New roundtable podcast on disordered eating is up! George Bryant, Stacy Toth, Sarah the Paleo Mom, Tara of Primal Girl, and more.
I recently had the enormous delight and honor to hang out and chat with George, Stacy, Sarah, and Tara about our personal experiences and opinions on body image – on The Paleo View for the third time in four months. Awesome! The podcast has now been posted, and there are also extensive show notes at the link if you don’t have the time to listen and just want to get the gist of it. These are really powerful people with big time ideas, and I love them all so much, they’re such wonderful friends and real people who are inspiring for both of those facts in equal measure.
George and Stacy on bulimia, me on perfectionism, how people treat you differently when you change your appearance — literally – do you become more visible? an object? – what happens when your fourth grade teacher tells you you’re fat, and how the shape of your self love changes as your weight loss / health efforts move forward.
Grab the podcast here or on the image below!
Today is the second to last day of Eating Disorder Awareness Week. The theme of this year’s Week is “Everybody Knows Somebody.” It’s sponsored by the National Eating Disorder Awareness Foundation, and the goal this year is to spread awareness of the prevalence of eating disorders.
And boy they are prevalent:
One in one hundred American women are anorexic;
One in forty are bulimic;
Eight million Americans suffer from eating disorders– so that makes about 7 million of them women, and 1 million of them men.
If you know more than fifty people, statistics say you know someone.
Eating Disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. They are, in fact, uniquely life-threatening: the mortality rate associated with anorexia is 12 times higher than the death rate of all causes of death for females 15 – 24 years old.
So they’re not a joke. Almost half of anorexics never fully recover, and approximately a fifth of all people who suffer eating disorders die of complications related to the issue.
So what do we do about it?
I know it sounds trite, but I have no better solution. We treat everyone we meet with acceptance and affirmation, and we smile at people and love them even from a distance, and we do our best to hold the spaces of those who struggle. We do not judge anyone; we do not laugh at people for suffering under the weight of these mental pressures; we walk with as much empathy as possible. For people who suffer eating disorders, as well as anyone else.
For eating disorder victims who are closer to us in our lives, we have the unique and important opportunity to love them more specifically. It takes a very long time to learn to accept ourselves as we are, and to let go of whatever demons (which are numerous) make them feel the need to control or to purge or to what-have-you. So one way in which we teach people to love themselves is to be demonstrable about our love for them, and to make them as absolutely safe and comfortable and at home as possible in our presences. Over time, that safe and comfort permeates the rest of their lives, and hopefully their brain spaces, too.
Yet perhaps the most important thing we can do as individuals and as a society is to live by example.
It always baffled me, when I struggled with body image and food, how some women I knew could have some fat on their abdomens and still wear bikinis out in broad daylight. They would smile and laugh like everything was fine, and it was beautiful and amazing if a bit befuddling. What the hell? How could I personally do that? Did I want to? But didn’t I have to wait until I had the perfect body?
No! No one is ever perfect, and no one ever feels perfect. Instead, those women who were laughing and joyful in their own skin, they were choosing to ignore fear and to affirm their own contexts. What if everybody did that? What if we all stopped apologizing for the current state that our bodies are in — whether thin or overweight, young or old, baggy or springy, healing or sick, crippled or toned? What if we owned our natural bodies and our histories, and lived without fear of rejection? What if we dared to be ourselves without criticism or doubt? What if we loved ourselves so much that the world began transforming into a radically affirming rather than radically fearful place?
So it’s a fantasy. I don’t care. And that’s the whole point. For what do we aim, if not the stars?
Eating Disorders such as Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimina Nervosa come from a wide variety of places and mental disturbances. Different circumstances such as the level of control we have over our lives or family issues or OCD or anything else destabilizing plays as big a role as love and affirmation in eating disorders. So solving those problems is complicated. But the part about love is crucial. Love powerfully does two things: it creates a safe space in which people can work through more complex issues, and it over time teaches them how to radically love and embrace themselves.
As for those of us who do not suffer from explicit eating disorders but suffer daily from disordered eating and body image issues — which may be as high as 50 percent of the general population or even 75 percent of certain populations such as women in college — the answers are much the same. The need for love is so big. The need to overcome fear is urgent. The need to stand firmly in ourselves and love ourselves and never waver in the face of adversity — priceless.
The biggest factor in the epidemic of disordered eating is fear. Fear makes us doubt ourselves; it makes us worry; it makes us try to change ourselves with a neuroticism that can be frightening.
Fear is the opposite of love. Fear tears at the bindings of love, and it makes it impossible to hold on. Fear leaps on the spirit like a giant, voracious spider, and it slices through all of our positive emotions to make us empty and alone. When we are afraid of what people think of us, we lose our ability to live freely. We become defensive; we withdraw into ourselves; and as we sit in ourselves, we worry about the face we are presenting to the world, we worry about our image, and we worry about how we might ever achieve validation.
When we are faced with defensive or fearful people in turn, our walls go up. Walls spring up between people dozens of times every day. This happens in an act of anticipation: instead of anticipating love and affirmation from them, we anticipate rejection, and we tuck ourselves away before we have the opportunity to be hurt.
On days when I am at peace and I love myself, and I feel confident and happy to be in my shoes, I meet everyone’s eyes and smile. I am not afraid of them. They cannot hurt me — I am secure in who I am. And this is the trick to the whole thing. We have to be firm in ourselves. We have to stop apologizing for who we are. We have to accept who we are, and radically, and to live comfortably in our own shoes.
We also have to acknowledge that other people are going through the same process. Everyone wants to be affirmed, and everyone fears rejection. If people are nasty to us, it’s only because of their own personal pain or worry, and not because of our own value. Instead of engaging others in a dance of avoidance and walls, then, what if we lower our own? What if we take that first step towards reconciliation, and what if we give ourselves up as open and vulnerable? What if we stop fearing others, and extend love to them? What happens then? How do they respond to our openness, our positivity, our fearlessness, our love?
If we do not dare to be brilliant, and to think ourselves lovely first, then no one is going to doing it, period.
Someone has to be leaping, and it may as well be you.
The final piece to all of this is that it’s fun to be the leaper. It takes a long time to accept ourselves. But every day on the journey is an adventure. It’s a lesson in life, and it teaches us about the shape of our own minds, our histories, and who we are. It helps us understand our own skin, and it helps us understand humanity. And even more than that, it helps us laugh. Be joyful. Be free. Fly. Share our new groundedness and lack of fear with others. Stare life straight in the face and stop flinching. Look at it instead with fierce eyes, wind in our hair, brilliant smiles, and a body bursting with joy. It doesn’t work this way every second, no. But periodically, and increasingly, and with more and more understanding of the shape of the world. Life isn’t out to get us specifically. We just have to dare to drop our walls, and to affirm with radical and radiant love what it means to be a human being: Love. Joy. Community. Courage. Falling, and getting back up. Running, and sometimes coming in second place. Being in our own skin, and delighting in it. Sharing that love with others, and inviting them to do the same.
