In mid 2016 I started on Lithium Bicarbonate (again!) for my mental illness: Bipolar 1. If you have read my previous posts on body image and on mental illness, you will know by now that I was struggling against succumbing to meds due to the strong suspicion that taking them would cause a large weight gain.
Well, it has done just that. My body now is the stuff of my previous life’s nightmares. So, why is this post entitled Feelin’ Fine? Confused yet?
It started when I hit rock bottom in May 2016. I had extreme anxiety for days and a panic attack that rocked my world and I was sure I was about to die. I could barely let go of my husband Dean’s hand. All I could do to feel better was walk, and poor Dean, suffering with a broken toe, walked with me, holding my hand. (Ya, I know. I have the best husband in the world.) If you had seen me then you would not recognize me. I was barely able to look up. I was debilitated. The cortisol buildup in my low back was like a knife jabbing me. Every thought spun out a new list of worries that multiplied. I clutched Dean’s hand and he guided me gently along through the days. I did simple tasks like pealing potatoes and hanging laundry. That’s about all I could do without making copious, confusing lists and notes.
This was the point that I finally succumbed to medication.
Since then, I decided that it is far better to have a clear mind and psyche than it is to be small and trim.
This has not been an instantaneous transformation. It has taken hours and hours of concerted effort and two years of time going by to change my thinking. I am doing this by reading books, blogs, articles, scientific studies and by listening to podcasts on this very topic…non-diet, body-neutral, non-fat phobic, Health at Every Size, Intuitive Eating by podcasters like Christy Harrison on Food Psych; Meret Boxler on Life Unrestricted; Chris Sandel on Real Health Radio; Summer Innanen on Fearless Rebelle Radio. These people have helped me immeasurably. As has my husband of twenty-six years. He is truly my best, most supportive friend.
It hasn’t been exactly easy to transform my thinking one hundred and eighty degrees. From a very disordered existence of constant striving to maintain a small, lean body where in almost every waking moment over the last 35 years, I was aware, concerned, worried about eating less and moving more (it was a full-time job to maintain the energy deficit that then felt normal). I mean, I was eating low-fat while trekking in the Himalayas while simultaneously battling a bowel parasite for jeezus sakes.
I have become more peaceful by NOT doing anything to try to stay small. I eat when hungry, whatever I want. I drink when thirsty. I move when it strikes my fancy to do so. No schedule. No goals. No competitive work-out sessions. No marathon-type activity in the off-ing to compulsively train for. No $60 ++ per week of yoga classes, plus thousands of dollars for months of yoga teacher training at an ashram in the Bahamas (which in retrospect I now realize that I had done not to achieve Zen but mostly to achieve small-ness. It was like going to a Fat Farm for me. Okay, a Zen Fat Farm, if you will).
I look back on my previous life and shake my head. But it is all part of my path.
And, who cares if I am not small in size. I am still ME.
That person is still here and that person is doing okay. She’s just in a bigger, softer body and she is doing much, much better on the inside, and, thankfully, not doing those annoying hand-stands every five minutes.
One last one for the memory bank. My son took this in Prospect, Nova Scotia, Canada. The next time I asked him to take a picture of me doing a hand-stand was on the Keji Seaside beach, he goes, ‘Mom, that ship has sailed, don’t you think?’
Right on Buddy. Gotta love kids.
I would love your comments…
(The sunflower pic is from Google Images, all the rest are mine, Martha Valiquette, except the amazing Dragonfly which is by my eldest sister.)
*Excerpt from Already Gone (Eagles) Songwriters: Jack Tempchin / Robert Arnold Strandlund
Let me ask you something, in all the years that you have…undressed in front of a gentleman has he ever asked you to leave?… No? It’s because he doesn’t care! He’s in a room with a naked girl, he just won the lottery. I am so tired of… waking up… and recalling every single thing I ate the day before, counting every calorie I consumed so I know just how much self loathing to take into the shower. I’m going for it…. I’m just through with the guilt. So.. I’m going to finish this pizza, and then… tomorrow we are going to go… buy ourselves some bigger jeans.
~ Elizabeth Gilbert
For most of my life, I have been completely messed up with regard to body-image and worth regarding its size. It is a sad story when considering just the amount of time, thought, energy and tears that I have expended with regard to this. I will reference an earlier post that I have written on this topic: BoPo Revisited.
Since January 2017, I have been working and trying and hoping to get this monkey off my back and to just really be okay with my still strong, newly soft body, more lustrous hair, clear skin and more peaceful attitude. I strive to go about my day without judgement and with forgiveness toward my past and to just be chill with regard to food and exercise rules of the past.
I’m getting there folks.
Some days I barely think about my past. Where as before, I would be worried about every food choice; doing way too much exercise and giving myself way too many imaginary pats on the back for that plus food restriction.
Just now, as I was walking to my office and I had this funny (scary) memory of a freak-out that came from nowhere. The preparation of a meal used to be a major production (ie: in my mind). My thoughts around ‘did I deserve’ this meal would run rampant. Had I done enough exercise to allow for a big meal or should I just eat a salad while my family ate the well-rounded meal, that I made. This was a daily, useless ordeal with many pitfalls. I’m exhausted just remembering it.
So, this one day, I’m cooking up steaks — a real treat. There were two large ones and a small-ish one. I fried them in our cast-iron pan with garlic and herbs. They smelled heavenly. Meanwhile, Dean mashed the potatoes and Leo set the table to include steak-knives, salad and red wine.
