The Prevalence of Fear-Mongering

fear mongering

Everywhere you turn, you see extremism in the diet, health and fitness world. It seems to stem from some morbid combination of the “more is better” mentality and the sensationalism that is so prevalent in the media. It’s painful, and it’s harmful to your body and mind.

For example, let’s consider what I have eaten so far today (it’s almost 11 AM):

Oatmeal with cinnamon, raw sugar, raisins, ghee, and a pinch of salt

Blueberry juice

Coffee with coconut milk and gelatin

Applegate Farms smoked turkey slices

Pink Lady apple

One mellowcreme pumpkin leftover from Halloween

Now, let’s break it down with all of the warnings given by so-called diet “gurus” that are often so typically attributed to eating these foods:

Oatmeal with cinnamon, raw sugar, raisins, ghee, and a pinch of salt (too many carbs will cause diabetes or cognitive impairment! Sugar is as addictive as heroin! Oats have phytic acid! Dairy has pus in it! Raisins are high in sugar and carbs, and sugar is the devil and will cause diabetes!)

Blueberry juice (juice is just pure sugar! Sugar causes diabetes and is addictive!)

Coffee with coconut milk and gelatin (Coffee causes adrenal exhaustion! Coconut milk has saturated fat – we can’t decide if that’s good or bad! Gelatin is an animal product, and eating animal products is cruel or can age you faster, or both!)

Applegate Farms smoked turkey slices (eating animals is cruel! Too much protein can hurt your kidneys!)

Pink Lady apple (fruit is high in sugar, and sugar causes diabetes and is addictive!)

One mellowcreme pumpkin leftover from Halloween (artificial dyes and flavors cause cancer! Sugar is more addictive than heroin! Corn syrup is GMO!)

Wow. That’s enough to make what seemed like a reasonable breakfast and morning snack seem like a death trap. And we didn’t even touch on how I might get “Grain Brain“…and if I happen to eat a sandwich later, I might get a “Wheat Belly“. There’s phytic acid in my nuts, oxalic acid in my kale, and I’m going to have insidious weight gain if my carbs go above 150 grams a day. Suddenly, I’m so filled with fear that I will EAT THE WRONG FOOD that the entire natural, human process of eating becomes a source of great anxiety.

Welcome to orthorexia, folks.

This is where I lived for a few years. Fell down one rabbit hole of diet guru fear-mongering, only to find another hole and fall down it as well. When my digestive system didn’t get better, or when I didn’t see weight loss, surely I was “doing it wrong” and would blame the carbs, the phytic acid, the sugar in my fruit, or perhaps in spite of my never-eat-out, obsessive-compulsive diet, I was still getting hidden gluten that was wreaking havoc on my body.

I was afraid of food.

I can’t put all the blame on the “gurus” out there. After all, I could have very easily dug into the science studies myself. Stayed away from all the crazy claims. But I didn’t. I trusted others to do the hard work for me. Each time I followed something new, it was wrapped in shiny, shout-y, fear-grabbing phrases, such as “hidden things that make you fat”, or “sugar in fruit can prevent weight loss”. I would see testimonials, see before and after pictures and totally believe that the same should happen to me.

News flash: it didn’t.

This type of motivation isn’t positive. It’s detrimental to not only those seeking diet, nutrition, and fitness advice, but it’s harmful to our society as a whole. It puts all of us on the edge about what is/is not the “right” foods to feed ourselves and our children. And this mentality causes us to judge one another and ourselves for eating whatever food is deemed “wrong”. Holding onto negative judgments, whether they are related to food, diet, or anything in life, keeps us from discovering our power to change our lives for the better.

But fear-mongering is everywhere. What can we do to change it?

We can work to break the spell. Call a spade a spade. Take the power away from the fear and those that would have you remain afraid. Once you realize the signs (extreme claims, claims made that aren’t backed by solid, scientific research, ridiculous testimonials, etc), you can call out the bullshit. Focus on moderation. We can chill out, and make general goals that are positive, such as learning to cook from scratch, moving more (in sustainable, self-loving ways), getting more sleep, spending time with the ones we love – things that are positive for long-term health. We can stop endorsing such insane claims and fear-mongering. Don’t give your money to diet gurus. Don’t share around articles promoting negative diet information. Work to change your mindset to stop the vilification or glorification of foods. There are no “bad” or “good” foods. There’s just food.

And I happen to love food. Don’t you?

The Balance of Moderation

balancing rocks

photo source: chiricahua sky island on flickr

Around in the diet and fitness world, there is so much conflict about moderation. It seems moderation has come under scrutiny by many, touting it as a “diet myth” that keeps people from reaching their health goals. I’ve read and heard time and again that moderation doesn’t work for a lot of people. That if they are given an inch, they’ll take a mile. They can’t have “just one” piece of candy, lest they find themselves face-down in a mountain of chocolate.

