Food Shame

You-deserve-a-healthy-relationship-with-food-www.anastasiaamour.com_

For a number of reasons, I’ve been thinking a lot about food shame lately.

I am a person who loves to eat, and who eats what I love. I would be thrilled if it were that simple, but over time, it’s become something much more than that. I wish I could live whole-heartedly by this mindful and intuitive eating philosophy, but I feel pulled in so many directions. Here are the food-shaming sources that I’ve been really sensitive to lately:

  1. The “sugar is the devil” message. Has anyone else noticed how diets seem to centre around some sort of “moving target?” First it was fat, then carbs, and now sugar. Having a donut, a cinnamon bun or a piece of cake is now considered naughty. While I aim to be mindful of how much sugar I intake (though I am a total sweet tooth) it can be very dangerous to vilify any food so much that it feels like we should honour restriction and will power over mindful self-care.
  2. The willpower and self-control focus of eating. I find weight-loss shows can give really contradictory and confusing messages about this, and the diet industry can be to blame for this message as well. I get the sense that if (and when) I gain a lot of weight, people see it as a failure of my willpower, and I can imagine that lots of other people feel this way about themselves. The fact of the matter is that there is so much more at play behind weight loss/gain beyond self-control and willpower. Food intolerances, digestive issues, hormones, mood/emotions, physical injury, etc. are all sources of weight loss and gain. When I lose or gain weight, there are all sorts of reasons for it, just as I’m sure there are for you.
  3. The people we know. I swear, I don’t think I’ve ever gotten to know any one from any background (gender identity, SES, family status, etc.) that does not have some sort of hang-up with food. Of course, there is an extreme end of this spectrum (e.g., disordered eating), but even before that point, we all have mixed up messages about what we should put in our bodies and how we might look as a result. I’ve come across so many people who compare themselves to others (I don’t escape blame on this either) and who (typically unintentionally) make comments that are triggering for me and for others. I ask that if (and when!) I do this on the blog, that you don’t hesitate to let me know. We all have our hellish histories with food, but I don’t want mine to make your present relationships with food any more difficult or unsafe.

What I wish for my readers and myself is the same thing: that we can all eat in a way that nourishes our being, without fear of judgment, reproach or shame. I hope that we can give ourselves what we need, that we can eat what we love and love what we eat.

The Tipping Point

Hello, old friend. It’s been a while since I’ve written a blog entry. Like my diary, I write this blog on an as-needed basis, and I haven’t felt I’ve needed to health blog.

Until a few weeks ago.

I have been in complete denial about putting on a significant amount of weight in a very short time. I’ve been tremendously happy lately, celebrating a number of exciting career achievements and new family members and engagements of dear friends. In other words, I’ve been eating a lot of celebratory food. I’ve been tremendously sad and angry lately, recovering from minor whiplash after being rear-ended, and growing increasingly frustrated at my financial instability and distance from career goals. In other words, I’ve been eating a lot of comfort food. Have you ever had the experience feeling as though your emotions (both positive and negative) are the ones in control of your eating, rather than your self? The worst part is, I was utterly unwilling to admit that this was happening to me.

And I invested in the lies I was telling myself about my binge eating/drinking. I did a bunch of online shopping, 3 or 4 sizes up, and told myself that it was nothing at all; everyone changes sizes from time to time. I would look in the mirror and think “I just ate too much last night and I’m bloated” or I would tell myself that seeing myself 12 pounds heavier than just a few months earlier was not hurting me. I invested a lot in myths I needed to create in order to not break down about my body.

But the myths weren’t holding up. The tell-tale signs were there. My expensive workout gear, that I refuse to replace at this point, fit snugger. Exercising felt substantially harder. Worse, my blood pressure is higher than it’s ever been before- perhaps because of stress, but I also know it’s because I’m not taking care of myself and my health.

And here’s the hard part: it feels impossible to acknowledge that I’ve steadily put on almost 30 pounds since I started grad school, while still being kind to myself. The number of the scale tells me that I weigh as much as my boyfriend did when we first met (a hard pill to swallow in a society that suggests that women must weigh significantly less than men, regardless of body composition). I’m struggling to offer myself kind words when I hate that I’ve put on so much weight. I don’t know how people who have yo-yo’ed in their weight manage the barrage of emotions associated with gaining and losing weight. I can hardly manage this first instance.

