Fit Friday

Fit Friday: I am Not Broken (part 3 in series)

Content note: body image, body shame, disordered eating, diet & exercise

Purpose: This series has been a long time percolating in my mind. It has taken me a year to decide to write. The writing process has taken days. I think this will become an important resource for future #FitFriday posts as I continue to examine the messages students of all ages internalize about women, diet, nutrition, and fitness, and how it can severely and negatively influence their lives indefinitely.

In which I expound on why I quit BeachBody’s 21-Day Fix program (because it perpetuates disordered thinking and unattainable, unsustainable ideals)

Click here for Reasons 1 & 2
Click here for Reason 3

Reason 4: The Make-Me-Hate-Myself Workouts

The first part of Reason 4 is connects back to Reason 1: Untrained Personnel. The workouts were high-intensity intervals. The risk with any DVD program is the lack of feedback on form. It is quite easy to do a squat or a lunge improperly; it becomes easier when one is fatigued from doing multiple intervals of challenging, high-intensity reps. This is not a problem unique to this BeachBody program, or to BeachBody workouts. However, the proliferation of their brand of extreme fitness–Insanity, P90X, etc.–and the risk of injury or long-term physical damage from improper form on high-intensity intervals is concerning. And with no rest days, the body has no time to repair itself.

My second concern was the lack of body diversity shown in the videos and the objectification of women’s bodies. The workout videos showed people who were already fit doing the workouts, with the exception of the woman demonstrating the modification. In TV trope language, she was the “token fat friend.” The trainer used different word choices and tone with her. She wore workout clothes that hid the outline of her body, when the other women wore tight and/or cropped clothes that drew attention to their abdominal muscles or upper arms. It’s the opposite of what we see on The Biggest Loser, but it stems from the same place of fat shaming. Former contestant Kai Hibbard has been outspoken about how damaging her time on TBL was, asking in a January article on xoJane, Why wasn’t I allowed to have a shirt instead of just a sports bra until I lost weight? The message is this: It is important what my body looks like, only certain bodies deserve to be looked at, and all other bodies deserve shame.

Most of the people in the “support” group were never going to look like the ripped trainer or the enthusiastic coaches hawking this program all over Facebook. I’m going to cover the specifics of the body shame in another post, but I’ll say right now that not many women in the support group were proud of their bodies, happy with their bodies, or even content with their bodies. They wanted the ripped look, and these workouts promised that. Every person in the videos was ripped and toned and sexy, after all. During the third week, the half-hour Hate Myself Workouts became two-a-day Hate Myself Workouts. And there were many who jumped right into their second or third round of the 21-Day Fix without any rest or break in between, often dropping down to a lower calorie bracket to boost their results.

I found the use of gendered language in the DVDs troubling. The trainer in the video, Autumn Calabrese (whose website I will not be linking), ribbed and teased men in the video for using girly weights, even though she previously encouraged others to make modifications as necessary. This is problematic for so. many. reasons. Smaller weights are smaller. That does not make them feminine (and even if it did, feminine does not equal inferior). It just means they weigh less. Using them does not make one more or less feminine or masculine, or inferior or superior; it just means one is using less weight. And sending mixed signals about whether or not it is okay to modify a workout is a subtle form of psychological bullying that may lead to the at-home exerciser to push herself harder than her body is telling her she should.

My final problem with the workouts is right in the title of the program: The 21-Day Fix. I do not need to be fixed because I am not broken. My body is not broken. Telling women their bodies are already beautiful doesn’t make money, but promising 15 pounds in 21 days does. The workouts are called things like Upper Body Fix and Lower Body Fix, playing on the idea that women have “problem areas” that we are always trying to mask or fix, and perpetuating the myth of “spot reduction.” And because the workouts were so varied and all over the place (thanks to BeachBody’s company-wide obsession with the P90X cornerstone of “muscle confusion”)**, I never felt like I was improving my performance. The only way to track my progress was by tracking my weight and my inches. I hate both of those things. They remind me that as a woman, I am supposed to always be trying to take up less space. And losing weight and inches is not sustainable; at some point my losses will level out. How can I track my progress then? How will I know if I’m taking up a small enough space?