I placed each juicy steak on a plate to rest, thinking, of course, I would have the small one…
when I turned around I was both confused and horrified to see that Dean had taken the small one. Then, a completely inappropriate reaction erupted from myself.
‘Dean, the small one is for ME!!! Why on earth would YOU take the SMALL one??!’ I shrieked at him.
He looked at me. Looked at his plate. Looked at me.
‘I thought I would leave a large one for you, M, since you’re the one cooking them.’
My face was red. My mind was confused. Didn’t he GET that I didn’t DESERVE to eat a large one?
Leo weighs in.
‘Mom. Chill. We usually have too much anyway. Dad will not starve.’
But, you see, I wasn’t worried about Dean starving. I was worried about ME eating more than I should. More than I deserved. Fuck. Messed up.
Thankfully, this little freak-out episode was close to the time of my epiphany away from disordered eating and over-exercising. Praise Jesus.
I have been anti-diet, size neutral, body positive and into Health At Every Size and Intuitive Eating since Jan 1, 2017, an auspicious day when the prison bars opened and I walked out into freedom. (If you are unaware of just how messed up I was regarding body image and food, take a look at the post: The Body Positive.) I received a request from my sister Amy to revisit the topic, now that some time has gone by and I have completely changed my disordered ways.
Well, let’s start with what I have been doing differently. Instead of constant restriction or worry about calories and types of food, I have opened the flood gates and have been eating whatever the hell I feel like eating and at whatever time of day or night – tuning in to my hunger and cravings instead of tuning them out. The first time in early January that we were at a restaurant together and I ordered (gasp) fish, Leo looked at me quizzically and says, ‘Mom, no salad?’ When I got over the fact that my teenage boy noticed me, I started to feel bad for the messages that I have obviously instilled in him about what mom’s should or shouldn’t eat. Shit! I didn’t want my body image baggage to affect him. For his whole life though, I have restricted, stressed and worried unless the prerequisite burning of significant calories had occurred.
Well, NOT ANY MORE.
From my research on recovering from eating disorders / disordered eating and over exercising, this was the stage where I was lifting the taboos from all foods. It’s key that for a number of months, or a year or so, one goes with whatever the hankering is for and try to really tune in to the exact food that is being craved. Almost always, initially, it will be previously demonized foods like: french fries, desserts, melted cheesy-foods. After paying some attention to those particular foods (the previously demonized ones), they will lose their power and we won’t feel the need to indulge in them as often.
I am already noticing that some foods are losing their attraction, just because now they are allowed. Their allure is lessening. Don’t get me wrong. This intuitive eating method is NOT a weight loss method. It is rather, a way to learn to be in tune with your body and what it needs and wants. What ever develops from that…so be it. Some gain. Some lose. Some stay the same.
Another big step was to rid my social media sights of anything or anyone who would trigger my thinking back to the old ways. So, I unfollowed or unfriended sites and folks with mentions of dieting, weight-loss, green smoothies (YUCK!), cleanses or over-exercising. Also, I had to let some friends know that I now take exception to body-slagging, diet and fat-phobia talk.
As for exercising, I am doing a lot of walking, because I enjoy it and because, while I walk, I can educate myself using podcasts. I have now listened to hundreds of hours. My favourite podcasters are:
Christy Harrison on Food Psych podcast https://www.christyharrison.com/foodpsych/ ;
Summer Innanen on Fearless Rebelle Radio https://summerinnanen.com/frr/
There are also life changing books available:
Linda Bacon’s Health At Every Size;
Harriet Brown’s Brave Girl Eating; and
Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch.
Another thing that’s good about walking: I can do errands and make it functional exercise, like fetch the mail and a few groceries items. Can’t do that on the treadmill or on the stairway to nowhere. I am also still doing yoga but it has morphed into a very gentle version of yoga. No more power yoga and way fewer handstands. Instead of compulsive exercising for the purposes of looks or to burn calories, now I exercise because it feels good. Exercise is a gift to my body, much like slaking my thirst with a glass of cool water.
So, what has changed for me. OH MY GOD. I am free. At last. I do not wish my previous shit on anyone. That was a horrible way to live. I have gotten rid of my scale so I don’t know how much, but I have gained weight. But, seriously, who cares? WHO THE HELL CARES if I have a bigger dress size? I know one thing for sure, my hubby is enjoying my bigger boobs. A win win.
Is it difficult to do a 180 degree turn at this stage in my life? Well, you know that saying: fake it until you make it? That’s me. I’m pretending to be one of those people who eats whatever they want. We have all known at least one friend like that, right? That’s me. It’s working and it’s exciting to be able to just EAT WHATEVER I WANT and NOT OBSESS ABOUT IT. God. It’s so much better this way. I welcome you to join me.
When I’m having a bad day, I check in with a couple of closed facebook groups which are full of people going through exactly what I am going through. I was having a really bad day a few weeks ago — scared about my changing body and hoping I was on the right path. I posted to the Food Psych podcast facebook group and within a few minutes I had answers to my gnawing worries. One person encouraged me to simply lessen my mirror time. Imagine. I don’t have to check myself out so much and that will make me feel better. It works. Another person responded that I may want to go buy some larger clothes because wearing tight clothes can be distressing at this stage. Off to the thrift shop I went and found some beautiful jeans that fit so well at thrift prices. Their responses really helped me and I was touched.