I can empathize. I was there. I totally believed I had a sugar addiction. I’d abstain completely for weeks, even months, but once I’d give myself permission to eat some treat, I’d find myself sick to my stomach and still unable to stop eating. I felt out of control, and of course, along with feeling sick came the feelings of guilt and shame. Shame that I couldn’t control how much I was eating, shame that I was eating “bad” foods. It was a nasty, vicious cycle.

In order to break that “addiction”, I had to do two very important things.

I had to properly nourish my body. This meant eating enough calories for my size and activity level. At first, I used this calculator to find a starting point, and then I increased my calories. And yes, it took a while to wrap my head around the fact that my body needed that many calories to function. I only used the calculator as a guideline. Over time, I found that I could listen to my body and it would tell me if I was hungry or not. I also ate plenty of protein, carbohydrates, and fats. I no longer restricted any macronutrient (I was previously restricting carbohydrates to a degree.) Doing this ensured I was no longer starving my body.

I had to eliminate stigmas associated with certain foods. Sugar was not “bad”. Candy was not “bad”. Processed foods were not “evil.” I was not a bad person for eating some of these things. And most importantly, I had not “failed” if I ate a great deal of one of these foods. I had to allow myself the freedom to do whatever I wanted and eat whatever I wanted.

It didn’t happen overnight, of course. And yes, at first, I ate a good amount of sugar and treats. It felt like a free-for-all. But once it was finally in my head that I could have these ANYTIME I WANTED, they no longer appealed to me in that “forbidden” way they once did. Over time, I realized my body craved other foods – many of the “healthy” foods I was forcing down my throat before. I listened to my body, and lo and behold, somewhere in there, I found something resembling sanity and peace.

Now, I have candy on my desk at work. In plain sight. Do I eat it? Sometimes. But it’s usually a small piece or two, if at all. It’s just candy. Same with desserts. Do I have them? Sometimes. But not every day. Not because I’m “watching my waistline” or restricting myself. Just because I have no desire to eat them at the moment. When I do have something, though, I enjoy it, eat a reasonable amount, and I don’t criticize or belittle myself for doing so. It’s just dessert. Most other days, my diet is largely filled with fruits, vegetables, meats, and grains – some whole, some refined. But there’s also sugar. And sometimes even dairy and gluten. It’s all good.

This, folks, is moderation. Your moderation may look slightly different than mine, but bottom line? Moderation is a practice of letting go. It’s a balance of a wide variety of foods – foods that make you feel good, physically and mentally. Most importantly, it’s sanity. Your mental health is just as important as your physical health. (And they are more related than you think!) Honestly, you could have the “healthiest” diet ever on paper (so to speak), but if your diet causes you anxiety and shakes your sense of self-confidence and worth, then it’s NOT HEALTHY. Eat for your health and eat for joy, for the two are inseparable.

Comfy Dress Mondays

Case-of-the-mondays

Mondays are hard enough as it is. You’re rudely awakened by the alarm at the ungodly hour of way-too-early-o-clock, and you have the whole week to get through. Do you really need to add the discomfort and negative feelings associated with the weekend’s indulgences?

Nah, I didn’t think so.

Something I’ve found was a trend for me for the longest time was that I’d be pretty bloated on Mondays, and up a few pounds. This would likely be because I’d binged on something “bad” over the weekend, or I just ate too much food period. It would send me into a cycle of restriction (I’d swear off of sugar or treats or grains or any indulging of any sort), followed by more bingeing by the week’s end (because I felt deprived all week), followed by more bloating.

Talk about a blow to my positive energy.

TRUTH: On Monday, I might have been up a few pounds and my pants fit too tightly. But in the grand scheme of things, I wasn’t gaining weight – I’d lose it all, the bloat and the extra pounds – by the week’s end. I wasn’t gaining and losing actual weight – it was really just water. But even if I intellectually knew this, on Monday mornings, emotions got the best of me and I would feel bad about myself.

Nowadays, I still often find I am bloated on Mondays. (I don’t weigh myself then – no need to add fuel to the fire; I know it’s temporary.) It was simply because I ate more, ate more salt because I ate out, or just ate differently over the weekend. It happens because I’m just generally enjoying life – not because I’m an out-of-control slob. I no longer panic. Now, I recognize it for what it is. I’m  realizing there is absolutely no association with a little bloat and my self-image.

