body shame

Fit Friday: Tank Tops and Taking Up Space

It’s May, and Idaho has made that quick and awkward transition from cool-and-almost-springy to my-kids-come-in-from-recess-hot-and-smelly. I have third-graders who needed to start wearing deodorant this spring, which is a new one for me. My second year of teaching, I had that fun conversation with my fifth-grade boys about DEODOROANT>AXE**. Their big takeaway was, Ms. Danielle taught us how to get chicks in middle school! But, it got them to start showering daily and give up the Axe in favor of pit stick, so I marked it a success. I’ve had fourth grade girls start their periods before. But third grade… I was just not expecting it this year.

That first group of students I taught? They’re sophomores now, for three more weeks. Most of them are taller than I am. You can insert any number of cliches here about how they’ve grown, and how old I feel. It’s been fun, though, to watch them. That’s one of the perks of working in a small school–I can see them every day, if I make a point to be in the hallways between classes or after lunch. We have high school students who have transferred to our school, too, over the past seven years who have added to the mix of personalities. And to the dating pool. I bring up this last point  because that’s a Big Deal in the middle school and high school. When I taught these students, boys and girls played together and were friends. Now, it seems everything is viewed through the lens of dating and pairing up and sex. This is not just the perspective of the students, but also the staff. When you are teaching students who are preoccupied with who is dating whom and the tangled webs thereof, it’s important to pay attention and to be proactive and involved.

Here is my disclaimer: I am not in these classrooms. I don’t interact with these students much. And there is a lot I’m missing.

What I see is this (in the hallways, staff meetings, and handbook revisions every spring): Girls have been chastised for wearing tank tops; boys are not. Girls’ clothing is sexualized; boys’ is not. Girls try to take up less space; boys try to take up more.

Toxic body image affects girls and boys. Girls see one version of the ideal body, and learn to lose pounds and inches and to take up less space. Boys see one image of the ideal body, and learn to build certain muscle in certain places. Self-perception and self-worth often hinges on these limited definitions of acceptable physical femininity and masculinity. (I’ll expand these more in the future, and provide more nuance).

In my anti-diet support and resource group, we talk a lot about giving ourselves permission to Take Up Space. To wear tank tops, even if our arms are not toned. To wear the clothes we want before we reach our goal weight. To wear the clothes we want without allowing our body parts to be scrutinized or sexualized. Do you know why we have to consciously give ourselves permission to do this, at the age of 20, 30, or even 60?

Because this kind of body shaming and sexualization starts in high school. When we talk about the dress code, we talk about girls wearing tank tops, and the boys getting distracted. We talk about the girls not having enough “self-respect,” about the girls using their clothes to get attention, about it detracting from the learning environment. When we talk about the boys wearing tank tops… we don’t. We have not, in my recollection, talked about boys wearing tank tops. A former student wears tank tops and sleeveless muscle shirts almost daily. I have never seen nor heard him told to cover up or change shirts during the day. I have seen multiple girls forced to wear t-shirts or hoodies or zip-ups over tank tops that were deemed inappropriate.

It starts before high school, when I am expected to tell a second grade girl that she cannot wear a tank top on a 90ºF day because of the dress code. Second grade girls (generally) do not have bra straps or breasts, and they definitely do not have sexy shoulders. Second grade children do not think about their own bodies in that manner, unless the adults in their lives create environments where those aspects are amplified.

Are there adult men and women who find shoulders, breasts, cleavage, or clavicles attractive? Yes. Are there adult men and women who find well-defined biceps, triceps, and pectorals attractive? Yes. Do we objectify every adult human that walks past us in a tank top? I sure hope not. Why can’t we teach our high school students to do the same?

Why can’t we teach our high school students to do the same? I might raise a stink if the dress code comes up again. I might bring it up myself. Our girls should be allowed to take up space; they should not have to “hide” their bodies. The boys should not have free reign to take up as much space as they want by wearing shirts that reveal their entire torsos from a profile view, especially if we’re using the idea of “professionalism” as the rationale behind other pieces of the dress code. Melissa Atkins Wardy at Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies had a pointed piece about reframing dresscodes as “Don’t Wear Saturday on a Wednesday.” It strikes a sensible balance between allowing girls to retain agency of their bodies and clothing, respecting boys’ ability to control themselves and treat girls as humans, and teaching students to dress for the situation and venue.

Happy Spring! I’ma go garden in a T-Shirt while it’s still cool enough to do so. Once it’s mid-June…sports bra. Lots of sunblock. Not because it’s sexy, but because it’s just too hot. Also I have six-foot fences, soooo..

**I have to credit my sister Katrina with the approach to this one. This was said in a very kind manner. I am not the Takes No Prisoners teacher with my kids.

When you rub an onion and an orange together, it doesn’t make the onion smell better, it just makes everything smell kinda gross. Trust me, you don’t smell good. I used to be a middle school girl, and the people around you would much prefer you to shower daily and wash your hair than to smell like a can from a commercial. This is your homework for the next two weeks: Shower every day, wash your hair, wear deodorant. There will be a test, and it will be the asthma of the para across the hall who cannot breathe after you spray that stuff in the boys’ bathroom.

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.

Anyway.

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.

¡La tarea de español me enojó anoche!

In addition to my graduate coursework, I am taking Spanish 102 at the local community college. This is my completed homework from last night, practicing comparatives and superlatives:

[redacted]

I can tell my Spanish is improving because I nearly shit myself with frustration at the content of this assignment. I’ll type my best attempt at a translation in just a bit. Please bear in mind that I do better just reading for meaning; even in ASL (with which I have over a decade of experience) I prefer to simply converse and not translate/interpret.

Eugenia Hello, Carolina, you are as thin as your sister. How did you do it?

Carolina Thanks, Eugenia. See, I started eating more vegetables than fat, and I eat smaller portions than you have there. I also go to the gym as often as my sister.

Eugenia I think you look better than her.

Carolina Maybe, because my sister sleeps less than me, and she likes to go dancing until late. And you, why do you not start your diet (or Why don’t you start eating better)?

Eugenia Thanks for your advice. See you.

Carolina See you soon.

Then I got a bit rage-y and vented all over my Facebook timeline. I was Facebook friends with my prof for a couple years before I took the course, so he witnessed my rage and suggested contacting the textbook company.

One such Facebook post: OH MY FREAKING COW THIS ENTIRE SPANISH ASSIGNMENT IS ABOUT HOW SHE LOST WEIGHT AND GOT TO BE AS THIN AS HER SISTER!!!!

Another post: Holy Snackwells, is this ever ludicrous! keyboardfacesmash

Now, slightly more contained, here is my breakdown, in English, even though my prof also suggested channeling my anger into a well-constructed Spanish business letter. I prefer to spout my frustrations in my first language, not my third.

  • The dialogue is based on the stereotype of women chronically dieting or trying to lose weight. The first complete sentence after the greeting Hola, is a comment on the Carolina’s weight loss and asking how she did it.
  • The dialogue is based on the stereotype of women comparing themselves to other women. Eugenia compares Carolina to Carolina’s sister, and Carolina does it to herself (refer to FOUR examples in the green text above).
  • The dialogue is based on the stereotype of women judging other women. Caroline says that she eats smaller portions than Eugenia is eating right now, and later asks Eugenia why she doesn’t start eating better.
  • Weight loss is all they talk about. Eugenia asks about her friend’s diet immediately after saying hello. The entire conversation is based on how Carolina looks; not one mention of her health or well-being is mentioned.

Surely we can come up with better ways to practice comparatives and superlatives than to resort to tired stereotypes of women, appearance, and weight loss.

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.