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size me down

I am not much of a shopper. And, much to my late mother’s chagrin this is true even when it comes to clothing. However, clothes are one of those commodities that need to be replaced and updated at least once a decade or thereabouts, so I do occasionally have to take to the stores and wrangle with the racks of hangers hawking their formless wares.

I have a whole little narrative about my relationship with clothes–and a good and deep relationship it certainly is. Because once I find a cozy item–since I essentially dress for comfort–we are in for the long haul. I will spare you the hoary details and instead share what happened on a recent outing.

National Eating Disorders Association

Zena and I had gone into town to get something I needed for a class I am taking and were then going to head to the farmer’s market. Back in the car between the two errands, just chatting about life, it did come up that I really could use a pair of jeans–given that I didn’t have any.

A few minutes later, we were passing by a small strip of clothing stores. Zena, making particular mention of one of them, said, “Mom, I think that would be a good place for you to find jeans.” And wouldn’t you know, there were a number of parking spots easily available right in front. The next thing I knew, we were in the store.

Apparently, a love of shopping, along with the refined ability to dress oneself and others in exquisite good style, skips a generation. Having Zena with you while hunting for attire is like having the best in a game hunter–I mean personal shopper. She is really good. Except for one thing. She insists that I must try things on. Left to my own devices, I never try things on in stores. I generally know my size and feel confident that by holding the item up before me, I can determine if it will fit well enough–maybe not perfectly–but that’s OK by my gene-lacking standards. The onerous act of dragging one’s body along with a forearm laden assortment of clothes into a tiny dressing room with an enormous mirror is not how I wish to expend my physical or emotional energy.

Given my dogged determination to stop the madness and to help others make peace with their bodies, I purport to have a ‘relatively’ healthy relationship with my own–though gauging relativity is rather vague in this regard. However, I admit that some of this is achieved by having infrequent encounters with its distorted reflection under bright lights in quasi-public places. I would prefer skinny dipping at a sunny beach if bright light and public places are in the offer.

As it turned out, it was a good thing that I was trying things on. Since the last time I shopped, or maybe it is dependent upon the type of store, sizing seems to have changed more than I was aware. This is either a case of new math, or given the placement of multiple zeros on some tags, a result of some computer coding process replacing real numbers. In the name of I am not sure what–we are not our mothers’ clothing sizes. We are increasingly being resized to a lower number. Zena had to forcibly take from me some of the items I had chosen that were based on my belief in an antiquated sizing system.

Into the dressing room we trudged. This step thus engaged the unsolicited assistance of the kind store clerk. I do know these attendants are there to be helpful, but I still prefer to ignore such attention–and besides, I had Zena to help me. Apparently though, my case was complicated, and required the two of them to seek out for me what would best fit. The sizing and styling of jeans is nuanced. Ultimately, I would have to determine if I was curvy straight or modern straight and the style would influence the size. Zena and the clerk each ably navigated the floor and the dressing room bringing me different options, which I compliantly tried on.

At one point, the sales clerk poked her head in and asked me how I was doing. I was not exactly sure, but said I was OK. Eyeing the tag on the pair of jeans I was then donning, she said, “Oh, that is good. You went down a size.” Apparently, it was time for me to have another one of my stunned moments in a retail setting.

I could have responded enthusiastically, that in the six minutes since she had last seen me in the two digit greater-sized pant, I had in the 4 x 4 space taken to a program of calisthenics including jumping jacks and sit ups while wearing one of those fat burning sweat suits– and was glad that my efforts had paid off. Instead, I asked, “What?” She replied by saying, “Isn’t that what every woman wants, to be a smaller size?” Oh dear, I sighed. With Zena out on the floor, at least my daughter would not have to see her mom (gently) trip out this well-meaning woman. She already knows how I feel about such things.

Quietly, I explained where I was coming from and why I was sensitive to her comment. I shared why believing and voicing such assumptions can be misguided and problematic–if not downright dangerous. (Not to mention, how in this case, absurd.) Such common banter ascribing value to diminished size–especially with no knowledge of an individual’s personal experience–belies the realities of those who may be contending with an illness or emotional stress; needing or wanting to gain weight; actually comfortable with their body size; just changing from an adolescent to adult body shape; or struggling with a psychologically and physically disabling eating disorder. Such entrenched beliefs, can trigger reactions ranging from a shaming emotion to a dangerous feeding behavior. Now, how about those new spring colors?

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Cat and Flowers

The clerk’s cheerful countenance dimmed a tad, but she acknowledged what I was saying. She said she had not ever really thought about it. Understandably, it is one of those things we don’t think about unless we have to. But, with 30 million Americans struggling with some form of an eating disorder and many more at risk, (and a zillion just wishing to hate their bodies a little less) I tell this little story in honor of  Eating Disorder Awareness Week which is observed this year from February 26th through March 4th. This year’s theme is, “It’s Time to Talk About It”.

