body dysmorphia

Fit Friday: Epilogue

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

I did it. I finished my series. It took a year, weeks, days, depending on how you look at the process. I’m not done with the recovery process (because one is never done with recovery), but I’ve expounded six major reasons Beachbody’s 21-Day Fix program and associated (but unofficial) “support” groups are unhealthy and reinforced the very disordered thinking from which I was trying to recover.

Reason 1: Untrained Personnel

Beachbody “coaches” pay a fee into a multilevel marketing structure to attain the coach designation; they do not have any special training qualifying them to offer fitness or nutritional advice. The “support” groups were rife with bad advice from people not qualified to offer it, when people should have been consulting doctors or dietitians.

Reason 2: Migraines

When I got migraines, I was encouraged to “power through,” and some participants attributed my migraines to “sugar detox” from the meal plans. In the anti-diet group in which I currently participate, we prioritize self-care. It makes a world of difference.

Reason 3: The Food

I was constantly hungry, and the rules about food played on our already obsessive and disordered tendencies toward food. It was unsustainable.

Reason 4: Make-Me-Hate-Myself Workouts

Fat shaming. Gendered language. Perpetuating the myth of spot reduction, and that women have “problem areas” that need to be “fixed.” Tracking progress in weight and inches, which is not sustainable in the long term.

Reason 5: Shake it off

Shakeology is not a magic elixer.

Reason 6: I Am Shame

The body shaming runs deep. So so deep.

Next week I’ll get back to posting on various topics related to body image. Perhaps a nice piece on how it impacts children, or a confuzzled observation of an elementary student who had already waxed her upper lip.


Fit Friday: I Am Shame (Part 5 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 Reason 1: Untrained Personnel & Reason 2: Migraines
Click here for Reason 3: The Food
Click here for Reason 4: Make-Me-Hate-Myself Workouts
Click here for Reason 5: Shake it off

Reason 6: I Am Shame

In the past posts, I’ve referred to the (Unofficial) 21-Day Fix Facebook groups as “support” groups. Here’s the thing: even using quotations marks around the word support is being generous. A year’s worth of distance between me and the group, with 12-step work under my belt and counseling tools and a better grasp of what disordered thinking looks like, I can see that the group was not supportive, not in the way it claimed to be. Not in the way the group to which I now belong is supportive. It didn’t build us up.

It used shame.

I didn’t take data, because I was in it and had no idea I would be writing these posts. So while I can say that some members of the support group did seem supportive, I can’t give ratios of supportive-to-shaming comments. But I say with confidence that the overwhelming majority of posts and comments were not healthful, and I could recognize that in the slightly-recovering-but-still-disordered place I was at the time. I recognized it enough to leave. I am not only speaking about the bulk of us who were participants in the program, but also the coaches. Remember: Beachbody coaches are no more than participants who have paid money into the multilevel marketing system to earn the label of coach. They do not have special training or credentials that qualify them to offer fitness or nutrition advice. There is no screening process that determines whether or not they will be passing on their own habits of disordered eating, exercise, and body image.


We were encouraged to post our “before” pictures so we would have documentation of how much better we looked after three weeks. Some women spent three hours working up the nerve to post theirs, using words like “disgusting” and “gross” to describe themselves. And it wasn’t I look gross; it was I am gross. Many comments reinforced that kind of thinking by reminding the participant how much happier they would be with their body at the end of the program. Beachbody has competitions for the best before-after transformation photos, and when participants would post their after photos, the competition was mentioned. A lot. I have a problem with programs that focus so heavily on appearance. It perpetuates the disordered thinking about food and exercise. It reinforces fat shaming. It focuses on how we look, not what we can do. It’s anti-woman.

I guess one could ask what I expected. The name of the company is Beachbody. The program has the word Fix right in the title. And I did wrestle with buying it right off the bat–I don’t think I need to be fixed, and I resent the idea that any woman needs to be fixed. But even with those misgivings, I was appalled at how deeply the shame was rooted.

I remember one woman vividly. After losing five pounds the first week, she gained a pound the second week. She posted in the group, looking for support, because she was devastated. She was in tears, inconsolable. Did she get the support she sought? NO. She got scolded. Shamed. Berated. The comments followed a similar pattern: You must have deviated from the program because the program works. You ate too much ____. If you followed the program, you would lose, not gain, guaranteed.

No two people are the same. No two women are the same. My body responds differently to food and exercise than my sister’s body; we even responded differently to the 21-Day Fix. My sister felt excited and satiated while I was famished and exhausted. I struggled to lose a couple pounds and they were just falling off her. And I can think of one reason immediately why I would gain and not lose while on the program: dysmennorhea. Here’s a little TMI: among other problems, I cannot poop the five days leading up to my period. I also cannot have dairy that week. But even if I avoid dairy, nothing moves. Then, one day, everything is fine and my colon is happy again. My medication list also makes it difficult to lose weight, but especially during my period.

Back to the group. First, I was heartbroken–what has our culture done, what did the people in her life say or do, that gaining a pound has left her inconsolable? Second: the women who chimed to “help” in included coaches. And they were not chiming in to help her, even if they thought they were. They were chiming in to reassure themselves. The repetition of It works! was a chorus of women reassuring themselves that the program worked. If it didn’t work for that woman, if she really had followed the program the second week and gained a pound, if her body had put the brakes on after losing five pounds in a week, then the same could happen to them. And they were not okay with that fact. The program had to work.

