Tag Archive | Body image

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?

IMG_3545.JPG

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

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muse of the girl

Camouflage is definitely not for me.  I prefer pretty patterns and soft silky and satiny fabrics.  Give me beautiful bold colors or light pastels.  Browns and faded olive are not in my color palette.  I may be nicely disguised in a flower garden, but I am an easy target on the battlefield.  That may explain why I am fielding a lot of enemy fire in the trenches these days.  The obesity war seems to be raging on all fronts.  

It’s been a bad week for news journalism with the News of the World scandal, but a few stories got through from the correspondents. First, came the release of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, “F as in Fat”, annual report on obesity.  Apparently, obesity rates are increasing in 16 states, but, good news, there were fewer than 20 states with increasing rates.  My state, New York, is apparently in better shape than most, with only 23.9% of its denizens classifying as obese.  Our good showing can be due to the millions in New York City who don’t have cars; and still walk everywhere and climb stairs even to get in and out of the subways.   Maybe an unfair advantage, but, Go team!

http://hosted2.ap.org/APDefault/*/Article_2011-07-07-Obesity%20Rankings/id-38095da30d4549f19a74dac1c3beb368

Then, there was the commentary article in the Journal of the American Medical Association.  Drs. Lindsey Murtagh and David Ludwig, of the Harvard School of Public Health, proposed that morbidly obese children be removed from their homes and placed in foster care, to control for the harmful behaviors by which they are affected.  They gave exception to cases with genetic causes.

Reading this made me wonder  if I should have been removed from my home due to secondary smoke exposure.   I suppose the smoking could have been attributed to some genetic parental anxiety and my case would have been dismissed.  Just imagine though what would it have been like to live with a normal, straight-haired and non-smoking family?  But, maybe those parents would have drank too much or would not have had patience for my crazy curls?  Didn’t everyone drink and smoke, even in pregnancy, back then?  It took awhile for people to get serious at first, understanding the dangers of cigarettes, and secondly, for the tobacco companies to fess up.  My folks didn’t mean to hurt me.

Now, most everyone has been eating  processed and adulterated food for a long while, but, it has taken until rather recently to catch onto what it is doing to us and few in the industry are fessing up.  My kids tell me how all their friends’ kitchens are stocked with big bottles of soda, large bags of chips and huge boxes of fun cereals.  I know they have at times wished for foster placement due to this.  But, maybe I should warn those families.  The jig might be up–well only if their kids are fat.

http://www.acsh.org/factsfears/newsid.2823/news_detail.asp

Despite this multi-paragraph ramble, the headlines are exactly what I don’t want to talk about.  I want to discuss the war that doesn’t get covered, that wages within the 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 to their bodies in both thought and action.  Though they often wish they were invisible, we see them walking around in all types of bodies 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 confusion and dictates about food and eating cause as much, if not even more, distress for them, than for those who are large-sized without such negative judgment about their weight.  The collective pain and problems here are profound as are those we ascribe to obesity–and the physical consequences can be even more severe or deadly.  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 here, but I have apparently been assigned to cover this beat.  My field notebooks are filled with stories and quotes that are usually too intimate for me to share.  But they imply a sense that so many girls and women 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.

Any sharings will be welcomed and respected.

In love and health, Elyn  

my plate

Haiku:

Deep scarlet red beets

 Reveal your sweetness to me

 Slip out of your skins  

By Elyn

you ain’t necessarily misbehavin’– part 2

Awhile back, in my post You Ain’t Necessarily Misbehavin’, I began to explore the topic of how we arrive at being the eaters we are today, and how we berate ourselves for so many things that we had little control over.

The last week of February marks the observation of National Eating Disorder Awareness Week–which also has been expanded to reach out to the many who live in daily distress from hating their bodies. I have not been sure what to add to the conversation which is being so ably cradled by many wise people. However, as this struggle is so relevant to the story, and such a part of the fabric that we are all woven into, I offer a continuation of the examination of how our relationship with food and eating gets shaped. Last time, I left off, just as we were being born.                                                                                                                                                                

After we slide out or are plucked from our mothers’ tummies, the messages regarding food and security are profound. Influencing this stage are many factors: how our cries of hunger were responded to; if food was used to placate other needs; whether our cues of satiety were observed; or, if  we were encouraged to keep feeding according to some external measurement.

