This post is about how KonMari and Dave Ramsey didn’t quite work for me the way I had hoped, and what I learned from the experience. Before anyone gets all defensive about either of these methods, I’m gonna say that I learned things of value from both the individual methods as well my personal failures with them. In fact, I’m happy I tried both of them, failed, and learned what I did.
If you have ever been on a diet/”cleanse”/”detox” (or many), you probably are intimately familiar with the emotional states that motivated you to overhaul your lifestyle. Specifically, the frustration and impatience. “Why is my life such a mess? Oh god, how did I let it get this bad? I need to change everything right now. That’s IT! I’m making a change.”
And instead of making one change, such as “eating more vegetables at dinnertime” or “going to bed 1 hour earlier,” you decide to make many changes. Maybe you do a Whole 30 or a 21-Day Fix or whathaveyou. You cut out several food groups, count every calorie at every meal, implement a new workout, completely change what you order in restaurants, completely change your meal schedule, try and shop for completely different foods, cook completely different foods, and more…..all at the same time.
Within 3 months, your habits are back to where you started, and the cycle begins all over again. Maybe you have a case of the “fuckits” (as in, “fuck it; I’ll do what I want!”) for a while until the frustration and impatience builds up again. “Why is my life such a mess? Oh god, how did I let it get this bad? I need to change everything right now. That’s IT! I’m making a change.”
And on and on it goes…..
I’m gonna propose that programs like the KonMari method and Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover have much in common with the quick “fixes” of the diet world. Let’s look at some of the similarities:
When I started two years ago, deciding to track healthy habits instead of a number on a scale or clothing size was unfamiliar territory for me. I decided I wanted to be open to whatever outcomes would come.
Last year, I listed the following outcomes I experienced after one year along on a habit-based, weight neutral health journey:
Looking back on what I wrote last year, I am happy to say that most of those outcomes have continued throughout year two. I did have some depression and back pain creep back in when an injury required me to stop lifting for a few months. With adding lifting back into my life, both of these conditions are improving again.
I also experienced some other cool things in year two.
- I received a medical diagnosis for some symptoms I had for a long time. Turns out I have a serious, but very treatable condition. Using a CPAP machine has been an amazing experience for me. My performance at home and at work has improved tremendously, and I felt well enough to help others more, too. I’m very grateful for body positivity, because it allowed me to have a positive attitude about treating my sleep apnea, instead of feeling shame about it and burying my head in the sand and refusing to treat it.
- I started to realize that training for health and training for athleticism are NOT one and the same. I used to think that they were.
- I became pretty fluent and solid with many of the habits I was tracking, so I decided not to continue tracking the ones that already felt solid and habitual. I switched from my spreadsheet over to an app on my phone for tracking a handful of habits at a time.
- I became more settled into what body positivity means to me, and why I choose to take care of my body. Much like loving another person, it is the action that matters more than the feeling, to me. I don’t need to actually FEEL positive all the time; I just need to do my best to care for myself in any given moment.
- I took as good care of myself as I could while injured. That looked different from the ways I took care of myself when not injured. It meant seeking out help with a doctors appointment, seeking out an alternate form of treatment for depression, and changing my routine from lifting to swimming. It meant seeking out a therapist and trying something new. I examined some of the many feelings brought up by my injury.
- I feel like I am killing it in the patience department, which is amazing to me because when I first started my habit journey, I would have classified myself as an impatient person who gave up easily if things were difficult. I mean, look at this! I sound so fucking patient and wise now 😀 😀 When the first day of swimming went horribly, I took my own advice and stuck it out. And I’m so glad I did, because swimming has turned out to be a great experience for me.
- I established a swimming routine and improved my cardiovascular endurance by a lot! I now can swim over a mile and a half in one session!
- I worked through something that was challenging for me: encountering a scale several times per week in the locker room, which hadn’t been an issue for me when I worked out at home. I tried one approach, and then when I didn’t like the results, I tried something else.
- I dealt with some challenges to my weight-neutral perspective, including back pain that came up when I had to stop lifting due to injury. Instead of panicking and going on a diet, I took a calm approach and didn’t make any rash decisions out of fear. I think that’s pretty amazing!
- I worked through the emotional needs that lifting met for me, in addition to the physical needs. Thanks to my injury, I learned that I still had some work to do about my body image and the ableist views that are sometimes propagated by the body positive fitness world (all well-meaning!).
- After almost two and a half decades, I pinpointed and changed my habit of mindlessly eating at nighttime. I did some other intuitive eating exploration as well, figuring out what I actually WANT to eat.
- I took excellent care of myself even during several traumatic months (My pet ran away, and my mother-in-law died of cancer, and I feel a lot of fear after the election).
- I am asking myself some hard questions. I still don’t have answers.
- I easily and naturally talked to my kid about medical issues (my sleep apnea, my mother-in-law’s cancer) in a morally neutral way. This is a big deal because back in my extreme dieting days, I believed the people who were very judgmental about those who had medical conditions and illnesses. I am glad to have internalized a different belief enough to talk to my kid about it on the fly.
- I learned some important lessons from my injury about humility, and not assuming I know what is best for everyone, since I don’t always know what is best for myself either. I became more clear on what my motivations and priorities are for fitness, unclouded by fears and needs for validation.
- I feel much more secure and calm about my marriage.
- I became more aware of the needs I meet with negative self-talk. I internalized that I do not deserve to be so hard on myself.
- I developed a healthier and more mature attitude towards doing things I don’t always want to do.
- I modeled some really healthy behaviors and values for my kid.
Looking back, I feel really proud of what I accomplished this year. It didn’t seem like I did much of anything until I actually went back and read all my older posts. What I feel most proud of is keeping up a consistent self-care routine during a very challenging year. My family had a lot of challenges: my husband got injured, I got injured, we lost our pet, we had a terminal illness and death in the family. I feel so proud that I took excellent care of myself so that I could face these challenges well. Honestly, the self-care felt like the easiest part and I know that is because of the habit-based approach.
So…..to give credit where credit is due, I feel very proud of myself this year. I’m excited to see what year 3 brings!
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PREAMBLES AND DISCLAIMERS: If you read the title of this post and are thinking that I am about to advocate judging others on the basis of their health status or whether they engage in healthy behaviors ….I want to make it clear that I am not. One’s health status and/or lifestyle does not make anyone morally superior or inferior to anyone else. To quote Ragen Chastain, “health is not an obligation, a barometer of worthiness, entirely within our control, or guaranteed under any circumstances.“
Also, there are very few people who are role models in many areas of life at the same time. So even if someone is not modeling a healthy lifestyle by any one person’s definition, it is possible that they are kicking ass in another area of life. Maybe they work tirelessly to support their families or pursue their passions. Maybe they go above and beyond in helping others. Maybe they create beautiful music or art or literature. Maybe they contribute to new scientific discoveries that make life better for others. Maybe they are present for their kids. Maybe they are bravely facing life in the face of an illness that may be physical or mental, visible or invisible. Maybe they are great at uplifting people and making them laugh, or making them feel accepted no matter what. I do not consider it my job (or anyone’s job) to ask “what’s your excuse for not prioritizing the same things I do?”
Conversely, the fact that I model what I consider to be a healthy lifestyle does not mean I believe myself to be a role model for my kid in all areas; in fact, I definitely do not. And I know that is okay, because no one person can be everything to their kid. That is why they say “it takes a village to raise a child.”
And without further ado….
One of the ways I see the pursuit of thinness being marketed to mothers (and fathers, to a lesser extent) is by playing to one of their deepest insecurities: their fear of being considered unfit as a parent. By telling them that they cannot be considered a role model to their children if they are not thin.
CONTENT NOTICE: Childhood fatness, isolation, eating disorders, bingeing, dieting, fatphobia, bariatric surgery, death, etc. Also spoilers.