The Alternative:

The moderators of the anti-diet, pro-moderation group consist of doctors, scientists, and health professionals, NONE of whom will speak outside their scope of practice. That means they do not offer individual counseling or advice beyond reminding us to speak to our own physician team. They provide us with encouragement and resources. We share resources for understanding the roots of disordered thinking, emotional eating, and body shame. We celebrate non-scale victories. If we feel shame about something, we share that, and we remind each other about the truth: we are not broken, we are on a journey, and tomorrow will be better. When we share pictures of our bodies, those pictures are kept private, and they are celebrated. Our muscles, our tummies, our stretch marks, and our baby bumps… all of it. Every size. Every shape. Every bump, bruise, and wibblely bit. We know that how we look is not an indicator of our health or our wholeness.

The day I quit the not-a-support group was a hard day. I had another migraine, but I was trying to power through my work day. I had just read the verbal barrage that woman was going to have to read after opening herself up in a moment of vulnerability. I could hear my students playing outside. I told myself that I could be a positive voice on those posts, I could be a voice of reason. But I was tired, I was hungry, and I was out of carrots. I could see the damaging, disordered thinking… and I could not be part of a program, part of a company, that fed upon that level of shame and self-loathing to prop up its business model and make money.

I quit. And I went to retrieve my red-faced, happy kids from recess.

Fit Friday: All Shook Up (part 4 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 Reason 1: Untrained Personnel & Reason 2: Migraines
Click here for Reason 3: The Food
Click here for Reason 4: Make-Me-Hate-Myself Workouts

Reason 5: Shake it off

Shakeology. Shakeology? Shakeology! Known colloquially as “Shakeo” (or at least in my support groups it was), Shakeology® is Beachbody’s proprietary shake mix. I learned quickly that if one refers to it as a mere protein powder, the True Believers will quickly correct such a slip of the tongue and remind one that Shakeology is no mere protein powder, it is a Super Food! It is Clinically Proven! It is the Healthiest Meal of the Day!

Beachbody is a Multi-Level Marketing (MLM) company, and they generate a lot of their revenue from Shakeology. Customers buy a workout program once; but Shakeology is a consumable product and must be purchased over and over again. A one-month supply is $130. That’s $4 per serving. For a scoop of powder.

Most of us in the 21-Day Fix unofficial support group had trouble eating the requisite amount of protein (remember how hard it was for me to eat my “four Reds” every day?). One scoop of Shakeology counted as a Red; it took two scoops of plain-old protein powders to equal the power of Shakeology! Many people in the support group lamented the cost of Shakeology and asked for alternatives. I was using Sunwarrior Vegan Chocolate which cost me roughly $1/serving because I had free shipping from Amazon Prime. I shared this in as many threads as possible because I wanted to help people save money and still be successful in their health journeys.

I got yelled at. A lot.

A lot of the “coaches” watched those threads like hawks and put a lot of pressure on these women who questioned the importance of Shakeology to the overall structure of the 21-Day Fix program. Most of the pressure relied on one of the following well-rehearsed and repetitive sales lines:

  • Four dollars is not that expensive. Just give up your daily Starbucks. Your health deserves it and will thank you for it. (I would like to point out the inherent class privilege and health shaming here of assuming that everyone drank daily Starbucks and could always afford what their health “deserves.” I had to save up for 2 months to afford the half-price 21-Day Fix.)
  • This is a Beachbody group and you should NOT be advertising for other brands of shakes! (It was an unofficial group that wasn’t affiliated with Beachbody; some of the groups were recipe sharing groups and we were sharing shake recipes, technically.)
  • You cannot compare plain protein powders to Shakeo! It is clinically proven and contains superfoods! (I would like to direct you to this thorough and well-researched take-down of those claims by Pharmadaddy. Also, there is no such thing as a superfood).
  • Four dollars is totally worth it because Shakeology is full of superfoods and [insert other claims made by company here]. It’s much higher quality than anything you can buy in a store. (Bollocks).
  • Get three people to sign up under you and Shakeology is free! (This is how MLM companies make their money: building your down-line. The reason Shakeology is so expensive has nothing to do with the quality of the product and everything to do with making sure the upline can make a profit after accounting for all the discounts and commissions for everyone else. Does no one remember Amway??)
  • I cannot live without my Shakeology! If I miss it for even a day or two, my digestive system is all out of whack and I feel unhealthy and depressed and fat and [insert additional health-fear adjectives]! (Wow. If the only thing keeping your pooper pooping is an overpriced shake, you might not be eating enough vegetables. If you are so caught up in the Cult of Shakeology that missing your shake for a day or two causes you actual anxiety, you might have too much wrapped up in your shake.

Here’s the reason Shakeology is really almost necessary for long-term success for long-term Beachbody clients: in a state of chronic calorie cutting, it is incredibly difficult to get enough vital nutrients for the body to maintain and repair itself. With macro-ratios like we were eating, there was almost no way I could get the whole-grain fiber I usually ate. Shakeology provides vitamins, minerals, and the poo-poo help that provide the illusion of health and vitality while you’re losing up to double the recommended maximum number of pounds in a week.

The Alternative:

In the anti-diet, pro-moderation group this week, someone asked specifically about Shakeology, and then about shakes in general. The moderators replied with a simple statement: We do not advocate for the use of meal-replacement shakes unless under the direction of your personal doctor.

It seems that simple to me: Shakeology cannot be the healthiest meal of the day because it is not a meal. It’s a shake.

I have made it a priority for my students to see me eat. I cannot eat a lot of the same things they can: I’m a lactose-intolerant vegetarian who has food-triggered migraines. But they see me eat real food. Often. Every day. And even when I was on the 21-Day Fix, they never saw me drink a shake as a meal replacement. I brought a couple smoothies to school a few times, but I talked about all the foods I put in it: banana, peanut butter, soy milk, kale, Greek yogurt. I wasn’t replacing a meal so much as making it easier to consume on my commute. But watching me pour a scoop of powder into some water and drink that for lunch? I don’t think I could do that and then tell them how important it is to eat a variety of colorful foods. And I don’t want to turn my disordered history into their futures.

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.