The emotional state of our caregivers also colors our early feedings. A premature or reluctant feeding infant whose parent anxiously counts every millilitre consumed is having a different sentient experience than the content babe who nuzzles and guzzles while mother hums dreamily.

Whether we are breastfed or formula-fed also may affect us. A breastfed baby exposed to a wider palette of flavors based on mom’s diet may develop greater food acceptability than the formula fed baby who gets the same recipe with each feeding. Also, fullness (and growth) may be appreciated differently, due to the different composition of human and artificial milk.

Other subtleties influence this early feeding stage. Our innate temperaments reveal if we eat to live or live to eat. Some babies internalize the joy of clutching the breast or bottle as core to their being; others see the business of feeding as a mere requisite to the more important work of exploring the larger world. Certainly, much is anchored when we are merely minutes, days and months old.

Then, soon enough, we are small children. By the age of four, by my calculations, we have already had at least eight thousand, seven hundred and sixty eating encounters–and we are already pretty savvy little humans. We have begun to glean that food serves a greater purpose than fueling our bodies for play. It is somehow powerfully linked with love and affection and has powers way beyond its nutrient content. Candy can mend a hurt, ice cream can cool our heated outbursts of emotion and creamy, warm, familiar foods will bring comfort in a heartbeat. We know if food is abundant or if it is scarce.

Another message we receive at this time is that our own bodily sensations are secondary to behaving according to the rules. This ensues when we are told we must wait until mealtime to eat and that we must clean our plates; or, that we are eating too much or too little. These common parenting practices can serve to teach us that our own feelings are not valid and can begin to detach us from natural signals of hunger and fullness. Age-appropriate feeding should match and support the normal physiological and growth needs of young children. (An understanding of the principles of feeding dynamics are best gleaned by reading the work of Ellyn Satter, social worker and dietitian who pioneered research in this area. Her Division of Responsibility in Feeding should be the crux of all childhood nutrition education.)

When we are a little older we may begin to experience disconnects regarding food and our bodies. As little children, we do not differentiate ourselves from our environment. This sense of  separation–and its attendant self-awareness–does not occur until a child reaches the age of eight or nine. But, with the early introduction of  media and abstract reasoning in both schooling and socialization, this change is happening at an earlier age. I believe this is why eating disorders now manifest in younger kids.

Exposure to a barrage of images with distorted messages about feeding, body image and personal values affects everyone, but it is particularly detrimental to at-risk individuals. Unfortunately, we cannot identify who is at risk. Interestingly, non-industrialized cultures only begin to show eating disordered behaviors after television becomes available.

With self-awakening we are catapulted into self-reflection. Girls navigating through this time yearn to be let into the “club”. We enter the kitchen; we sidle up to our mothers, their friends, the aunties and the older sisters. We listen to their rich stories, and are sensitive to their attitudes and judgments. Often we hear women dissect and belittle their bodies; and the chant of the societal and personal mantra “I’m so fat” begins to penetrate our beings. We take all of this and figuratively stuff it into our new training bras and bikini underpants as our bodies begin to take on form and shape.

This is a very vulnerable period in the evolution of feeding behaviors. As a girl’s body begins to change rapidly, and there are hungers that accompany that growth, any chaos, fear, abuse or significant uncertainty in the outer environment can cause the body to become the battlefield for unexpressed emotions. We can stuff emotions down by overeating or we can deaden them by starvation. For some, negative comments from important male figures can solidify maladaptive behaviors that might have otherwise remained transient. Though girls may be more susceptible to this change, boys are by no means immune when they begin their maturation.

By adolescence, the stage is essentially set as the cascade of sex hormones takes up residence, settles in and rounds out the edges of our physical and emotional beings. After this huge developmental landmark, barring a few other components like what we eat, we just ride the waves, responding to food based on the summation of our earlier nature and nurture experiences.

Does this resonate for you? In honor of this week, please take a moment to think about your own story. No judgment, no blame, just acknowledge it. There may be much to actually appreciate. Practice replacing bitter feelings about your body with kind thoughts. Refrain from all trash talk about other people’s size as well as your own. If you suffer, or if you know someone who does, or if you just care about this subject, please check out the following websites:

www.mentorconnect-ed.orgwww.nationaleatingdisorders.org;

All sharings will be deeply honored.