I have a friend who once told me that everything we do in life is either an act of fear, or an act of love. What a brilliant way of looking at the world. Open up with love, and let the fear slide.
Be at peace in your own skin, and show everyone else in your life what a joy that can be.
We can build this world. We can heal those around us. We can re-inforce the fractures in our friends, if slowly and with Herculean will. What it takes is the desire to step up. It says saying “I do,” to both ourselves, and to our loved ones. And then to leap, and to laugh, and to love.
Suffer from an eating disorder? Or disordered eating? Or body image issues? Have lived through them and come out on the other side? What’s your story?
Check out National Eating Disorders for more info.
More questions about PCOS this afternoon! No surprises here. Below are some thoughts on endometriosis and PCOS, quinoa, feeling restricted, allergies, and moving forward with hypothalamic amenorrhea.
If you find that a question you asked me is below and I have not stripped it enough of your personality to post it here, please let me know.
Help! I have both endometriosis and PCOS. I don’t understand– I thought endometriosis was a condition of high estrogen levels, and PCOS a condition of low estrogen levels. What gives?
There are two ways to answer this question. First, PCOS patients can have high estrogen levels, and in fact many of us do. For this reason, you can have both endometriosis and PCOS without rocking the boat of your theory. On the other hand, I also believe it is entirely possible to have endometriosis and to have low estrogen levels. This is because endometriosis and endometrial pain is related to high estrogen levels, but there are a variety of other factors in the development of endometriosis. Having an impaired immune system and inflammation are two big ones on the list. Once those things happen together, and you plant endometrial tissue somewhere in your abdomen (and in all likelihood aided by having high estrogen levels), then you have endometrial tissue that is going to be very difficult to weaken. That is just the nature of the tissue. It does not just shed off effortlessly. In this time period your estrogen levels can drop and your immune system can improve, but your tissue may still cause you pain. This is how you can have low estrogen and endometriosis. The solution is to mitigate the problems as best you can, reducing stress and inflammation, healing your gut, boosting your immune system, and eating a hormone balancing diet such as the paleo diet.
I wrote about endometriosis at great length here.
I stumbled upon your website researching the Paleo lifestyle and was pleasantly surprised to see the tie in to PCOS! I’m sure you’re wondering why I’m commenting on this article but being an avid consumer of marijuana, I had to click and read. Admittedly, I was quite disappointed in what I read not about marijuana but more about seeds, nuts and quinoa. I was under the impression that quinoa was NOT a grain but rather a seed. I’ve successfully omitted all grains, beans, soya from my diet and this was a major bummer to read. I am feeling very deprived right now thinking of the possibility of having to omit this as well. Thank you for the great article however and keep up the great work.
Quinoa is in fact not a grain. It is called a “psuedo cereal” because it does not come from grains or grasses, but is rather the seed of a plant. It is gluten free. That being said, it also has many properties that seeds do, such as having a relatively high amount of phytoestrogen content (and will contain many of the phytates inherent to legumes, beans, and grains all). Phytates are also a bit of a problem for PCOS because they have the potential to limit calcium and magnesium absorption– two ions quite crucial for the development of healthy and fertile corpus lutea. All of which is to say that seeds are not great for PCOS, but unless you are eating buckets they will not make or break your case. Probably, at least, in my opinion.
My thoughts about restriction are of course always complicated. If quinoa is something that is necessary for you to feel good about food and your body, then I advocate keeping it in your diet at least for a while. Clean up as much as you can, and relax into your food choices. Try eating less whenever it seems easy to do so. If it’s a battle, don’t fight it. Just phase it out only as you can let it go with peace. This will happen over time with patience and with love. And if it does not, I really think that’s okay, too. Take care of your brain first and foremost. It is going to be your most important tool by far for taking care of your body for the rest of your life.
I have question. I had a hysterectomy in May 2012. I struggle with endometriosis, hashimoto’s, Sjögren’s syndrome & celiac. I’m on estrogen therapy & the autoimmune protocol but my allergies are getting worse! I eat meat, non starchy vegetables & fruit. I can’t tolerate any spices or starches & my allergies continue to worsen. Any suggestions?
You may wish to try eating a GAPS diet to heal your gut further. Allergies are not my specialty– but I highly recommend first doing everything you can to assist your immune system, since this is where allergy problems are rooted. This includes reducing stress, getting as much sunlight and/or vitamin D as possible, eating organ meat often–I’d advocate at least once each week–getting as much sleep as possible, and potentially getting your micronutrient levels checked to see if you have any deficiencies that are hindering immune function. Boosting immune function will help your immune system react appropriately to foods without leaping into panic mode. It also depends very much on what your allergies are and how you are reacting to them. Are they definitely allergic reactions, or are they food intolerances? This is a crucial difference. An allergy is rooted more in immune issues and food intolerance is rooted more in the gut. Allergen-specializing docs are probably the best place to go for troubleshooting this sort of issue. You also want to make sure you are taking care of your hypothyroidism appropriately — are you supplementing with thyroid hormone? because with Hashimoto’s you may need to be, so speak with your doctor about it — because thyroid hormone is crucial for immune function, for cellular repair, for probably energy usage, and just about everything else cells do.
I have had HA since february, since I stopped taking the birth pill. I am really underweight (5’10 and 100#). I lost a lot of weight when I started crossfit and doing a low-carb diet for two years. I am now trying to conceive. My hormone levels are all very low. I haven’t worked out for several months. I only walk daily for one hour. I started seeing a therapist about my anxiety, who is helping me gain weight. She makes me track my calories in order to gain weight. I have to eat more than 2,000 calories but rarely go over. I am a bit scared of carbs. Gaining weight is not working although I eat more and stopped working out. I keep counting the carbs and feel bad having potato chips and a cookie (too much carbs). I do eat a good amount of fat (teaspoons of coconut oil, nut butter bacon, greek yogurt etc…). What should I do?
Since your primary concern– and biggest obstacle– in getting pregnant is convincing your body that you are fed, you want to err on the side of eating more rather than less. This should be the case all of the time. Also, I recommend that you eat whatever you want. Anything you want. I personally eat a very high carobhydrate for extended periods of time to zero ill effect. Do your absolute best to stay within the range of non-toxic foods (ie, skip the gluten, deep fried foods) and eat heartily. The more frequently you can hit your 2000 mark, or even better, go over, and the less you obsess, the faster you’ll regain hypothalamic health.