The self-compassion exercise I’m most working to engage in is imagining what I would tell a cherished loved one coming to me and explaining to me their weight issues (Neff, self-compassion.org). What would I tell them? How would I say it? I imagine I would softly say that I can imagine how hard it is to feel like something is so out of your control, and that I would do whatever I could to help them feel strong again. I imagine that I would remind him or her about my love for them, and that I will walk beside them in their journey to be healthy again, if they would let me.

In my moments of deep-seated self-criticism I hear myself using harsh, patronizing words and an aggressive tone. I say words that touch upon maladaptive core beliefs, that assign self-blame and that suggest that I am weak and incapable. Where is that soft, loving, compassionate voice? I miss her.

So let me tell you about my tipping point. I weighed myself and, at 160 pounds, decided that I needed better manage my habits. I made an appointment with an incredible dietician. She never once asked me about my weight; she only asked if my clothes fit tighter than usual. She is having me keep a food diary, with my symptoms of digestion, mood, etc. listed on the other side of the page. She also suggested that I didn’t necessarily need to eat less, but to shift my eating to earlier in the day, to avoid going into “food debt” which can cause binges in the evening.

I’m just getting started on making changes. My goal is to feel healthier and more in control. In just two weeks, and without major dietary changes by any stretch (I’ve only cut out beer, which destroys my stomach), I feel so much less bloated. I feel much more in control of what food and drinks I consume, and even simply writing my food down has made me so much more mindful of my consumption. I want to make it clear that it is not my main goal to lose weight, but it would be a happy accident if I lost a few pounds! It’s going to be a long effort, but I want to work towards better managing the relationship between my eating and my emotions.

 

 

The epitome of the love/hate relationship: Running


Remember my previous post, Signing up for Runs… Well, I finally completed the Scotiabank Toronto Half Marathon that I signed up for in May or June.

It has been a battle and that battle has been between two extremes: loving and hating running…. let me tell you about the loves and hates and we’ll see where we end up.

First, I have posterior tibial tendonitis, and that sh*t is PAINFUL. Well, I have two types of tendonitis, but it’s enough of an effort to remember that first one so I don’t remember the second. Between hundreds of dollars in physio, foam rolling like crazy and orthotics, I’ve devoted a lot of time and energy to making the pain of it bearable, and to be able to run past the pain.

Hate=1, Love=0

Running is cheap! Besides signing up for runs (if that’s what you’re into) and the actual equipment (proper shoes and gear), you can’t really find a cheaper sport. Running is a great way to test yourself without having to invest as much money as other sports require.

Hate=1, Love=1

Running is the most boring. I know a lot of people will disagree, and there are certainly points about running that are interesting… like watching the seasons change, having weird thoughts when you’re on a long run, scoping out and seeing new areas in your community…. But to be alone with your thoughts and the same running playlist you’ve had for months… I mean, it’s boring as hell a lot of the time.

Hate=2, Love=1

Two words: RECOVERY MEALS.

Two more words: CHOCOLATE MILK.

Hate=2, Love=2

Running is the ultimate test. It is so hard on your body. I feel like garbage the day after a long run. My legs somehow feel simultaneously like jello and stiff poles. Recovery is rough.

Hate=3, Love=2

I just checked my time. Holy smokes– I placed in the last 1000 half marathon runners of tens of thousands. That’s horrendous because I don’t have any excuses- I’m actually that slow. I run like a minion mixed with a turtle running through peanut butter. I’m just a slow runner and that’s a reality I’ve had to face through my training.

Hate=4, Love=2

And yet, I can’t put a value on the pride I feel. My favourite questions people asked me after the race were “how did it feel?” “did you finish?” and “when are you going to run your next race?” My least favourite question has been “what was your time?” I feel so much pride in having finished the race! Though I sheepishly tell people “2 hours, 35 minutes,” I then remind myself that means that running is a longer effort for me than for others. And yet I do it because of the strength of my will, and having a concrete representation of that in my finisher’s medal is completely invaluable.

Hate=4, Love= a BAJILLION.

You can have ten thousands reasons to hate something, and sometimes you just need one to love it anyway.

Your’s, in health.

I got that September Sadness…

You might have noticed that I’ve stopped posting. There’s a reason that I’m a bit afraid to admit. I’ve been REALLY, REALLY down in the dumps. There have been a number of events that have spurred on this sadness, and yet I’m usually much more resilient in such experiences. I’m not sure what is different this time, but something certainly is. Maybe it’s the cumulation of a number of rough patches, or I’ve exhausted my resilience resources. The best way to describe this feeling is being stuck in a rut.

Since I’m training in mental health, I know that what I’m experiencing is not abnormal or “clinical.” In actual fact, one rich silver lining of this experience is that I feel more connected to people who have trouble getting out of bed or who find that life is just piled up on top of them- I definitely have an ounce more empathy for how gruelling that experience must be. I am still able to experience joy and pleasure and fun, and I know that what I’m faced with right now is just one small chapter in my story.

Speaking of stories, back to why I’ve stopped blogging…this health blog made me feel hypocritical. I’ve been feeling so down that I haven’t been meeting my own expectations around self-care. I mean, I have in some respects- I’ve been binge watching Netflix, staying in my PJ’s too long and eating and drinking comfort substances. And yet that’s not the self-care I know I need. In fact, I know that the kind of self-care I’m describing right now is my way of avoiding real problems or challenges. It’s experiential avoidance. I know that I need to get back to the most recovering form of self-care I know: running, cycling, the gym, cooking, eating wholesome food, and indulging in mindful, self-loving ways.

So I’m going to do my very best to get back to myself, inside and out. And at the same time, here’s the other thing: this period in my life has made me very aware of the well-intentioned-but-destructive messages that exist about life, attitude and mental health. All these choose-happy, just-need-to-put-on-a-smile, be-positive-all-the-time messages aren’t helpful… in fact, they can be hurtful. If someone around you is suffering in the way I’ve been lately, or if you yourself are, just let it be. Accept it and don’t work so hard to fight it or cover it up. Instead, recognize that it is a temporary moment and do what you need to tolerate it with compassion and kindness. Give the distress and suffering a voice and… well… this too shall pass.

Yours, in health.

Building a Habit

It’s funny that I’m writing about building habits when I completely missed writing a blog post this week… however, I also recognize that even with the most engrained habits, there will be some days when life gets in the way and despite all the motivation in the world, things won’t work out. You’ll wake up for a 10 K run but there is a lightening storm or a migraine. You’ll plan to eat a packed nutritious lunch but your colleague brought in her world-famous brownies. You’ll vow that you won’t have a drink this week, before remembering that your friend is defending her dissertation and you’ll just have to celebrate with her (twist my arm!)

Building a habit takes persistence, acceptance and perseverance. I think where habits fail people is because of the immediacy of results that we expect. Especially for people like me, the “couch to half marathon” type, we’ve had years of positively reinforced, self-indulgent habits. Just like exercise is a habit, so is sedentary non-exercise. A watching-TV habit is, in many ways, the same as a gym habit. The fundamental difference lies in which is immediately pleasurable, convenient and not painful- and what we’ve had more experience with in our lives of habit.

I have a few tips for “building a habit.” I’m not going to include sources, because I’m not reinventing the wheel here. These are all incredibly well-researched motivational phenomena. These just happen to be the ones that I saw work for me, first hand. I hope you’ll find them helpful.

Before September 2014, I was donating $40 a month to Goodlife- money that could go to a much more deserving “charity”. But in that September, I started to (very slowly) build a habit that would make that $40 donation become a well-spent investment in my own health. Here’s how I did it:

  1. Start small. I didn’t start going to the gym doing the same routine I’m doing now (push day, pull day, leg day, repeat endlessly….) I went to the gym “afraid of the machines.” I started on cardio equipment because it felt the most comfortable to me. I found mats at the back of the gym and spent a lot of time doing some weird combination of yoga and stretching that literally embodied the “dance like nobody’s watching” concept. I slowly integrated equipment to build strength, mostly with my partner’s very patient help.
  2. Take advantage of freebies. A few months ago, I took advantage of a free personal-training session that involved a trainer watching form on compound lifts. It was the worst at the time- I recall fighting back frustration tears- but it created the foundation of my strength-training now, and I’m able to squat, bench press, and deadlift with reasonable enough form.
  3. Make it “me” time. Whether you are running, practicing yoga, or strength training, use that opportunity to be incredibly self-indulgent. For the first six months at the gym, I read books on my kobo on the elliptical. I maybe ellipticalled one mile in each hour, but it’s still better than what I would do on the couch. It made the gym a much more comfortable place. I would read the most chick-lit novels and loved every second of it. Make playlists. Run to parks to meditate. Strength train with images of yourself running up the Rocky steps. Do what you need to do to squeeze every drop of pleasure out of your new habit.
  4. Hold yourself accountable. There are plenty of ways to do this.  Buy nice workout clothes, if you can. Keep a workout schedule. Make friends with the staff at the gym and always say “see you tomorrow” when you leave. Recruit a workout buddy. Start pedometer challenges if you have the same one as your friends. Do whatever it is you need to do to hold yourself accountable, whether that be personally (“I just spent almost $200 on these shoes, I have to get my money’s worth) or with the help of our human desire to impress others (“What will the other regulars think if I miss spin today?”) One benefit of Goodlife is they have a contest where you get an initial from a staff member every time you work out. 6 initials gets you a ballot for a draw to win money. I’m not sure if it’s the idea of winning money that’s motivating me anymore or the fact that I want more signatures on my workout card…
  5. Set goals. OK, so this is the oldest motivational mechanism in the book. HOWEVER, I’m for setting whatever kind of goal will motivate you. For some, this might mean a weight goal (these are often the most tricky, because muscle weighs way more than fat, so these aren’t the ones I’d suggest). For me, it’s a “how do I fit in my clothes?” goal. I don’t want to have to buy a new wardrobe, so I have to fit comfortably in the clothes that I own. Most people I know benefit from “before and after” shots. Show as much skin as you’re comfortable showing and snap a pic. Try to wear the same outfit everytime you take an “after” shot. Remember that your first pic is your before shot, and EVERY subsequent photo is an “after” shot. Working on our health and fitness is a journey, not a destination– said the cheesiest person ever.