I would love to help even one person to get out of the restriction / over-exercising hell. If I could save one person from wasting themselves in the diet-culture crap, that would have all been worth it.
I will end with truisms that I have learned so far:
All bodies are good bodies. This is key.
Our body knows what is best. Tune in.
Diets don’t work. Why does Weight Watchers have a lifetime membership? Think about it. It is a profit driven business based on diets NOT working. Am I right?
If it feels like a chore to exercise, take a break. Sit down and enjoy a rest or go for a stroll, admire nature or window shop.
If your Instagram is full of skeletal bodies with six-packs, that’s not helpful. Unfollow.
Diet talk is not helpful and it shouldn’t be how we bond with each other as women (or men). Diet talk is lame. Step away from those people or help them to know they are triggering you.
Journal writing and meditation helps work it out. Meditation can take place while walking, if that works for you.
Juice fasts are diets. So are cleanses. Diets don’t work.
Not only do diets not work, you will likely gain more weight in the 3-5 years after the weight loss. This is because your body is rebounding from thinking there was a famine and slowed your metabolism.
Some lifestyle choices are just glorified diets. Diets don’t work.
If you have a craving for a food, think about eating that food. Your body is asking you for it.
If you get a feeling that someone is anorexic (because you have never seen them eat and perhaps is skeletal – but not necessarily) they probably are. Anorexia is a very secretive condition. However, if you can, reach out to them in a gentle way. Tell them you care. This will mean a lot. I was there. I know.
Anorexia is a very lonely mental illness which can be fatal.
If we don’t buy into it, we can beat the trillion dollar per year diet industry….together.
Just in case you would like to read these again:
Intuitive Eating Principles by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch
Reject the Diet Mentality. Throw out the diet books and magazine articles that offer you false hope of losing weight quickly, easily, and permanently. Get angry at the lies that have led you to feel as if you were a failure every time a new diet stopped working and you gained back all of the weight. If you allow even one small hope to linger that a new and better diet might be lurking around the corner, it will prevent you from being free to rediscover Intuitive Eating.
Honor Your Hunger. Keep your body biologically fed with adequate energy and carbohydrates. Otherwise you can trigger a primal drive to overeat. Once you reach the moment of excessive hunger, all intentions of moderate, conscious eating are fleeting and irrelevant. Learning to honor this first biological signal sets the stage for re-building trust with yourself and food.
Make Peace with Food. Call a truce, stop the food fight! Give yourself unconditional permission to eat. If you tell yourself that you can’t or shouldn’t have a particular food, it can lead to intense feelings of deprivation that build into uncontrollable cravings and, often, bingeing When you finally “give-in” to your forbidden food, eating will be experienced with such intensity, it usually results in Last Supper overeating, and overwhelming guilt.
Challenge the Food Police. Scream a loud “NO” to thoughts in your head that declare you’re “good” for eating under 1000 calories or “bad” because you ate a piece of chocolate cake. The Food Police monitor the unreasonable rules that dieting has created . The police station is housed deep in your psyche, and its loud speaker shouts negative barbs, hopeless phrases, and guilt-provoking indictments. Chasing the Food Police away is a critical step in returning to Intuitive Eating.
Respect Your Fullness. Listen for the body signals that tell you that you are no longer hungry. Observe the signs that show that you’re comfortably full. Pause in the middle of a meal or food and ask yourself how the food tastes, and what is your current fullness level?
Discover the Satisfaction Factor. The Japanese have the wisdom to promote pleasure as one of their goals of healthy living In our fury to be thin and healthy, we often overlook one of the most basic gifts of existence–the pleasure and satisfaction that can be found in the eating experience. When you eat what you really want, in an environment that is inviting and conducive, the pleasure you derive will be a powerful force in helping you feel satisfied and content. By providing this experience for yourself, you will find that it takes much less food to decide you’ve had “enough”.
Honor Your Feelings Without Using Food. Find ways to comfort , nurture, distract, and resolve your issues without using food. Anxiety, loneliness, boredom, anger are emotions we all experience throughout life. Each has its own trigger, and each has its own appeasement. Food won’t fix any of these feelings. It may comfort for the short term, distract from the pain, or even numb you into a food hangover. But food won’t solve the problem. If anything, eating for an emotional hunger will only make you feel worse in the long run. You’ll ultimately have to deal with the source of the emotion, as well as the discomfort of overeating.
Respect Your Body. Accept your genetic blueprint. Just as a person with a shoe size of eight would not expect to realistically squeeze into a size six, it is equally as futile (and uncomfortable) to have the same expectation with body size. But mostly, respect your body, so you can feel better about who you are. It’s hard to reject the diet mentality if you are unrealistic and overly critical about your body shape.
Exercise–Feel the Difference. Forget militant exercise. Just get active and feel the difference. Shift your focus to how it feels to move your body, rather than the calorie burning effect of exercise. If you focus on how you feel from working out, such as energized, it can make the difference between rolling out of bed for a brisk morning walk or hitting the snooze alarm. If when you wake up, your only goal is to lose weight, it’s usually not a motivating factor in that moment of time.
Honor Your Health–Gentle Nutrition. Make food choices that honor your health and tastebuds while making you feel well. Remember that you don’t have to eat a perfect diet to be healthy. You will not suddenly get a nutrient deficiency or gain weight from one snack, one meal, or one day of eating. It’s what you eat consistently over time that matters, progress not perfection is what counts.