The Alternative:

The anti-diet group celebrates Non-Scale Victories. We take up space. We take pictures of ourselves taking up space. We celebrate ourselves taking up space. We celebrate our bodies doing things.

We exercise. Some of my fellow non-dieters do CrossFit, some cycle, some run. Some birth babies and feed babies and raise babies. I skate and chase children and walk. I used to lift and run. The group is home to thin women and fat women and strong women and anti-fragile women and quite a few men, too. We celebrate how we look, not because we have bikini-model “after” pictures, but because we look amazing and beautiful and strong exactly the way we are today, right now.

Our bodies have outlines that do not need to be hidden. We eat the food. We wear the clothing we want to wear now, not when when we reach our target weight and fit back into our favorite jeans. We take up space, unapologetically. We will no longer be shrinking women. And my #FitFriday wish is that my students take up space now and take up space in the future, loudly and unapologetically.

Lily Myers – “Shrinking Women” (CUPSI 2013)

**I did not link to any articles debunking the claims of “muscle confusion” because they were all on websites with horrible, sexist, objectifying advertising.


Fit Friday: The Hunger Games (part 2 in series)

Content note: body image, body shame, disordered eating, diet & exercise

Purpose: This series has been a long time percolating in my mind. It has taken me a year to decide to write. The writing process has taken days. I think this will become an important resource for future #FitFriday posts as I continue to examine the messages students of all ages internalize about women, diet, nutrition, and fitness, and how it can severely and negatively influence their lives indefinitely.

In which I expound on why I quit a BeachBody program (because it perpetuates disordered thinking and unattainable, unsustainable ideals)

Click here for Reasons 1 & 2

Reason 3: The Food

Oh, man, the food. The number of times I had to read Oh my gosh, I can’t believe how much food we get to eat! while I sat at my desk with my stomach screaming at me was maddening. The number of women who proclaimed their excitement with the words This is not a starvation diet! echoing the promotional materials made me want to scream How little have you been eating until now?! I was twenty pounds over what I envisioned as my “ideal” weight, and I was still in the lowest calorie bracket. And my stomach was constantly gnawing at me.

The meal planning categorized food into different “colors” and provided a container for measuring each kind of food. I was allotted 3 greens (vegetables), 4 reds (proteins), 2 purples (fruits), 2 yellows (starches), 1 orange (dressings and seeds), 1 blue (cheese/nuts), and 2 teaspoons (oils/fats) a day. I’m a cheap-ass vegetarian. I eat a lot of inexpensive proteins: beans and brown rice, lentils, whole grains, quinoa. I don’t eat meat or fish. I don’t buy protein powders or expensive meat replacements. The food proportions were what slayed me. The idea was that if it fits in the container, you can eat it. No measuring or counting calories or weighing. Except many people in the support group were still counting calories and sharing that going over 1,200 calories was freaking them out. And we had a handy conversion list for “hard to fit” foods, which honestly made me (and a lot of other women) fairly obsessive. Well, it played on our already obsessive and disordered tendencies toward food. An English muffin was 2 Yellows, not 1. One banana counted as two Purples. I could have exactly 12 almonds (a Blue) for a snack, but sunflower seeds were an Orange. Beans and lentils and quinoa counted as Yellow starches, not Red proteins, which was a problem: I’m a starchivore, and I could only have a total of one cup of starches a day. To get that much protein, I had to start using protein shakes (which I will cover more in Reason 5: All Shook Up) and expensive meat replacements. For me to do Taco Tuesday with my 12-Step group, I had to “save” both my Yellows and my Blue for dinner, and then only eat one taco with a whole wheat tortilla and only beans (no rice) and have guacamole (Blue) and no cheese.

I hadn’t made the connection between cheese and migraines yet, so I was eating cheese in an attempt to stave off hunger. But only certain cheese were listed on the Blue page. I turned to the recipe group on Facebook for support and ideas. Several women had asked why blue cheese was not included on the list. Several other women answered: Because blue cheese is not gluten free. Several people chimed in that it was not a gluten-free diet. But when the question reappeared a few days later, the response was the same, this time with links. I thought it was just a lack of reading comprehension at the time, but now I’ve experienced enough fear of gluten (from non-Celiac folk) to suspect that some of these women were so wrapped up in their own disordered rules about food that they missed the whole picture.

