Creating my happy life on the other side of fear.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Listen to your body, part 2

So. Here it comes. Part 2 of my Listen to your body post. Just a warning: This is going to be a long ramble about the whole pesky body image/love-your-body issue.
I thought I would start with an outrageous statement:

"Hi, my name is Miriam and I like my body."


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I know, I know. Who says that? Aren't I supposed to point out all that's wrong with me? To want to lose at least 5 pounds and have a makeover wish?

Well, if not, is it at least perfect then? Trim and toned and tanned? Hell, no.
I have cellulite, a big bum, small boobs, short-ish legs. A tummy. Not the best skin (back acne, anyone?). Some stretch marks from gaining and losing weight. Scars. And, right now, a farmer's tan. (That one bugs me. How could I let that happen?? It's gonna be a bitch to try to even the tan lines out for the summer.)

But you know what? I feel really comfortable in my own skin. I have a hunch that this is pretty much as good as it gets for me, and I'm happy with my body.

Craziness.

It's craziness because this is quite a new development for me, being content with myself. I was not at all like that as a kid, teenager or in my twenties. Or 2 years ago. So what has changed?

I started listening to my body. Seriously.

But before I elaborate, here is the short way-too-long-but-what-can-you-do history of my body issues:


As a kid, I was absolutely average body-wise. Not thin, not chubby, just average. However, we used to play with 3 sisters in the neighbourhood who were all very petit and slight. They looked like dainty little fairies, and my sister and I felt like big, hapless galoots in comparison. I tell you, comparison is evil!

Then came the dreaded teenage years. They started innocently enough: I really didn't like my face (too round, forehead acne, too colourful somehow - freckles, red cheeks, pale skin) and hated my butt (because it was round and sticky-out and not boyish flat like I wanted it to be and J.Lo wasn't around yet), but was pretty okay with the rest of my body.

But then I turned 18. And did a lot of partying. Drinking, late-night binges, and my love for all carbs quickly turned into a 25-pound weight gain. Oh man was I unhappy! I hated my body. And the dieting started.
I have to say, I was never very good at it. I couldn't commit to any diet for more than a few days. I did the portion control thing, tried the cabbage soup diet (gave that one up after 2 days), tried to drink water and diet soda when I was hungry to "suppress my hunger", bought diet shakes (disgusting!). God it sucked, I couldn't stop thinking about food for even one minute. Needless so say, I didn't lose any weight.

Then I decided that fat was the culprit and I would do a no-fat, all carbs diet. Dumb, right? I know that now, but back then I thought I had found the perfect solution. I LOVE bread. Still do. The smell of warm bread is the best smell in the world to me.
Whenever I read stories about prisoners who only get fed bread and water I think to myself  "That's not that bad. I could happily live off bread for the rest of my life!"

So what did I do? Eat dry bread in ridiculously huge quantities. No butter, just bread. On the way home from school I would stop at a bakery, buy a fresh 1-pound loaf and eat the entire loaf in about 10 minutes (that's how long it took me to get home).
And then I would still eat lunch because I obviously couldn't admit to my parents that I just wolfed down an entire loaf of bread in 10 minutes.
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My heaven!
Then I would be disgusted with myself, swear that "tomorrow I will start a diet, but today doesn't matter any more so I might as well eat that jar of Nutella. Straight out of the glass. Because I'm disgusting and I don't care."

That went on for a few years. I had by then moved out from home and into a dormitory.
A whole baguette, huge soft pretzels (they are the size of a small child in South Germany), entire bags of sweet popcorn - carbs were my weakness. I could also eat a big box of sweet cereal (with juice nonetheless, not milk) in 2 sittings, cook myself a big pot of rice with just a few carrots and peas thrown in, or eat pasta with ketchup. (Pathetic, I know. I'm embarrassed as I write this, but that's what I did.)

To "punish" myself I would try to eat absolutely nothing the next day. I've done that exactly twice, and they have been the most miserable 2 days of my life. See, I wake up and I'm hungry. Stomach growling, weak in my knees hungry. My body wants fuel. And it really doesn't much matter how much I ate the night before, I'm starving in the morning.

