Category Archives: eating disorders

Body Image: Circles and Puzzles

On Monday, as I was getting ready to leave work, I stopped to chat with our office manager (Hi, Ali!).  As I somehow always do with other women, I got onto the topic of body image and weight. I find this happens so easily because most women I know have had some bad blood with their bodies in the past.  But it’s so easy to talk about it now because so many smart women are getting wise to the fact that no, this isn’t normal, and it isn’t healthy, and we want to talk about it.  Because we want to resolve it, and just be OK with our bodies and use the time we spend worrying about our butt and abs to, I don’t know, fix the economy or reverse global warming.  But I digress.

Anyway, we started talking about how, while we’d like to improve upon our figures now, it’s not the most important thing in our lives.  Yes, we might want to lose a little weight or tighten up our rear ends, but these things aren’t our focus as they once were.  We both have our stories of the times in our lives when focus turned to obsession, and examples of when our quests for health became the antithesis of health itself.  But we’re realizing now that creating a good life doesn’t swirl around that one goal of ‘getting skinny.’ We’re understanding that this singular objective won’t make the other ones fall into place.  Getting healthy, losing weight, toning up… all nice things, but not the key to happiness.

“I realized recently,” Ali told me, “that losing weight or getting the body I want is one little part of that circle that is my life.  Whereas before, those things were the circle itself.” When she said this, I knew she had summed up how I had been feeling lately.  In college, everything centered around sticking to my plan and staying small, meaning I let social events or enjoyable company with delicious food pass me by because it wasn’t what I had laid out for the day.  ‘Oh sorry, I didn’t go running yet, I can’t.’  Damn, I bet I’m going to hear all about how fun that was tomorrow. ‘Oh, no thanks, I’m not hungry.‘ Plus that doesn’t fit into my calorie count for the day.

That circle had me spinning around and around, but I never got anywhere in life outside of my body.  I stayed the same, and my goal never changed.  I never progressed beyond, ‘Stay small and fit into that dress.’ It was like my life was a wheel of calories and miles and pounds and jeans sizes, and occasionally, the other stuff –my life — would happen because it accidentally got trapped in the spokes, and I would roll with it until I would snap out of it and get back to the plan.  Lately, though, the circle of my life has involved so much more.  Instead of those life experiences getting stuck to my tires, they ARE the tires. And I’ve decided that I can go ahead and let losing weight be a part of those rolling circles, but I won’t let it steer.

“In the same sense, I used to think that losing weight was the key, was the piece of the puzzle I needed to find before all of the others would fall into place, ” Ali said. “But now, I’m finding that I’ve got this beautiful puzzle, and there’s only one piece missing, but I’m working on it.” And again, it was as if she had read my mind, because this is truly the way I’m feeling about my life.  Am I entirely happy with my body?  No, but I’m working on accepting where it is and improving on it as best I can daily.  But the puzzle pieces I thought would fall into place when I was skinny or toned enough? I have so many of them now that I never had when I was thinner.

Career?  When I first moved to Chicago, I thought life would just be easier and I would like my 9to5 if only I could get skinny again.  But then I decided that I needed to be happy before I could get healthy, and the desk job wasn’t going to do it for me.  So I quit, became a personal trainer, and I’ve been calmer and more content with my life (not to mention healthier!) ever since, no matter that my size 4 jeans are a long way from fitting.

Love life? I had boyfriend and a few little crushes and flings in college, but you know what?  Even at my smallest, I never felt like myself around them.  I had been working so much on my ass that I let the work I had to do on my head pile up to the point where I didn’t even know who I was.  Now I’m dating someone who makes me feel more comfortable and happier in my own skin than I have in a long time, with or without makeup, “bikini-ready” or not.

Friends?  I seemed to have some friends in college who liked to hang out with me because I looked a certain way and because I was the ‘how can I make this healthier aka lower-calorie’ guru.  I was told that I was ‘inspiring’ more than once, and while this might sound flattering, it was also a lot of pressure, and it meant that they didn’t see the personality part of me.  They liked hanging out with me because I made them want to go running or make a salad, not because I was quirky or a good writer or because I lived for awkward stories and always had one to tell.  But my friends now are the friends I’ve chosen, because I’m confident in who I am as a whole, and I know that I can afford to be picky.  I can choose the friends whom I love for their never-ending optimism or no-nonsense logic, and who love me for the things I always wanted people to notice when all they paid attention to was what I was putting on my plate at dinner in the sorority house.

So you know what?  Between my job and my friends and my dating life and my family and everything I have to be thankful for, I’ve got so many puzzle pieces in place, that while I would love to be perfectly fit and trim again, I’m not obsessing over that tricky middle piece that finishes the puzzle but doesn’t necessarily hold it together. That one piece didn’t make the others fall into place — it actually did quite the opposite.  I was missing so many wonderful pieces when I did have a death grip on that elusive piece, because I let all of the others fall away.

Funny how that works, isn’t it?

But, as always, dear readers, I want to hear from you!  Does body image or weight play (or has it in the past) a huge role in your happiness?  Is it the puzzle or the circle itself, or is that something you’re working for, but not feeling incomplete without?  Have you learned that, while it can be important, it didn’t make or break your life?  Spill!

Friday Food For Thought

First up, thanks to everyone who voted on their favorite muscle groups to work at the gym!  All eight of you (or maybe seven since I can’t recall if I voted or not) made my poll very representative of the blogging population (sarcasm alert!).  Although, based on what my I’ve heard my friends and clients say, it actually might be pretty accurate!  Looks like legs and core tied for first, with back and chest coming in second, and no one liking arm work at all.  Which, like I said, pretty much reflects everything I’ve ever heard when training!

Moving on, though!

Although last Friday’s post also involved food, I’m obviously talking about a different sort here.  I know I talk a lot about body image and staying sane and healthy with it, but today I was clicking around on my favorite blogs and came across a video that does the topic more justice than I can right now.  Leah posted this video of Jean Kilbourne lecturing about images of women in the media, and it reminded me of WHY I choose to write about these topics.  It reminded me why I write about eating disorders and self love and everything else.  I remember seeing other Killing Us Softly videos when I was a Women’s Studies major at Michigan, but this one really struck a chord with me.

So there you have it, folks.

THIS is why I was a Women’s Studies major. THIS is why I want to go back to school for a graduate degree. THIS is why I want to teach about destructive images of women in the media and how we can change them. THIS is why it’s so easy for me to hop up on my feminist soapbox. THIS is why half of my blog is about body image and being healthy but not succumbing to the pressures of someone else’s version of perfect.  Because it is a public health problem. It’s not just us girls being silly and taking things too personally. Although, when I see my fellow women beating themselves up, and even DYING, striving to be some ideal that doesn’t exist, I DO take it personally. But it’s not just our problem. It is the problem of every single person who has any relationship with any woman. It is EVERYONE’S problem.

(That was actually my exact comment on Leah’s blog, but I realized it conveys precisely how I feel about the topic, and I could think of no better words to express my thoughts, so there you go.)

Anyway, you know I love a good discussion, so lay it on me! What do you think? Of the video? Of the topic at hand?  Do you think the media is damaging to the self image of today’s woman?  Do you think it’s a public health issue?  Do you think we can change this?  How?  I know that’s a lot of questions, but SPILL!

Owning It: A Few More Confessions

So I’ve posted a couple times already about how I’m not a foodie, and on multiple occasions I’ve let you in on the not-so-secret secret that I still have body image/food issues. Then a few weeks ago, I posted myconfessions as a personal trainer.  And I’m going to post a few more here today. But unlike the confessions of my Catholic school days, I’m not going to ask for forgiveness or justify myself.  And I am most certainly not going to do penance for them.