But in order to help ensure I don’t fall back into this negative mindset, I declare Mondays “Comfy Dress” days. If I am feeling a little out of sorts, I have a few things in my closet that I reserve just for these days. A comfy dress is often the go-to choice. It’s not restrictive around the waist, and it’s flattering. Instead of feeling restricted by too-tight pants, I can go to the office feeling confident.

Therefore, I encourage you all to declare “comfy dress” days whenever this situation arises. It doesn’t have to be a dress, of course. Stretchy pants or anything loose around the waist works. The key is to wear something that you enjoy wearing. It will help you think more positively of yourself, and you can go on about your day and focus all your energy on being awesome.

COMFY DRESS MONDAYS – IT’S A THING. DO IT.

On the Sidelines

Pouting on the sidelines

I don’t truly call myself an exercise addict. I have never worked out for endless hours upon hours, mostly because I don’t really have that much time. But I am faithful to my workout regimen. I give it my all for 30-40 minutes every weekday morning, plus I have indoor soccer three times a week. I try to get as much NEAT as possible to hopefully combat my sedentary job. But 2-a-days and multiple Zumba or spin classes? Nope, not me.

But when you tell me to take a “rest” day, or to take it easy, I feel that uneasiness start to well up. Anxiety. You see, I’m proud of what my body can do. I feel accomplished when I can add more weight to the bar and can lift what I couldn’t a week or two before. And I love, love, LOVE soccer. But take that away, and I worry. My mind goes a little crazy.

I have backed off in the past few months from the balls-to-the-wall workouts. I don’t do tons of intense intervals every single day. My body doesn’t recover from it. I even manage to take a morning off sometimes, either because my body needs it, because I need sleep, or just because I’d rather spend a few precious moments with my hubby. Mentally, I’m in a good place with this. I’ve actually benefited from the additional recovery time. This has been a positive process with little-to-no hiccups.

But now, ladies and gentlemen, I have sustained a hiccup.

I pulled my groin Saturday during a soccer game. It’s not terrible, thankfully, but it is indeed sore. Sore enough for me to reluctantly sit out from any workouts involving legs for a while. And the old, familiar thoughts are back.

What if I become a slob? What if I lose strength gains? What if I gain weight? I’m not doing enough!

Realistically, I know that I won’t become some fat slob and gain a bunch of weight from resting for the time being. It’s ridiculous, exaggerated, anxiety-induced thinking. But the thoughts are still there. Hanging out in the back of my mind. I’m telling them to shut up, and it’s mostly working. For now.

Hoping for strength here. I know it’s such small potatoes, especially when I compare it to issues others face on a daily basis, but these little demons are what rob my days (and my husband’s days) of peace. So it’s in our best interest to squash them!

Love The One You’re With

proud of my body

I’ve always thought I wanted that model figure. Lean and willowy. Maybe some of it stems from being thin as a kid; but most of it is likely due to the fact that the media seems to celebrate this figure. I wanted that figure that allowed clothes to hang just “so” and look amazing.

But guess what? I’m not quite 5’4″. That’s not really all that tall. I have wide hips. I have thick legs. I will always have a butt – even if I was starving to death, my butt would be there. It’s genetics. It’s the way I’m built. My Mom and sister are built the same way. We are not size 0 girls. It’s just not gonna happen.

I knew this, but yet I fought it. I fought it every time I got on the scale, every time I scrutinized the size tag on my pants, and every time I looked in the mirror. I tried making myself smaller through diet, through tons of exercise, and generally making myself miserable. Just to be something less. To be something I wasn’t.

In the past 4 months or so, I’ve really reframed that. I have started lifting weights. After all, I look to my Mom. She wasn’t terribly active, but she was strong, especially in her legs. Naturally. She passed those strong legs onto me, so why not use them to my advantage?

I was watching the National Women’s Soccer League final the other night, and while Western New York lost, I was admiring one of my favorite athletes, Abby Wambach. She is strong and talented. And I was thinking about her if she, instead of choosing to embrace who she is, she worried about being thin and conforming to society’s “ideal body”, she would not be able to be SO AWESOME.

And then I found this bit from her interview last year with ESPN: “I’m a confident human being, but my body does not bring my confidence — it’s my heart and my head. Confidence is the most important factor about your body, whether you’ve got five pounds to lose or 100. If you have the confidence inside, that will exude on the outside, regardless of what your body looks like. Yes, I’m a professional athlete, so I’m more fit than the average person, but I’m also bigger. There are so many different sizes and so many different shapes that you can’t compare yourself to another human being. That would be unfair. You can’t look at a model or even a professional athlete and think, “Oh, my body isn’t as fit,” because all you are doing is putting yourself down and not feeling good about yourself.”

Obviously, Abby gets it. Comparing yourself to another, wanting a body/shape that someone else has – it’s not fair.