And I tried to deny my body that needed fuel. I felt dizzy, lightheaded, couldn't concentrate, but thought I would be lighter the next day and somehow endured it.
I read that some models lived off diet coke and cigarettes, and tried it too. (I smoked for a short time in my life, but quit 12 years ago.)

Those culinary adventures gained me another 10 pounds. I was now up to 155lbs, which at 5'6" might not be excessive, but doesn't suit my frame. I have skinny little ankles and wrists (they were the only skinny parts on my body in those days), made for a smaller body - if I'm getting too heavy my ankles start to hurt. I had a double chin, chunky arms, big belly, thighs that rubbed together. I was unhappy as hell. There are no photos from me from that time.

All I could think about was how much I wanted to lose weight.

I exercised a lot: rode my bike everywhere, rollerbladed for miles, went to exercise classes, walked and walked and even tried running. (Hated it then, hate it now.)
But I did it for the wrong reasons: To punish my body, not to nurture it. I exercised with a vengeance, was quite angry at times.

And the weight wouldn't budge.

I met Richard when I was at my heaviest at the age of 22 (our story is here).  Moving to Canada and living with him helped me shed 25 pounds - I stopped binging because I was so happy! The cravings stopped, I started cooking actual meals with vegetables and protein, not just pots full of carbs and nothing else.

But I was damaged and quite wary that it could happen again. I would open our sweets-cupboard and stare at the contents for what felt like hours - fighting the urge to eat a cookie, or a piece of chocolate. Sometimes, I would put a piece in my mouth, be overcome with guilt, and spit it out. Is that normal? I don't think so.
Yet from talking with girlfriends, reading magazines, watching TV - you can see that it is becoming our new normal. They call it willpower and applaud us for being stronger than the "temptation".

We are being taught to regard food as the enemy: "carbs are bad", "guilty pleasure", "junk food", "sugar is evil", "food as weakness". Discipline, being stronger than your cravings and being "in control" are good.

Yet we have an obesity epidemic worldwide that spirals out of control.
According to Wikipedia (I know, not the best source, but here you go), "For thousands of years obesity was rarely seen. It was not until the 20th century* that it became common, so much so that in 1997 the World Health Organization (WHO) formally recognized obesity as a global epidemic. [ ]
As of 2008, The World Health Organization claimed that 1.5 billion adults, 20 and older, were overweight and of these over 200 million men and nearly 300 million women were obese."

* Hmm, isn't that around the time when Fast Food restaurants popped up everywhere and the diet industry became huge?! Coincidence? I don't think so.

Diets clearly don't work. We all know that. Diet products don't work either. So how come there are still people around that are slim? Are they more disciplined then the rest of us? Just lucky with great genes?

I believe the "secret" is really simple: Listen to your body. Our bodies know what they need.
Eat only when you're hungry, not just because it's dinnertime. You want a cookie? Eat a cookie! Nothing is off limits. If something is forbidden we crave it even more. Everybody who has children knows that: Tell them they can't have something and you can be sure that's all they want. We adults are no different.
No guilt, no "I've been bad"-attitude just because you enjoyed a decadent meal. You won't eat it every day.
I'm not a fan off anything diet or reduced fat. (Not any more. I used to buy only diet and reduced fat food.)  But I read that the artificial sweetness of aspartame and other sweeteners tricks the body into thinking it gets some calories - and when it doesn't, it sends out cravings for them. And you usually end up eating more because of it.

I also never felt that good drinking my diet drinks, they made my stomach queasy. So I stopped drinking them.

If you eat lots of fruit and veggies you will actually start craving them. Because your body knows they are good for you. But I also still eat sweets pretty much every day - and since I know I can eat them whenever I want I don't binge any more. No need to, because they are always available to me.

It's the same with bread: I could never live without bread. Don't want to. (Trust me, you don't want me to either. I'm the bitch from hell without bread.) I eat 2 slices of toast every morning, and quite often a sandwich for lunch and then more carbs at dinner. But I would also never again eat an entire loaf of bread in one sitting - because, honestly, that's just madness.

