Point of View

I've been thinking a lot about what happened that day.  Of all the things that happened that day (a life-sized Peep, a burlesque show, someone getting spanked for charity) it's this one comment that keeps on popping up in my brain.

On June 20, 2009 an artist (who was dating my friend at the time) said that he wanted to draw me.

I had seen the beautiful drawings he had done of my friend and the graceful, careful way he had drawn every curve of her body.

And yet, something in me froze. 

My mother was an amateur photographer.  Growing up there were tons of pictures of family trips and special occasions, but from the moment she got her Pentax K1000, she was always taking pictures of flowers, trees, ducks, and not taking as many pictures of the family.  After too many sessions of holding a flashlight to illuminate a spider web in the middle of the night, I began to resent the camera.

After she died, there was no one taking pictures.  There is a huge gap in the photographic record of my life from 8th grade to 12th grade.  Coincidentally that was also when I weighed my highest (240), so part of me is glad there is no record, but I also don't get to see how far I've come.

So I went off to college and among other things, I learned to love myself by being a bit of a webcam whore.  I learned that in the right light, with the right makeup that even I could feel good about how I looked.  And so I experimented with angles and lights and started to look at myself instead of trying to hide from myself.

It all started with one benign photo my freshman year of college (1999):

And morphed into a semi-regular obsession of taking my own picture:

For as much as I'd like to say that this process was all about self-exploration, it wasn't.   I didn't have the confidence to date, so I'd show guys the best versions of myself with the hopes that they'd fall for me.

I had hoped that they would think of me only as this one particular side I had shown them, not as discarded photos where I was making a stupid face, or showed my fat stomach or fat arms.

We all know how well that works out.  The minute they met me, they would see that I was a carefully constructed mirage.

The only person I every really fooled was myself.

I mean, in life you only have so much control over what people see.  It's just like those magazine photos that look so perfect, and yet you don't see the big clips and pins precariously holding everything in to place. You don't see the airbrush strokes.  We are viewed from every angle, in every light, with all of our flaws exposed.

Just as we want to be those perfect models, I wanted to be this version of myself all the time -- the self where I felt beautiful, sexy, and powerful.

The pictures became a reminder to me that at least at one fragile moment, I was all of those things.

So when my friend asked me to help her test out her new equipment, I thought that I would be able to harness some of the beautiful, sexy, powerful Robby and give her something to work with.

Like I said before, she's a very talented photographer.  But there's no kind way to say this:  I'm a shitty model.

In front of her camera, and without a monitor, I was absolutely lost.  I didn't know what the hell I was doing.  She directed me as best as possible, but there was a huge disconnect between the effort I thought I was putting out and what she captured on film.  (I'm very aware that how I see myself is vastly different than how others see me... my very special body dysmorphic disorder where I think and feel I am Jessica Rabbit.)  My "think sexy" came out more like "mildly constipated" and my "look natural" looks more like mannequin. 

In so many of the pictures my body is there, but I can see the fear in my eyes.  I can see the distraction in my face from trying to remember to suck it all in, to find the right light, to not expose myself too much.

Instead of trusting that my very talented friend wouldn't make me look bad, I tried to control the situation and myself too much.  The result was that I look flat. I look petrified.  And the truth is, I was absolutely 100% petrified.  Of the hundreds of pictures she took, there are only a few I like (this being one of them), and it was completely my fault. 

So....a few months go by and my very talented photographer friend's very talented artist (now-ex) boyfriend wants to draw me.  And the same fears crept in.  How would someone else portray me when I didn't have any control?  Would he be kind to my curves/rolls? Would he edit them out? Would he see me as I see myself?

Instead of letting him answer these questions himself, I answered them for him:  I declined his offer.

I regret it to this day, simply because rather than letting someone else show me what they see (and letting them be honest, truthful, realistic, or kind to me) I shut him down.  I did to him what I do to most men in general: I beat them to the punchline.