The insidious nature of eating disorders keeps them hidden in bedrooms, dressing rooms, locker rooms and emergency rooms. To shine light on the seriousness of these disorders, an incredible event has been coordinated by the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA). Large iconic landmarks throughout the country will be lit with the blue and green colors of the organization. Please check this out and look for a location near you. Otherwise, you might even see these lights but not understand their significance.

In the end, all was well. I purchased one pair of jeans of some size and style along with a few other attractive items that should keep me well-attired for a few years. I think my mom would be pleased. The clerk and I were all smiles as she handed me the large shopping bag over the counter, and I was feeling smug about the 60% savings. We had actually had a somewhat intimate encounter. Thinking about it, I recognize that dressing room attendants play a big role in helping women of all sizes to find clothing that makes them feel good. Cheers to them! Zena and I headed back out into the great outdoors feeling quite accomplished. Though we never made it to the farmer’s market we’d had a good catch.

Please drop in, say hello, share an experience, subscribe and/or pass my writings along. Thank you.

In health, Elyn

my plate

MyPlate Plate

MyPlate Haiku: In the dark places/I ask courage to believe/I am beautiful. by Anne-Marie

weight, weight, please tell me

This is a post about weight–weighty matters, the weight of the world, mainly the ongoing conundrum of there being too much of it. It is a topic I think about sometimes–trying to wrap my arms around it to contain it properly.

Actually, you will see that I don’t have much to say about it, but am sharing the brilliant voices of others who do. It seems these stories have recently, coincidentally collected in my little basket of big dilemmas.

Before I proceed, and attempt to offer something up on this largely considered nutritional–but so much greater– matter, let me digress for a moment to share something about me and my nutrition work and my nutritionist status. I have a little explaining to do. IMG_0309

I have experienced a lot of changes in the past few years. Some of these are profoundly personal while others are professional. I will stick to the latter and how they have influenced what I write about–perhaps some of you who follow me have noticed–but they are both intertwined.

When I began writing this blog in the fall of 2010-wow-I was perched in a clinical setting that continued to make me privy to the upfront and personal stories of individuals’ eating lives. I had been doing nutritional counseling for many years at that point in time. My clients’ issues strongly reflected, what I refer to in My Story, the massive changes in our food culture and highlighted the intimate art of eating in response to the personal and cultural milieu. The nutritional crises of our time, including the obesity crisis and its shadowed sister–eating disorders–were about twenty plus years deep in the making.

Professionally, I had been riding this unforeseen wave since its onset in the early 1990’s and felt I had something to say to personalize and humanize what was projected as a faceless statistical trend. Having worked with so many people, I was able to synthesize the common experiences that were impacting us all. I could also relate some true experiences of my clients in my writings. I would juxtapose these experiences alongside the larger impacts of poverty, trauma, environmental changes, food adulteration, community access, societal messaging, etc.

But, what I never stopped to share, was that two and a half years ago, I stepped out of direct care. I began doing nutritional program development and administration for a statewide program serving childcare centers–the preschoolers, families and educators. It is a good program. Though its implied mission is to prevent childhood obesity, I strongly prefer a redirection of intention to support the full health potential of all our children and mitigate the effects of what I am wont to refer to as nutritional violence and size stigmatization. Anyway, at that time, the nature of my posts changed and their frequency decreased. I had less material and more other things to tend to.

And now, I have just begun a new position. I am working for a breastfeeding support organization. This is a nutritional and health issue I am passionate about, but for essentially the first time in my career, I am not carrying the title of Nutritionist. I seem to be welcoming this change– it is a natural extension of my life work and public health orientation that fits well with my current circumstances. But it also stirs some emotion. Due to a combination of my personal experiences and the fact that I have not done direct care for a few years now, I no longer feel I can assist others with the acute health challenges of our time and the precise nutritional approaches they demand. So, along with other big changes I am now facing, I think it may be that I am no longer a Nutritionist.

So, my dilemma asks me, “Then what’s with the name of your blog?” For now, I will answer that until I have time to reconsider it, it will stay the same. I am still deeply interested in nutrition and how it relates to our individual and collective health. I am still paying deep attention and I still want to be part of the larger conversation. And, I still want to help people. I may present more concise offerings on my Instagram page which is now called, Lifeseedlings: Budding perspectives and occasional haikus on food politics, nourishment, body respect, eating and cooking. Join me there.

And so, back to the issue of weight which I raised as the focus of this post. I wish it wasn’t all that it was and is. I wish it didn’t dominate the headlines and pervade our thoughts. I am bothered by my own sometimes prejudiced assumptions and that despite my somewhat larger awareness of its complicated nature, I still conflate weight with health and want to help ease and prevent the physical and emotional burdens it encumbers. But it is about time for all of us, those with or without the business to do so, to stop believing that banishing this weight, this unruly fat, is similar to scrubbing dirt and grit off a coal miner’s body–some effort no doubt, some soaps better than others, but once undertaken, the job would be done.

From my observations, I think MAYBE things are changing. We may finally be realizing that plain out calorically restrictive diets of any ilk and fat shaming just don’t seem to be working to solve the problem in the long run nor are they doing anyone much good.