When I'm full I stop eating. Very simple. No restraint necessary.

Exercising should feel good, not a chore, more like a treat! At least that's my opinion. I've tried running many times, because I like the idea of it - but I really, really hate it. We will never be friends. Walking on the other hand? Love it. So walking it is, even though it sounds like wimpy exercise. (It does a bit, admit it. Oh well.)

I love being outside with my dog, watching how the seasons change, listening to my stories. Enjoy the feeling of my heart pumping, the nice stretch in my legs, the wind in my face. I feel great after, my mind is calm, my body refreshed. If I can't go for a walk for a few days for some reason I miss it. Really do. Get restless, cranky, and annoying to the people around me (at least in my husband's opinion).

Find something that you enjoy. There is something out there for anybody, I'm sure of it! Play soccer, go to Zumba classes, do yoga, try rock climbing, or run. (Running is cool! I wish I'd like it more.)

If it's fun and feels good you won't have to "reward" yourself afterwards with a big slice of cake. The exercise is the reward.

So what I have learned in this journey to body acceptance is this: Your body is your friend, not your enemy. Treat it well. Listen to it. Don't deny yourself anything. I believe there is a weight range your body is meant to be at - find it and be happy with it. My range seems to be 126-130 pounds. I'm totally fine with that.
Don't fight it just because you think 5 pounds less will make you happier. Is it really worth the denial, obsessing, unhappiness? Believe someone who has been there: It isn't.

Phew, that was a long one. Did anybody even get through the whole thing?? If you did, congratulations, you truly have stamina.

Have a lovely Sunday!
Miriam

Disclaimer: I'm not a diet professional or an expert in healthy eating. Far from it. None of the above is scientifically proven (at least not that I know of). These views are simply my opinion and personal experience on the subject.
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4 comments

  1. I think it's always been about portion control....in my case it was a waco thyroid andportion control... I have lost. 21 lbs. With synthroid over a 6 month period..no portion control..but lately I haven't felt much like eating, so it's coming off .5 lbs. Faster every week..however I can not exercise at all right now, due to the stroke risk and feeling next to awfull most of the time..ineed to lose another 40 lbs. I may not live long enough to do that, so I sometimes think it's not even worth it..I might as well be fat and miserable as skinny and miserable..yes! I'm a smoker but quitting won't make me better, it will just stop things from getting worse..so, I , myself, my own opinion, if you are aready beyond repair, you might as well, smoke, drink and eat whatever you want! This is my case only..anyways Miriam, thanx for the post, and I think you're gorgeous!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. 21 pounds is fantastic! That's 42 packs of butter, just picture it!
      It can seem totally overwhelming when you try to do it all at once - lose weight, get fit, quit smoking. Do it one step at a time - let's say just try to quit smoking for now, forget about the diet. Even if you gain some weight, don't worry about it - quitting will be SO beneficial for you!!
      My hubby quit 24 years ago, and he did it with acupuncture, couldn't do it without help. Please try it, and don't give up!

      Delete
  2. I think it's always been about portion control....in my case it was a waco thyroid andportion control... I have lost. 21 lbs. With synthroid over a 6 month period..no portion control..but lately I haven't felt much like eating, so it's coming off .5 lbs. Faster every week..however I can not exercise at all right now, due to the stroke risk and feeling next to awfull most of the time..ineed to lose another 40 lbs. I may not live long enough to do that, so I sometimes think it's not even worth it..I might as well be fat and miserable as skinny and miserable..yes! I'm a smoker but quitting won't make me better, it will just stop things from getting worse..so, I , myself, my own opinion, if you are aready beyond repair, you might as well, smoke, drink and eat whatever you want! This is my case only..anyways Miriam, thanx for the post, and I think you're gorgeous!

    ReplyDelete
  3. You look great Miriam!! I could only wish to have your body type and your energy! :)

    ReplyDelete

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