My very talented photographer friend, Renee, has agreed to take my "after" picture for when I reach my goal (whatever that may be, as I now refuse to say "goal weight").  I hope I will remember the lessons I've learned during this whole process.  My new definition of beautiful/sexy/powerful is the ability to allow one's imperfections to exist in the same place and time as the things they are most proud.

#OctGTD: Going the Distance

1.  The next #OctGTD report is October 22-28 on Friday, October 29, 2010.  My email is, as always, fatgirlvsworld@gmail.com.

2.  The FINAL #OctGTD report is for October 29-31 and you should send me your email by November 3rd (November 3-6 will be very busy for me, so my apologies if your numbers aren't updated as fast as normal).

3.  Some people have asked me if there's going to be a #NovGTD/November Going the Distance Challenge.  My initial response was that I'd love to see someone else take the reins and come up with their own challenge.  I will be busy working with Rebecca and Bernie of the Nurture Principles (@ScritchfieldRD and @BernieSalazar on Twitter) on their upcoming project (more info coming regarding that on November 1).  HOWEVER... if you want to do a #NovGTD that is basically the same as #OctGTD, I'll provide a place for that:

The #NovGTD Spreadsheet and Participant Chart are located HERE Sign yourself up, but you'll be responsible for going to this link to input your own miles on the four reporting dates (November 10, 17, 24 and December 1).  Please be careful editing the spreadsheet and let me know if you need help entering your information.

4.  Regarding Rebecca and Bernie's project -- we had a call regarding it today.  I am so excited to share this with you and I hope you in turn share it with your blog followers, your family, your friends, and your coworkers.  I am so sorry I'm being vague, but like I said, I'll spill the beans on November 1.

5.  I'm very excited to announce that @VinnySlavin will be providing a guest post -- wrapping up some thoughts and feelings about #OctGTD.   If anyone else is doing the same in their own blog, give me/Vinny a heads up so we can include a linky link here.

6.  As we are wrapping up #OctGTD I'd really like you to consider a few things:
  • How do you think you did over the course of the month?  
  • Did you overestimate or underestimate your capabilities?  Why is this?  Is this representative of a larger trend in your life?
  • Did you learn anything about yourself while doing this? 
  • Can you apply what you've learned in #OctGTD somewhere else in your life? 
  • Did you make any new friends through #OctGTD -- were you able to support each other?
  • What was the hardest part of the challenge?  (physical? mental/psychological?)
  • What do you think you did really well this month? (doesn't have to be about #OctGTD)
  • What do you think you could improve on? (again, doesn't have to be about #OctGTD)
  • No matter the numbers you already entered, are you going to finish strong, or taper off? 
  • Did you go the distance? And no, I don't mean did you hit 100% of your goal... did you put yourself out there and really try for it?  Is 80% still something you can be proud of? 
7.   I just wanted to end this post by saying that I'm not only proud of all the miles you have put in, but i'm also honored and humbled by all the emails you've sent me.  Seriously, don't thank me. I'm just organizing stuff -- you all are the ones doing the hard work.  I am so glad to be part of a community that is not only committed to each other but is committed to their own lives.  Even though October is almost over, I'm so glad to have met such an amazing group of people. 

"Our suffering comes from not realizing who we are" -- The Buddha

I normally like to listen to electronica/dance music while I run. I like the fast beats that compel me to move one foot in front of the other.  On Sunday, I decided to try running to a podcast.  I've been listening to Tara Brach for about two years now, and figured I'd listen to her while I ran.  I was all fine and good until she (as always) said something that startled me a bit. 

Okay, a little background if you don't want to listen to all of the dharma talk:  Tara explores how we construct and buy into an identity that is other than our true self (both positively and negatively) -- the "space suit self."   Our suffering comes about because we believe ourselves to be the space suit self, not our actual self when we let go of identities and labels.

She goes on to say that we create these spacesuits based on negative characteristics (i.e. that we're needy, that we're failures, that we aren't worthy of good things) and positive characteristics (i.e. that we're funny, we're smart, we're good meditators). 