Copyright 2007-2017. intuitiveEating.org All rights reserved.
I bet I was the only ten-year-old kid who knew that the address of The Toronto Star was 1 Yonge Street, Toronto. I knew this piece of completely useless information because at the tender age of five years old, I had a paper route – The Toronto Star. I exaggerate slightly. The route was actually my older brother’s but, I had been given the responsibility of delivering a single paper to one out-of-the-way customer: Mrs. Wilson– about ten doors north of our house. I got paid a hefty 5 cents per week for this. It was much to my embarrassment though, when the phone would ring while all nine of us were ensconced at the supper table and Mom would look at me and say, Martha, did you deliver your paper? Invariably I had forgotten. I would have been too busy at play to think of it. I had to then drop my fork and run off with Mrs. Wilson’s paper. As the years went by I was given more and more of the route to deliver and customers to collect from and one day I found that the whole route was mine – handed down from Matt to Mark to Job and finally, to me.
The Saturday Star was so heavy that, in order for me to be able to deliver all the papers from one load, I had to lug the bag to the top of our front, concrete stoop. I would sit on the third step and back into the head-sling of the loaded paper bag and then, leaning way over until my nose was almost touching the ground, I would stagger forward and allow the full weight of the bag to sit on my back. Not a parent-figure in site to worry about me injuring my neck. I often wondered how badly off I would be if I were to just fall the wrong way? Or, if I were to stumble, out-of-control onto the street, would the car that hit me be damaged by the sack of papers on my back or would I just simply be crushed beneath them?
Most of my paper route, thankfully, was in an eight-story apartment building, just down the hill from us that we imaginatively called, ‘The Apartments’. When I was still quite little, I wasn’t able to reach the buttons for the seventh and eighth floors on the elevator’s button panel. Alas, I had the ultimate solution. I would lumber into the elevator and somehow drop my paper bag off my head, without wrenching my wee neck, and stand on the full paper bag in order to reach the button for the top floor. I would then deliver the papers on the descending floors, using the heavy bag to hold the elevator door open as I progressed. When the bag was no longer heavy enough to hold the elevator door open, I would carry the bag, deliver the papers and then take the flight of stairs down to the next floor. The whole process was quite an art.
My career as an earner started then. I was a papergirl until I was 15. I started to baby-sit at the age of 12. I worked as a bus-girl at The Crock & Block Restaurant at the age of 15 while living with my sister Eva. I then had various serving jobs: Lafayette, O’Toole’s, Silky’s, and July’s Restaurant for five summers until joining the army at 19. Dad did not believe in giving us an allowance. We had to earn everything we ever got.
It was at Fancy’s in Barrie that I experienced working for the most dysfunctional couple of crazy people I have ever encountered. I hated working there because of it and dreaded each shift. Tom, the chief cook and owner would SCREAM at his wife, Darlene all the live long day: BUTTER RIGHT TO THE EDGE OF THE BREAD FOR FUCK SAKES! RIGHT TO THE FUCKIN’ EDGE!!! AND GET IT OUT HOT!!! YOU BLOODY STUPID BITCH. Oh Lord did I detest that place. The tension should have been on the menu because it was the most abundant item they produced. I just now googled the place. It is still open. Unbelievable. The food was good fairly good though, unfortunately.
Why work there? I was in grade 12 and needed a job. My sister Amy had helped me get the job through a friend of a friend and I was ever so grateful. Amy always had so many connections made through her work as a hairstylist. By this time, Mom was living in a tiny apartment with her alcoholic boyfriend and working as a server for minimum wage at cafeteria-style restaurant in Woolworth downtown. I would go visit her and she would look so tired. So worn out. Oh god. It would break my heart. This was her reality after raising seven children and keeping a wonderful home for us for 26 years. She did not come out of the divorce nor the annulment well. I could not ask her for a penny. She worked so hard and made so little.
At that time, my younger brother and I had a bedroom each in the basement of our bungalow and Dad was upstairs. I had been getting a couple of shifts per week at O’Toole’s Roadhouse Restaurant, but, it went bankrupt and it wasn’t long before I was without money. One particular day, having spent my savings, I had to ask Dad for money for necessities: menstrual pads.
He turned my down. He would not give me five bucks for pads. I was seething. I hated him.
I was forced to use cotton t-shirts cut into rags. Nice. God I hated him. It was incredible how much I hated him. I feel that hatred even now, decades later. And not giving me money, when he had plenty of money, for necessities, was just one of his many faults. The others were worse. Like when he would come barging into my room, even though my door was closed, and catch me half-dressed or naked but with the old sorry, sorry. I didn’t know you were dressing. Or he would forcibly hold me down and lick my face with his very wet, gross, warm tongue – his bad breath washing over me as I would struggle — I just want to give my daughter a little kiss. Or, he would comment on my developing body you’re getting rather hippy, Martha, you better watch it, you don’t want to get fat. Or, he would routinely reach out and touch my bum as I would be walking past him and then exclaim yippee in a falsetto voice. Then there were the many times his robe would mysteriously open and there would be hairy, wrinkled member for all to see. Oh god. I would be mortified when he would inevitably do this with teen-aged Kelly and Sally visiting. Show us his penis, by accident, of course, and then giggle about it as he would sneak away back to his fart-stinking room.