I cannot stress to you how much all of the factors of relaxing, reducing your anxiety, and gaining weight are all important for your ability to conceive. This takes a lot of work. You are going to have to have patience, and to forgive yourself as much as possible for all of the difficulty you are having moving forward. The thing is that it is not your fault. You have become inordinately thin as a result of psychological pressures put on you by an external environment, and now you are stuck with fighting that. Keep your chin up and move forward as lovingly as possible. Accept yourself as a natural body with natural needs. When you look in the mirror, don’t obsess. As a matter of fact, don’t look in the mirror. It is way too easy to start seeing ourselves as bigger than we used to be– and even while we need to gain weight to be and even look healthier, by the simple fact of being “bigger” we think we look huge. Don’t let your brain trick you into such radical subjectivity. Do your best to put your evolutionary need and your fertility at the front of your mind, and be excited when you see yourself put on a bit of weight. Do it slowly and make sure to protect your brain in all of this, but embrace your needs. You are a woman with some strong ovaries and the power to carry children. Nourish yourself as your body is crying out for, and take as much pride in that as possible. Being thin doesn’t make you worthy. Being a badass and tackling these problems with as much love and determination as possible does.
Eat carbohydrates!!!! Carbohydrates a) do not make you overweight, they just don’t, period, and b) are supremely healthful for you, especially in a state of metabolic distress. Start eating them slowly and learn bit by bit the lessons I am telling you. You will see that they make you feel and look better without making you balloon in some ridiculous fashion. They are just food, same as fat and protein. Period. Eat them whenever, however, and however much of them as you want.
Be patient, however, love. These things can take time depending on how much damage has been done and how diligent you are about allowing some weight gain and calorie intake. Increase what you are doing as much as possible, and make sure that you are erring on the side of nourishing yourself more rather than less. Believe it or not you have already made radical progress. You have started therapy– something most women never do!– and you have admitted that you need to work on some of these issues. And you have really cut back on your exercise, and you are working on eating more and gaining weight. These are all awesome things. You are doing it, and you have so much to be proud of moving forward. You will get there, especially with love, forgiveness, and harmony with your natural body on your side.
You can read more about my work and opinions and plans for PCOS in the manual PCOS Unlocked.Read More
Today’s food and love hack is one of my favorites. It has been one of the most important hacks for my own health and happiness. It gets at the very root of many over/under eaters’ issues, and, I would argue, perfectionists and this society as a whole.
The Hack: Loosing your Dependence on “Why”
Why do we ask the question “why?”
We ask the question “why?” because we are curious creatures. That makes sense. We like knowing things. Additionally, the question “why” is key to our survival. It’s an evolutionarily evolved advantage. The more we question, the more we know. The more we know, the more we can navigate our environments safely.
For an every day example: just two days ago I felt my face start to heat up. I thought: “hm? The cold weather?” and I sat in that hypothesis. I let my body feel what it needed to feel. But the sensation did not get better. In fact, it got much worse. Much later that day I remembered that I had used an old therapeutic lotion that morning, and I thought: “holy crap, I gave myself a chemical peel.” I am now recovering as appropriately as I can because I have that knowledge. This is what we get for thoughtlessly using modern interventions, ladies.
Knowledge enables us to control ourselves and to exert control over our environments. This is a good thing– perhaps the most excellent thing of all! It is well-known in psychological and sociological literature that the more control a person perceives she has over her own life, the happier she tends to be. No one likes to be controlled, and no one likes to be out of control, either. ”Learned helplessness” is in fact the clinical term used for one of the greatest causes of depression and anxiety.
For this reason, the question “why” is of supreme importance to our lives. I might even argue that it is the most important concept for us as human beings. The question “why” I really do believe makes us human even more than love or virtue or awareness does.
So why advocate loosening our hold on it?
It is my belief that we sometimes develop unhealthy relationships with the word “why.” The great extent to which we have “figured out” existence up to this point in our society has led us to develop the illusion that we can know and control more than is actually possible.
Many of us have health issues or are at least concerned about optimizing our health. But how much is this truly possible through tweaking? Much we might like to believe that we can master our bodies completely, even in the most highly analyzed and tweaked body there are millions of processes going on at any given point in time that could influence the individual. We simply cannot account for all of them–we cannot. Accounting for every single feeling, fluctuation, or indicator we experience is an exercise not just in fertility, but in a particular kind of madness.
Which is my own kind of madness, mind you.
Hyper-attention to the question “why” when coupled with the belief that our bodies can be controlled by food intake is not a godsend but a big time trouble maker. Appropriate attention to the word “why” is great. Hyper attention is not. When we continually ask why we are feeling a certain way, and needing desperately to know the mechanics of it all, then we come to a place where we are trying to optimally control everything that is happening in our bodies– something that I would argue from personal experience is just about impossible.
There are a wide range of factors that make health still as mysterious as it is a hack-able problem. Our psychology is one of them, perhaps the most important one. How we are thinking and feeling at any given point in time exerts an enormous influence on our health. For this reason, our desire to control what’s going on in our bodies may in fact be counter-productive. But we cannot know precisely how and why that works– we just have to do it as best we can.
Our immune systems are also quite complicated. How do we know when and what we are battling at any given point in time?
Or what was our gut flora doing on that particular day? Had we reacted to a food that would normally have been quite comfortable?
Is our hormone balance off because of a night’s sleep, or just because of a natural fluctuation?
If we are healthy, and we feel healthy, I believe that we need to let go. We should ask why as often as it is helpful, and on other occasions begin trusting our bodies and our lifestyles to do their job without micromanagement.
This can powerfully help us relax our relationships with food. We want to know how certain foods affect us, but micromanaging our food intake exacerbates the impulse for control and perfection. We become obsessive over figuring things out, controlling our bodies, and being the master over them. A bit healthier of a perspective might be to let them speak to us without prodding back. And trust them. It may seem impossible at times — how do I know if I am hungry or not?! — but we’ve just got to trust that the right hunger response and the right healing mechanism is in there and trying ot come out, and we’ve got to let it happen.
It won’t be perfect moving forward, but that’s almost the point. Work with your body and trust in it, and ask it questions only that you think you have the power to answer gently and without panic.
This has to do with our bodies, but it also has to do with our lives. Are we trying to control too much? Are we attempting to master our environments and our friends and our emotions with an iron-tipped whip? We don’t need to — and it’s probably a bit of a illusion that we ever think we might be able to, anyway. Questioning and loosening our relationship with “why” and working on trust issues helps us loosen up if we have a controlling grip on our lives.
Don’t let go of “why” entirely. But analyze it’s role in your life. If you feel a bit off one day, don’t run to scary questions and conclusions. Don’t question your whole eating paradigm. Give yourself some grace, and trust in your body, and see how it goes. Perhaps it shall resolve itself.