And, while not entirely new, more voices–powerful, angry and/or tender voices, are emerging that challenge the once firmly held ideas and attitudes held by our scientific and medical communities, our society and even our personal selves about the ‘weight problem’. Their words and advocacy may be shifting our perspectives, sharpening our sensitivities, and providing new approaches to care.

Here is a short little syllabus of what I consider to be very interesting insights on the topic. It includes:

  1. Where the story often begins. A post by Your Fat Friend, a personal story about the implications and consequences of early childhood weight interventions; and a discussion on What Harping on A Child’s Weight Looks Like 20 Years Later about the importance of fostering body appreciation for everyone, by Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen on her website, Raise Healthy Eaters.
  2. What No One Ever Tells You About Weight Loss. A powerful and personal look at how expectations about ways to lose weight imply a process that is both isolating and not sustainable, by Nick Eckhart in What I Wish Someone Had Told Me About Losing a Lot of Weight.
  3. How Even Well-Meaning Assumptions about Fat Athletes Can Be Misguided. Here, Ragen Chastain (whose blog Dances With Fat I have written about before) deconstructs such assumptions in her post, What Fat Olympians Prove (and What They Don’t).
  4. Really? Just five amazing stories from an episode of This American Life, entitled, Tell Me I’m Fat. (Transcript or Audio).

This is not required reading, but I hope you find something thought-provoking, attitude- adjusting or maybe even life-changing within. And, though I don’t have Carl Kasell to answer my phone, you can leave me a message here.

Thanks for listening, following/subscribing, sharing and supporting my writing.

Elyn

 

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MyPlate Plate

MyPlate Haiku

Pick your own today

Happy kids in wide-brimmed hats

Sweet summertime fruit. by Nan (Blessings on her new little grandson, Orion!)

 

 

 

 

peacock feathers

Recently, I received an inquiry from a writer named Mel D., asking to share a piece of her own story on my blog–to impart her experience and shed light on an eating disorder related condition that is not commonly appreciated or understood–body dysmorphic disorder (BDD). As I give space to compassionate discussion of eating disorders, I was glad to honor the request.

In considering the manifestations of BDD, I was drawn to the image of a peacock–such a splendid, mysterious and almost mythical creature–and thus named this post. Not surprisingly, peacocks, and their resplendent feathers, are rich in the symbolism of many cultures, and interestingly, their symbolic and spiritual meanings represent compassion, kindness, patience, all seeing knowledge, resurrection, renewal, and the reminder to show our true colors. I wonder if perhaps the peacock asks, How stunning must we be to honor our beauty; how much self compassion required to accept our flaws; and how not show our true and lovely colors?  

Prior to becoming a writer, I had a career working in finance. It was a job that naturally came with a lot of stress and time pressures. During my teens and twenties, I had suffered with what I now know to be classified as Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified or EDNOS, but at the time I had little idea what was affecting me.

The symptoms of my eating problems developed when I was studying at university and straddled the anorexic spectrum. Anxiety and high stress from being in school prevented me from eating properly and I began to calorie count to gain control over my life. Unlike many other anorexics, I knew I was too thin, but felt powerless to stop what I was doing. I began to also develop symptoms of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) alongside my eating issues.

BDD is a disorder wherein a person becomes obsessively preoccupied with how some aspect(s) of their body looks and is fixated on trying to correct or cover up the perceived flaw. There’s a clear link between poor body image and eating disorders, although the relationship between the two becomes a vicious circle rather than a linear development.

When poor body image leads to a strong desire to change the appearance, and often this focuses on losing weight, eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia can either become triggered or more entrenched. Those who suffer lose sight of the connection between the food they eat, their body, and their physical and mental well being.  Although on the surface eating disorders seem to be about losing weight, the weight loss and other physical effects are really just symptoms of the underlying issue, which is rarely about weight at all.

As with all eating disorders and associated BDD, the key to regaining mental and physical health almost always requires professional help—a residential or outpatient treatment program offering multiple therapies.  It’s also often useful to learn to think of food in new ways, to allow the person to start focusing more on nutrition and health, rather than on weight and appearance. Thinking of food in terms of nutrients, rather than calories, and acknowledging all the amazing things that our bodies do with the nutrients we feed them can be a useful tool in recovery.

It was only when I left the world of finance– after a period of time out sick from stress–that my illness was properly addressed. I can’t claim to be fully well, but after time spent in therapy and rehab, I now understand what my triggers are and can better control my behaviors. Having walked away from my job, instead choosing to become a freelance writer, I now try and to write on the topics that are important to me and that may hopefully help others. 

For more information on eating disorders and BDD, check out this article at Bulimia.com. As these are very serious health conditions, please seek appropriate care promptly. You deserve to heal and be well.

In health, Elyn

Antiques 2 027

Susan’s My Plate

My Plate Haiku

In the dark places

I ask courage to believe

I am beautiful.  by Anne-Marie

I Speak for the Fat People

Although I have taken a little writing hiatus, the nutritional discourse continues unabated. The stories of our communal incarnate experience resonate with frustration, guilt and misunderstandings. This is an older piece that I hope offers some response with a bit of healing balm. Some of its points have been raised and debated among those in the scientific community rather recently. I have published it in three parts previously. Here it is mended back together. Soon, I will return with some new posts. Thanks for waiting.