With all that I have read, learned and experienced in life regarding body image (see The Body Positive 🙃) and now as a parent, here is one truism: never comment on a child’s body except to say how lucky we are to have one that does so much for us. Our body is truly a marvel which should be loved, respected, adorned, nourished, cleaned, clothed and loved some more.
So, my relationship with Dad was love / hate for sure. At times I would love him for his silliness and his zest for life and enthusiasm about certain topics: sport, recreation, small business, celebration. Dad loved to laugh. He would often have us all in stitches at the supper table, recounting his Skollard Hall days in a falsetto voice. He liked that falsetto voice. I do truly think he was doing his best to father us the best way he could, considering the factors at play in his upbringing and his generation and with the added factor of the Catholic guilt monitoring all that he did. Another factor in the break down of his marriage was mental illness.
Mom had been a classic Bipolar 1 (Definition: A person with bipolar 1 will experience a full manic episode usually leading to psychosis). When she was pregnant or nursing, which was a lot of the time until she was 42 and weened Luke, she did not have symptoms of mental illness. But, then it hit and it hit hard. She was hospitalized with full on psychosis several times in the seventies. I remember waking up around age six and walking around looking for mom. No one would tell me that she had been taken to the hospital: 5C – the psyche ward. (Who would know then that in thirty years time, I would have my first big struggle with mental illness: Locked Up in D.C. 🔐) She was there for weeks. We would go visit her and it was like she was a different person. She was in a fog. It was heart wrenching. I missed her so badly. I just wanted my mommy back. I would cry myself to sleep missing her so much. She would sometimes be smoking when we visited. I couldn’t believe my eyes. (Back then you could smoke in parts of the hospital.)
In the summer, at the lake, Mom would become more and more manic. Her manic energy was put to good use with cleaning and maintaining the ten cabins of The Camp ⛺️that we moved to every summer. Lock, stock and barrel, all nine of us would move two hours North to the camp and live on the lake all summer – running the tourist resort – as it used to be known. It was truly beautiful there: 21 forested acres, half-mile of lake frontage, only 2 miles from a village for supplies, ten antique, rustic cabins on private lots with tall trees, most cabins on the water with their own dock and a sandy beach.
For many years we even had a diving tower and trampoline over the water. Dad’s idea. Dad being a teacher, had envisioned the need for a business and an escape from the city. (We would have killed each other staying in the city all summer. No doubt about it.) It was pure genius and is one of those things I loved about my Dad. He had these great ideas at times. We enjoyed idyllic summers – running around barefoot, swimming, boating, water-skiing, canoeing and socializing with all the campers. Yes, we had work and chores, but, we were paid for them as a business expense and it was just a couple of hours a day. Our summers at the camp were the envy of my friends. In fact, many of my friends would come to the camp, either to stay with us in the office or as paying guests and stay in a cabin or tent.
I remember waking up early to find mom’s twin bed empty. She would already be out there working. Dad was much more sedentary. He would do all of the business-end of things: letters, bills, payments, promotions. All this to say, that mom’s mental illness was raging on, unchecked for several years. From reading I have done, because I too am bipolar 1 (Crazy Train 🚂 (part 1)…All ABOARD, Crazy Train 🚂 (part 2) ) the more episodes there are the more easily an episode will occur. The brain makes these pathways that become easier and easier to follow and so sanity slips further and further away. So, to be fair, it could not have been easy dealing with this major impediment. When Mom finally went on lithium, and stayed on lithium, things were so much better. She was stable. Stable is good.
I wasn’t the first in my family to work at July’s Restaurant up at the Lake. My older sister Eva had worked there a decade prior to me. Eva would sometime recount one of her most embarrassing moments while working there. This man would come into the restaurant almost daily. He would take a seat beside the coffee maker in the kitchen in the mid-afternoon when it wasn’t too busy. He would just sit and chat up the kitchen staff and the servers as they would come and go from the kitchen. So, Eva walks into the kitchen this one day and slaps Buddy on the back and asks him how the heck he is doing today. That would have been all fine except that when she slapped him on the back his toupee went flying off his head and landed a few feet away on the kitchen floor.
You could have heard a mosquito outside the window. After a split second hesitation and with a very red face, Eva quickly grabbed the toupee off the floor. Put it back on Buddy’s head. Smoothed it out. Told him: ‘You have very nice hair.’ Then, turned on her heel into the dining room.
I have been completely messed up about body image, weight, diet, food and exercise, since I was fifteen and became painfully anorexic after starting a Weight Watchers diet when there was no need (see: Not-So-Sweet Sixteen 🙏 ) if there ever IS a need….
I have been living by these completely unreasonable, restrictive diet and exercise rules and if I failed to follow them, I would berate myself and slip into hours or days of self-loathing. Did I mention that I AM FIFTY effing YEARS OLD!!!! This is completely and utterly unbelievable that I would still be governed by this mind-blowing waste of time. This waste of time that robs me (and millions of others) of the time and energy to pursue other passions, talents, skills or to just to be at peace. Do I want to be on my death-bed one day thinking of how great it was to maintain a tight-ass my whole life but, to do nothing else???! For me, staying skinny (because my body is not naturally skinny ) was a full time job. This is some of what I would need to do on a daily basis.
