When the Words Return…

mirrorimage.I was hungry before teaching cycle.  Apparently, my snack didn’t have enough time to digest and class left me feeling nauseous and uncomfortable.  It was the pain in my throat that woke me in the the night but it was the thought in my head that stabbed me more… “Good, now maybe you will not be able to eat and you will lose weight.”

REALLY?  Those words haunted me like the monster under my bed did when I was a child.   How could I possibly still be having such a thought?  I have spent the last several years working as a coach and a mentor, sharing the benefits of mindful eating practices, discussing the how the pursuit body perfection kills our self-esteem and ruins our relationship with food and eating.  How could I still be thinking this way?

Six years ago, when I read Intuitive Eating for the first time, I instinctively knew I found what I had been looking for.  For the majority of my life I have been a prisoner of my own obsessive and destructive thoughts and behavior.  I was the lifetime dieter; toggling somewhere between binging/purging, restrictive eating, and excessive, punitive exercise.

Intuitive Eating taught me that the perfection I was striving for was a representation of  a largely unattainable fitness/beauty ideal created by society and the media.  I realized there is more to me as a person than just what I look like and I began to appreciate who I am and what I have to offer.  I paid attention to how ‘feeling fat’ changed my mood and became aware of how preoccupation with my appearance was interfering with my ability to live my life.  I learned how many advertising images are digitally altered making them both more appealing and less attainable.  I know and believe all this, yet I still find it difficult to look at my body in a mirror.

I am not aware of any hidden fascination with being a vampire as my reason for not having a mirror image.  Truth is, I am afraid.  For so many years, I listened to the words in my head… “You’re not good enough, strong enough or determined enough.  You’ll never succeed.  You lose weight and then gain it back, what is wrong with you?”  I am afraid of what I will ‘hear’ if I look.

If I fully believe in my heart and soul I am more than just an object to be looked at, compared to and judged, why would I think what I did?  How could I possibly want to deny my body nourishment in order to wear a smaller pants size?  Thankfully, I did not act upon this thought.  In fact, I’m grateful it happened.   It has made me aware that I am still struggling with my self-image.   This surprises me.  I have felt more free and in control since I discovered Intuitive Eating than any other time in my life.  I have let go of dieting and the food rules associated with them.  I eat when I am hungry and I eat what I want.  I worry less about food and as a result, I am able to enjoy living.  So what is keeping me stuck?

I know for certain changing my thinking is a process.  Intuitive Eating teaches us that we need to be patient.   There is no ‘wrong way’, only learning and discovery.  I have to remember to treat myself with patience, understanding and kindness.  I listened to those hurtful words for a very long time.  Change does not happen overnight.

In order to move on, I have to face my fears and look in the mirror.  I need to practice what I teach and focus on the things I like more than the things I don’t.  I need to acknowledge my accomplishments instead of what I have yet to do.  I remember what it was like living in that world when the only thing that mattered to me was the number on the scale.  Ironically, it wasn’t pretty.  Perfection does not exist and living my life in pursuit of it is a waste of valuable time.  Life is to short for that.

I now realize that the title of this blog is a misnomer.  I’m not sure that the words in my head ever truly went away; I instead chose not to address them.  Perhaps, up till now, I wasn’t ready to.  First, I needed to rebuild my relationship with food, for without that, I would not have the solid belief that I am doing what’s right for me.  This experience opened the door to where my work ahead is; finding true confidence in myself as a woman, inside and out.  I have always held the belief there will forever be something I can ‘fix’, but then again, maybe the true lesson is paying attention to who’s words are telling me that it’s ‘broken’ in the first place.  😉

To my readers:  I wrote this post today for a very important reason.  One of my main sources of support along my journey has been feeling that I am not alone.  Knowing there are others that have the same thoughts and fears that I do makes me feel understood and gives me comfort.  So here I am, sharing my fears.  Maybe you can relate and I don’t want you to feel alone.

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Chasing Thinness — Your Ideal or Mine?

This morning I watched a spider weave her web.  Like an aerialist, she crossed back and forth from the chair to the table edge performing her task.  The intricacy of her work was only visible to me when the sun caught it’s reflection.  I thought about how beautiful spider webs can be, if you take the time to notice them.  I also considered if it’s that beauty that ultimately captures its prey  …

I work in the fitness industry where accomplishments are defined by numbers “How much weight have you dropped?”  “What’s your body fat %?”  “How many inches have you lost?”   Coveted images of the ripped, hard rock abs of the long and lean set the standards; this is what you could look like, IF you work hard enough.  Some consider  this inspiration… I have to question, is it?  For many these statements and visions foster a sense of friendly competition, for me, they can be a constant reminder of what I am not.

I have lived the life of the extreme exerciser and dieter.  I have lost weight and gained it back.  I have exercised to the point of exhaustion and chronic injury but could not stop.  I have struggled with my eating from the extremes of not eating to binge eating, all in an attempt to control my weight and ‘fit the image’.  I am now a practicing Intuitive Eater.  I have found a peace and balance that enables me to eat and exercise reasonably.  I am happy and in a place I never thought possible, but fully aware that at times, the lure of the web still taunts me.

