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.
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.
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 Week. I 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: