How Body Positivity and HAES Just May Have Saved My Marriage

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…..)

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Silver Linings and Important Lessons

The other day I had a follow up appointment at the spine doctor, where I was cleared to ease back into lifting and see how my body tolerates it.

So, my plan is to continue swimming and ease back into lifting slowly. Possibly introduce one lift at a time and then if no nerve issues develop after a few weeks, then add the next lift. Starting with light deadlifts. No Olympic lifts yet. No back squats.

Even though it wasn’t easy or pleasant, I can now say that I am grateful for the time I spent injured because it taught me some lessons and perspective. Here are some of the things I learned:

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My Biggest CPAP Fear Came True

The first time a healthcare provider told me that I had symptoms of sleep apnea and I should ask my doctor about a sleep study, my first thought was “I don’t want my kid to see me using a breathing machine.” Back in the days I used to watch the Biggest Loser, I saw people with families crying because they had to use a breathing machine. You were supposed to feel sorry for / disgusted by the poor sad fatties who had medical conditions. I internalized the belief that using a breathing machine is shameful, and I didn’t want my kid to see that weakness.

And then I told myself “wait a minute. That is fucked up that I would actually consider not finding out if I have a medical condition so I don’t have to show my son that I am treating it. There is NO shame in getting medical help for a serious medical condition and I will gladly tell my son THAT. Fuck TBL.

Well, today, my son said something to me that made me skip a beat. We were about to take a nap and I said “okay, you lie down and I’ll get my machine ready.” He said, “okay, you get your machine ready.” And then he said “someday, I’ll have a machine too!”

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And Here I Thought Lettuce Was A Guilt Free Food….

I dont actually believe in feeling guilty about food. It’s just a snarky title 😉

I feel a little sheepish about the content of this post, because I work on a vegetable farm and grow a garden, and I have been having trouble getting excited about eating vegetables.
I used to gush over vegetables. Even as a kid I loved them. And as an adult even more so. Until I got pregnant with my son and became a picky eater for the first time in my life.

The funny thing is, my son is not a picky eater at all. But even now, 4 years postpartum, I am still a picky eater at least two weeks out of the month. 

I have a CSA share from the farm where I work and have lately been having trouble using everything because I don’t feel excited about cooking it. I have been giving some away to neighbors who have been helping me look for my cat, and some has unfortunately been going to waste -some before I cook it, some after. (Yes, I realize this means I am privileged in this area.)

Anyway….in my intuitive eating practice, I realized something that hadn’t occurred to me: it’s okay for me to buy the veggies I want, if they aren’t in my CSA share in the quantities I will eat. I had been resisting doing that because I am feeling some money pressure and therefore telling myself I should eat what is already in my house….but that is not always working out for me. Apparently people don’t like feeling pressure to eat certain things any more than they like feeling pressure NOT to eat certain things.

So, believe it or not, all summer I have guilted myself OUT of buying lettuce (oh the irony…).

I love eating lettuce. I love just tearing it up into a big bowl and adding some chicken or tuna and some salad dressing and sometimes other veggies, and eating it with whatever cheesy, starchy thing my picky self wants to enjoy (pasta? Pizza? Mmmm). But I wouldn’t let myself buy it, even though it is a veggie I would enjoy eating daily, because of other veggies I had in the house that I may or may not have eaten.

So I decided this week that is silly. If it’s a choice between eating veggies and feeling guilty over not eating veggies, I know my body feels better when I eat veggies. I can spend five extra dollars a week and buy lettuce and I shouldn’t be giving myself a guilt trip over wanting LETTUCE, of all things. Even if I do work on a farm. Even if it is disgusting economic privilege. I will do my best to share the food I can’t finish with my neighbors and friends, and then I won’t sweat it.

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Better Late Than Never

Some self care I practiced this week, above and beyond regular daily habits:

I reached out to some understanding friends to vent about some big feelings I was having, and realized that I wanted to follow up on finding therapist who specializes in eating disorders. It feels like a bit of a strange time to do this, given that my relationship with food is currently better than I ever imagined it could be. Even so, while my behaviors around food currently feel healthy, balanced and comfortable, my body still plays a more prominent role in my thoughts than I would like. I recently realized that I had eating disorders as a child and young adult that went untreated. While I was able to overcome the disordered behaviors and fears around food with the help of some wonderful communities online, the continued preoccupation with my body over other things in life is starting to annoy me. I get very preoccupied with my body in order to avoid certain things that scare me in my life. And I also find that I am still dealing with some of the effects of being brought up in an environment where I was told that something was wrong with me by parents, doctors, and other children.  It caused depression, self esteem issues, vulnerability and productivity issues that I am still sorting out, well into adulthood. Keeping this blog and participating in online groups has been a great tool that has brought me very far….and I’m feeling like I am at the point where I would like some help. So I’m going to try out therapy. Better late than never, right? My first appointment will be next week.