So I was hungry. I was hungry to the point of distraction. I went to the “support” group for support. In a connection back to Reason 1, some Untrained Personnel suggested I add an extra Green during my day to fill me up without adding calories, but to make sure it wasn’t something like carrots because calories. When I asked if anyone struggling with the same thing had moved up to the next calorie bracket, I received a pretty resounding No! because this program WORKS and why would I mess with something that WORKS and if I did that it would SABOTAGE my goals.

Speaking of sabotage: forget about treats. I could use my teaspoons for olive oil when I was cooking, or I could use it for a treat. I could have a teaspoon of peanut butter, or almond butter, or chocolate chips. No cheat meals, though. And a teaspoon is not a treat to pretty much anyone I know. The attitude about treats and cheats reminded me of a blog post by Dr. Yoni Freedhoff during the 2013 season of The Biggest Loser, when teen contestant Sunny was given a tiny tangerine for her birthday.

I see these messages played out over and over in various contexts: Women should be trying to lose weight, count calories, cut calories, cut carbs. Some foods are bad. Some foods are very bad. We don’t deserve to enjoy our food, and if we do, we should apologize for it or compensate for it.

The Alternative:

In the anti-diet group, we eat the food.

I am still a vegetarian. I avoid the foods that trigger migraines and the ones that are allergens. I have made sustainable changes to my diet. But I eat a lot of starches. Pancakes, waffles, quinoa, popcorn, cereal, oatmeal, rice, beans, lentils, pasta, English muffins, potatoes. I eat proteins and fats, too. I don’t eat treats every day, but when I do, I eat the whole doughnut, and I don’t apologize for it. I eat in moderation, in a sustainable way that works for my lifestyle. Usually from a plate. I don’t measure my food in a colored container.

I just eat the food.

And my #FitFriday wish is that my students can grow up to eat the food, too.

Fit Friday: A Tale of Two Fitties

Content note: food, body shame, exercise, disordered eating, BeachBody, body image

This is not my most clever blog title.

This may, however, be my most in-depth and vulnerable blog post to date. And it’s part of what I anticipate will be a five-part series. So there’s that.

Background: I have a long history of negative body image and disordered eating habits. Thrown into the mix are GERD/IBS, a miscarriage, chronic pelvic pain, a surgery, a divorce, and (more recently) chronic migraines. I’ve had a love-hate relationship with food for most of my life. Roller derby helped me begin conquering the body image demons. Years of counseling and my 12-Step program chipped away at them, too.

Context: I purchased 21-Day Fix, a fitness/meal plan program from BeachBody®, and joined an unofficial Facebook “support” group and two recipe-sharing groups. I quit all of them. I am now part of an anti-diet, pro-moderation support group on Facebook.

Purpose: This series has been a long time percolating in my mind. It has taken me a year to decide to write. The writing process has taken days. The introductory post can be found here. I think this will become an important resource for future #FitFriday posts as I continue to examine the messages students of all ages internalize about women, diet, nutrition, and fitness, and how it can severely and negatively influence their lives.

Thus it begins.

In which I expound on why I quit BeachBody’s 21-Day Fix program (because it perpetuates disordered thinking and unattainable, unsustainable ideals)

Reason 1: Untrained Personnel

In the Unofficial BeachBody 21-Day Fix Group, several women were postpartum and still breastfeeding. After calculating their food intake for each day, several of them posed questions to the group about how much to increase their food consumption to compensate for lactation. The two most common responses were, a) Ask your coach! and, ii) Go up to the next calorie level.