I speak for the fat people. Like Dr. Seuss’ Lorax who spoke for the trees, someone must speak for the fat people. Unlike the trees who needed a spokesperson because they had no tongues, you would think that the fat people would be able to speak for themselves. Of course fat people have tongues. If they did not have that taste bud-laden sensory organ, they would not be fat. Given the current weight of the world, this group should not be particularly hard to hear. However, in the huge public dialogue about weight and obesity, the fat people are merely statistics. There are no real people behind the statistics, and this is where they have lost their voice.  Therefore, they are stripped of any ability to speak with authority on the topic.

I am not a statistic. Though I have had some years where I toed the chubby line, for the most part I have done my part in tipping the scales toward societal svelteness. Besides my obligation as a citizen to keep the fat numbers down, as a nutritionist it is my professional responsibility to pull people out of the fat pool and to keep them from falling in at all.

It is no big secret that the medical and nutritional community has not done a great job in their role as bariatric (the science of obesity) lifeguards. I myself do not have a great track record of turning people into mere shadows of their former selves. But, I have spent my career as a nutritionist hearing the stories and struggles of the fat people and observing the ways of food and eating that define this turn of the century. I am a spy in the house of girth.

The fat community does in fact have some spokespeople. There are magazines, journals, books and websites–written mainly by  women–who have spent one day too many in the deprived and depraved world of dieting. There are individuals who are doing incredible and poetic work about re-informing and re-educating on misconceptions about weight and health and respectful self-care. Still, many of these efforts are marginalized or featured in venues that only topic-obsessed people like myself pay attention to. Even Roseanne Barr once said, “It’s OK to be fat. So you’re fat. Just be fat and shut up about it.” For every undertaking that sings the praises of body love and acceptance, there are thousands of counter-voices screaming the imperative to whip this fat away.

Therefore, I believe I must use my credentials to speak out. I hope that the fat people can accept me, a thin person–who is often cold and prone to osteoporosis–and an ex-stress and emotional eater to be their voice. Born of thin mother and fat father, I will try to do the cause justice.

Let’s begin by putting  the issue of overweight into perspective. If we look at weight historically, I’m pretty certain that from the beginning of time, there have been fat people. We have all seen the pictures of early Cro-Magnon and Neanderthal men. Even those quintessential hunters and gatherers seemed capable of packing on a few pounds. After them came Confucius, King Henry the Eighth, Mamie in Gone with the Wind, Jackie Gleason, Pavarotti, Aunt Bea and my grandmother. Chances are your grandmother was fat, too.

English: Luciano Pavarotti in Vélodrome Stadiu...

English: Luciano Pavarotti in Vélodrome Stadium, 15/06/02. Cropped version. Français : Luciano Pavarotti au Stade Vélodrome de Marseille, France, le 15 juin 2002. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Since our early beginnings, human beings have come in varying shapes and sizes and large-size was not necessarily an aberration of medium-size. It is good that there are large-sized people. A world without them would mean a world with fewer great opera singers, chefs, women of ample bosom, football players, construction workers and cuddly grandmothers.

It is not very difficult to become fat. You do not have to go out of your way to try. If Chinese youth can become fat, then anyone can. Only about 4% of the population has naturally model-thin bodies.That means that many models are starving themselves in order to be models. It also means that the rest of the size 2 wannabes are expending a lot of physical and mental energy in the pursuit of thinness.  Carolyn Knapp, in her book Appetites, tells the story of a woman who describes the angst she feels putting on her stockings every morning. She wonders what she could have accomplished in her life with the time she has spent worrying about her weight.

There are the naturally skinny–and then there are the neurotically and pathologically skinny; and the metabolically hyper-activated skinny–those who sustain themselves on a steady diet of excessive caffeine and nicotine—or maybe extensive exercise. For the rest of us, the possibility of becoming overweight is just around the corner. We are physiologically and neurologically wired to pack it on. The ability to store fat came in pretty handy a time or two during our multi-millenial evolution. We have about 107 compensatory mechanisms that prevent us from starving to death. A bunch of those certainly kicked in to save our forefathers when they were unable to kill a bison. In people who attempt to starve themselves toward thinness, the body fights back–it regains the lost weight plus more, and then absolutely refuses to budge.

In addition, we are wired for comfort. Research shows that the food habits that sustain us are those that we developed while still wrapped in the loving veil of early childhood. Whether that happened to be gazelle, chicken soup, mashed potatoes or cheeseburgers, you will probably turn to those foods as an adult. Believe me, the corporate world certainly knows this. The Happy Meal ensures that today’s toddlers will become tomorrow’s adult fast food consumers. The concept of comfort foods is one I hear a lot about during my spy missions. Women have confessed to me that they would choose a good loaf of bread over sex. The quality of the sex is not indicated in this context.