She then guides her listeners/students in an exercise where you imagine a friend/someone you spend time with and while you have that person in mind, ask yourself "what it is most about yourself that you don't want this other person to see?" (i.e. our negative characteristics, things we find shameful or disgraceful)  The second question is "what do you want people to know or understand about you?" (i.e. our positive characteristics) The third question is "In this moment, can you let both qualities be there?  What happens when they both exist at the same time.  What happens when you don't own those identities so much?"

And this is where I almost came to a dead stop on the elliptical. So many people recognize me as being a strong, independent, brave person.  What would happen if I let them know how sad and weak I feel sometimes? How could both of those identities exist at the same time?  Truth is that they exist all the time whether I acknowledge them or not. They're facets of being human, yanno?

I think lots of this came from my reactions to the death of my mother's mother (I was in the room when it happened) and my mother.  Somewhere along the line I think I learned, or was told, to be tough, to show no tears, to soldier on. With my own mother's death, my own emotions were often eclipsed by my father.  I'd admit to feeling sad, and he'd use it as an invitation to tell me how sad he was instead of just letting me be sad.

For me, showing sadness became an chink in my armor.  Back in April my father called me at work to tell me that his stepmother had died. And I roared with tears.  And then apologized for interrupting other people's work.  It was easier to feel mortified than to admit that what I needed most was someone to hold on to me until it stopped hurting.

I'm going to try and work on telling people I need them, or that I'm hurting.
It's okay not to be so brave all the time.

ISO a Few Good Bloggers

I'm going to repost one of my favorite quotes, as it is so representative of what's to follow:
You are perfect, only you don’t know it.
Learn to know yourself and you will discover wonders.
All you need is already within you, only you must approach yourself with reverence and love.
Self-condemnation and self-distrust are grievous errors.
Your constant flight from pain and search for pleasure is a sign of the love you bear for yourself;
all I plead with you is this: make love of yourself perfect.
Deny yourself nothing – give yourself infinity and eternity and discover that
you do not need them; you are beyond.
-- Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj 

So as I mentioned in an earlier post, my dietitian/friend Rebecca Scritchfield and her speaking partner Bernie Salazar (Biggest Loser Season 5 At-Home winner) have something in the works.  It's more discovery than challenge (as there are no pounds lost to be counted or miles to be logged) and more community than competition.

Rebecca and Bernie's goal is to help everyone survive the holiday season with a plan:  eat mindfully, live joyfully, and make it to New Year's day without feeling like you have to repent for that slice of pumpkin pie or bit of egg nog.

Rebecca will be hosting a call this Thursday, October 28, 2010 at 8 pm to discuss the details of her plan as well as to listen to any questions/feedback you might have. If this is something that you think would appeal to you and your blog readers or twitter followers, send me an email or DM me your email address on Twitter and either her or I will send you the details for the call!

Do As I Say, Not As I Do, Part III

(This is a follow-up to two entries -- Do As I Say, Not As I Do, part I and Do As I Say, Not As I Do, part II -- regarding responsible blogging)

As a child we might have heard our parents say "Do as I say, not as I do" or "because I said so" quite often.  Even as a child we realized that they weren't following the rules they insisted were so important.  One part of growing up is realizing that the rules for children are different than the rules for a teenager, and the rules of a teenager are different than the rules for a young adult. Our parents tried to tailor the rules they gave us according to our maturity and level of responsibility. They followed their own rules according to their own needs and abilities.

So too everyone's nutritional and exercise plan should be tailored to their needs and abilities.

Not only do I work with a dietitian to cater my diet and caloric needs to my activity level, but I also have the recommendations and approvals of my doctors for my exercise plan (orthopedist, chiropractor, physical therapist). I have also worked with psychologists over many years to help me deal with many of my destructive and obsessive behaviors. My general practitioner and ob/gyn is aware of my health goals and monitor me accordingly (various blood tests, prescription levels, etc.).