Neither of these responses are acceptable if the first priority is the health of the woman asking the question. In BeachBody, the requirement to become a “coach” is a fee. No training, no classes in nutrition or physiology. Nothing to qualify a person to answer a question about proper nutrition for a breastfeeding momma. As for people in the group answering the question–well, none of us had the credentials, either. I was already on my way out of my disordered thinking patterns, which is why a lot of this advice set off my alarm bells. So many of the women in the group (including, and sometimes especially, the coaches) were still firmly locked into disordered and destructive thought patterns. They passed those habits on to other women, under the guise of nutrition advice and coaching. This is not unique to BeachBody, but this is the realm of my experience.

The Alternative:

In the Anti-Diet Group, a woman asked for advice about macronutrient ratios for her post-eating-disorder refeeding. Every single commenter not only declined to answer her question, but also emphasized the importance of her medical team: dietitian, medical doctor, counselor/therapist. Food is important (for babies and mommas, too!), and eating disorders are deadly serious. None of these things should be taken so lightly as to accept the advice of a random person on Facebook.

Reason 2: Migraines

I started my divorce process in August of 2013. I had laparoscopic surgery in October, and the migraines started in December. Prior to that, I had been exercising five days a week and playing roller derby. Once the migraines hit, we had lost our derby practice space and the YMCA held all kinds of emotional baggage for me, so I stopped exercising.

I began the 21-Day Fix in March, thinking that getting back into an exercise routine and eating more reasonable portions would help quell what was at that point only a four month experience with migraines. The program was supposed to last 21 days; I never made it past day 7. I would push myself through the hunger (discussed further in Reason 3) and the Make Me Hate Myself Workouts (discussed in Reason 4). And then I’d get a migraine that would last for a week; I’d keep up the meal plan, but I couldn’t exercise. Frustrated and seeking support, I posted about my constant setbacks in the “support” group. The response?  Oh, it’s just your body detoxing and adjusting to real whole foods! Just keep pushing!  Or It’s your body getting over your addiction to sugar. You’ll be fine in a couple days. If you quit now you’ll always be unhappy and addicted to sugar!

Um, what? The migraines preexisted the BeachBody program. Detoxification is not a thing. I was already a whole-foods vegetarian and had been for seven years; my goal with the meal planning was to retrain my eyes and stomach to normalize smaller portion sizes. Sugar is not an addictive substance. And I was trying to sever the connection between food and un/happiness, not reaffirm it. This was not the kind of support I needed.

The Alternative:

In the Anti-Diet Group, we emphasize self-care. It is not a reward. It is not something we “earn” by eating well enough or exercising enough, it is part of our regular routine and a weekly feature on the page. My self-care involves specific nights set aside to spend time with friends, my 12-Step group, sleeping as much as I want to sleep on the weekends, calling my grammy, and my one trip to the coffee shop each weekend. If I get a migraine, my self-care includes dark rooms, extra sleep and/or extra coffee. I don’t have to power through a diet, or a workout, or even work if it’s a really bad one. I take care of me.

This week is National Eating Disorders Awareness WeekI grew up in a culture of shame, moralizing about food and exercise, and a profound fear and hatred of fatness. So this week, and for the next several weeks, I hope to deconstruct how I started to recognize that culture in the systems and programs and media around me, and the conscious choice I now make daily toward a different outcome.

I do not engage in body talk…unless it’s to tell you how I came out of disordered thinking and into a place where I do not engage in body talk.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, please consult one of the following websites for further information about getting help:

Resource Post: In Preparation for a Fit Friday Series

This week is National Eating Disorders Awareness week. As such, this week I will begin a multi-week series on why I quit a BeachBody fitness and diet program, as part of the larger story of bodyfoodhealthstuff, and the alternative approach I have taken since leaving the land of restriction and obsession.

I’ve had to stretch out the series into a series in part because I am not the most concise of writers. I have stretched it out to make sure I give enough attention to the many reasons I found that community to be not just a poor fit for me, but to be actively damaging for me and a number of other women. I have stretched it out because it is hard work digging into some of this. I have stretched it out because this culture of internalized shame, moralizing about food and exercise, and fear of our natural bodies is so deeply ingrained that it takes a careful hand to excise it, and I am not so sure my hand is careful enough.

Below are a number of websites and resources I read and share. I will return to this post to add more resources over the coming months.