The other day I decided to watch the NBC show This is Us to see what all the talk was about.
Here’s what I knew about the show before I watched it:
- That it was about people who share a birthday whose lives intertwine
- That there was a fat character (Kate) played by Chrissy Metz
- That Chrissy Metz had signed a contract that obligated her to lose weight along with Kate’s storyline
That’s it. I knew nothing else about what to expect.
When I mentioned on social media that I was considering watching the show, several of my friends said they liked the show, but they wanted to give me a heads up that I might not, due to the way Kate’s character was written. Several other friends told me that they had chosen not to watch the show for that same reason, or had stopped watching the show for that same reason. A few said that they loved the show and they found Kate’s character to hit extremely close to home and therefore appreciated the way it was written. A few said they had chosen not to watch the show because of Metz’s contract to lose weight. A few told me (some via private message) that they would be curious what my thoughts were, once I watched the show.
Anyway, I watched the show, and I actually have a lot of thoughts that I want to share. I know for a fact, both from friends’ comments and articles I have read, that I don’t speak on behalf of all fat women here….so I’m not trying to change anyone’s mind with this post. I’m simply sharing my own reactions and what is true for me. I’m also not in the habit of writing entertainment reviews. Take me with a giant grain of salt if you must. (Also, while I do have an opinion about the fact that Metz is contractually obligated to lose weight, I’m not gonna weigh in on that in this post.)
My mother-in-law is nearing the end of her life and declining rapidly. I want to reflect on my time with her and share some of my memories of her.
When I first met my mother-in-law, my husband and I had just started dating. I met his parents earlier than I otherwise might have because he was living with his parents at the time (“we just get along really well and it helps me to save money”). I thought it was weird, but decided to keep an open mind because we had a really good connection after communicating online for a few weeks and going on our first date.
So, there I was meeting my new boyfriend’s parents on our second date. He had tickets to see Kevin Smith at the performing arts center in the nearby city. Since he lived an hour away from me I met him at his home so we could drive in. And so I had to met his parents.
Naturally I felt a little nervous and weirded out by the general awkwardness of the situation. I also worried that they would judge me the moment they saw me. I was coming off of years of restrictive dieting, and my weight was rebounding quickly and uncontrollably, to my dismay. I was heavier than I had been in several years (although in truth I wasn’t extremely fat) and was very self-conscious about my size. Add that to cultural programming I had that weight gain was a failure that you could see at first sight. Add that to the fact that every time my mother had met one of my boyfriends in high school or college she was unenthusiastic. I felt sure that my boyfriend’s mother would silently dismiss me on sight.
She didn’t. What strange land was this?
It just hit me that I am way too hard on myself.
I mean, really hit me. People say that to women all the time and I have heard it of course. “We are so hard on ourselves.” “We need to stop expecting perfecting out of ourselves as a prerequisite for self-love and self-acceptance.”
But do we really believe it when we say it?
It’s okay if we don’t. It can sometimes take our habits and feelings a while to catch up to our intentions.
Maybe we subconsciously say things like “yeah, I know OTHER people are too hard on themselves. But surely that doesn’t apply to me. Surely on some level I deserve to be hard on myself because I am not perfect.”
I grew up as a believer in divorce.
I realize that is an odd thing to say, but it is the best way I can think of to describe it. My parents had a relationship that drained both of them. I recall, at the age of seven or eight, asking my mother why she and my father didn’t get a divorce.
They did – almost two decades later. Why did they wait? Ambivalence. Fear of the unknown. Belief that they could provide a more comfortable life for their children together than apart.
Watching them, I vowed that I would not put myself nor my children through the same. If I ever felt so unhappy in a marriage, I would not stay for the sake of the children. I would leave. Better that the children see me in no relationship at all, than to see me staying in an unhappy relationship.
And then I grew up and realized that life is more complicated than I thought as a kid. (Turns out that my younger self was judgemental and sanctimonious about many things I knew nothing about….marriage, kids, health as a middle aged person…..)