While I do write occasionally about my own exercise plan and goals, or my own weight goals, I want to make it very clear that these are not plans or goals that I picked from thin air.  They have been carefully considered and tailored to my own needs and abilities.  For example, you don't see me running road races because that is something that would cause significant injury to my back, nor do you see me trying to stick to a 1400 calorie intake.  I'm not saying that people who run races are going to have bad backs or people with 1400 calorie diets are wrong, I'm just saying that neither of those are reasonable or healthy goals for me.

I want everyone to take a deep breath and think about this.  Think about how your own health plan has been influenced by outside influences that are not medical professionals.  Consider the influence of media -- pictures of other people, stories about losing 5 lbs in 5 days, advertisements for the newest miracle food, etc.  I also want you to consider the influence of other food/diet/nutrition bloggers. 

Do you ever find yourself trying to emulate someone else's exercise or diet plan? 
Do you turn to another blogger for diet/exercise advice instead of your doctors or as a supplement to health care professionals? 
Do you know a particular author's background and/or credentials? 
Have you ever been distracted from your own plan because another blogger's plan sounds more appealing?

And lastly before I go, I wanted to talk about something that has been on my mind, and I don't see discussed often around on the blogs:  exercise bulimiaI want each and every one of you to read this link, and investigate the topic for yourself.  There are many first-person narratives on the topic, such as this one from the magazine Elle [2019 update: link no longer works] 

As we are losing weight there is a very fine line between exercising enough and exercising too much.  We love seeing the calorie burn. We love seeing the weight come off -- but we have to keep our overall and long-term health in mind.  Exercise should compliment our nutritional plan (i.e. we need to eat enough to fuel any and all exercise) and our lifestyle.  It should not become our nutritional plan (i.e. we shouldn't feel like we have to have burn every calorie we eat; and we should remember that even without exercise our body is burning calories (our basal metabolic rate)) and it should not become our life (i.e. we should maintain our friendships, our hobbies, our focus at work, etc.). 

If you see yourself heading down this path, please reach out and get some help.  Please learn to incorporate moderate and attainable goals into your life.  Learn to create an exercise routine.  Show it to your doctor, physical therapists or trainers.  Make sure you have planned REST DAYS, not just days you don't exercise because you're injured or sick.

I'll leave you with my opinion/advice about exercise:  try not to think about exercise as a weightloss mechanism.  Exercise should be about using your body, increasing its strength, flexibility, and stamina.  Exercise should make you feel good about your abilities.  Exercise is not about balancing out food choices.  It is not about penance for food sins.  Exercise is you honoring your body with the gift of movement.

"You look so skinny"

So today is the conclusion of Fat Talk Free Week as some of you may (or may not know).

I've talked before about how my parents' comments about my body often shaped how I felt about myself.  I'll put it this way:  I loved being contrary with them.  Part of it was my wildness. The other part was a realization that my mom and dad were not happy people. If I wanted a chance at happiness myself, I'd either need to figure it out myself, or do the opposite of what they said.

My father once told me that I would never have any friends if I were argumentative, that I would never have any friends (odd, coming from a lawyer...). And so I was argumentative.  Well, rather, I began to figure out who I could debate with.  I figured out who had the intelligence and the fortitude to disagree with me.  Those people became my friends.  I knew when to back off, and when a debate had crossed the line into being a fight.

I think the lesson for me regarding my parents is that I learned to love myself exactly as I was, and the right people would love me for it. The wrong people would continue to disparage me, but that I knew the difference.  I feel bad that my mother and father never learned the same kind of self love at a young age.  Their lives might have been shaped very differently if they broke a few rules and told a few more people to shove it.  They might have benefited from making mistakes of their own accord, not from trying to please other people.

So getting back to Fat Talk Free Week ...
We had a small little fire in my office building, prompting an evacuation.  On the way down the stairs, I ran into many people that hadn't seen me since I began this journey.  And they say "Oh, you look so skinny."

It kind of baffles me that we're conditioned to think that "skinny" is a compliment.  I mean, what if i had been suffering from cancer this whole time? I know people aren't trying to be malicious, and it's not an issue of ignorance. It's an issue of cultural programming.  Skinny is often equated with being successful and beautiful. Fat is often equated with being unsuccessful and ugly.  This is what we're getting wrong.