  • Beauty Redefined is “all about rethinking our ideas of ‘beautiful’ and ‘healthy’ that we’ve likely learned from for-profit media that thrives off female insecurity.” Their Facebook page and blog are excellent sources for well-researched articles and discussion.
  • Dr. Yoni Freedhoff is the founder of Ottawa’s non-surgical Bariatric Medical Institute – a multi-disciplinary, ethical, evidence-based nutrition and weight management centre. He advocates sustainable changes to diet and sustainable exercise for long-term weight management. He frequently reviews diet books and fad diets and doesn’t pull punches on the ones that offer little more than recipes for disaster. His blog and Facebook are great.
  • Two Facebook pages that take a different angle to sharing fitness articles, especially in regards to the myth that women of size are not healthy women: Fit is a Feminist Issue and Fit and Feminist
  • And the one that started it all for me: Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies. From the blog: “Using our blog, parent community, critically acclaimed book, and online shop we create meaningful change by educating people on media literacy and how marketing, sexualization, gender stereotypes, and body image impact childhood.” The Facebook page is an amazing community for discussion and sharing. This is where I got my mantra Colors are for everyone.

Fit Friday: Breaking the Model Mold?

Content warning: body image

I love bodies. This has not always been true, but I love bodies and count my own among the bodies I love. So when I first heard of Tess Munster and #effyourbeautystandards, I giggled with delight. The body-positive parts of the internet celebrated her recent modeling contract as a step forward in ending fat shame. But the rest of the internet doubled down on the shaming, of course, in the form of concern trolling. A plus-sized model will glorify unhealthy lifestyles! they typed between hand-wrings. But the amount of body fat a woman has isn’t an indicator of her health. And the modeling industry is rife with young women and girls who are encouraged to lose weight at any cost; are they not glorifying unhealthy lifestyles?

A friend of mine sent me links to a few articles about Carmen Dell’Orefice. At 83, she is the oldest working supermodel in an industry obsessed with youth. She is breaking age barriers, but she reinforces the narrow standards of thinness, beauty, and whiteness. And while it may be a step in the right direction as far as age in concerned, the message seems clear to me: to be accepted one must age gracefully and it helps to look younger than you actually are.

I’m not asking you to compare the two women pictured below. I am asking you to think about what our culture deems newsworthy: Carmen Dell’Orefice (age 83) made the news for still being beautiful at an old age. My Grammy (age 93) was one half of the Longest Married Couple in the state of North Dakota when my grandfather died in April. She’s shrinking in height, she has wrinkles, she wears orthopedic shoes. I don’t care about any of that. Her impact on the world may not make the news, but it is evident when you meet my cousins, who all work in their own way to make the world better.

o-FADIL-BERISHA-FOR-NEW-YOU-570  10329760_701077928405_4477219096389484373_o

Alternative modeling aims to break free of the standard definitions of beauty, often featuring models who are trans*, have disabilities, or are tattooed/pierced. But even as they stretch our concept of beauty in one area, they often reinforce another set of beauty norms (link NSFW for exposed breast): hairless femininity, facial symmetry, youthfulness.

All this reminds me that we spend a considerable amount of time talking about how women look. After my grammy (pictured above) had her second mastectomy, I asked her if she had ever considered reconstructive surgery. She told me she was too old to be vain. It was not a dig at women who opt for less-invasive lumpectomies or for breast reconstruction; it was just a statement that in her late 70s, she had too much to do to spend time with the consuming process of reconstructing her chest. That’s not to say she wasn’t self-conscious; she was visibly uncomfortable for a long while after that second breast was gone. But she adjusted. And she kept busy.

My students have different sized bodies that can do different things. And we don’t engage in body talk in my class, unless it’s to talk about what our bodies can do. Yesterday, we talked about running. TLK said he can run the fastest in the whole elementary. I told him about my friend Greg who runs marathons even though he doesn’t “look like a runner.” We talked about speed and endurance, and strong legs, strong hearts, and having fun. Elsa reminded me I needed to fix her walker because she broke it (again!) running in P.E. TLK asked when I would be able to skate again. I told him soon, and he said that was good. He said I seem happy when I can skate.

