disordered eating

Fit Friday: Side Effects May Include….

Side effects may include weight gain.

When I got my IUD, the thought of gaining 20 lbs. was unpleasant, at the least. In 2013, I was the fittest I’d ever been, playing roller derby and weight-training at the YMCA. Then I had surgery on my ladyparts, got an IUD, filed for divorce. I vowed not to be the n% of women who gained weight with the Mirena IUD.

I now know that 20 lbs. is a small trade for being able to function during my period. A number on the scale means very little to me compared to the the ability to live with severe dysmenorrhea.

Weight is a number indicating the earth’s gravitational pull on my body, not a measure of my health.

Since 2013 (until this summer), my arsenal of prescription drugs had grown to four: Effexor for my depression/anxiety, the IUD for my dysmenorrhea (since the surgery didn’t help and I can’t use estrogen), amitriptyline and Topamax for the migraines. The IUD and amitriptyline both cause weight gain. Topamax has a side effect of weight loss, but I didn’t lose any weight when I started it.

After years of body image issues, battles with food, restrictive eating habits, disordered thought patterns, I have made a lot of progress in just eating the food. Moderation is the name of the game. I’ve maintained a healthy, stable weight since late 2013, after the initial medication-weight-gain. I made one final foray into disordered-diet land when I bought into a Beachbody program, but that didn’t last very long.

Until this summer.

My neurologist changed my medication regimen and started scaling back my amitriptyline this summer. The withdrawal was yucky. I was taking it for migraines, and it’s used for long-term, chronic pain management, but amitriptyline is an antidepressant. I got depressed.

And then that little side effect of Topamax kicked in, and I started losing weight. The first time I accidentally lost weight on a medication was the first time I really, really got into trouble with dieting, my senior year of high school. I noticed what was happening this time, and I didn’t weigh myself. That is an important detail. If I had weighed myself, I would have ended up down the rabbit hole again. This is how I knew I needed to call my doctor: I was miserable. The sick/nausea was pretty much past, but I couldn’t sleep, or eat, or focus. Normally a whirlwind of creativity, I was the human embodiment of inertia. I had no motivation. I wanted desperately to go back on the medication. But that little voice in my head said, Yeah, but look in the mirror. Do you really want to gain that weight back? Just hold out one more week, and you’ll see that it’s worth it. You’re barely eating, but you’re not even hungry. Isn’t that great??

I got scared. Really, really scared.

It still took me a month to call my neurologist.

But I still haven’t weighed myself. Weight is a number indicating the earth’s gravitational pull on my body, not a measure of my health. If anything has illustrated that, this summer has painted it in technicolor.

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:

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.