When my main reason to exercise was attaining my ‘magic numbers’ I firmly believed that when I weighed 120 lbs. or wore a size 4 I could feel accomplished;  then I could be proud of who I was.  It was during this time I felt most out of control.  I was willing to do ANYTHING in order to look the way I thought I needed to look.  I was defining my self-worth from the outside in.  If I had stopped to pay attention, I would have noticed my actions weren’t making me feel good.  Physically, I was hurt and exhausted.  Emotionally I beat myself up.  If I strayed from my regimen I chastised myself for having no willpower.  I wasn’t strong enough.  I wasn’t good enough.

Finally, after years of feeling like a failure, I stopped and asked myself “Why?”.  What was I accomplishing other than making myself miserable?  That’s when I realized the truth:  the standards that I fought so hard for were not my own.  I was trying to be what I thought I needed to be… Instead, I needed to be honest with myself and question, what did I really want?  My answer was simply health and to remain physically active.  In order to do that I would have to treat my body differently.  Over exercising and starving myself were not helping me achieve my goals, they were pulling me further away.

For me, thoughts of thinness are a compulsive trap.  If I allow myself to get too caught up in the ideals of ‘body perfection’ I can fall prey to my former life;  translation:  you are not good enough.  Becoming an Intuitive Eater taught me to respect and appreciate my ‘here and now’ body for what it CAN do.  I am not a size 4 or weigh 120lbs. but today I make choices based on what’s important to me.  Instead of deriving my motivation negatively, always telling myself what I am not, I choose to appreciate who I am, and work patiently towards who I aspire to be.

Unless you live under a rock,  it is hard to get away from what we perceive to be the  ‘thin and beautiful’.  I would be lying to you if I said I don’t occasionally find myself thinking about what could be.  This is when I feel most vulnerable… stuck in my spider web.  When pervasive thoughts of thinness pop back into my head I know I need to stay grounded.   Here are some thoughts that help keep me connected to my ‘here and now’.

  • Be sure that what you seek is something that’s important to you.  Honesty required:  What is my motivation to lose weight?  My current weight is healthy for me… what is making me think I need to lose weight?
  • What will accomplishing this goal give you?  Clothes shopping may be more fun.  Seriously, do I really think others will perceive me as more accomplished if I am thinner?  If so, do I really want these people in my life?
  • Are the actions necessary to attain this goal congruent with your values and beliefs?  I believe strongly in health for body and soul… Are starving myself or denying myself foods I enjoy only to be thinner healthy actions?
  • How can this hurt you?  For me, focusing on weight loss leads to absolutes; ‘good’ and ‘bad’ foods or days.  A ‘bad’ day leads to feelings of  shame, guilt, no willpower, and failure.  Is this how I want to live my life?
  • Would you encourage your son/daughter to follow your behavior?  I want to encourage my kids to look beyond appearances only.   Am I setting a good example by emphasizing the importance of being thin?  
  • Can your goals be met in other ways?  Back to question 1, what is my motivation?  Is it feeling better about myself?  Isn’t a commitment to treat my body with respect something I should be proud of and feel good about?  
  • Is pursuit of your goal denying you enjoyment in other areas of your life?   Am I putting my life on hold?  Wrote a whole blog about this one!!  You can read about it in You Matter.

As a personal trainer, the majority of my clients come to me because they want to lose weight.  If I ask them what weight loss is going to give them, they almost always tell me losing weight makes them feel better about themselves.  What I want most for my clients is to help them understand that making a commitment to treat their body well IS an accomplishment to be proud of.  Acknowledge who you are right now; appreciate what you can do; and look forward to realizing what you can become.  Your life is here and now, not 15 or 20 pounds from now, right now.

I would like to offer this Abraham-Hicks quote:

You can be fully satisfied with where you are, understanding that you’re eternally evolving. When you get into that place of feeling appreciation of where you are and of who you are, and appreciation of what you are, and you accept that you are a never-ending, always unfolding Being, then you can stand in that delicate balance of being optimistic about what is to come, without being unhappy about where you stand. Find a way of eagerly anticipating future changes, while at the same time you are in love and satisfied with who, what, where and how you be.  

If your are having a tough time achieving your goals, take the time to re-evaluate what you seek.  Chasing thinness did not work for me because it did not come from my heart.  In order to achieve the image I believed to have been set for me, I had to disrespect my body.  Now I understand the importance of  staying true to who I am and to pursue what has meaning and a purpose for me.  Learn to question where your motivations come from.  If it’s always a place of negativity (I’m so fat, I need to lose weight), stop and listen to the words you say to yourself.  Is this how you would choose to motivate your children?   Do your actions feel right to you?  Don’t let others set the standards, believe in yourself enough to define your own.

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