In health, Elyn

my plate

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-last part

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.

TARTA DECORADA HOMER  Y BART SIMPSON

TARTA DECORADA HOMER Y BART SIMPSON (Photo credit: YOCUNA ARTE EN AZUCAR)

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.

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 27.  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.

Let me know what you think.  Thanks.

Related Posts:  I Speak for the Fat People: First Part and I Speak for the Fat People: Middle Part

In health, Elyn

my plate

my plate

My Plate Haiku

Hunger tiptoes in

From bellies, hearts or minds

Feed me now she calls.

by Eva

you ain’t necessarily misbehavin’

Why is this question of nourishing ourselves so difficult? We all know there are some basic concepts surrounding the care and feeding of the human being, but unfortunately, we are not equipped with an owner’s manual. Therefore, as we move through our lives requiring food for both emotional and physical survival, we respond to our needs with some twist based on our own experience; and clearly some confusion often occurs along the way.

Looking at this question might enable us to have more compassion for ourselves and others in this realm where there is so much self-loathing and self-recrimination. There is probably no other activity that we do with so much community and yet such isolation as feeding ourselves. In the emotional terrain of eating, no feeding decision is made because we are a bad, weak or disgusting person. I use those words because that is how people feel and describe themselves.

As a nutritionist I sit in small rooms hearing people’s stories about their relationship with food, eating and their bodies. These stories are spilling over into the “street buzz” of daily conversation as people are being increasingly consumed by a fear of food and a shame and loathing of their bodies. In workshops, I lead an exercise asking people to write down a negative thought they have had about their body that day. I then ask them to write a good quality about themselves that is not related to body image. Reconciling the two is hard to do. Realizing that such wonderful people could be feeling so badly about themselves is enough to make anyone cry.

The power and capacity for these feelings to diminish the human experience is profound and insidious, yet we rarely consider how complicated is the source of the issues. However, such consideration provides an important perspective and may shift where we point the finger. By separating out those aspects related to self-nourishment that we have control over, from those that we don’t, we can perhaps alleviate some of this suffering and can enhance prevention efforts which may be more effective than current remedial strategies.

To understand the distinctions, and to get just a glimpse of how many factors there are, entails a look at human development. Much of our food tendencies begin while we are still pickling in the brine of our mothers’ wombs. Our chromosomal template influences not only our adult body size and shape but more subtle biological processes as well. How efficiently our metabolisms will burn, how our brains will interpret satiety, and how and where we will store fat is all rather pre-programmed on one’s personal dance card—imprinted essentially when sperm meets egg. Our ability to resist a piece of chocolate cake is apparently even coded in our DNA. Some individuals are genetically better “resisters” than others. Who knew, right?

Likewise, women have more sensitive taste buds than men. That second X chromosome can translate into a tendency for food distaste and picky eating that is formed before we are even born. Other aspects of the maternal milieu–or in other words, our intrauterine environment–including our mother’s diet, blood sugar regulation and calorie availability also will have an effect on our own taste inclinations and feeding behaviors after we are born. Our first eating experience really happens at Mom’s Diner. Pretty crazy.

And that is just the beginning. I will continue with where our path next takes us later. For now, just chew on this, and in the spirit of loving ourselves, consider how such an appreciation of how we have arrived where we are through very little fault of our own, can translate into some gentle acceptance instead of the usual flagellation with figurative wet noodles–be they whole wheat, gluten-free or basic semolina.

I do not intend to suggest that we  absolve ourselves of responsibility for our health and eating behaviors, or that we should just throw in the towel, but perhaps such a reflection can help us to accept ourselves more for who we are, and to put a lid on the negative self speak about our bodies. Such scolding and negative reinforcements will never lead to positive change.

Let us return food to its own natural place and let us reclaim our birthright of health. Remember that there is a beautiful light that shines in all of us. Believe that it is there.  Keep trying. We can create a new reality for ourselves.

Continued post:  you ain’t necessarily misbehavin’-part 2

In health, Elyn