But you can't really go up to a person and say "Wow, you look really healthy" without them thinking "I must've looked like crap yesterday" much in the same way when someone says "You're looking skinny" our minds do this whiplash thing where all we can think of is how fat we used to look. 

So what's going to be appropriate?  How do you know if someone's appearance truly reflects a healthy lifestyle (versus having an illness, an eating disorder, etc.)?  How do you compliment them on that healthy lifestyle if you do know that healthy lifestyle is responsible for the change in their appearance?

What are we left with if we can't use the small talk?

Maybe we say nothing.  We begin to look people in the eye more. We smile at them.
Maybe we start investing in people and knowing their stories so we know the appropriate thing to say. And then people will know our intentions.

Maybe when we say "You look great... really healthy" it will be received as intended--that at this moment your whole self is a reflection of (inner & outer) happiness and health.

#OctGTD: Wanting It

Cycling Si said "#Octgtd is not just for October, setting good goals every month can keep you motivated and help your long term goals." [His musings on the topic are here.]

I've noticed a good half of the #OctGTD participants achieved less than 50% of their goal in half of October.  I received many emails talking about not having the motivation to get to the gym or on the road to put in the miles.  I empathize with that because I've only done 43 of my 120 miles.  With 11 days to go, I'm right along with everyone else.

The thing is that I do have the motivation.  I have every reason to want to be in the gym every day, putting in the miles and sweating my way through it.  In 17 days one of my very best friends will be getting married.  I will be standing up there next to her as a witness to the promises she will be making.  I am honored that she asked me to be a bridesmaid.

I've written before about my other best friend, Emily, and how she has inspired me. 
Writing about Nancy is much harder.

When my mother died, my whole world fell apart.  I fell apart. My father fell apart. My brother was in his own world.  I lost my then-best friend (I assume because it hit too close to home for her, as her mom died when she was 3 months old).  I was just plain lost.  I floundered my way through 8th grade trying to just get through all the anger and all of the sadness.

When I got to high school, I was still very lost...until Nancy found me.  I was hanging out a lot with my older brother and his friends, and she was part of that group.  I don't know how it happened, I only know what it feels like in retrospect:  she rescued me.  She protected me, she made me laugh. She made me feel connected to the world again.

Words fall so short of the gratitude and love I feel for her.  As someone who knows the depth of her love and the quality of her loyalty, I know what her pledging her love and fidelity to her future husband means. I can only hope that he returns every ounce of that love and fidelity to her. She deserves it.

So I'm going to get my butt into the gym and lay down 5 more miles and dedicate them to Nancy -- for giving me the reason to not only start the journey, but to commit to it the way I have.  Once again, when I felt like I had lost my compass, she (without even knowing it) pointed me in the right direction.

[Edit:  I figured out how I wanted to say it -- Nancy has saved my life twice-- helping me survive the death of my mother and giving me the motivation to save my own life.  For that there are not enough words of thanks.]

Looking Ahead....and Stay Tuned

There is a very specific reason I'm going to ask the following question...

Do you have a survival plan for the holiday season?

Well... let me rephrase...

Does the thought of Halloween, Thanksgiving, Channukah, Xmas, New Years, etc. make you want to hibernate until it's all over?  Is all of their associated foods cause for anxiety and worry?  Do you feel the onset of the food coma and winter lethargy? Do you think you will be able to get through the holiday season staying on the course you have laid out for yourself?

If you have something meaningful to say on this topic, send me an email with your contact information for me to pass on to Rebecca and Bernie of the Nurture Principles (@ScritchfieldRD and @BernieSalazar on Twitter).  They have something very special in the works for November/December to help you get through the end of the year so you start 2011 feeling triumphant, not overwhelmed.

Stay tuned!

Fall Cleaning

First of all, I wanted to let you know that my life has forever changed (for the better) because of my involvement for the past year+ in the fitness blogging community.