These are a few of the things I’ve realized I need to own up to — things about myself that I need to lay out there because they are who I am and what I do, and, well, sorry I’m not sorry about them.  So what inspired this sudden show of bravado, you ask?  What made me decide to own up to all things Heather without feeling the need to explain myself?  Well my good real-life friend (we go wayyyy back, which is what I’m going to say when she becomes a ridic famous author) and blog buddy, Rachel, started the ‘Own It’ challenge, encouraging other bloggers to come out and state what they’re about, no apologies necessary.  Hmm, I thought, this is the perfect opportunity to talk about the things that I am constantly apologizing for that I really shouldn’t be.

In the past few years, I’ve noticed that my happiness factor has gone up exponentially since I stopped asking for permission so much.  And I actually remember having a conversation about this with Rachel on one of our many Starbucks dates back home in Michigan.  Last year, I told people that I was quitting my salaried desk job to become a trainer.  This year, Rachel told people she was up and moving to Texas.  We didn’t ask if these actions were OK, and we didn’t give a laundry list of reasons for why we were doing them.  And because people in general are so used to everyone (especially young women) asking if what they’re doing is right, this confused them.  You mean you don’t care what I think? Nope, or at least not enough to change my mind.  I’m forging on either way.  Anyway, inspired by that conversation and by her post on it, here are some more confessions that don’t bother my conscience one bit.  My opening declaration:

Since I’m a trainer, let’s start with something fitness related.  I hate running in the summer.  HATE. I do not like it at all.  Running in 90 degrees with 80% humidity just so I can tell people I’m a real runner?  No thanks.  I’ve been one, and maybe someday I’ll be one again, but not right now.  I like to breathe and not feel like I’m wading through the soup that is a Midwest summer.  If I run at all during the months of June, July, and August, it is at the gym or at night, and I do it because I know how many calories it burns, or sometimes because I need a change.  But you know what I would rather do for hours at a time in the summer? Bike or swim or dance or anything besides run.

Here’s another one: I am not a morning person.  Props to all of you that are, but I get pissed off when people make it seem like you are a lazy, slothful person if your internal alarm clock doesn’t have you springing out of bed at 6am.  Stop acting so damn self-righteous about it.  I get just as much accomplished as you do, but I just do it later in the day.  Give me a project to work on at 8pm and I’m way more inspired than I would be at 8am.  I like my workouts later in the day too.  I’m programmed this way, and I’m owning it.

For as much as I talk about loving the skin you’re in, I’m with Rachel on the fact that I would still like to lose weight, even if I do think I’m beautiful right now.  And as much as I talk about how unhealthy I was when I was at my skinniest (not having a period is usually a bad sign, folks), I sometimes still look at pictures and remember how much control I had and how good it felt to slide that XS or S on without a snag.  I will own that I feel that way, and I will also own that I still have some work to do, mentally and physically.

I also own that when fat talk starts with my girlfriends, I shut down.  I do not respond, or I get quite curt, all of my response being two words or less — if that.  I mostly do it because nothing about that conversation is healthy for any party involved.  We don’t need to perpetuate the cycle of caring more about our jeans size than our actual mental wellbeing.  But another part of it is that for the first time in my life, I’m not one of the skinny friends.  And that sounds catty, I know, but I know I didn’t fish for compliments even when I was the skinny friend.  It also hurts my feelings when my size-4 friends comment on how they need to ‘get rid of this flab’ because they are just ‘soooo disgusting.’ Gee thanks.  By the way, thanks for being a bitch and not thinking about anyone else’s feelings before you opened your mouth.

I also jump up on my feminist and body image champion soap boxes pretty quickly, much to the chagrin of any males in my life.  Sorry I’m not sorry.