And think about the issue particularly as it relates to your relationship with food. Do you micromanage your food intake based on microsymptoms? Do you hyper-detect, and therefore get a bit obsessive about what you are eating? Do you exercise so much control over your eating patterns that you have forgotten what it feels like to be hungry, to be satiated, to feel good about yourself naturally? Work on micromanaging less, and trusting your body more. It’s doing what it needs to heal itself much of the time. YES it needs help, and yes it needs questions and answers, but never in a way that harms you or it, psychologically, physiologically, holistically, spiritually.
Give “why” a looser leash. Permit it some freedom and some peace, and move forward with trusting, loving, and embracing your natural self and life.
As I feel myself rounding some important bases in defining who I am — especially as the calendar turns from 2012 into a bold, new year — I am thinking that maybe it’s a good time to share with you my personal story of my relationship with food and my body. This is especially the case because 2012 was the most pivotal year for the “healing” of my relationship with food, and it may have some decent insights in it.
I don’t know what purpose this endeavor might serve this community or any of you, but I hope very much that it delivers feelings of hope, reason to believe in yourself, and camaraderie as you move forward in your own journey, wherever you may be.
I do my best skim lightly through my earlier years, and then get more serious about key turning points in my recent life. I err on the side of detail rather than brevity, but I figure it better to be inclusive and truly “tell all” than skip a piece that might be helpful to someone. I break it apart roughly by year if you’d like to scroll to the more relevant bits.
My personal story with food starts before I can ever really remember. It is rooted in the core of my personality, as well as in my psychological needs. I have been an obsessive over-thinker and over-categorizer my entire life, largely because I perceived a need to control as much of existence as possible. This manifested in things such as hyper-ambition and an addiction to achievement as well as to more mundane minutiae such as counting ceiling tiles, knowing all of the facts about history and geography I could get my hands on, and most importantly with keeping religious track of time. The more I knew about the world, the better mastery I had over it. My last boyfriend’s living room had 167 ceiling tiles on it. Kathmandu is the capitol of Nepal. Macomb mall is 2.4 miles from my house by way of Masonic boulevard but 2.7 by way of 14 mile road. That would take me one hour and seven minutes by my leisurely pace in my regular boots with a backpack or fifty eight minutes if unburdened or walking with my friend Liz whose mile pace is approximately 4 minutes faster than mine.
This hyper-vigilance I believe is rooted in my earliest problems and some events that may be rightfully called early-childhood trauma. I was terrified of dying and a complete nihilist who had panic attacks about non-being by age five. (A Sartre-ian by first grade… thank you post-modernism.) I filled this gap with ambition and achievement, and also with that profound sense of knowledge about the world I just mentioned. This meant that I have always been a bit of a perfectionist. I have a feeling this is a story at least a bit familiar to many of you.
This isn’t to say that I’ve been necessarily compulsive or freakish, though I’d happily adopt and in fact often use such pejoratives. Instead, I think, however, we are all just human and we all cope with existential anxiety in one way or another. We are all normal-ish, and my methods of coping with existence have served me well for most of my life.
I also grew up a bit of a professional dancer, and later a participant in the competititve dance circuit. I was always just a bit bigger and a bit less pretty than the other dancers. This is just true, and it’s fine. At the time, however, it meant that I missed out on some of the good stuff like scholarships, pageants, and competition invites, and also that I wished very much that I could be as hot as the other dancers.
But whatever– all teenagers want to be more attractive. I was one of them.
It also doesn’t help growing up in a home of constant dieters. Atkins, Weight Watchers, Juicing. Many of us can relate to that. If you grow up in an environment in which food intake is regulated by something other than natural hunger drives– by anything other than natural hunger drives– I think we are predisposed to become out of tune with our bodies and their needs. Being very driven, at this age I started working out twice each day–biking a total of at least 20 miles and lifting weights– and eating a specific diet. And then I’d go horrifyingly off the rails, because who the hell wouldn’t on a diet based on Special K and lettuce?
Then came college, in which I continued to struggle. Many women do. The majority of emails I receive are from women who develop self-conscious behaviors while in college. It just so happened that I went to a school in a sea of sexy valedictorians. I was a perfectionist among perfectionists, and we lived as ambitiously as we did wildly.
Anyway. The efforts I had made throughout high school and college were unsuccessful, and I felt so alien in and hated my body. Within a few years I finally hacked calorie restriction, however. On about 1000 calories a day with significant cardio exercise I lost 30 pounds in 3 months. Talk about hunger. It was at this point in my life that I discovered food porn. I looked at pictures of food and read food blogs religiously, maybe for an hour or more a day. A few years after this period in my life I read studies about severely calorie restricted men who did the same thing. They also hoarded food (check) became defensive and possessive about food (check) and drew pictures of food, made souvenirs, collected nuts to look at, etc. People are who are starving obsess. And rightfully so.
This was also the time in which I stopped menstruating.
A little bit later I was introduced to the paleo diet. While I resisted heavily the idea of eating meat for environmental and animal rights-based reasons, I capitulated. I began listening to podcasts, reading all of the books and blogs… the same sort of radical conversion story a lot of you are familiar with. When you discover the paleo diet, it just sort of makes sense in that basic way, and you leap head first into an orgy of statistics and science and success stories. But for me–as probably for a fair portion of paleo dieters–my excitement was mostly at the promise of being effortlessly thin. With the paleo diet, I wouldn’t have to feel so restricted. The “satiation power” of fat and protein would make the burden of my weight maitenance efforts slide off of my shoulders. I’d eat sardines. I wouldn’t feel hungry. I’d be skinny. Life would be perfect. Hooray!
Needless to say that wasn’t quite how the story went down at all. As a matter of fact, it was at this point in my life, for the first time ever, that episodes of overeating became real food binges, in which I might eat half of a pumpkin cheesecake after a whole Thanksgiving dinner, a whole serving tray of gourmet desserts on my birthday, or a few loaves of dessert bread at Christmas parties. The fact that I had forbidden carbohydrates of nearly all forms from my diet meant that I needed them all the more strongly. This phenomenon is one of the great monsters I try to tackle with this blog: macronutrient restriction. If your diet is actively restricting you and making you feel deprived, chances are quite good that food intake, choices, and willpower will all domino behind that.
This also meant that eating a “paleo diet” didn’t heal me at all. It made my struggle all the more difficult, and precisely because the diet was supposed to work but didn’t, I felt even more like I was doing something wrong. This was frustrating and discouraging on several levels. What was wrong with me that it wasn’t work? What did I need to do? Did I need to do the diet even more “perfectly”? I tried. I think a lot of us know what that’s like.
This was all also on the heels of several decades of struggle to be thin, topped off with the achievement of that weight. As Stacy of Paleo Parents talked about at length on our podcast, sometimes maitenance really is more difficult than active progress. This is probably rooted in the fact that human beings can often approach an upgrade such as an additional twenty bucks (or five pounds weight loss) with a fair bit of relative indifference, but become horribly neurotic and possessive of those benefits once they are already ours. We hate losing what we have far more than failing to obtain those things in the first place.