In other “better late than never” news, I remembered that my physical therapist had noticed in the initial evaluation (back in June!) that my feet over-pronate when I walk, and mentioned that it could be a factor in my back aches. Remembered that I have had issues from my flat-ish feet off and on since childhood and in the past had used either prescription orthotic inserts or running shoes good for over-pronators with good results. Looked at my very worn out sneakers. Ordered some running shoes for overpronators (a similar model to a shoe I had used in the past). I’m crossing my fingers it will help with my back aches. The nerve tingling in my legs is completely gone, but my the back aches are still persisting with standing/walking.

I also figured out how to get around the resentment I was feeling around doing my physical therapy home exercises. I “shrunk the habit” by deciding that the goal was to just do one exercise. Usually once I start, I end up doing most of them. But I can mark the habit as successful even if I just do one exercise. I also sometimes switch up the order of exercises if I want to so I feel like I have some autonomy/choice in the matter.

Finally – I decided to try something a little bit outside of my comfort zone! I signed up for a Drills and Distance class at the Y! It’s a class that meets twice per week for 85 minutes to improve stroke technique and endurance. Since it meets on the days I already go to swim, it shouldn’t be too big a change. However, I’m nervous about being in over my head, and a little nervous about getting kiddo out the door in time. I’m doing it anyway though and I’m excited!

My face after signing up for Drills and Distance

My face after signing up for Drills and Distance

So, three things to look forward to next week…..a new swim class, new shoes, and meeting a new therapist.

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Body Acceptance….So What’s Next?

Lately, my self-talk has shifted from my body to other areas of my life. This makes me wonder whether my body was ever the issue to begin with.

I’ve been questioning a lot of things in my life.

Recently my high school graduating class has been having a “virtual reunion.” Seeing some people’s success makes me think “I was a good student. Why didn’t I choose a more lucrative professional career like some of my classmates?”

All the time I spent in life believing my body was a problem that had to be solved….how did it help anyone? As far as I can see, it hurt me and didn’t help anyone else.  And it may have hurt others, too, by limiting my contribution to the world.

“A culture fixated on female thinness is not an obsession about female beauty, but an obsession about female obedience. Dieting is the most potent political sedative in women’s history; a quietly mad population is a tractable one.” – Naomi Wolf

So now that I know better, I can move on and contribute more. Right?

Not so fast.

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Scale Anxiety: Distinguishing Between Vanity and Health

Last week a question was asked in an online group by Carolyn W. With her permission, I am posting her question here:

“For those of you that threw out (or had someone hide) your scale, what happened? What was your experience? Did you permanently get rid of it or did you bring it back at some point? How did you manage any anxiety that came up from not knowing your weight? I’m seriously considering having my husband hide our scale. I’ve been doing some great work with movement and changes to my nutrition, and while I feel SO much better and have noticed changes in my clothing, and inches lost when I measure, the scale has barely moved and I’m in tears every time I step on it. It’s clearly not helping me, so I think it needs to go, but I’m unexpectedly anxious/afraid. I’d love to hear what others’ experience has been with this. Thank you!”

I responded with my own experience and opinion:

I lost mine four years ago…I think it got left behind when we moved. I decided not to replace it.

I told myself that I could still weigh myself at the doctors office or at the gym if I wished….or even at a friend’s house. But [I acknowledged that] weighing regularly wasn’t contributing anything positive to my life.

Think about it….unless you have a medical condition, you probably don’t feel anxiety not knowing your blood pressure or blood sugar every day. So why [do we feel anxiety about] the weight? Because of fatphobia. This fear is a vanity issue and not a health issue. (Telling myself that helped). The solution is not to try to manipulate weight, but to declare a truce with my body and fight fatphobia.

Carolyn thanked me for sharing this perspective and said that reframing frequent weigh ins from a health issue to a vanity issue was very helpful to her. Indeed, articulating it was helpful to me as well, and so I want to share more about this point.

Realizing that feeling more anxiety over weight changes than other health markers was due to vanity concerns, not health concerns, was extremely freeing to me.