I've met some real amazing bloggers along the way.  I've also come to realize that the style of blog I like to write (the emotional/transformative journey) is also the style of blog that I like to read.  Not to knock anyone who is writing down their daily stats or taking pictures of all their food.  That's your journey.  That's your blog.

In light of that, I will be tailoring my gReader/subscriptions to follow suit.  I just wanted to make it explicit:  if I unsubscribe from your blog, it doesn't mean I love you any less. I'm just trying to do what's right for me and my journey.  There's no love lost if you need to unsubscribe from mine or mark mine as read.

It's hard to keep up with so many fabulous blogs AND make sure I get to the gym, and that I cook for myself, and that I find time to relax away from a computer.  I hope you all understand. 

And please, as always, if you need to reach out to me for some support, please find me on email or Twitter.

Deserving Good things

Most people I know who have lived most of their life overweight/obese have a pretty strong aversion to cameras.  We prefer certain angles and to be photographed from the shoulders up.
Focus on the pretty face.

I've mentioned in passing and a bit more in-depth that I'm a skin picker.
I often don't want to be photographed if my skin shows the damage of my anxiety.
Because of this I have become pretty good with makeup and fantastic with photoshop.

My admission for this post is that I'm also really sensitive about my teeth.  My mom had dentures by the age of 36 (I believe).  My dad grinds his teeth.   As my permanent teeth grew in, my baby canine teeth didn't fall out, and my adult ones grew on top of them, making it look like I had fangs.  (I don't know how accurate it is to say it was a genetic thing, but I know of a few people in my family that had this happen as well.)  I had braces for about a year and a half to correct this. 

If there is one doctor that I make sure I see, it's the dentist. I do everything they ask of me (floss, proxy brush, different brush, fluoride rinse... you name it).  I just ask in return that they promise me that I will keep my own teeth for a very long time.  They assure me that I don't have my mother's teeth, and I don't have my father's behavior.

However, over the past few years I've been increasingly sensitive about the color of my teeth.
I wouldn't say they're yellow, but they're like the color of tapioca pudding. They're just not as brilliant as I would want them to look.  I don't want them to look unnaturally white, but I want them to look like how I live (ie, I'm a non-smoker, I don't drink coffee, I don't drink red wine...but I do drink tea...).

 Today I'm going to spend more than a few dollars on myself to get in-office teeth whitening.  I have a hard time spending money on myself, especially for things that might be frivolous or aesthetic in nature.   It will have an effect on my diet for the next 36 hours (i.e. no food that can pigment my teeth while the enamel re-closes) and most likely until the wedding (i.e. no red wine, limited foods that can stain my teeth).

I feel horrible feeling vain, and spending money -- but if it works on my teeth and I feel a little brighter.... then it will be money well-spent.  One less thing to feel self-conscious about.

[Update:  After the 1-hour in-office whitening, my teeth brightened more than 8 shades. They're a little sensitive now, but nothing I can't handle...]

T-Minus.... and counting....

So I'm a handful of days until I reach 1,400.
Yep. 1,400 days of being celibate.

Why am I bringing this up? Many of the reasons are still valid:  

1. a fear of loving someone and losing them (i.e. my mom) (but I'm very much able to love friends, or love my pets, even with full knowledge that nothing is guaranteed)
2. the fear of being hurt (and not wanting to resort to emotional eating) (but I think I have a handle on 90% of my emotional eating, just need to conquer mindless eating)
3. omg, have you read the STD statistics? (especially 1 in 4 women and 1 in 5 men have HSV-2) (yeah, this is still scary)
4. people in DC my age don't date, they have casual, no-strings-attached, friends-with-benefits relationships which are not relationships at all (I have yet to meet a guy to prove me wrong on this one....)
5. I didn't think I had anything to give (I know I have so much to give, and that I deserve what someone else has to share)
6. I am wary when guys find me attractive (i.e. what do they want from me?) so i come off as hard to get, oblivious, or cold (I'm starting to believe it more, but I'm still wary)
7. guys seem to have a thing against women who live with cats (though Spike and Jack are awesome) (The right guy will know me and my cats are a package deal)
8. I love answering only to myself (It's an amazing shift when you go from wanting to be loved to wanting to do the loving....okay, so I might answer only to myself, but I don't want to anymore)
9. change is fucking scary (change is still scary, but I know how to turn on the lights)
10. I tend to go for men that are "out of my league" (I still go for hot guys, but I don't put myself down around them)
11. guys love to put me in the "just a friend" or "one of the guys" friendzone categories and it's impossible to escape (This happens a lot still, but it's okay. These guys will realize that the best girlfriends are both girls and friends)

However, I think I need to dig a little deeper and put something else onto the table:  I am a control freak.