I did a total 180 as far as careers go and quit my secure corporate job to become a trainer (with an unstable hourly wage) and a freelancer, and I put myself in a lot of debt doing so.  I also freaked my parents out and made them wonder why they paid for a bachelors degree in English and Women’s Studies (take a guess at how many times I heard, ‘So what are you going to do with that degree?’) from a good school for their eldest daughter.  I switched jobs again about a year into my gym job because it was so sales focused, and I refused to force people to buy training when they could hardly make their rent.  Sometimes I worried that I had made the wrong decision going into training.  But now I don’t regret it because I found a better fit that reminded me why I love what I do, and I love the freedom I have working at two smaller studios who really want the best for the clients.  I stumbled along the way, and I still don’t know what I’ll ultimately end up doing, but at 25, I don’t need to yet.

Even though I’m a trainer, I do not live at the gym.  And I won’t tell my clients that they have to either.  I won’t tell them they aren’t allowed to drink, because I do it, too (give me whiskey or beer, and I’m ready to go!).  I refuse to be a complete hypocrite with my clients, and I’m usually honest with them about how much I’m working out at any given time.  Also, lately, some of my workouts have taken a backseat to seeing friends or a boy.  But I’m good with this, because for a long time, it was the other way around.  I still work out, but I don’t let it take it over my life. I like this, and I own this.

So now it’s your turn — what are you owning, what have you owned, and what are you going to start owning that maybe you were afraid to before?

Worth a Look: Letters to My Body

Do you scrutinize or appreciate?

I haven’t done a whole lot of promoting for other sites — even though I think there are some amazing ones out there! — but I just couldn’t NOT say something about this one.

Elisabeth from Jogger’s Life has put together another, absolutely incredible site devoted to body image and EDs.  I’ve mentioned my relationship with my body and food plenty of times, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I’m a big supporter of this project.  Please head over to Letters to My Body, and check it out! She’s compiled anonymous letters sent in from readers addressing their own bodies and how they feel about them.  Take a look at the forums and chime in!  Hopefully we can start some healthy discussions on our relationships with our bodies, and if these relationships aren’t so healthy, maybe we can change that!

Here’s what Elisabeth has to say about the site:

The site is akin to PostSecret in that people can anonymously write a “Dear Body” letter and have it posted to the website.  The goal is to say all of the things that you’ve wanted to say to your body but never could vocally express.  It’s sort of meant to act as a “purge” of sorts, and the idea was born while I was in treatment for my own eating disorder–I needed to find a less destructive way to purge my feelings about myself and my body, and a pen and paper were the easiest way.

Personally, I think this could be a fantastic resource, and would recommend it to all of the women I know (and hey, some men, too!).  And on the topic of self image, tell me, how do you feel about your body?  Love it?  Hate it? Tolerate it?  Somewhere in between? I know I’ve come along way with loving my body and accepting that my body and I aren’t separate beings, but one person that needs love and appreciation to stay healthy and happy.  But I know I still struggle at times, which is why I love Elisabeth’s concept.  So before you dash over to Letters to My Body, what would a rough draft of your LTMB look like?  Spill!

Link Love and In Response to Anonymous #2

I am so so sorry I’ve neglected the blog, but this week has been crazy!  This was the last week of the month, meaning I was working 13 to 15 hour days and didn’t even have time to breathe, let alone blog.  Anyway, for now, I want to leave you with a few awesome links that really hit home with me this week.  If you aren’t already following these bloggers, I suggest you check them out!

First up, Gena from Choosing Raw wrote an amazing essay on embracing our appetites… for everything.  As a feminist and a woman, I can totally relate to this.  For a major chunk of my life, I was so focused on being the ‘good girl’ or the ‘skinny girl’ that I ignored everything and anything I was craving.  This essay really brings to light the fact that many of us do this all the time.  

Next, my good friend Rachel from Shedding It & Getting It wrote a few awesome posts related to the same idea.  Her first one about going with her cravings and deciding not to justify to herself or anyone else what she wanted was so inspiring that I just had to smile.  She also wrote one a few days ago about “Your Unruly Appetite” that was inspired by Gena’s post.  My favorite line? “Sometimes a girl needs to eat. And get laid. It’s biology, people — not a big f****** deal.” (Man, my parents are going to love that one…Hi, Mom!).