Now, I’m learning to love what I’ve got. And by nourishing my body adequately, and lifting some heavy things, my body is loving me back. I might not be fitting perfectly into all of the latest fashions (the designers seem to forget about those of us with thick thighs and an ample behind), but there are some pieces I’m learning to rock. Like skirts. Where before, I only saw “fat” legs, now I see shapely, strong legs.  I’m certainly not a professional athlete – I have to bring home the bacon by riding a desk 40+ hours a week. But I’m proud of my body and what it can do. It feels sexy. I feel good. I’m strong and getting stronger. I can do more things with my body than before. I’m beautiful. Not because I’m rail thin. Not because I’m any specified ideal, actually. I’m beautiful and awesome because I’m me, and I’m on this journey with myself. And I’m loving that.

Trusting My Own Body

trust my body

This past weekend, I didn’t count calories. I didn’t count carbs. I didn’t stress about how much or how little I was eating.

It was glorious.

Saturday was definitely a hungry day. You see, I played soccer Friday night (well, Saturday morning, technically, as the game started at 11:48PM). Saturday morning I spent time out in the heat, pulling up overgrown, wilting cucumber and watermelon vines, pulling weeds, and planting a fall garden. Saturday afternoon was another soccer game. I was active, and my body told me it needed food, and so I gave it a lot of food.

It was happy, and Sunday, which was a slower paced day (bowling, grocery shopping, and cooking – the usual), I was much less hungry. I didn’t finish my lunch and took a doggie bag. I only ate a modest amount of dinner and was satisfied.

I did that novel thing called listening to my body.

It wasn’t until Sunday night that I retroactively tallied up my calories, just to see where I landed. Turns out, I ate close to my TEE (total energy expenditure) both days.

You see, this is revolutionary to me. I’ve been dieting and restricting for so long, I’d lost touch with satiety signals. I didn’t trust them. Years of limiting calories and demonizing foods caused me to truly believe that left to my own devices, I’d fall face-first into a limitless supply of cakes and fried foods and never stop eating. Because whenever I “failed” or “slipped up” at whatever diet I was on, that was what would happen. I believed I was addicted to sugar or food or whatever, or else I believed I didn’t have a strong will.

I was just hungry.

Sure, when I first began my Eating the Food process, I ate what seemed like limitless amounts of certain things. I ate Chocolate Chex at night. I ate jelly beans. I enjoyed chips and candy. This went on for a few weeks. But eventually, the draw to those foods and eating so much of them leveled off. They were no longer “forbidden”, and I was no longer feeling like I was starving, so they were just food. Food I could have any time if I so chose. And eventually, I chose to let them be, for the most part. Case in point: right now there are both potato chips and ice cream in my house. I haven’t had the chips in weeks; and while I did have some ice cream Sunday night, I haven’t really thought about it since then. These foods would be gone in a flash, if I “allowed” myself to have them in the past (not that I really ever did). They no longer have power over me. Sure, if I crave sweets, I’ll have some. I also crave greens, and when I do, I have those too. I’m starting to listen to my body.

I’ve held on to counting calories, however, through this process. Why? Well, now it’s to ensure I eat ENOUGH. Since I was so used to eating a lesser amount, it took me a while to really get a feel for how much a proper amount of food was to nourish my body. I’m becoming less and less concerned about this being an everyday practice as times goes on, though. This weekend’s experience has taught me that obviously, my body knows what it needs. You see, apparently my body is pretty smart. If I’m listening, it tells me what it wants. If I trust it, I can work WITH it, not fight it.

And that synergy, my friends, is both beautiful and freeing.

Now, what shall I do with all that mental energy that was previously devoted to obsessing over calories? I think I might start by relaxing. And then listening to some good tunes. Then I’ll see where that leads me.

Diet and Identity

i am not my diet

If you’ve ever followed a popular diet or way of eating, you’re likely to be aware of the “community” aspect of it. This includes many dietary lifestyles such as vegetarian, vegan, paleo, primal, Weston A. Price, gluten-free, dairy-free, or even “clean” eating. Even Weight Watchers, MyFitnessPal.com, and countless others have a community you can join. Most of the time, this can be good. We, as human beings, need support to get through times of change. It’s natural. It’s normal.

Support can be positive. Through my years as a gluten-free blogger, I’ve hoped to offer support for those who live a gluten-free lifestyle out of necessity due to a celiac disease diagnosis or other health-related issues that require a gluten-free diet. Being told you have to drastically change your eating habits is a shock to so many people. You can no longer just “grab something” to eat on your way to somewhere else. You can’t nibble on anything offered to you. Eating “just one bite” of Grandma’s Thanksgiving pie is no longer an option. It’s a truly difficult situation, and many times, those going through it feel utterly alone. They feel lost. Overwhelmed. They grieve. I have hoped that through my blog that I could help alleviate some of that pain by offering assistance and a ton of gluten-free recipes, showing that gluten-free eating doesn’t have to feel restrictive.