Then of course, there are our natural temperaments as well as good old genetics. I listened once to a tender story of a woman who was adopted as a child. She never met her birth mother, but she possessed a very old, poor quality home movie that she believes is of her mother. Though she struggles to see the face better in search of subtle resemblances, it is the woman’s thighs that confirm her finding. She states, “Look at the thighs. Those are my thighs.”

On top of all this, let’s sprinkle on a life change, or just daily, chronic stress. Take your pick. Break-ups, abuse, graduate school, poverty, working long hours, care giving, illness, depression or menopause are possible choices. And, God forbid you should simply possess a deep sensuous life affirming passion for cooking and eating. Throw any of these on your plate and if your primal wiring wasn’t enough to enlist you, then current circumstances will. Even the once-thins can become the now-fat–especially in this current milieu where food is literally out to get ya. Not even the high school cheerleader is immune. Any emotional state that is heightened increases for many the desire to seek food for reward. When one is working their way up the weight chart, it is because they are possessed by physical or emotional hunger, or physiological changes that they can neither understand nor control.

I can hear you begin to protest that it has to be more than just this.  Aren’t we soooo bad?  We ate the piece of chocolate cake (and we loved it). How could we? How dare we? That translates into four hours of floor mopping according to the calorie expenditure charts.  That must be fair penance for the crime. As a spy, my days are peppered with the monologues and dialogues of self-hate and recrimination that people utter like a mantra before and/or after each foray into eating. The guilt is palpable. We must have all been ____________ in a previous lifetime. (insert your own response.)

I was heartened to hear once, a man describe his joy-spreading tactic. Essentially, he spends half of his time acquiring special little chocolates and the other half, gifting them to people as morsels of universal love. I am either becoming a very cynical nutritionist or a very empathic human being. The collective psyche is longing for the morsel of joy even at the expense of the perfect waistline. The truth is that we have appetites and hungers because we are merely human, not because we are bad people. However, when all of these human tendencies accumulate into extra pounds, getting rid of that weight is very difficult.

A few years ago, I attended a conference on an obesity-related topic. As a group we were to brainstorm how to counsel a postpartum woman with a BMI of 30. The exercise had me squirming from the get go. As the attendees were getting rather  dead-ended in their attempts to master this case-study, the presenter, a physician and researcher at a major university said, “Let me offer this idea. I am often in my office at my desk and on the phone. I could just sit there and talk on the phone, but instead I stand and pace as I am talking.” My agitated brain said, “Yes, let’s file that idea to use.” Not with my clients but in this article. I could picture Homer Simpson stuffing one more donut in his face while muttering “Ah, vigorous pacing. That’s the ticket.” I wondered when was the last time this guy got out of his office and realized the experiences of real people, real fat people.

Hardly are all defined cases of overweight problematic. Some in the field maintain that the goal is for all individuals to attain an “appropriate” BMI.  Short of that, they will be at risk for various health problems. My intuition and much science beg to differ.  Many people are fine–if not perhaps better off–with a little extra weight on them. Pavarotti once said, “The reason fat people are happy is that their nerves are well protected.” My own observations reveal that the neurotically thin tend to be more frayed than their rounder counterparts. Besides, BMI is just a tool. At times it is a cruel tool—or at least a not very nice one.  It makes no allowance for age, fitness, or even natural body type. Whether we like it or not, our bodies will shift and change as we age. Nature, with no ill intent, seems to want to round us out a bit as we mature. That is how we get to be grandpas and grandmas. Appropriate BMI does not necessarily confer lack of health risks–only ones of a particular nature. Last long enough, and we tend to eventually shrink.

Do not get me wrong. I am not undermining the seriousness of the obesity crisis that we are facing. I understand its consequences perhaps more than most. I see the implications of weight that people struggle with on a daily basis and I strive to alleviate the challenges through educational, lifestyle and nutritional support. I bemoan the forces that are propelling our society into ever-expanding levels of girth, especially those that are now affecting our children.

Still, I feel a need to call TIME OUT! To stop the madness that makes those who are the statistics speechless. To stop pointing the finger merely at the individual without an understanding of the deeper forces that are at play. There are multi-factorial causes that lie at the root of the weight gain epidemic. Many are so abstract or insidious that it is very difficult even for the experts—let alone an ordinary individual–to understand what is going on. Though overeating, bad eating, food addiction and poor lifestyle choices are definitely a part of it, the magnitude of the communal weight gain doesn’t seem to make sense based on calories alone. In the causative mix lie politics, hormones, pharmaceuticals, poverty, nutrition misinformation, dieting, food sensitivities, sensory science, profits, changes in the components of our food, environmental toxins, personal and spiritual alienation and lifestyles spinning out of control. There are strange bedfellows in each and every fat cell.