A bit later I started the Paleo Pepper blog, and at that site I had originally intended to just write about the paleo diet. That very quickly morphed into a disordered-eating centric blog, however. Turns out we all write about what we know and what we care about, and this happened to be something I knew quite intimately.
That blog ended up being… I think an exploration of how to cope with disordered eating, and how to keep ourselves from overeating. It was in no way a blog aimed at restriction or at negative behaviors, but I didn’t quite get it yet, either. I was trying to stop overeating without considering the radical psychological shifts that needed to happen. For this reason, I am ambivalent about the blog. It has helped and it continues to help a lot of women, but I don’t endorse approaching any of the content there without knowing that at that time I was an author who hadn’t quite “made it” to that point.
Wow, this has become quite the story.
Because we haven’t even gotten to some of the most important part yet.
Coupled with my history with disordered eating was a growing concern over my acne and my PCOS. Food had to be related, but I just couldn’t figure out how. The information on the internet is — holy hell – as confusing as Beijing public transit, and nothing I ever tried to hack my acne worked. For several years I fought that monster, with virtually no relief. What the hell was going on?
Coming into 2012, I decided to try drugs. It seemed like the last solution left, though in reality the true final solution was one that was too hard to accept, more on which in a minute.
I got on metformin first, which caused anxiety attacks and even worse acne than I had had before, and then I tried spironolactone and T3, for my acne and hypothyroid together. Spiro is well known to cause an initial outbreak, though a few cases never get past it. I didn’t. The Spiro gave me the worst cystic acne I had had in years, and on top of that it caused in me profound dehydration, insomnia, and anxiety. The thing about anxiety is that it begets anxiety. Pharmacological reasons for anxiety add to and sort of cause to fester already present anxieties– bringing to the surface anything that had ever worried me in the past two decades. I won’t tell you about that specifically, but I will tell you that this anxiety capitulated the most terrifying and difficult twelve months of my entire life.
I was also completely thrown by my inability to overcome acne and PCOS with the powers of my brain (remember the 5 year old categorizer). In January of 2012, right after I started taking the drugs, I realized that I was addicted to perfection, and that that was the root of most of my problems. I realized the depth to which I had been married to my problem solving abilities. I was dependent upon my apparent life-long ability to make everything as excellent as I wanted it to be. Perfectionism might not be the right word. But a constantly improving excellence in many aspects of life with ceaseless fervor and a refusal to give up… that is perhaps the best way to couch my own personal brand of perfectoinism.
So in one swift and terrifying week, I let go of it all.
I embraced weight gain, I told my life-long academic dreams to go fuck themselves (oops), and I endeavored to be nothing more than nothing, a lovely, floating being at peace with existence and seemlessly living in life and in love. It didn’t work, obviously– far too much of my personality was shaped by my earlier life to be completely overthrown. And while I loved my body radically, I still wanted it to be a certain way; I still desperately feared fat. I lived in a state of constant body awareness feeling totally trapped. I needed to gain weight possibly in order to be healthy and to save me from acne, but if I gained weight I’d be fat. In one direction I had acne and was ugly, in the other I had fat and was ugly. I couldn’t win– I just couldn’t win, and that fact tortured me. This meant that I continued to meticulously monitor what I was eating, and even while including carbohydrates in my diet, was fairly scared about what they might do to me.
I got off of the drugs and that helped a fair bit. But the anxiety returned. This was still in part a physiological issue, but much of the psychological pieces that had come to a head with these issues refused to be put away.
I moved forward with tackling anxiety first and foremost on my to-do list. Acne no longer seemed like the enormous monster it had been before. It was still a big issue, but what’s one zit compared to existential peace? And weight status… whatever! What’s my body weight compared to my will to live? Not a whole lot. So even while I was meticulous about eating cleanly to mitigate the remnants of my acne, and even while I still participated in “disordered” behaviors such as emotionally relying on food, fearing fat, and purging with exercise, over the summer, in my attempts to hack my anxiety, I ran up against the limits of my brain and my body. I needed to accept them, and to relinquish my hold on perfectionism. I discovered trust, and I discovered radical love.
What I realized is that my existence doesn’t have to be terrifying. For me, my journey with food sits inside of my journey with perfectionism, which sits inside my journey with anxiety, which in turn sits in my journey with metaphysics and with the Universe. My whole life, I needed to be the best because that was the only thing I could think of that would make my life meaningful, worth-living, and somehow, in the tiniest way, immortal.
Perfection–or excellence–would save me from existential despair. It used to, in any case. But in 2012, in the last twelve months, I realized how so, very empty that endeavor is. This is, perhaps, another familiar story to you.
I had thought that I needed to be so extraordinarily excellent because that would make me worthy of love, and love is the only thing other than my fervent pursuit of academic achievement that might fill that existential hole sitting deep in my soul. Improvement, optimality, perfection, achievement, validation… these were the things on which I predicated the iota of meaning I could salvage from my nihilism.
In 2012, I finally made peace with my existence. Even while I’ve typed far more than I intended here, I’m still leaving out whole pieces of my career, my studies in metaphysics and theology, and dissertations worth (literally– I’m working on them) on atheism and theism and what it means to be a human being in the cosmos as we understand them today. All of which is to say that I found my way to be at peace with the Big Questions, and that has been a big, big piece of this all.
This piece enabled me to unearth a serenity in myself I had never known, and to scratch an itch that so desperately needed to be scratched since that poor, afraid, and isolated five year old girl first got scared of dying. I still want to be attractive. I still want to achieve things. Big time. I remain eternally devoted to improving my life and my works and the lives of others as I move forward. But I am no longer being chased by a rabid pack of dogs. I refuse to be.
I float in serenity; I float in lightness and freedom; I stand firm (for now) on a foundation of assurance: everything is okay. Everything has always been okay. Everything will be okay.
Things perturb my serenity all the time still. I am human. This happens. And I am healing from a fair bit of trauma. We all are– we are all always being hurt, and we are all always healing. The world doesn’t stop and wait for us to catch up– it spins and spins and spins. We have the option of trying to master that spin, and to stay a precisely balanced top throughout our lives, but we also have the option of letting go of our grip. What if we let go, and let the winds carry us, and live our lives suspended in the atmosphere, in a spirited dance with kites and clouds?
It’s a lovely idea, in any case.
And, moreover, it’s entirely tied to my relationship with food.
This is about body acceptance, yes. That part is self-explanatory. But it is also about mystery, and it is about trust. I have, over the last few months, come to terms with the mystery of the universe.