This kind of support is great. And in the gluten-free world, that kind of support is growing. There’s a community. I love that it’s there. After all, I have a family member that was diagnosed with celiac disease about 20 years ago, and none of this was available at the time. Life would have been so much easier having this resource and support around him.

In addition to contributing to the gluten-free community, I became part of it. I’ve built relationships with other gluten-free bloggers. I’ve built a relationship with readers. It expands even beyond just gluten-free; I have built relationships with all sorts of healthy eating and living bloggers, including vegan and paleo. I’ve also built a brand. My blog touts whole food recipes. It’s part of me in many ways.

And then there’s my personal life. Gluten-free isn’t all of my identity, but it’s inevitably part of it. I’ve eaten gluten-free for over four years. It comes up whenever there’s a get-together and food is involved. My family knows I cook and eat gluten-free (in fact, I cater to everyone else’s food allergies and intolerances!). My friends know. My coworkers eyeball everything I eat (mostly out of curiosity – I eat differently than the average person). I’ve built this environment, after all, through not only explaining why I eat this way, but even by bringing goodies from home to the office, to soccer games, and to any other function I can think of. Many people know that I eat gluten-free, and that I eat a healthy diet. Those closest to me know it goes even deeper than that – that I also try to eat mostly organic, local, free-range, sustainable foods. I generally have refrained from judging others and their food choices, but my own choices have been rather rigid in the past.

That’s been changing. As part of my diet recovery process, I’ve been letting go of the rigidity. I’ve also found that by eating more and becoming less strict about my diet, my digestive system is healing. I’m listening to my body, and giving it what it wants (Which isn’t always a kale salad, or two tons of vegetables, which was what I would force myself to eat in the past. Sometimes I genuinely crave those things, and then I’ll eat them. But it’s not 3 times a day, every day.). Through this healing process, I’ve found I can eat more foods that used to give me digestive troubles. I can eat grains. I can eat beans in modest quantities. I can eat sugar. And I can even eat dairy. I’ve previously been dairy-free for 3 years, so this has been a newfound revelation. I can indulge in a lot of foods, and have even enjoyed foods I would have never allowed myself to eat previously. Chips. Candy. A rare soda. Of course, I’m not going crazy and bingeing and eating nothing but these “junk foods.” I have no desire to. It’s amazing – when you don’t make things “off limits”, suddenly they aren’t that appealing anymore. But if I want them, I can have them.

With these changes comes some interesting considerations. I’ve obviously labeled myself as a gluten-free, dairy-free, healthy eater. I’ve already been breaking through that identity some, but it’s still there. Generally, I have received little pushback from those around me for loosening up a little. I’m glad for it. But in the world of gluten-free living, there’s one line you should never ever cross:

Eating gluten.

And yet, with my digestive system in better shape than it’s been in many years, I’ve begun to wonder. Can I eat gluten? If I try, and I find that I can, what does that mean?

I realize I’m getting ahead of myself here. I haven’t tried it yet. While I don’t have celiac disease (I’ve tested negative and I don’t have the genes for celiac), I have in the past been sensitive to small amounts of gluten. But the same would happen with dairy, and dairy is back in my life and I’m feeling no ill effects from it. (In fact, my digestion is more regular and near-normal now than it has been for years.) This doesn’t necessarily mean I can handle gluten. I could try and find it to be a complete and utter failure.

But if I find I can eat gluten, then what? Will I still be part of the gluten-free community? How would this impact my place in the community? I will certainly continue to cook gluten-free for the most part. I have family members that eat gluten-free, and I’m always cooking and baking for them. I still strongly believe that the gluten-free community needs support and of course, delicious recipes.

The majority opinion in the gluten-free community seems to be that if you have ever had a gluten intolerance, you can’t recover from it and you will be gluten-free for life. You will be doing damage to your health if you stray. There is so much we don’t know about the hidden effects of gluten, and we don’t know everything about celiac disease. And so on. I’ve read it. I’ve preached it. I’ve lived with that belief for a long while now. I even went so far as to believe that gluten was bad – for everyone.

I already feel like I have a lot of crow to eat. I no longer believe gluten is bad for everyone – people have been eating gluten for thousands of years with no issues. I believe instead that issues that people are dealing with today can sometimes be caused by gluten – celiac disease, for one, is a real and serious thing – and I also believe there are people with compromised digestive systems that cannot digest gluten. But I now wonder if that’s truly a “forever” thing, and I think that perhaps a compromised digestive system is caused by a myriad of reasons, not merely because of the “evil” gluten.

But if I no longer “live” a gluten-free diet, will that mean I am “out”? Do I lose respect in the community? Do I lose identity? Admitting my mistaken beliefs on the personal side is tough in and of itself. Explaining it in the blogosphere is different. I’m sure I’ll have plenty to face, and I’m still wrestling with how to handle it. I’m willing to take whatever is thrown at me, but it’s definitely a change.

What I am realizing, however, is that it’s kind of disordered to identify “myself” with my diet. Sure, support is great. Necessary. But since when does what I choose to put into my mouth define who I am? I venture to say that I don’t lose identity at all. I don’t lose myself. In fact, I’m gaining a new appreciation for finding my way. I am feeling more free to explore and enjoy life and focus on so many other aspects of myself now, not just my diet. It always seems to be a natural thing – labeling ourselves, labeling others. But nothing is so black and white. Nothing is reduced so simply.

I am many things, but I am not my diet. I am me, and I’m fine with that.

The Scary Side of Diet Recovery

scale2

Why is it that gaining weight, or becoming bigger, is such a frightening thing?

I understand this is not the case with all people, but it is with a great many. Especially those of us with a history of dieting or disordered eating.

But it is frightening.

A similar fear arises when we try to accept our bodies as they are, even with what we have determined are “extra” pounds.

For so many of us, we have an “ideal” weight or size in our minds. Whether that size is the size we wore in high school, the BMI chart, or the weight our doctor tells us we should strive for, it’s still there. Haunting us.

When I was younger, I was always one of the skinniest among my friends. Yes, there were times I was too skinny (And I knew that even then – although it wasn’t due to dieting. I was just a skinny kid.), but still, I grew up being the thin one. I was “little”.

It’s almost as if it was an identity, or at least, part of it. While I never wanted to be that thin again as an adult, I still had a number on the scale that I always zeroed in on. That was my goal weight. The further away I got from that, the further away I was from being my ideal-sized self. The further away I was from being me.

When I started down this path of diet recovery, I knew one of the results would be weight gain. I read about it, was told it was normal. I expected it. After all, when you restrict calories for so long, your metabolism kinda downshifts. Then you increase those calories, and your body, at least for a while, holds desperately onto each and every one of them. After all, it’s been starving for so long, and doesn’t know if you really mean to feed it for good this time around, or if it will have to go back to making do with so little all too soon.

But historically, in my mind, weight gain = failure. It meant being something other than myself – this “skinny” person I once was. (Even though I hadn’t been that “skinny” person for quite a few years now.) So with each pound gained, I had to exercise a lot of positive self-talk, and pull support from as many positive, healing places as I could. The Eating The Food group was instrumental, as was my husband and my sister.

It was scary. Some days, I would be ecstatic about the newfound energy level I had. I also was loving how much strength I was gaining in my workouts. The weights got heavier, and I could actually see some muscle tone. On those days, I felt badass. And then other days, I would get frustrated about how even my “fat” pants were tight, and that voice in my head would speak up, telling me how I was kidding myself that this was okay – that I was simply eating too much, getting fat and lazy and my ass was just plain becoming huge and dimply and…and…and…

Yeah, that voice can be quite the downer some days, can’t it? Fear and self-doubt can definitely do a number on your mental health.

But over time, the weight gain did level off. I found some clothes that flattered my new figure, which go a long way towards a positive self-image, let me tell you. (And I didn’t spend a fortune – there is no shame in hunting through the clearance racks and the thrift shops!) That little voice is losing this battle more and more. I tell her to shut up a lot, and it seems she is giving up, bit by bit.

But without that “goal weight” forever haunting me, without that identity of the “skinny” girl, then what?

Truth is, I am so much more than a skinny girl. Or even a pretty girl, for that matter.

I’m remembering I love to cook, for one. I also love playing soccer – I play on three teams. I love spending quiet evenings with my husband and the dogs. I live for those all-too-brief moments when the kids and I can joke around, especially now that they’re all teenagers and are less inclined to hang out with the parents. I’m a halfway decent bowler and enjoy it, even though 9 games out of 10, my husband beats me. (I love that too – watching him do well is awesome.) I enjoy reading – and it’s funny how much more enjoyable reading classic literature or a famous chef’s autobiography is than a book by the latest diet guru. I enjoy gardening. I’m soft-hearted, empathic, quick to tears, and stubborn. I also have a bit of a rebellious streak – tell me something can’t be done, and I’ll try to prove you wrong. These are all things that are part of my identity. And truthfully, they are all things I’m proud of. The best part? None of these things have anything to do with the size of my ass. Because I am so much more than that.

For the Love of Food

war with food

You know what’s amazing about freeing yourself from food rules and dietary dogma?

Well, there’s the elimination of those terrible, guilt-inducing food labels: “Good” and “Bad”.

And there’s the lack of worry about how many calories every bite of food has in it.

There’s a peace of mind that comes with knowing you can eat anything (nothing is off-limits), but you simply choose what you would like to eat and how much, without fear that you’ll be eating too much, or that you’ll never get an opportunity again to eat a certain something.

There’s all of those things. But something I’m really enjoying: my love of food and cooking.

For years now, I’ve gone from someone who loved to cook to someone who was at war with food. In 2007-2008, I dove head-first into learning to cook. I mean really learning to cook. My parents bought me a complete professional knife set, and I read the CIA book The Professional Chef and learned the techniques, and in July 2008, I started my blog. I made desserts, I challenged myself with all sorts of new-to-me ethnic delights, and I subscribed to all the best food magazines. I loved it. I lived it and breathed it.

But I struggled with digestive issues, and they finally worsened to a point where I went gluten-free. At first, this didn’t deter my love for food. I worked to convert recipes so that I could still enjoy all of my favorite things and explore cuisines even while avoiding gluten. I even joined Daring Bakers and Daring Cooks. I made pierogies. I made croquembouche. It was fun.

Then I eliminated dairy. Then, since I still wasn’t feeling well, and was doing SO. MUCH. RESEARCH. on why this could be. I tried removing FODMAPS from my diet. Then I eliminated all sweeteners and grains for a while, and didn’t even allow myself fruit. I was the strictest of strict paleo for a good 4-5 months, and relatively strict paleo for over a year. During this time, I also  was using a calorie tracker, telling myself I was primarily using it as a food log to help determine issues with food intolerances. (I wasn’t.)

I read into all the rules about the paleo diet. I followed paleo blogs. I started to live and breathe paleo. I believed that the reason my system wasn’t digesting food properly was that grains where the enemy. Dairy was something we weren’t supposed to eat as humans. Sugar was poison. I also became enamored with the newfound leanness I’d discovered (because when you’re not eating much, you tend to lose weight). But most of all, every bite of food was scrutinized for its health benefits.

It was then that love for food left the building. Sure, there were points where it reared its head, hoping to come back into my life, but ultimately I was at war with food. So many foods caused me to react. If I baked, even gluten/grain/dairy-free, or even paleo, I binged on the baked goods, making myself sick. I had digestive issues for several days after that each time, so I felt I was intolerant to all of it. Initially, I felt good, but after a year or so of this way of eating, I felt I was slipping. I would go into a cycle of pretty strict paleo (and low calorie/low carb – I was trying to keep below 1300 calories most days, and below 75 grams of carbohydrates), and then I’d bake something and fall face-first into it. I felt out of control, and began labeling myself as a sugar addict.

I tried multiple Whole30s, trying to “reset” my body. Surely if I was a sugar addict, I had to rid myself of it entirely, right? Only I never got “better”. I was still avoiding so many foods. My digestive system, while somewhat better, was never 100%. After a long while, I looked into other ideas. I tried a high-raw, mostly vegan diet for a short time – but it turns out when you have trouble digesting beans and grains, there aren’t a lot of vegan protein options available. So you essentially go hungry.

I started to read about long-term calorie restriction, and worried I was cutting too low for too long. So I upped my calories a bit. To a whopping 1400-1500 a day. I still was eating mostly paleo, but still would “cheat” – but treats had to be “healthier” versions. No white sugar. No starchy flours. I still managed to binge on those when I would make them. I couldn’t stop myself. And I still obsessed over food. I would count the minutes until it was late enough so I could eat my small 300 calorie breakfast and manage to make it until lunchtime. I would try to distract myself from being hungry so I wouldn’t want to snack. I drank coffee. Herbal tea. Chewed gum. But I still wanted to eat. ALL. THE. TIME.

Not until I found out about the Eating The Food Facebook group, read some information from Matt Stone about Diet Recovery, and really allowed myself to eat did I understand just how far I’d gone down the rabbit hole. I finally looked up the calories I should have been eating on a daily basis. And I finally tried to work towards eating. Just eating.

Within days, I gained energy. Clarity. But most importantly, in a matter of weeks, I no longer had any desire to binge. I no longer obsessed about food. I no longer felt out of control.

And now, here I am. About 4 months in. Still pretty new, and I sometimes get those old thought patterns coming back (a thought in my mind about how “bad” grains are, or how they aren’t nutrient dense, or whether I’ve eaten too much “bad” stuff in a given day), but more and more, I am enjoying freedom. Freedom to love food again. Freedom to love life again. Freedom to love myself again.

And I’m starting to love cooking again. I don’t feel restricted by as much. I still follow a gluten-free and mostly dairy-free diet (I’m even finding I can handle dairy in small amounts!), but anything else is game. I don’t have to feel afraid of making a treat, because I won’t eat it all and hate myself for doing so. I don’t have to worry about how “bad” some things are. In fact, I used real, white sugar in several recipes lately, and I am not apologizing for it.  It’s amazing – how if you nourish your body enough, your body will tell you when it’s had enough. I’m not a sugar addict after all. I was just undereating. In fact, I have a jar full of Jolly Ranchers (I know! The horror!) sitting on my desk at the office. I bought them more than a week ago, and I have had exactly one. Not because I’m telling myself they’re bad for me, but because I haven’t wanted one. But if I do, I’ll have one. It’s as simple as that.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some baking to do. Cupcakes are on the agenda, with real chocolate buttercream. I can’t wait.

When Your Mind Lies

bodyliesquote

I want him to tell me that I’m beautiful. Shower me with compliments. Caress me. Show me how much he is attracted to me. And he does. Some days, my head is in the right place, and I believe him. My heart is full.

And other days, my mind tells me lies. He compliments me, but it doesn’t make it inside. I don’t believe him. My mind forgets or stops trusting his truth. I ask again for a compliment. And again. I look for an affirmation. It reaches my ears, but it doesn’t sink in. I don’t feel beautiful, I don’t feel good enough. I pick apart my perceived imperfections, refusing to see what he sees.

My poor husband. He obviously thinks the world of his wife (and thinks she’s pretty hot), and some days, her mind just won’t let her hear it.

Ever since I remember, I’ve been told I was pretty. By my parents (because what well-meaning mom or dad doesn’t tell their daughter she’s beautiful?), by friends, by strangers. When I was a teen, I was very thin. Almost dreadfully so. I ate (plenty!). No eating disorder in sight. I heard all kinds of comments.

“You’re so lucky – you don’t have to watch what you eat.”

“I would kill to have your tiny waist.”

“Why do you need to work out? You’re skinny!”

“Be careful, or you’ll get blown away!”

Obviously, I was different. It was viewed positively, from what I could tell, but still…different. Somehow, contrary to what some might believe, this didn’t really feed my esteem in a positive manner. Perhaps due to an accumulation of all of these experiences, perhaps not, but over time, I realized that in life, your body and your appearance matter. It was important to people. So of course, being the overachiever/people pleaser that I am, I wanted to make sure I was measuring up.

Trouble is, my mind found plenty of ways I wasn’t “measuring up”. Acne. Cellulite. A hair where there wasn’t supposed to be one. And as I became an adult, additional weight. A few more dimples. Squishy parts. While I was never overweight, I felt fat. Unpretty. Less than what I should be. Not good enough. I would seek for affirmations, but even when I received them, I discounted them. Brushed off compliments, or picked apart a flaw instead. It was all I seemed to see. I didn’t see a pretty lady, a hot wife, or even as I started exercising, I didn’t see a fit person.

This, folks, is body dysmorphia. Now, I don’t mean that it’s a horrible awful mental disorder. And I don’t have an utter hatred for my body, although some people may. I see things and perceive my body in ways that are not true. Basically, the mind sees something other than reality. If I was to look at a friend that looked like me, I guarantee you I wouldn’t feel the same about her as I did about myself. I would tell her she was beautiful. Because she would be. I wouldn’t obsess over her flaws – I wouldn’t even see flaws! So why do I do this to myself?

So I’m changing that.

I shared in my post over at In Johnna’s Kitchen the other day about breaking free from body shaming. I’m learning to look at myself differently by also looking at the world differently. If I look for beauty in all things, I can’t help but see the beauty in myself.

My husband and I sometimes use a term to describe self-deprecating behavior. He does a pretty good job of calling me out on it. He says “Invisible Bat!” (Basically, it means that by saying what you’re saying, it’s akin to hitting yourself on the head with an invisible bat, and to stop beating yourself up.) Catching myself using that “invisible bat” helps, and having his support is immeasurably beneficial.

It’s not a perfect process, and there are still sometimes bad days. But I’m making progress. There are more good days all the time. It’s a reprogramming thing. If I clear my mind of critical thoughts, I can make room to receive positivity. You’d be surprised. There is a lot of wonderful, positive energy in this world, if you look for it. And when I do receive that positive energy – I mean, really, truly receive it – I have to say, it’s pretty great.