Upon waking and after a pee, get on scale naked, gasp at number – usually berate myself for that number; pat belly, turn sideways and pull it in, check image, scowl; drink green tea and water at every opportunity; never eat past 7:00 pm; exercise daily; and get as much low-level exercise in as possible, like: taking the stairs, walking everywhere (even when everyone else is driving); having only fruit for snacks; at mealtimes, eating mostly vegetables; avoiding cheese, desserts and nuts; never drinking pop; doing squats while brushing teeth; doing back bends in the shower; checking image again and again and berating myself for cellulite; sucking in belly and holding; holding plank position daily; doing pushups and sit-ups before bed; if going out for a meal, exercising hard just before to earn the meal; when hungry, puting off eating as long as possible; spending a lot of time deciding what should be eaten – do I deserve a snack or should I just drink water or what exactly have I earned today; working hard to eat only organic foods or local organic or vegetable rather than grain – lean meat only, no GMOs; no sitting if I can stand — no relaxation until the day’s exercise has been hammered out…
And there was more. There was always another new rule lurking in the wings.
Dean and Leo, who is now 17, and I just spent a heavenly ten days on the road to Ontario with a two-night stop-over in Old Montreal. We walked all over the cobble-stone streets.
had cheese fondue and special coffee. We ate chips in the car and burgers and fries and poutine in diners. The reason for the trip was to attend my eldest brother’s 60th birthday and to check out some Universities for Leo who will be heading off next September. We had such fun. It was a joy to see almost all my siblings and all the new little grand-babies coming along. We ate cake and burgers at the party, building up an appetite with charades and ping pong, laughing and joke and storytelling.
We visited Kel in Barrie and after supper went to the mall, all six of us piled in one vehicle and chuckled all the snowy way there; we walked downtown Toronto, stayed with friends in Richmond Hill and then over to my favorite cousin’s farm near Uxbridge where we went sledding, built a snowman, laid in the snow looking up at the stars and went on skidoo. After that it was to Kingston where we looked at Queen’s campus and the main street which was very nice with many shops, boutiques and pubs, then on to Sherbrook to see Bishop’s and a quick peek at Mount Allison on our way back to Nova Scotia.
I had promised myself that this would be a fun trip. I would let my restrictions take a back seat. I wouldn’t fret over being out of routine. So…
…on the road home I began to have a feeling of dark foreboding. I was going to have to pay the piper. What was the scale going to report when I stepped on it at home? I knew I had gained weight. I could feel it in my legs, my hips and my boobs. All parts felt fleshier and rounder – if I was truly honest, I felt more womanly. What was I going to do to get this weight off this time? What strategies, restrictions and exercise regimes would I need to employ? Salad for months on end? Six liters of water a day? I felt truly awful to think of this fun, unrestricted time having to come to an end. I dreaded the return to the regime. I felt very dark and worried about this. Back to prison.
Suddenly, I had an idea…. find a podcast about this subject. I had recently started listening to podcasts on my iphone. There were so many interesting topics to listen to while I walked my miles every day. If I found one about this topic, I would be able to listen while Dean was driving. We still had 10 hours to go. I went into my podcast app and searched: body image + feeling bad. What came up was Meret Boxler’s LIFE. UNRESTRICTED*. With the following description, in part: This podcast is for you if you are tired of being governed by food and exercise rules. If you are tired of hating your body, tired of counting calories, tired of feeling guilty for eating, tired of negative self-talk…
I was not alone in this struggle. I began to listen. I began to change my thinking. I began to respect my wonderful body that does so much for me and is so good to me, that is so healthy, strong and womanly. I decided to break free and to never again live in a restricted regime based on society’s ideals of how a woman should apparently look (skinny!). As soon as I changed my thinking, I freed up my mind from the constant abuse of restriction. I have embraced the notion that a heavier body will allow for a happier me. My body will find the place and the size that suits it.
I got rid of my scale, for me that was a huge step and a testament to how serious I am about being body positive. I will always be active, just not compulsively and not for the wrong reasons, anymore. I want to move my body because it feels good to move, not because I want to burn calories.
Since finding Meret’s podcast, I have found myriad other similar ones: Linda Bacon, Summer Innanen; Tabitha Farrar; Christy Harrison; Evelyn Tribole, and Elyse Resch of Intuitive Eating (see below) and several others. I have made a study of them over the past months. 2017 is my year to transform. A large weight has been lifted from my shoulders. I cannot believe what a profound RELIEF it has been to let go of the rules stated above. Instead, to ask my body how it is feeling. What it wants to eat, or not eat. Does it want to move or does it want to rest.
As soon as I freed up my mind from negative and unattainable body image crap, I started this blog. WE need to APPRECIATE and RESPECT our wonderful bodies. (Our bodies that can do hand-stands like me in the photo above). Our bodies are working hard to keep us alive,
10 Principles of Intuitive Eating by Elyse Resch and Evelyn Tribole
Reject the Diet Mentality Throw out the diet books and magazine articles that offer you false hope of losing weight quickly, easily, and permanently. Get angry at the lies that have led you to feel as if you were a failure every time a new diet stopped working and you gained back all of the weight. If you allow even one small hope to linger that a new and better diet might be lurking around the corner, it will prevent you from being free to rediscover Intuitive Eating.
Honor Your Hunger Keep your body biologically fed with adequate energy and carbohydrates. Otherwise you can trigger a primal drive to overeat. Once you reach the moment of excessive hunger, all intentions of moderate, conscious eating are fleeting and irrelevant. Learning to honor this first biological signal sets the stage for re-building trust with yourself and food.