But even all that is focused on our bodies. And even though I love bodies, I am more than my body. And so are my students. They are more than cute, pretty, active, strong, and fast. They are also curious, empathetic, kind, bright, clever, and hilarious. They are Full of Awesome.

Body shaming is dangerous. Having a wide variety of bodies represented by modeling will normalize a wide variety of body types. I’d rather live in a culture that isn’t obsessed with body type and appearance, but since I do, I want to see diverse representations of people of size, people of color, people with disabilities, people that break down the gender binary. And I want to see it celebrated, not shoved into a niche corner of the interwebs. Instead of creating new molds, let’s just break ’em, eh?

We Do Not Engage in Body Talk

Description: Cherry red summer apple with white tape measure. You know, because apples gotsta measure up.

Description: Cherry red summer apple with white tape measure. You know, because apples need to trim down.

Trigger warning for body image, eating disorders/disordered eating

The old script was well-worn and well-memorized. It was stained and bent and a little torn. It ran like a loop through my mind: I am not good enough. I am not pretty enough. I am not thin enough. I am not strong enough. I can be better.

I hid inside pants that were two sizes too big, behind the silly expressions I wore for every photo, beneath a self-deprecating sense of humor I used in every vulnerable situation. I felt safer that way. But still–I knew I could be better.

It took a long time, but now I have a new script: I do not engage in body talkI repeat it when I see articles about New Year’s Resolutions or detox diets or tummy-flattening exercises. I repeat it when people around me start talking about the last five pounds or the last ten pounds. I repeat it when I get weighed at the doctor and the number isn’t where I feel like it should be.

For me, it was an important and healthy paradigm shift to focus on what my body can do rather than what it looks like. It was a hard shift, especially when I went from the healthiest and fittest I’d been in my adult life to the heaviest I’d been in a decade in the span of a few short months. But it’s a shift that has saved my sanity and maybe even my life. I haven’t been to the gym since September, so I can’t even count my reps and weight any more. I can’t count my laps around the flat track, so I had to replace even that. I count my migraine-free days. I count the hugs I give my students. Right now, that’s what my body can do.

I verbalize my new rule to those who share my world with me. Some people have adopted it. Some just shrug. Some have attempted to actively sabotage it. If I could write such people out of my script, I would. I don’t need that toxicity. That’s the toxicity that led a 17-year-old me to subsist on baked beans and fat-free cheese to lose the fat I didn’t have.

Body talk damages children. Images in the media, the dolls in the toy aisle, the words from teens, tweens, and mothers all become part of the script. What script are we giving our children about their bodies? As this mother discovered this week, it tells four-year-old children that their tummies are too big. Four year olds. I’ll give you a minute or five to read that link, because the blogger handled it like a champ. I shall give you an additional minute to subscribe to her blog.


My third and fourth grade students are afforded some insulation from the body talk, as they do not overhear and eavesdrop on the cultural knowledge the way hearing kids do. But that also means they miss out on some of the counter-narrative about what “normal” really means. And my students are very visual learners. They see everything. They are the savviest elementary-aged Googlers I’ve ever met; they invent search terms I could never dream to concoct. I do my best to provide a bodylove environment: we talk about how hard their hearts pump during gym class, how fun it is to run and play, how strong their muscles get when they practice on the monkey bars. I talk about how much I love to skate, how much the kindergarten teacher loves CrossFit; I eat in front of the kids regularly and express my love for broccoli and pancakes (but not together) and hop on the scale so we can write math problems (Taz + TLK = Teacher, in case you are wondering). Even in our small elementary department, we have a broad range of diverse and beautiful and normal bodies.

I have a student who hops on the scale about once a week and does a fist pump now that she hovers at 100 lbs. with all her snow gear on. She says, “Yesssss! Hundred! Big strong pony me!!” You see, she is obsessed with My Little Pony. And ponies and horses are strong. And big=strong. I hold my breath and hope the day where big no longer equates with strong is far, far away.

If you think body talk doesn’t impact children, I hope this can persuade you otherwise

If you need resources for talking to your children about body image, I direct you to Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies, the community that got me started down this road.