Now, back to our friend the Lorax. For the record, the Lorax, our venerable spokesperson, was rather portly himself. Based on his picture, I’d put him at a BMI of about 29. I’d describe him as neither apple nor pear-shaped but rather pickle-shaped. According to Dr. Seuss, “He was shortish. And oldish. And brownish and mossy.” The final message of the Lorax in his plea to save the environment was UNLESS. “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

I too, am rather shortish. Oldish, brownish and mossy may someday also describe me. For now, my intention is not to imply an ultimatum. It is, however, to bring a greater sense of compassion and understanding–and a broader lens to the discussion and to the approaches to care.

I do not intend to deny the role of personal responsibility—be that for everyone. It is a big piece of the puzzle. Though it is critical that we address the current weight epidemic–we should not do it with an assault on the fat people. We must not slap everyone silly in an attempt to squeeze them into a size six dress or Speedo swimsuit. Besides, who would be left to sing the blues? And though I’d have been happy to find my grandmother at the gym, it could not replace the experience of cuddling up on her big, warm lap with wonderful smells wafting in from the kitchen.

In health, Elyn

my plate

My Plate Haiku

Adirondack lake

Soothes us  from the heat–weightless

We float like feathers

By Elyn

under the waning gibbous moon

Tonight, as sleep calls to me, while the waning gibbous moon that illuminates the night sky is 88% full, I take an excerpt from a previous post, Muse of the Girl, in recognition of Eating Disorder Awareness Week. A gibbous moon is one of the phases of the Moon, when the size of the illuminated portion is greater than half but not a full Moon.

Waning gibbous moon. Français : Lune gibbeuse ...

Waning Gibbous Moon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I want to discuss the war that doesn’t get covered, that wages within many girls and women–of all ages and sizes–who hate their bodies and therefore deny a large part of their selves. Or, who, by not loving themselves, direct a lot of abuse toward their physical temples in both thought and action. Though they often wish they were invisible, we see them walking around in all sizes– including those we deem acceptable and those we envy. Persons, whose self-worth has long been determined by the numbers on a scale or by an image in a mirror.

The war, where the collective pain and problems are as profound as those we ascribe to obesity–and the physical consequences are often more severe or deadly. Here, confusion and dictates about food and eating scar the bountiful landscape. Here, much potential is lost and much love is denied. I think we all have wandered into and many have lingered in this place where reality is distorted and self-flagellation and deprivation seems deserved.

This is the ignored epidemic. Not many resources are designated, but I have apparently been assigned to cover this front. My field notebooks are filled with stories and quotes that are usually too intimate for me to share. But, they reflect the reality that too many females (and increasingly, males) believe that without perfection they cannot be whole and should not take up much space on this generous planet. It is heartbreaking to witness this.

Having been touched by the lives of so many amazing, intelligent, gorgeous, creative, warm, gentle, caring and funny individuals who have been broken in this battle of self and body, these are some things I wish would receive front page headlines:

Bodies change, contours soften, bellies round, babies fill, bloat happens, hunger informs, weight is not absolute, judgmental words injure, beauty shines, food nourishes, wisdom evolves, body protects, hormones ebb and flow, pleasure is permissible, fat is often just a feeling in one’s head and restriction revolts.

If you are living this, put down the staunch resistance, begin the surrender and trust your inner feminine voice. Please know you are all so beautiful and you possess that which really matters. Take a moment to put your hand on your heart and belly and send love to yourself. Take a deep slow breath and be thankful to your body. Send a healing thought out to other women, because I assure you, you are so not alone. Hold the daughters and ask to be held. Reclaim your place. Change the internal tapes. Know there are many paths to healing available. The world needs everything you have to offer.

How fully illuminated is your feminine moon?  What else might you wish for others to know and trust?

Any sharings will be welcomed and respected.

In love and health, Elyn  

my plate

my plate

My Plate Haiku

Deep scarlet red beets

 Reveal your sweetness to me

 Slip out of your skins  

By Elyn

by the time i got back from woodstock

When last I left off in, By the Time I Got to Woodstock, I was chewing blissfully on arugula while practicing mindful eating in a cafe in Woodstock. Well, right after that little sweet outing, I began working with a new client who had recently had gastric bypass surgery–and so, since, the concept of mindful eating has taken on some new dimensions.

chico by the book**

Holding someone’s hand as they enter into an entirely new relationship with food and eating relative to digestive restructuring is a fascinating and fragile task. Recognizing how many people are now undergoing these procedures, makes me realize this is a societal shift as profound as online dating. According to my quick search, more than 200,000 people in this country are undergoing some type of weight loss surgery in a year and the numbers are growing steadily.

My client had the Roux-en-Y procedure, which is currently the industry’s gold standard.  It was one of the earliest procedures developed and ensures some of the best long-term success. It can now be done laparascopically through small incisions in the abdomen thereby further decreasing complications and  post-surgical discomfort. In the Roux-en-Y procedure the stomach is stapled to create a smaller food pouch about the size of an egg and is then reattached to the small intestine further down, bypassing the upper portion. Most people who undergo the procedure lose pounds fast and furiously for the first few months and ultimately seem to shed about 65% of their excess weight–though this number can be higher as well. Additionally, the serious medical conditions like diabetes, hypertension, sleep apnea and arthritis that plague this population significantly abate.