Make Peace with Food Call a truce, stop the food fight! Give yourself unconditional permission to eat. If you tell yourself that you can’t or shouldn’t have a particular food, it can lead to intense feelings of deprivation that build into uncontrollable cravings and, often, binging. When you finally “give-in” to your forbidden food, eating will be experienced with such intensity, it usually results in Last Supper overeating, and overwhelming guilt.
Challenge the Food Police. Scream a loud “NO” to thoughts in your head that declare you’re “good” for eating minimal calories or “bad” because you ate a piece of chocolate cake. The Food Police monitor the unreasonable rules that dieting has created. The police station is housed deep in your psyche, and its loud speaker shouts negative barbs, hopeless phrases, and guilt-provoking indictments. Chasing the Food Police away is a critical step in returning to Intuitive Eating.
Respect Your Fullness Listen for the body signals that tell you that you are no longer hungry. Observe the signs that show that you’re comfortably full. Pause in the middle of a meal or food and ask yourself how the food tastes, and what is your current fullness level?
Discover the Satisfaction Factor The Japanese have the wisdom to promote pleasure as one of their goals of healthy living In our fury to be thin and healthy, we often overlook one of the most basic gifts of existence–the pleasure and satisfaction that can be found in the eating experience. When you eat what you really want, in an environment that is inviting and conducive, the pleasure you derive will be a powerful force in helping you feel satisfied and content. By providing this experience for yourself, you will find that it takes much less food to decide you’ve had “enough”.
Honor Your Feelings Without Using Food Find ways to comfort, nurture, distract, and resolve your issues without using food. Anxiety, loneliness, boredom, anger are emotions we all experience throughout life. Each has its own trigger, and each has its own appeasement. Food won’t fix any of these feelings. It may comfort for the short term, distract from the pain, or even numb you into a food hangover. But food won’t solve the problem. If anything, eating for an emotional hunger will only make you feel worse in the long run. You’ll ultimately have to deal with the source of the emotion, as well as the discomfort of overeating.
Respect Your Body Accept your genetic blueprint. Just as a person with a shoe size of eight would not expect to realistically squeeze into a size six, it is equally as futile (and uncomfortable) to have the same expectation with body size. But mostly, respect your body, so you can feel better about who you are. It’s hard to reject the diet mentality if you are unrealistic and overly critical about your body shape.
Exercise–Feel the Difference Forget militant exercise. Just get active and feel the difference. Shift your focus to how it feels to move your body, rather than the calorie burning effect of exercise. If you focus on how you feel from working out, such as energized, it can make the difference between rolling out of bed for a brisk morning walk or hitting the snooze alarm. If when you wake up, your only goal is to lose weight, it’s usually not a motivating factor in that moment of time.
Honor Your Health–Gentle Nutrition Make food choices that honor your health and tastebuds while making you feel well. Remember that you don’t have to eat a perfect diet to be healthy. You will not suddenly get a nutrient deficiency or gain weight from one snack, one meal, or one day of eating. It’s what you eat consistently over time that matters, progress not perfection is what counts.
Copyright 2007-2017. IntuitiveEating.org. All rights reserved.
*Meret Boxler continues to struggle with exercise bulimia and anxiety over foods and rules and the like. She is in recovery. Her podcast is no longer on, as far as I can tell.
My son took the handstand of me on the rocks at Prospect Nova Scotia, (me: age 49). The other pic is mine: View Quebec
1981 was the year my Mom morphed into a love-sick teenager right before my cringing eyes. My parents were in the midst of a break up but the first step was for them to have a trial separation while still both living in our bungalow. Mom had the basement and Dad had the upstairs. They shared the kitchen. I remember Mom writing her name on her row of eggs on the inside of the fridge door.
Before long, Mom started dating an alcoholic she met at the Legion. Good choice. I loathed the way she behaved in those months. She started wearing really tight clothing and tons of makeup. She was going out to the Legion many times a week. It infuriated and sickened me. My fifteen-year-old self was ashamed of the person I had basically worshiped prior to that. I think Mom was rebelling and bingeing on that aspect of life because she had been depraved of proper affection and love by Dad for years. It was just sad.
I used to make phone calls to my eldest sister, Eva, who was married, and tell her my woes. I would tell her how Mom and Dad were always fighting and bickering. Soon, she invited me to live with her and her family, three-hours away in London. Later that year I would come back to visit and by then, Mom had gotten a place: a 1.5-bedroom apartment above the Knights of Columbus Hall up by St Mary’s School.
My little brother Luke was living with her and while there, slipped into a shadow of his former self. He continuously watched television and became very quiet and sullen. It would break my heart to see what my little brother had become in this dysfunctional arrangement. I blamed myself for decades afterward, that I had abandoned him there. Finally a wise therapist told me to let that go. I was just a child myself at the time. It was not my fault. The other adults should have been there to help us through it, she explained softly while I wept, in her chair.
Anyway, living with my eldest sister and her family, I realized that every family has their problems and pressures. Sometimes I would wake up at night and hear them arguing with each other about money. Taking in a teen isn’t without cost.
I knew that I needed to chip in. I picked up many babysitting gigs and even braided the hair of a few ladies on the street. For a couple years, french braids were at the height of fashion and, I could braid. Layla, my red-headed friend who had moved away had taught me. I would charge $10 – $20 for a braid and that was a lot at that time. The ladies would gladly pay me because their long hair would be up and out of their way for days in a good braid and, they could go out on the town with hubby and be in style.