Another blogger, Kristin from Cook, Bake, and Nibble, talked about her experiences with disordered eating and denying herself as well.  Since it was NEDAwareness week, she talked about her struggles with body image and food.  I love the honesty of all of these ladies this week!

And one last thing before I go, I really wanted to address a comment left on my last post ‘Are Eating Disorders Contagious?‘  The second anonymous comment had this to say: “It sounds like you have an eating disorder and have had it since college. That’s what therapy is for. I don’t know if you can begin to get healthy until you face your demons and not project them on to your surroundings. I hope you take the steps to get help.” While I appreciate the honesty, and I think everyone has a right to state his or her opinion, I did want to discuss this one.  First of all, when I state my opinion in this way, I at least own up to it.  I wish “Anonymous #2″ had done the same. 

However, I would like to say to this commenter (and everyone else reading) that I have never denied having an eating disorder in college.  I had major control issues, and what I was doing was not healthy.  And I did get help.  Therapy got me my sanity back, and I give a ton of credit to the counselor who got me through so much at UMich.  And now, for the first time in a long time, I’m not counting calories and I’m not freaking out over every minute of cardio I miss or about every morsel of food that goes into my mouth.  The point of this post was to say that I am finally sane, but I know I still need to be careful because recovery doesn’t happen overnight.  I am not blaming anyone at work for any residual issues I have, just stating that I need to watch myself in that kind of environment so that I can take preventative measures to keep myself from going back to that darker place.  In the same way that someone might load up on vitamin C to keep from catching a cold that’s going around, I am forcing myself to notice what everyone is doing so that I don’t lose what I’ve fought so hard to get back — my health and my sanity.  I’m not saying I don’t still have a ways to go, but please belive that I am healthier and I am not ‘projecting my demons’ onto the amazing people with whom I work.     

To everyone else who left comments, thank you!  Your support and the fact that you read means the world to me!  And you know what, thank you to Anon #2 as well, because it’s important to address these things, and you gave me the opportunity to do so.

Hope everyone is having a fab weekend!  What you think of the links posted?  How do you feel about cravings and trying to control our appetites?  And for all of you bloggers or writers out there, how do you address the less-than-positive comments?  Do you address them at all?         

Are Eating Disorders Contagious?

Lately at work, everyone has been sick! We all have colds right now, and it probably doesn’t help that we all hang out with each other for 14 hours at a time on very little sleep at a super germy gym. We’re totally passing it back and forth to one another.

At the same time, a lot of us here are working towards certain fitness goals and training for sports or competitions, especially with summer coming up. Being trainers, we’re all pretty committed to it, but I’m starting to get a little hyperaware of what I’m doing, how much I’m training, and what I’m eating. While I like the discipline I’m getting back, I’m also getting a little nervous about how much I’m starting to think about my training and my diet. Because the guys are constantly talking about their food and calories and how much weight they need to cut and how if they don’t puke they aren’t working out hard enough, I’ve caught myself thinking about these same things. A lot.

The thing is, I really don’t want to. Yes, I want to be healthy and make conscious choices about my food and workouts, but I don’t want it to escalate to obsession. Because I’ve been there before, and I have no desire to let being a certain weight or size completely run my life again. In college, I was so focused on keeping my weight down (at a weight that was far too low for me, in fact), that I planned out every little thing I put in my mouth (planning isn’t bad, but the level to which I did it was ridiculous), and I ended up putting so much stress on my body with exercise that my period stopped.

So I think you can understand why getting anywhere near that territory again scares me. Before, I was influenced by other people too. All of my friends being fixated on their weight and food put in my head that I should be too. I sort of ‘caught’ disordered eating habits from the women around me (and maybe society as a whole, but that’s another post). Here it’s a bunch of guys with “athletic goals,” so no one says they have eating disorders. They admire each others’ commitment, even though sometimes it clearly is disordered behavior.

