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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Sticking With The Gray

I come from a place of extremes.  Before discovering Intuitive Eating, my world was black and white, right or wrong.  There was no middle ground, only perfection.   Thankfully, I am in a much different place; one that has balance and peace.  Even though I love where I am, the allure of pushing limits does still tempt me.

Housed in the back room of one of the gyms where I work is the super elite.  The extreme athletes.  They work hard.  They are strong.  They are long and they lean.  I watch them come and go as they practice.  I marvel at how they push their body to limits they may have never thought possible.  Yes, I watch them and admire them, but I don’t want to be them.

Oh the thought crosses my mind… more often than I care to admit.  I could follow the ‘cave-man’ diet, as it is referred to… eating only the foods that were available to our ancient ancestors.  I could strive to get to a place where I can see the striations in my muscles as they work towards the fitness challenge of the day.  I could apply my time and efforts there, but I realize that this temptation can bring me down and bring me down hard.

For me, the back room is the gateway to extremism.  I lived there for awhile and it was scary.  I always had to do more, weigh less, lift heavier weights… all in the name of perfection.  ‘Try harder’ was my motto.  Before long, my hour long gym sessions became several hours each day.  My diet was militant… no variance from the straight path I was on.  My self worth was dictated by the weight I could lift and the number on the scale.  It lasted for a bit, but then my body and my psyche broke down.

Professional athletes train to peak their performance for their event.  But my event was my life.  I had no particular goal, no race, no contest that I was working towards.  All I knew was that I had to keep working.  In order to maintain the weight that I was at, I had to keep working.  It didn’t matter if my body was telling me I’d had enough,  I had to keep going.  I couldn’t stop because then I would think I was ‘giving in’.  I couldn’t stop because I was afraid of getting fat.

Ironically, the things I feared most, gaining weight and not being fit, were beginning to happen to me.  I had chronic injuries.  In my efforts to stay strong, I was making my body weaker.  I started started binge eating.   I was, as I know now, rebelling against the very strict standards I had set for myself.  I was stuck and I was scared.

That was then, this is now.   My eyes have been opened to the gray.  That place somewhere in between black and white.   I realized I could not continue on in this obsessive manner.  My life was very focused and I felt accomplished but at what cost?   When I was good,  I was good.  (going to the gym every day, not eating any bad foods)  But when I was bad, I was bad!  I felt out of control.  I needed a middle ground, a balance.

It started with the exercise.  I began to give myself permission to take a day off if I needed it.  When I did, I noticed my subsequent workouts were much better.  I focused on doing the things at the gym that I truly enjoyed.  I paid more attention to how my body felt and how it responded.  I began to question how my time at the gym was going to benefit me.  As a 48 year old working mom, was a plyometric jump onto a high step going to help me or hurt me?  I began doing the things I wanted to do, not what I felt I should or needed to do.

Building on the confidence I was experiencing at the gym, my new philosophy shifted towards food.  Learning to become an Intuitive Eater made me more sensitive to my body’s needs and internal cues.  I had to pay attention.  I had to listen and trust that my body knew what was best for me.  I relaxed my food rules and the binging stopped!  I was excited!  I began to eat the foods that brought me enjoyment, satisfaction and health.  Moderation was beginning to feel good, very good.

I found that the balance was within me.  I needed to do things according to how they made me feel; working from my heart and not my head.   Thinking I needed to go to the gym for several hours/day in order to maintain a weight that was not “natural” for my body left me tired, chronically injured and frustrated.  I was listening to external values.   I was judging myself by trying to fit into a mold that was being dictated to me.  The ideals of perfection.

I like my world now.   I eat and exercise according to how it feels and how my body responds.  I am fit and I am strong.  I ask the questions, What will this food do for me?  How will I feel after I eat it?  Will this exercise help me stay healthy?  How will I feel when I am done?  What do I need to do for me today?   I ask, but more importantly, now I listen.

Yes, I will continue to admire my colleagues in the back room.  It can be thrilling taking fitness and nutrition to that level, as for me, I’m sticking with the gray 🙂

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

Always looking for new inspiration and motivatation, I subscribe to several different sources.  This morning I read an article that caught my attention.  In “12 Lies To Stop Telling Yourself”*  I found one point of particular interest to me:

I am stuck with people who hurt me. – Life is too short.  Look out for yourself.  If someone continuously mistreats you, have enough respect for yourself to leave them.  It may hurt for a while, but it’ll be OK.  You’ll be OK.  Oftentimes walking away has nothing to do with weakness, and everything to do with strength.  We walk away not because we want others to realize our worth, but because we finally realize our own worth.

Reading and absorbing those words made me think of dieting.  In her book, Life Without Ed, best selling author Jenni Schaefer associates a persona to her eating disorder.  She called him ED.  In doing so, she was able to separate and free herself from this destructive relationship.  Breaking free from the dieting world can be like that too.

