This girl is hilarious, albeit a bit vulgar.  But I like a good f-bomb now and then. 
    • While these ladies brunched, I was compulsively kicking at Billy Blank's god-forsaken Tae Bo-loving face; and when they were getting late-night pizza, I was enjoying a nice glass of ice water. It was no fun, I wasn't happy, and I think my inner-fat kid was just like, "Fuck. This. When's Dinner."
    • A light just went off in my fat-deprived head and I was like, holy fuck, what the fuck am I doing here talking about goal weight with 60 year old women who are trying to lose the last ten pounds?"
    • I'm not telling you not to care about your body and to let go and eat your house; I know it's normal to care, it's beaten into us to care, and honestly, it's probably healthy to care about what you look like to a certain extent or we'd all walk around with toilet paper hanging out of our butt cracks and wearing polka dots in public when we're not Minnie Mouse. I just want you to know that you can get to a place where you're okay with you, and maybe for Attenberg that place involves restricting a part of her, and that's okay, ya know, but I don't want that. I want to acknowledge that shit is fucked re: weight in our society, and I want to invite myself to opt out as much as I possibly can, and if that's not always, I want to fight back. And most importantly, I want to leave my remaining brain cells open for thinking about the things that are really important to me, including loving my friends, family, and yes, delicious food."
  • Obese Enjoy Food Less and Less
    • A journal article indicating that maybe I should lay off the sweets.  I'll enjoy them more if I do!  I think that sounds about right.  I can tell you I enjoy cookies much more now than when I was eating them all the time, or when I was on a binge cycle. 

    1 comment:

    1. I really like this post. People automatically assume that because I run, I must be trying to lose weight. And while I try to make healthy choices most of the time, I still like sweets. We went out for my brothers birthday the other day, and my dad assumed I was getting a salad instead of eating pizza with everyone else. It almost made me want to order salad instead of enjoying the pizza. Then, after dinner, I had a cupcake, one cupcake, and my dad made another comment. It made me feel really bad, like I had eaten 12 cupcakes instead of one.


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