These surgeries and their aftermath of course entail some serious risk (including death) and have many profound physical, emotional and nutritional implications as well. However, highly remarkable are the changes in eating behaviors that these procedures both impose and demand. From the moment an individual awakens from the anesthetic stupor through the rest of their life, the relationship with food is forever changed. Some foods will be kissed a sad goodbye, while others will be reduced to tiny portions of their former selves. Sugary and fatty foods once beloved will wreak severe and painful havoc on the altered innards; gas forming foods will even more so make their presence known far and wide; proteins will demand front row seating at every meal and something as innocent as the skin on a tiny blueberry can pose a gigantic digestive problem. But, that is not all. Very big men and women will perforce be required to eat like little toddlers.

The refeeding path will wander from clear liquids to pureed foods and then to very carefully chosen solids. Liquids will be sipped slowly in frequent timed intervals throughout the day to prevent dehydration and they will not be taken at meal times. Bites will be teeny tiny, as teeny and tiny as a pencil eraser and sometimes tempted to the mouth on little baby utensils. Each mouthful will be so carefully chewed , quietly and consciously until fully emulsified.  There is no room for feeding error as severe pain or vomiting easily can ensue. Portions per meal will be a mere quarter cup, then a half cup and eventually up to a one cup maximum more or less for good. An ounce of food (or two tablespoons) will require about ten minutes to consume and a full one cup meal greater than an hour.  Often fullness will set in before the meal is done.

I have turned to various readings lately to a get a deeper appreciation of this extreme and tedious process from people who have experienced it– because it is difficult for me to fathom it on my own. I have taken to trying to eat one, just one, eraser sized bite per meal and to chew it consciously in some kind of solidarity with those who have chosen this path as a means to ameliorate years of physical and emotional pain. The decisions to undertake what these procedures required are not taken lightly.

Exploring this world more fully is challenging some of my own hesitancy regarding these procedures and I have been recalling my reactions to the bariatric conference I attended last fall and wrote about in How Can You Say No to a Brownie? Though there are at least two sides to every story, a recurring theme for many who have chosen weight loss surgery seems to be that despite all the attendant problems and adjustments–and there are many–eventually the new lifestyle is one that they become  accustomed to and when the initial difficulties resolve–they feel so much better and have no regrets.

It is difficult but not impossible to imagine. But even in so considering the benefits, I have been struck by a certain irony. Is not the insistence or instruction of these procedures essentially mindful eating? Choosing food with care, approaching it respectfully, chewing it slowly, tasting it thoroughly and giving the body time to say enough and thank you–like I did with my meal in Woodstock? Interestingly, I just came upon an interesting clue regarding this.

“Profound changes in body weight and metabolism resulting from RYGB cannot be explained by simple mechanical restriction or malabsorption. Changes in food intake after RYGB only partially account for the RYGB-induced weight loss, and there is no evidence of clinically significant malabsorption of calories contributing to weight loss. Thus, it appears RYGB effects weight loss by altering the physiology of weight regulation and eating behavior rather than by simple mechanical restriction or malabsorption.”*

Well, I am not positive, but I think that is what mindful eating does too. I don’t know what we will come to find when we look back at this period of  extreme procedures for weight loss or review its long-term results. Surely, newer weight reduction methods will be developed that won’t be as invasive and extreme as those that are currently being employed. Hopefully, we will find a gentler solution, but, maybe we will come to realize that there has always been a simpler way.

What do you think?

For an enlightening understanding of the physiology of eating, check out Marc David’s book, The Slow Down Diet.

In health, Elyn

*Nicholas Stylopoulos, Nicholas, Hoppin, Alison G., Kaplan, Lee M (2009), “Roux-en-Y Gastric Bypass Enhances Energy Expenditure and Extends Lifespan in Diet-induced Obese Rats”, Obesity 17 10, 1839–1847. doi:10.1038/oby.2009.207

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gastric_bypass_surgery

**it is actually amazing that i don’t write about chico more. he really is the most remarkable cat as his large fan base can attest to.  he does have some food and eating issues yet has actually lost weight through a diet, therapy and exercise program. he enjoys canteloupe, takes walks with me and waits outside when i visit my neighborhood library. here he is reading the count of monte cristo upside down!

My Plate

My Plate Haiku

Food made joyfully

As a gift of time and self

Feeds body and soul.  Anne-Marie

dolls with faith

Moth by Sandy Mudge

The other day I took a walk around my picturesque village. I was thinking about it being Eating Disorder Awareness Week and wondering what I would write about.  I knew I wished to offer something for this annual recognition week that starts in the last week of February–but I wasn’t sure what.  Passing the old Victorian houses that line the narrow lanes of this old place, I was feeling perhaps more like a gothic romantic than a modern nutritionist.

This year, the theme that informs the week is “Everybody Knows Somebody”.  This speaks to the fact that given the high prevalence of eating disorders in our society, chances are everybody most likely does know someone–whether they realize it or not.  Eating disorders are intangible in their essence.  They share many elements of an old gothic novel–a vampire story perhaps.