Always the entrepreneur, when I had a free night, especially on a weekend, I would call some parents and let them know I was free. Nine times out of ten they would call back and hire me to babysit for the night. I didn’t buy groceries or anything with my money, but, at least I didn’t need to ask for any spending money. I also paid for my driving school with that money. I was very eager to learn how to drive and I firmly believed in learning correctly. Interestingly, I later became a Transportation Officer in the Army and then a Driving School owner.
Eva took me down to enroll in the Catholic High School for grade ten. I would take the bus every day. The bus stop was only a minute away. The problem was, going to Catholic High was going to be a huge change. I had been going to St. Joe’s in Barrie with its 163 students. 2000 students went to Catholic Central High in London. It was huge. I was completely lost there. I had been a total jock at St. Joe’s. On every team. Excelling at almost all my subjects. Known by all.
At CCH it was a different story. I didn’t make the basketball team. I just could not believe it. I went to the coach and begged my way onto the team. She told me I would likely ride the bench all season. I said, ‘I don’t care. Please let me play. I will not survive here without basketball.’
Basketball practice was every morning at 7:30. I had to take the city bus for 45 minutes to downtown then run five blocks to CCH, then run for an hour of practice. Normally that would be no problem, because I had been super fit.
However, at that time, I had become anorexic. I was living on about 800 calories or less per day: a tiny breakfast of half a pita with 1 precise tablespoon of peanut butter and exactly 8 oz of skim milk that I mixed from powder into a plastic cup each morning (blech!!!); an apple for lunch and the smallest dinner I could get away with. Eva was watching and I would try not to upset her. I didn’t want her to know my secret.
I was growing and I was expending a lot of calories for basketball. I was extremely emaciated and lacked any muscle tone and had very little strength. I really don’t know how I physically carried my frame around for the day. The human body is an amazing machine.
The anorexia started innocently enough. Eva had started going to Weight Watchers to lose the baby weight from her second pregnancy. Her first born was now two. She asked me if I would like to eat the same way as her. We could do it together. But, I did not need to lose any weight. My body was an average size and quite muscular. But, I was open to trying this new thing with my sister whom I looked up to so much.
I loved doing things with Eva. We had a lot of fun together and did a whole lot of laughing together. But, as I started restricting and losing weight and then going back to Barrie for a visit, my friends made quite a big deal about how great I looked. I thought I should lose even more. I have very strong willpower when I draw on it, so restricting even more was possible.
It wasn’t at all fun, but, by this time it had become a bit of a weird addiction and a secret project which somehow gave me comfort — ridiculous, I know. I was riddled with fear. Worried that if I ate as much as I wanted, I would get very fat very fast. I was ashamed of myself for being so self-centered.
One day, I was out with Eva running errands. I was walking up to this window of this storefront. I was watching the reflection of this skeletal figure walking up to the window and I was looking to see who it was. I did not recognize myself. I was that skeletal form but, when looking at my reflection, I saw a fatter body. Dysmorphia is what they call this phenomena.
When laying down in my bed at night, my bones were pressing through my skin and it would hurt. It was quite hard to get comfortable. There was a pull chain above my bed to turn out the light. I had to will myself to raise my arm to reach the chain to turn out the light.
I continued this way for the year – holding out even though Eva would scream at me to Martha please eat!!!!. By the end of it, I was about 80 pounds and was getting sick a lot, always freezing cold, no period, short of breath, thinning hair, bad breath, coated tongue and of course, always starving and suppressing it. Anorexia is hell. It truly is. Do not go there. Please don’t.
From my research now, I have learned that Anorexia Nervosa is a mental illness. I would have several more battles with mental illness in the future, but not for nearly two decades.
I had strep throat over and over that year. My immune system was shot. Going to see Eva’s doctor, a European with blunt speech, asked me if I was losing this much weight on purpose. I remember liking how he worded that question. I opened up to him and told him the truth. Right away he organized a counselor to come and see me at home a couple of times per week. The counselor was wonderful. I really liked her. She explained to me that I needed to put more fuel into my body. I had been complaining about not having any energy (do ya think?). I liked how gently she explained these simple matters to me. She helped me to stop the behaviour.
However, I was terrified of opening the flood gates of eating. I thought I would never be able to stop once I started. I was starving but I was afraid to eat. So, then the bulimia started. I would open the flood gates. I would eat thousands of calories in cookies, chips, cake, baked goods and then I would take a large dose of laxatives. Chocolate X-lax was my purging tool because I was unable to make myself vomit.
By the middle of the night, my guts would be gurgling. But, it would do the trick. Everything would be voided explosively into the toilet. Sometimes it was quite embarrassing, depending on where I was when the void wanted to begin and, it was never funny like the time in Virginia with my friend Nancy when I was large with pregnancy and drank way too much prune-juice.
The Bulimia went on for about another year or so and by then I was living back in Barrie and attending grade eleven. For years, I would go through times of wanting to lose weight again and so would start to restrict, but, it always led to bingeing and purging again.
Joining the Army put a stop to it for a while because I simply had no time or energy to devote to body size. But, the demon returned in the form of exercise bulimia, orthorexia (obsession with finding the most nutritious foods), food rules, restriction and preoccupation. It stopped in 2017 (Read Feelin’ Fine), three and a half decades later. Now, I am able to happily refer you to the following: 8 Ways to be Free of Diet Culture 🎈