I hope that you find these helpful as you build new habits. There’s all sorts of habit-building advice out there, so it’s all about what is going to work for you.

Best of luck and happy heathy habit building!

 

 

Ending Dietainment: Cheerios Ad Campaign

(I apologize. This is a rant that is kind of off-track from the posts you’ve been seeing on this blog, but it’s been something that I’ve been thinking about a lot today!!)

Yesterday night as I was watching T.V. before bed, this commercial came on:

Cheerios and “Dietainment”

Though I immediately connected with the intention of the message, I couldn’t help it. Something within me was triggered. I can’t state enough that I wish mass media would be more vigilant, more socially-aware, more accountable, less aggressive, less racist, less sexist…(and I could go on forever). Nonetheless, I’m not sure it is the most effective use of time, resources, our voices and our efforts to address this at the level of the “media.”

I applaud Cheerios for starting the discussion, and here are a couple of my thoughts to add:

1. Marketing + Prosocial Messages = ?

We’ve all been here before, people. Dove’s campaign for real beauty left us all wondering how genuine a message of change can be when there is a thinly veiled attempt to sell a product. This always makes me go “yikes” a little inside.

2. The reasons I think the “Canadian” media is an ineffective target are that a) the Canadian media is only a sliver of what we consume… our neighbours to the south produce most of the dietainment media we see… and b) if it isn’t dietainment, the “media” will attack and humiliate and marginalize some other group in some other way. I know that’s cynical, but I don’t have a lot of faith in the industry. Weird, right?

3. Perhaps most importantly, we need to educate young people. Not just young girls. Young people. And middle-aged people. And old people. OK… all people.

I don’t know the best way to best educate people to be critical consumers of the media. It’s tricky, but if we bolster the abilities of people to recognize dietainment (thank you Cheerios, for integrating the buzzword), question it, roll it around in our heads rather than passively consume it, maybe we’re better off. Maybe it’s more effective to use a holistic approach to media literacy, rather than a single-pronged petition to the Canadian media about an individual aspect of what “they” are doing terribly wrong. If we educate one another and our young people about questioning and analyzing what we’re seeing, maybe we’ll approach sexual violence in advertising differently, dietainment differently and racist depictions or exclusions differently. The media are giving people messages constantly. Things do need to change, and I’m not sure the system will change anytime soon (again, I’m so cynical!) So maybe in the here-and-now, we can change the conversations we’re having. We can change the way we perceive and consume media. We can support brands that don’t depict and perpetuate violence, racism, hatred or shaming. This whole dialogue makes me think about the conversations people are having about the new sex ed curriculum in Ontario. It’s like there’s this notion that if we hide something hard enough, people won’t be exposed to it and everyone will then be “safer” and better off. But the fact of the matter is that if we equip people to responsibly and respectfully deal with the (let’s face it!) inevitable- whether it’s sexual development or the diet industry- isn’t that when we’re better off? If we give people, from a very early age, the skills to really analyze, consider, question and contemplate their decisions of what media they orient themselves to, and when and with whom they have relationships with…. I seriously think that is when we are all winning.

Bottom line: It’s important to remember that the media is trying to sell you something, so buyer beware.

(I should let you know before I go that I absolutely LOVE multigrain cheerios and it happens to be one of my favourite cereals!)

I’d love to know what others think and I’d love to hear what have you add to the discussion.