When eating disorders tighten their grip on an individual–as undernourishment and starvation deepen–they can figuratively and literally suck out the life blood. But, outward appearances usually do not identify those with any of the different complex types of eating disorders which we simplistically categorize as anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating.  Related and variant disorders exist as well.  And unfortunately, just as with vampires, we may not realize until it is too late, that we actually know someone who is affected.  Recognition of these conditions and resources dedicated to their treatment are abysmally low and this is why Eating Disorder Awareness Week is extremely important.

Though my job is to help people re-nourish, balance intake and make peace with food and eating, I recognize that sustenance needs to occur on many levels.  Working with those who suffer, I get to be privy to the underside of these debilitating conditions.  When I am up close and personal with my clients, I more easily see that they are not fully embodied, as their illness has detached them from their physical form.  It is subtle of course, but they have a fragile, ethereal quality.  This does not dismiss the fact that people with eating disorders tend to be extremely intelligent, highly productive, deeply empathic and exceedingly capable.

What is most painful for me to witness is the profound isolation, loneliness and secrecy that these disorders engender.  This cruel disease finds its oft very lovely victims scrounging for food at markets alone late at night; avoiding the pleasure of sharing satisfying meals with friends; preparing meals for their children yet not partaking themselves; and, loathing self so profoundly that they apologize for the space they inhabit. The survival of these disorder depends ferociously on the preservation of deep and dark secrets.

Frustrated by my knowing that there are many right in my little community who suffer alone and invisibly; and that there is a serious dearth in services–even more so since New York State cut funding to eating disorder programming a few years ago–I just recently have reached out to form a small program in conjunction with a local holistic health center.  I forced myself through my own usual hesitation and trepidation led by one strong intention–to see if I could create a space where people could find a place for a moment of peace, where they could allow themselves to be safely seen–and to share in a cup of tea.  The first session was attended by seven courageous people who came out of the woodwork where they usually hide.

The work of two women inspired me to even consider this.  One is Shannon Cutts, a survivor of her own 15 year-long battle with anorexia and bulimia, who wrote the book Beating Ana and started the program Mentor Connect.  She brought to the table the healing component that emphasizes the importance of social relationships as an antidote to the pervasiveness of these illnesses.        I recommend her work highly as a complement to all other care.  http://www.key-to-life.com/

The other is Mary Ellen Clausen (and her husband Dan) whose own lives were touched by their daughters’ eating disorders.  On a wing and a prayer, they created a welcoming space called Ophelia’s Place, where people could just come for some coffee, chocolate, comfort and care.  From the ‘Our Journey’ page on their website, “We are learning to listen harder, “fixing” less, and believing that the struggle is where the healing begins.  We are learning to “model” healthy behaviors and challenge the “norm”.   We are learning to replace blame and judgment with love and unconditional support.  We are learning forgiveness.  We are learning that recovery is a process and part of that process is an understanding that living life can and must co-exist through the eating disorder.”  http://www.opheliasplace.org/

This message is important for me to touch base with as I continually try to anchor my own work in this area.  Today, with a client of mine I tried to fix too much.  This is a frequent challenge for me–meeting the mandate of reaching for adequate nourishment with some sense of urgency and being prescriptive–while also trying to provide that crucial piece of support and  mirroring forgiveness.  I find this work very humbling and it demands leaps of faith for all involved.

It turns out, that when I returned home from my walk, I happened to check my little Facebook page.  My friend Susan had posted a link to the website of a mutual friend of ours who I had not been in touch with for many years.  One click on http://web.me.com/dollswithfaith/Fine_Art_by_Sandra_Mudge/My_Albums/My_Albums.html led me to the fantastic, whimsical, provocative and sacred creations of my old friend and incredible artist, Sandra Mudge.

With a portfolio of paintings, collages and photographs–and some other media I am not quite sure of–it seemed to me that Sandra’s heavenly work captures the delicate and ethereal essence of eating disorders–exactly that which I was trying to express–something more representational than descriptive.  In the fine art section are a series of pieces of beautiful dresses–doll clothes of taffeta, silk and lace adorned with fragile firefly and butterfly wings…but they are empty of the little girls who should be wearing them –who should be fleshing them out with life, vitality and childhood innocence.

However,as Sandra, Mary Ellen, Shannon and many others continue with their powerful talents to ‘transform helplessness to hopefulness’; and, when faith is summoned, and stories of recovery are shared, more ‘dolls’ can be restored to their full life potential–and they can then take flight.

Please check out Sandra’s page and all the mentioned websites; and if you are someone who is dealing with an eating disorder, please seek help, have faith and never give up hope.  And, as always, responses are welcomed and respected.  Do you know somebody?

In health, Elyn

Related Posts:  Stopping Traffic, Muse of the Girl

http://www.missrepresentation.org/

http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/

http://www.leftoverstogo.com

http://www.bulimia.com/

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HNxtrxVEGFo

My Plate:  Today is empty

my plate