What is a dieter to do?  I am stuck.  I want to lose weight.  I need to lose weight.  I decide to diet.  I am good for awhile, but then I start wanting the foods I can’t have.  I give into my cravings and eat way too much!  I am out of control.  Now I feel guilty.  I broke the rules, again.   What is wrong with me? … I have NO willpower.  I will be better this time.  My diet begins again.

STOP.  Ask yourself, “What exactly is different this time?”  What is going to make your diet work this time?  Being stuck in the world of dieting is like being in a bad relationship.  Re-read the words above… Life is too short.  Look out for yourself.  It is in your best interest to think about your health, emotionally as well as physically.  Consistently putting yourself in a place that causes you stress, feelings of guilt and shame doesn’t feel good.  Thinking that you aren’t good enough as you are is mistreating yourself.

Breaking up is hard to do.  It’s scary at first because this is the world you have always  known.  Sometimes we remain in bad relationships because we know what to expect.  Been there, done that.  But for me, I decided enough was enough.  I owed it to myself to break away.  Why consistently expose myself to a place that was not helping?  If dieting worked, I should have been a model by now!  I have spent the better part of 30 years stuck in that relationship.  It wasn’t working and only left me feeling miserable about myself.

I had a choice.  I decided to walk away.  Intuitive Eating gave me the skills and confidence to divorce myself from my unhealthy relationship with dieting and poor body image.  I now feel empowered because I have choices.  I no longer have to “follow” the diet rules.  I can choose, according to what my body tells me I need.  I have trust and faith in myself to know what is best for me.  Ultimately, I am my own best advocate.  I am the expert of my body.  Learning to trust myself, and break away has given me the peace and freedom I have longed for.

Oftentimes walking away has nothing to do with weakness, and everything to do with strength.  We walk away not because we want others to realize our worth, but because we finally realize our own worth.  I have learned to respect myself.  I broke up and I am happy.  I am worth it… and you know what?  So are you!

* Source:  Marc and Angel Hack Life, Practical Tips for Productive Living, http://www.marcandangel.com/2012/03/12/12-lies-to-stop-telling-yourself/

Special thanks to Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch for giving me my life back.  For more information on Intuitive Eating:  www.intuitiveeating.org

You Matter

Last night, I had a great time with some friends from college.  Oddly enough, there was a time in my life when I may not have even gone.  Last night would have been an “event” for me; something that I had to prepare for.  I’m not talking about a new outfit, I mean a whole new me… because back then, the old me was never “good enough”.

Let’s make this simple… an event called for the “diet-down” and the weeks leading up to it typically went like this:

  • You need to lose weight!
  • Diet more, eat less!  … time is running short!!!
  • Work harder, exercise more!
  • If you don’t lose weight, you don’t deserve to go.
Possible scenarios?  Oh yeah, these were great:
  • If I “allowed” myself to go I wasn’t fully present.  I felt self-conscious and preoccupied.  I played the body-check game and compared myself to my friends.  Someone thinner or more fit than me meant I didn’t try hard enough.  And, of course, dieting down usually meant I’d gain the weight back (or even more) when the event was over.
  • If I didn’t lose “enough”, or even worse I gained weight (typical when I pressured myself to lose)… I couldn’t go at all.  Missing good times in my life because of the scale, oh yes this makes sense.

Is it all worth it?  Life goes by quickly.  Watching my children grow from helpless infants to independent young adults in what seems to be a blink of an eye helped me realize this.  I began to notice what I was missing.  I started questioning what all this worrying and obsessing over my weight was gaining me.   My thoughts began to shift.  I learned to appreciate myself for who I am, from the inside out first.  There is much more to me than my jean size.  Focusing on the positive things I have to offer took the focus away from my appearance.  I felt happier and freer.  I realized I need to respect who I am right now, in this very moment… not the person I thought I needed to be.  It finally dawned on my how much of my life was passing me by!  I had a choice.  I could continue on this self-destructive path that never left me feeling good about myself or I could begin to accept me for who I am and enjoy what my life had to offer me.

I have a challenge for you.   Think of 3  influential people in your life; individuals whom you admire and look up to.  Why are they important you?  What characteristics make them special?  Do these qualities have anything to do with their weight?  No matter what your size, you matter.  You have things that only you can offer.  There are people in your life who depend on you and look up to you.  By putting your life on hold or not being fully present in it, you cheat yourself and those around you from getting the very best of you!  You can’t enjoy life if you don’t allow yourself to experience it!

I did buy a new outfit for dinner last night but that was the extent of my “preparation”.  Instead of stressing, I found myself looking forward to being able to share a night with some special people.  We remembered (or at least tried to remember LOL) the fun times we had, shared stories about our families and our lives.   We had many laughs and a lot of fun.  And the best part, I was there, enjoying every bit of it 🙂

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