All of the answers to the Big Questions are ultimately unknownable to us. The trick is to understand that the answers to small questions are always mysteries, too. We have science, and it’s a decent description of what’s going on in reality, but we are rather kidding ourselves if we think that we ever really know anything for certain. Scientific theories evolve, point blank. And so much data out there is unknown, the very fabric of our beings being completely mysterious to us. Who am I to say whether or not our actual thoughts live in our cells and affect our physiological health? They very well might, and a fair bit of evidence seems to point towards the fact that they do. But we cannot know. And much as I know that soy and dairy cause my acne, I’m not 100 percent sure why. Maybe 98 percent, but not 100. And other hormone flucutations occur all the time that I just cannot ever know the truth of.
Things happen, and it’s important to think about and to troubleshoot why. But perhaps the most important skill in life that I have unearthed so far is learning to discern the line between what we can know and control and what we cannot.
Let go of what you cannot, and be free.
“It’s all the marvelous play of God,” says Lao-Tzu. ”Wake up, you are already free!”
I like that very much.
It also has to do with trust. Much as we have to acknowledge our inability to control everything, we also have to trust things outside of our mental selves. This has been the most recent portion of my journey with food. As I have begun to comes to terms with the ultimate mystery of the universe and of my body, so have I come to trust my natural hunger drives.
I ignore a lot of what I can find and read on the internet. I don’t want to hear about what macronutrient ratios are best for mental health or weight loss or anything like that. I eat when my body says eat, and if I do not restrict myself or worry about what I am eating, then I am completely and easily capable of stopping when my body starts to be sated. Then I eat again, and guitlessly, when it wants to eat again. Without restriction, without perfection, without fear, and with love, and acceptance, and trust, I eat well. Sure, I still keep distant track. Sure, I still am thin. Hell yes I get tripped up from time to time. But decreasingly so as I move forward, and as always, I bear in mind my years-long saying to my audience and clients: “Progress is made in baby steps, not in leaps. We can never ask for a cure, but for love, and for progress, even if we step back from time to time.”
When I turned toward trust and away from fear, I was able to let go of my heavy reliance on vegetables as a source of grazing, overeating, and calories. This heavily reduced my fiber intake, as well as my intake of goitrogens. I began eating truly as much and of whatever I needed at the time. I did not write off any paleo foods, I did not restrict, I did not confine myself arbitarily based on perfection. This lead to a somewhat natural falling out to three to four meals per day of equal macronutrient intake, but that came after a long road of peacefully accepting and eating high fat, high carbohydrate, almost exclusively fruit, and some totally oddball diets–whichever ones my body and soul were needing–for quite some time.
The coupled effects of these physical changes as well as my mental changes led to natural ovulation for the first time in three years.
And thus I sit today.
Which brings to me a final point, and one that was raised in the comments. Patti commented on self-esteem, and how important certain works have been for her in coming to realize her own worth. This is, gratefully, a piece of the typical disordered eating puzzle with which I have not had to wrestle too desperately. This was enabled by the fact that I had predicated my worth on my holistic person and pursuit of excellence. I had never actually sold my soul into my battles with acne or with my body, so I remained firm in my love of myself and my lack of apology for who and what I am. I believe that we are beautiful for so, so very many reasons. And I do believe that we are always worthy. I struggle with food as I have restricted and medicated in the past, but that relationship is just one aspect of who I am. It’s something that I’ve worked on, and, hell. I have always been as proud of that as I am of everything else that sits in my soul. I do not see any reason not to be. I am a woman, doing what I can, and I’ll be damned if I am ever going to relinquish my worth or my sex appeal or my ability to be loved based on a particular struggle of mine. They do influence it, but that is an important distinction. For this reason, I believe very strongly that we need to contextualize our relationships with food, and even while we are honoring them, as I am here, to constantly be aware of how little they define who we actually are.
I share this abridged but enormous story with you without any trepidation. I remain, as always, shameless. Yet more importantly, vulnerability and openness I believe are some of the most important virtues around, and I want us to be united in our journeys rather than divided. I am hoping that what I have shared, as with what all of my podcast guests and brave community members have shared, resonates with you in a way that is helpful. That is all.
I believe in life, and I believe in love, and I believe in myself, and I believe in you. The world is a terrifying place, but capable of holding us if we let it.
Spin blissfully on in the laughter of the winds, and leap, and laugh. Dance on the edge of life. It’s a journey, my friends, and we are doing it.
This post is going to be timely! I had not anticipated it working out this way, but this post is going up on the same day I am recording a podcast focusing on disordered eating over with the amazing women at the Balanced Bites podcast. If you are coming to my site from that podcast, you can find in the rest of my writing information on women’s hormones, PCOS and hypothalamic amenorrhea, weight loss, feminism, and body image / disordered eating. I like to spit fire at society and to inspire women, too, which can be accessed by the “self-love-spiration” category tab.
My work in women’s health began as an eating disorder counselor. These two issues are, in my opinion, intrinsically linked. Disordered eating in my own case led to poor physiological health. I would argue that this is the case for a large proportion of reproductively hindered and unhealthy women.
Sometimes the problems are treatable separately. Sometimes they are not. If I had to choose which I deem more important, it is a woman’s relationship with food first and foremost, hands down. Reproductive health does not eat away at the soul the way psychological health does. It does not follow us with all of our actions and behaviors. It does not have the immense power to cripple us physically, emotionally, and spiritually. At least most of the time.
So I have been counseling people on their relationships with food for several years now. I have become familiar with the important trends and issues. We disordered eaters generally fall into a few of broad categories. One of the largest, and the most prevalent in the paleosphere, is that of bingeing/restricting. The one question I get asked over and over again is: How do I stop overeating?
While there are dozens, if not thousands, of separate motivators for bingeing, and I cannot possibly address all of them at once, I can still speak to a more general and popular trend. Most of us who struggle with overeating do so because we are in a constant battle with our bodies and our self-esteem.
Having a negative self-esteem, particularly with regard to body image, generates a vicious cycle, which often proceeds as follows:
A) Negative self-esteem and self-talk, ie: “I want to lose weight / I don’t have chiseled abs / I am not pretty enough / I am not enough.”
B) Decision to eat less / exercise more.
C) A state of both physiological and psychological deprivation.
E) Increased negative self-talk.
F) Increased restrictive behaviors.
G) Increased severity and frequency of overeating behavior.
H) Increased desperation, negativity, and restriction.
I) Ad nauseum.
The thing is is that most disordered eaters are well aware of the surface problem. We have an inordinate desire to eat all of the time. Or we cannot stop eating once we start. Or both. And it adds even more frustration to our weight loss efforts because it makes us binge, and therefore stops us from losing weight as we would like to. This we understand well. Few of us understand truly, however–because it is such a difficult and deeply-rooted notion to confront–that the true problem, the real root of it all, is our lack of positive self-esteem, body-acceptance and self-love.