Currently, I am back to weighing myself somewhat regularly when I see the scale in the locker room. I have mixed feelings about this. I tell myself it’s okay to do this. In reality I don’t think its awesome, and it’s definitely not necessary. But I acknowledge that I have behavior changes I am working on that are currently having more of an effect on my health than whether or not I know my weight. So I find it helpful to view this behavior as neutral and not sweat it right now. It takes an extra 20 seconds of my time  when I do it. I make sure to tell myself that it is not going to affect how I take care of myself today. I expect to see fluctuations. I tell myself that it’s okay to weigh myself and then get on with my day.

In order to keep it in perspective, I remind myself that I don’t know my daily sugar numbers or cholesterol or blood pressure, though I have a rough idea of what they are because they are measured occasionally. Honestly, if there was a non-invasive way to find out, I probably would be tracking that (for curiosity purposes, not health purposes). And since I don’t have a medical need to track it more frequently, I’m sure that knowledge would not be helpful to me on a daily basis, so I am glad there currently isn’t a noninvasive way to track it. I think many people have love/hate relationships with their scales and activity trackers and heart rate monitors. They can give us data without drawing blood, which can be cool and sometimes useful, but can also detract from health when we get fixated on the data, which many of us do.

Anyway, several others gave Carolyn great input as well. I checked in with her a week later, and she was really enjoying life without daily weigh ins. She said she didn’t anticipate how much easier intuitive eating would be when she didn’t have the daily fear of the next day’s weigh in.

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A Punk Ass Cat, Self Care, and Intuitive Eating Choices

I am stressed, and I am tired.

It has been a month with periods of high adrenaline and low grade chronic stress. One of my cats, who has lived with us for 5 years, ran away. She is very skittish, and proving difficult to catch. We flyered our neighborhood, including giving notes to every house. A few weeks ago, one of the neighbors told us that she had seen our cat. She feeds feral cats for Trap- Neuter- Release and my cat had started showing up there at night. 

So my husband or I have been going there every night. The cat sometimes shows up and she is always looking for food. But she is skittish, and won’t let anybody get near her. She often will eat the food that we leave if we go back to the car. We have been trying unsuccessfully to trap her, and every night has been a nail biter. The neighbor who is very experienced with trapping cats is calling her “stubborn,” “very smart,” and “a stinker.” A couple times we came very close’ and last night we actually got her to go into a drop trap by disguising it like a cardboard box, but she slipped out just as my husband triggered it. Tonight we plan to disguise the trap with plenty of leaves and twigs and other things to make it look like a comfortable outside hiding Place. Fingers crossed.

My husband has been a saint. It has been four weeks since our cat disappeared. He stays out often for 3 or 4 hours a night waiting for this very smart kitty to be willing to approach a trap. I take a night here and there, but I seem to need more sleep than my husband does, and the cat watch gets my heart racing faster. The other night we both took a night off, because I was exhausted, and my husband did not feel well. 

With four weeks of compromised sleep and late nights, something has to give. Our house getting disgusting. And for better or for worse, my home exercise program for physical therapy has taken a back seat. This concerns me, but I have been feeling an entirely unmotivated to do these exercises that I am supposed to do for injury rehab. The only reason I am not even more concerned is that swimming seems to be good injury rehab as well. I am definitely seeing how, when one is exhausted, something has to give, and for me that “something” tends to be the thing that I don’t particularly enjoy. On the other hand, I have NO problem making time for the things that I enjoy doing, even when I am exhausted. Even when I am exhausted, I am able to bring my son to the Y and do my swimming (and sometimes the video game stationary bike), because to me these activities are fun and restorative. Since I want to do them and I feel like I am choosing to do them, they are taking priority over the exercises I feel I have to do but dont particularly enjoy. They are taking priority over cleaning my house too.

Yesterday was a particularly stressful day. I found out that a friend of mine no longer has a job and I don’t know the circumstances behind it but it shook me. I think my threshold for stress had already been close to the limit, because the cat, and lack of sleep. So yesterday I consciously decided to soothe myself with food. It was a very conscious decision. I felt completely in control as I was doing it. I ate #alltheicecream, and #allthegreencurryandstickyrice. I had chips at the ready, and decided not to eat them. I knew I was not hungry anymore. Though I chose to eat more curry and rice than I was hungry for, I chose not to eat the chips. Then I took my shift at the catwatch, and then stayed awake in suspense as my husband took his shift…..and nearly trapped the cat only to have her slip away in the final second. I got less than 6 hours of sleep last night.