Before, when I lived with all girls in the dorms and in the sorority house, it was actually a similar situation. We talked about food and calories allll the time, and girls were always giving each other tips or asking questions on how to cut calories and fill up on the smallest amount. The girls that could eat the least seemed to have a whole lot of self control and received praise, but I think we all knew it wasn’t healthy. I happened to be one of those girls for most of college. I ate “super healthy” all the time – which actually meant that I stayed away from sweets, loaded up on veggies to stay full, and ate the least amount of calories possible while running every day. But there was also a backlash from that, with my house mom telling me I looked a little too skinny and someone starting a rumor that I didn’t eat dinner at the house some nights because I didn’t want people knowing how little I actually ate (for the record, I had to work during the little half hour window they gave us for dinner at the house.)  Anyway, at one point I was living on 700-1000 calories a day (unless I drank, then it was just a little more – that’s what we call “drunkorexia,” folks), running 6-7 miles daily, and lifting a few times a week. I’m shocked I never passed out, honestly. Anyway, I convinced myself that I was just really disciplined, when in fact, I was really obsessed and had major control issues.

I do want to keep up this discipline and renewed commitment to feeling like an athlete again, but I don’t want to drive myself crazy with it as I did in the past. I already caught a cold from the guys I work with, but I’d like to avoid catching anything more serious.

What do you all think? Can you ‘catch’ an eating disorder or disordered eating from someone else? Or do you think some people are actually predisposed to EDs? Do other people influence your food and exercise choices? I really want to know how you feel about this topic, so spill!

100-Calorie Scams

Even knows: Just because it’s low-cal doesn’t mean it’s good for you!
I recently saw an ad featuring Venus and Serena Williams for Nabisco’s 100-Calorie Packs on Now, I truly love Glamour for its mainly positive message to women, and I think the Williams sisters are pretty badass for their complete domination of tennis, but I have a major problem with the magazine and the sisters promoting a nutritionally void snack that uses “Diet Like a Diva” as its slogan.
First of all, Glamour has been running all sorts of articles about what eating disorders will do to your body and how eating wholesome foods is the way to go when it comes to losing weight or just staying healthy. They’ve also got the Body by Glamour plan, which, again, promotes eating healthy foods with redeeming nutritional qualities. It’s not supposed to be a ‘diet,’ but a plan with plenty of smart takeaways that will help you make permanent lifestyle changes. So it’s understandable that I take issue with the mag for pimping packaged products with the lowest amount of calories possible, right?
Additionally, the fact that the Williams sisters are the faces of this campaign really irks me. I honestly do not think that these athletes are munching on 100-calorie packs all day to keep themselves in shape. To compete like they do, I’m pretty sure they’re eating a wholesome diet full of lean protein, whole grains, and lots of produce. Sure, maybe they’ve tested the products they’re pretending to eat in the ads, but really? Do you believe that the million-time Wimbledon champs are refueling with Wheat Thins substitutes?
To be honest, I’m rarely one of those “everything in moderation” people (still working on it), and in my calorie-obsessed college days I will admit that I totally fell for this idea, but I simply can’t justify it anymore. I do understand that everyone needs a treat sometimes, but why not promote the idea that we can indulge just a little bit every now and then with something a little closer to the real thing? Personally, a little baggie of imitation cocoa-flavored wafers does not nix my chocolate craving. But you know what does? Actual chocolate (the darker the better in my case). And if I have a small enough piece, it’s going to be about 100 calories (give or take) as well, so why would I waste calories and money on little baggies (not so eco-friendly either there, Nabisco) of satisfaction-free chemically-laden ‘food’?
Anyway, I want to know what YOU have to say about this. Have you seen these ads? What do you think of them? How do you feel about Venus and Serena as well as Glamour promoting the products? What do you think of the 100-cal marketing scheme in general?

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