When we decide to restrict ourselves, we enter into states of both physiological and psychological deprivation. Our bodies become starved– depending on our behavior, for example, if we are fasting, or not, or eating very-low-carbohydrate, or not, or exercising too much, or not– and this manifests itself in several different hunger-inducing mechanisms: one example is a decrease in micronutrient stores, or another is simple sluggishness of satiation signals. In sum, when we restrict our energy intake, we become hungrier beings. We try to live in energy deficits, and for some reason we think it is going to be totally okay, yet it is impossible to trick the body out of knowing and responding to that fact.
One biological mechanism by which this increased need to eat occurs, among many, is the activity of neuropeptide Y, about which I have written before. If it is detecting lowered leptin (and other hormone) levels in the blood, it does several things: it up-regulates hunger signalling, it emphasizes sweet foods in doing so (partly why so many disordered eaters struggle with carbohydrates in particular), and it sends activation signals to hypocretin neurons. Hypocretin neurons, about which I have also written before, up-regulate wakefulness and the stress response. Hence why many women on restrictive diets have a difficult time resting and sleeping well.
The psychological deprivation may be worse. It puts us in a state of hyper-awareness about food. The decision to restrict induces a constant struggle to eat less and exercise more, and it makes it nearly crucial for a woman to constantly check herself against her desires, lest her stock-piled hunger pick her up and shove her head-first into the overeating rabbit hole. The more a person thinks about food, the more he doesn’t want to think about food, but the more he ends up emphasizing it in his brain and thinking about it anyway. Then the more he messes up, and the more guilt he has, and the more negative he feels, the more strongly he needs to eat. So deprivation is one huge psychological factor. And so is the need to medicate against negative self-talk. Food is a powerful, powerful drug. And this whole process, a vicious, vicious cycle.
Moreover, many women approach meals with the mentality: “how little can I eat?” which is perhaps the most fucked thing about many Americans’ relationships with food. Then they (we) approach exercise with the mentality: “how many calories can I burn?” and each day with: “how am I going to get into an energy deficit, in order to make sure I get or stay lean?” Yikes. JS of gnolls.org has called this in personal correspondence with me the female half of the population’s desperate attempt to live at a “misery set-point.” Far too many of us challenge ourselves, and then congratulate ourselves for, eating as little as possible.
We often, in fact, fall into cycles of under-eating early in the day and over-eating later in the day. There are many physiological mechanisms behind this, but there is also a potent emotional factor. In America today, it is generally better–hell, it is even more moral –to eat less rather than more. So we wake up in the mornings, and we do not eat much. And this is great all day, we get to feel great! By the end of the day, however, our willpower (a real and limited resource) has met its end, and we over-eat. We feel guilty. The good thing is, however, that in the long run, we get to spend more time being self-congratulatory than feeling guilty because we typically spend most of the day in an energy deficit. This is as good of an emotional satisfaction that we can achieve when we have this kind of behavior. Still, though, it is a far cry from happiness. And it continually begets itself as guilt and the counterbalances we have in place to mitigate that guilt’s crushing weight become increasingly extreme.
If it hasn’t become clear on its own yet, I’ll state it outright, and many times over:
The restriction that comes of negative self-talk necessarily begets overeating.
And when you overeat, it is not. your. fault. It is not. It happens to you.
As awful as that is, however, the most wonderful thing in the world still follows. It is that you can gradually shrug off these demons perched on your shoulders. They attack you, but you can build up an arsenal of nourishment and love, and then the demons have lost their grip on you.
Many women who binge and restrict would like to stop bingeing before they stop restricting. They think that they will lose whatever progress they have achieved, in terms of caloric deficits, if they stop restricting first. They anticipate continuing to over-eat, even while they are not restricting. This is an understandable fear — and trust me when I say that I understand how powerful fear can be as a human being in this precarious state. However: this is impossible. Deliberate restriction necessarily begets bingeing behavior. Necessarily. Restriction must be phased out of our lives before we can stop over-eating. Willpower does not do the trick. Hard-lined restriction does not win. Love does.
We fear weight-gain. We fear failure. We fear our bodies. Because we have always been at war with our bodies, and because we are probably frustrated with our bodies because of particular health struggles, we do not trust our bodies. What motivation have we so far, honestly? We do not know what powerful and beautiful partners they can be. We do not remember what it is like to eat intuitively. We do not really know how. Because of this, we fear letting go of our strict cognitive monitoring and control. Without it, we may fail.
But leap we must. This is why:
The only long-term solution to overeating is to stop restricting ourselves out of a need for self-worth.
This solution, I understand, can require a Herculean effort. I have done it. So I know. The effort requires trust, it requires letting go of a bit of control, and it requires a bit of a leap of faith. The thing is, however, that it does not have to happen overnight. We can ease into intuitive eating gradually. We can let go of a few of our controls, slowly, over time, and we can watch the trust and power of our bodies come to life. This process is a longer journey towards physiological health than a wholesale “forget it, I’m going to eat a lot all the time until I no longer want to,” but it enables us to work on our self-love continually while we are easing into the style of intuitive eating. These two facets will end up playing off of each other beautifully. The more we love and nourish our bodies, rather than restrict them, the more they respond to us, and the more we can love and cherish them. It’s a phenomenally beautiful and harmonious thing. It really, really, really is.
All we have to do is inch into that trust.
All of which is to say that it is scary, but it should also be exciting to embark on this journey. And liberating. And beautifying. The more we love ourselves, the more free we are from our obsessions, and the more self-confidence and happiness we can garner. Letting go of social norms and of negative self-talk– this is a long journey. But it is a beautiful one of progress and self-exploration and growth, and for that reason I would not have it any other way.
It is 100 percent possible to be beautiful and non-restrictive. In fact, I would argue exactly the contrary, that the less restrictive a woman is, the more self-love she can have, and the more empowerment and pride and health, and therefore the sexier she is. I believe this fully, I really, really do.
Additionally, as a final note, there is a way to restrict and to do so healthfully. This is important. I want all of us to achieve healthy weights. I believe this is achievable by entering into relationships with our bodies that are not based on warfare, but rather on partnership. We need to stop inflicting things on our bodies, and forcing it to do things it does not want to do. Instead, we can love ourselves, and treat ourselves gently, and move forward in productive partnership. We can approach a meal and say: “Do I feel satisfied at this point? Will I happily make it to my next meal if I do not eat more, knowing that I can always eat more if I feel the need to?” And we can approach exercise as: “Would you, my body, like to go for a run today? It could be fun and healthy for both of us.” And we can approach every day of our lives with nourishment, healing, and health primarily in our minds. Instead of forcing our bodies to become shapes they are not ready for, we can try to nourish them back into a healthy hormonal state that will become the real, powerful foundation off of which we achieve and maintain healthy body weights. This is good for our bodies, and it is good for our souls.