Today, I predictably feel exhausted.
I made some conscious choices that I don’t usually make on days when I’m feeling rested and energized. I brewed a pot of coffee (which I only drink on days I am exhausted, because I don’t like it). I drink the whole thing. I considered eating breakfast and then realized that not only was I not hungry, but food sounded vaguely repulsive. I knew my body was probably plenty carbed up for my swim from all the ice cream and rice I ate yesterday, and decided against eating breakfast. Instead I packed myself a couple turkey sandwiches and bananas so that if hunger kicked in later while I was out, I would have them at the ready. 

I took my son to the community garden, where I ripped out the diseased cucumber plants and bachelors buttons, and pruned the tomato plants. I saved all the plant matter, which I will use to disguise the trap tonight and make it look like a comfy pile of weeds so the cat will be a more comfortable entering it. Then, we headed to the Y, as is our usual Thursday routine.
Some days we go to the Y and I use the entire 2 hours that I have while my son is in the childcare. The other day I even used the entire 2 hours, plus the half hour when my son was in a preschool sports class. That day I did my physical therapy exercises, spinning on the video game stationary bike, swam some laps, used the hot tub, and took a shower.

Today was a obviously a different kind of day. We went to the Y so we could continue our routine, and so my kids would get his time out of the house so we wouldnt drive each other crazy. But I was not attached to the idea of moving a ton. I knew that today my body needed more rest then it sometimes does and putting my body through extremely heavy exercise would put further stress on it. So I told myself that I was going to get in the pool and see how I felt – no promises about how long I would stay there. Even if I sat in the lobby on my phone for most of two hours today, that was fine.
Getting into the pool felt good, but I’m not gonna lie; I was really tired. After 15 minutes I told myself I could get out of the pool if I wanted. I kept telling myself that. But I was having fun, and I took it slowly, and I ended up spending almost 50 minutes in the pool. I did not use the hot tub today. I did not even take a shower; I only rinsed off. I was really tired and I had no motivation to do those things. But my body feels good from the swim. And now I am sitting in the lobby writing this blog post while I wait for my son to finish playing. I feel great about that. I am taking care of my body with enough movement to feel good, and not enough to make my exhaustion worse. I’m going to take it easy today. I’m going to hope I can nap after the caffeine wears off.
So that is what my life and self care looks like today. I know I could be caring for myself better, and I know I should let the cat go, but I miss her and so this is always on my mind, and I am handling it as best I can.

I took a flash photo of my cat’s eyes last night.

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Arms, Oars, and What’s Below the Surface

Have you ever felt like you were putting a lot of energy out, but weren’t moving very far?

I just realized that I have been swimming the freestyle stroke “wrong” my entire life.

I took years of swimming lessons as a kid because I loved swimming. In the seventh grade, I tried out for the swim team at my local YMCA. I didn’t make the team, and they suggested I enroll in a class where they taught more advanced swim skills in preparation for tryouts another year. 

But I never got much faster and speed always seemed to leave me so out of breath. 

I got discouraged and abandoned swimming in favor of music. Now, two decades later, an injury was the catalyst for me taking up swimming again.

And I still struggled with speed in the freestyle, as when I did when I was a kid. When I tried to speed up, I would move my arms more quickly. More strokes per lap. I focused on how my arms exited and re-entered the water.

This week, it dawned on me that by focusing on what happened above the surface, I was ignoring where all the power was: beneath the surface.

Swimming “works” by using your body to displace the water. You pull the water in the direction opposite where you want your body to go. All that pulling happens when your arms are IN THE WATER. What happens above the water is pretty irrelevant.

It was a lightbulb moment. How did I never realize this before? When you row a boat, the oars don’t move the boat while they are above the surface; that’s just recovery so they can get back INTO the water. All the pulling and all the power happen while the oars are IN the water.

So I started focusing differently on my stroke technique for the freestyle. Instead of focusing on “how can I get less tired while moving my arms quickly,” I started focusing all my attention to the pull that happens when my arms are IN in the water. How can I create the most resistance, and pull through it? THIS is the key part of the stroke.

And…HOLY POWER! Now my strokes are actually doing something.  I got faster overnight. My heart rate and breathing are challenged, AND I am actually moving. Not by putting out more strokes per minute…..but by putting more muscle and focus into my strokes.

Fewer, more powerful strokes get you farther than more strokes that are less powerful.

There has got to be a lesson applicable to habits in that. I will be mulling this one over. How about you?

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