To read another perspective on the binge-restrict cycle, visit Dr Dea Robert’s blog on restrict/rebound.Read More
I propose in a number of blog posts that the most important thing for a woman’s health is to love herself. Maybe I never came out and said it that explicitly, but I do believe that that is the truth. And I do hope that is apparent in my writing. From self-love (and being reasonable!) I believe follow nourishment, healthy diets, emotionally healthy eating, reduced stress, and increased well-being and happiness. Self-love is at the top of the hierarchy. From there filters the whole cascade of holistically healthful and beautiful practices and beliefs.
In my opinion.
One of the most powerful–or at least vocal–responses I have gotten to this viewpoint is that it is discouraging to women trying to lose weight. Am I just telling them to give up? Am I telling them their goals are unworthy or even immoral? Am I trying to create a happy-go-lucky fantasy land in which all people at all sizes walk around in equal health and equal sex appeal?
Well, that’d be nice.
But I’m not.
Self-love and contemporary notions of overweight
In our society, we have this funny idea that self-love and weight loss are exclusive. Or maybe a better way to put it is that we associate the promotion of self-love and body acceptance with being overweight. There are a fair number of people out there who advocate body acceptance at any size, and who disparage the effort to lose weight (whether they do this because they failed to or refuse to lose weight is irrelevant). Many of these people advocate self-love. They advocate accepting their bodies as they are, and feeling sexy and empowered no matter what their size. This is powerful stuff. It’s not ideal for holistic health, since there are real health concerns with being overweight, but it remains powerful stuff.
But somehow the idea of self-love then got inexplicably and monogamoulsy married to this notion of being overweight and proud. If I advocate loving one’s self and one’s body, I must necessarily, at least in some people’s eyes, be telling them that weight loss is irrelevant, that it’s unnecessary, and that they should accept whatever skin they are in regardless of what is healthy or how they feel about it because that’s just how their natural bodies are built. I must, in this view, be telling women not only that it’s impossible to be lean and healthy, but also that it’s wrong to try to lose weight in order to be lean and healthy.
That could not be further from the truth.
I have zero desire to keep people from healthy bodies. I want them to get healthy bodies. That is in fact my primary aim! But what I mean when I advocate self-love is not an excuse or an apology for being over weight, but rather a tool to help women achieve weight loss. Among other things.
My idea of self-love
Self-love is about loving the body as a body. I don’t believe that this has anything, at the outset, to do with how it looks. Love is not an issues of aesthetics. Your body does not have to look a certain way in order for you to love it. It only has to be.
And to be you.
Self-love is in my opinion loving the whole self first and foremost, regardless of it’s appearance. Loving the body, in my view, is about loving ourselves as physical creatures, absent of how we might look to others or in a mirror. Our bodies are not just visual instruments. They are complicated, thrumming, vibrant organisms. They provide the physical basis of our existences, and as such they enable us to perform all of the physical functions available to us– they enable us to run, to leap, to sleep, to feel the wind in our hair… to bleed, to cry, to pray, to heal, to live, to die. And they enable our internal lives as well, providing the means for us to feel joy, sorrow, exaltation, pain, freedom, peace, and love. Our bodies are physical, first and foremost. And not visual. So when I advocate that people love their bodies, what I really want for them is to love themselves and their relationship with their physical existence.
This physical existence may be complicated. Maybe it looks better to a woman some days than others. Maybe it feels better some days or others. Those things are all well and good and deserve attention in their own ways. But the looks and the feeling, these things follow from being a physical body first and foremost. They derive from it. Which is why I advocate loving and nurturing that physical existence above all other things. The body cannot look healthy (not without significant monetary investments, in any case) if it is not actually healthy, and the body will not achieve true holistic health without a woman working in harmony with that body. In order to have a truly glorious body, a woman must feed it what it needs, and therefore she must listen, and nourish, and care for it.
Loving a body leads to wanting a healthy body, and a body within the normal body fat percentage range is generally the healthiest body. For that reason, I advocate weight loss. Of course I do. I want everyone to be functional and springy and radiant. So when I say “love and accept yourself” I am not advocating that women accept a body that is uncomfortable or unhealthy. Not a chance in hell. Instead, I am asking them to have sympathy for their bodies. To give their bodies a hug, and walk off into the sunset together, hand in hand.
Bodies that have endured stress and metabolic abuse look unhealthy because they have been hurt. And currently, they are actually trying desperately to heal themselves. What then is a better solution than getting on board and helping the body do what it is already trying so hard to achieve? Why fight it, why hate it, why go to war, when it is already trying to get the job done, and probably better than we as body-dictators could ever force it to? Healing leads to both metabolic and psychological fitness, for both overweight and for normal weight women. Without healing in mind, a woman can literally drive her body into the ground, and can do both it and her spirit worlds worth of damage. Gentle restriction has its place in health and weight loss. Militant restriction does not. Warfare is not good for anybody, nor is it ever going to achieve a weight loss that is simultaneously healthy, happy, and sustainable over the long term.
I have also told women that they will not look like Cameron Diaz or Jilian Michaels and be healthy. Generally, I stand by this. If a woman is born into, and develops throughout puberty in, a super thin body, then she will maintain this level of thinness possibly for the rest of her life. And many women get down to super low weights without much hormonal disruption. But sometimes if a woman developed through puberty at a higher weight, and then once an adult overshoots her weight-loss needs into the sub-20 range, her body might identify this as starving. This isn’t to say that her body wants to be overweight. It does not. Not. But having more fat on her than a skeleton once she reaches a healthy weight, which may, for example, fluctuate between 20 and 25 percent body fat, just means that this woman has been programmed to operate optimally with different levels of hormones than sticky women. And that’s okay. She is still healthy, and she is still hot. So this is what I mean when I say “normal weight.” Not overweight. But healthy. Lean, active, capable, radiant… but not poking at her hips, not grinding her teeth in the mirror if she’s got “stubborn” fat on their thighs. Lean. Active. Capable. Radiant.
Fat loss is healthy, but up to a point. Self-love is healthy all of the time.
Self-love is not antagonistic to weight loss. Nor is self-love antagonistic to those of us who need to gain weight. Instead, self-love is about working in partnership with our bodies to achieve a holistically healthy and beautiful existence, for all of us. Self-love is about providing the body with the tools it needs to get healthy and vibrant and radiant, while never hating it for looking or behaving a certain way. It is about troubleshooting problems and forgiving imperfections or missteps. It is about moving forward with peace and equanimity. And it is about becoming over time an increasingly empowered, increasingly sure, and increasingly bad-ass embodiment of healthy, exaltant, beautiful womanhood.Read More