Okay, I knew this, but why is it coming out now?  I keep reading more and more people vowing to eliminate something they love out of their diet.  They skip the step of being moderate and go with complete elimination.  I'm guilty of that as well (anyone remember the Oreos Breakdown of 2010?). 

I understand loving something so much that you don't think you could be moderate around it. I can understand temptation. 

But shouldn't we have already learned the lesson on how to include the things we love in our diet? 
Shouldn't we have learned that forbidding something only makes us want it more? 
Shouldn't we have learned to make better choices based on information, not emotion?

You might see what I'm getting at:  I treated men and food the same way.  They both distracted me from what I was really feeling and/or I used them to feel something other than what I was feeling. 

While I feel so much more capable of being able to address my emotions in a straight forward manner without resorting to some parlour magic to make a getaway, I'm still at a loss on how to trust myself to be moderate around a man, especially when feelings like love might get thrown into the mix.

I'm 29 years old.  I should have already learned that love is not a moderate emotion.  But hey, you learn that from experience, right?

Pressed to the wall

So if you've followed me, you know I have a bad back.

I was talking to someone today... and I just had one of those "this is really obvious" realizations:  that had I listened to the doctors who wanted me to get a 3-level spinal fusion (or at the very least a few discectomies) I might not have the body I have today.  I do have days when my back hurts, but I know how to deal with it (ice, rest, avoiding torque/weights).   My limitations are genuine medical concerns, but they're no longer mental.

Two years ago, I was scared and ashamed that my weight had caused it (it was a combination of genes and a trauma from HS).  I thought that my weight would balloon up as a combination of the physical inability to exercise and the depression that came with the injuries.  I was scared of never being able to walk again. I was angry that it hurt to lie in my bed or even sit.

It wasn't pretty, nor was it easy, but I turned toward those fears and used them to make my decision. I knew I wanted to go down swinging. I'm so glad I didn't have the surgeries. I'm thankful that I trusted my instincts.

Every step since then is a blessing, whether I'm hunched over or standing tall.

As my inspiration, I also remembered a few lines from this poem by Claude McKay.  While not quite the race riots of 1919, it reminded me that if my future was already determined and out of my hands (every doctor said that at some point my spine will require surgical intervention) that I would fight for myself and my spine for every second up until they put me under.

If we must die, let it not be like hogs
Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,
While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,
Making their mock at our accursed lot.
If we must die, O let us nobly die,
So that our precious blood may not be shed
In vain; then even the monsters we defy
Shall be constrained to honor us though dead!
O kinsmen we must meet the common foe!
Though far outnumbered let us show us brave,
And for their thousand blows deal one deathblow!
What though before us lies the open grave?
Like men we'll face the murderous, cowardly pack,
Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!

Body Media Fit; Part II

I've posted before about the Body Media Fit system-- answering my friend Crystal's questions about the device.  Since then she has won herself the sister device, the BodyBugg (the main difference being the software).  
Gorgeous sweat stain
but the armband stayed on.
I thought I would re-answer those questions as well as add some new information.

As a preface: 
What is the Body Media Fit system/device?
First of all, the Body Media Web site is highly informative as to how it does what it does.  I suggest looking at it. 

The long of the short of it is that there are gnomes inside the unit that count how many calories you burn, how many steps you take, and how efficiently you sleep.  Those gnomes report to the gnomes inside the Body Media Fit Activity Manger Web interface.  You report your food intake to the Web gnomes.  A separate gnome who is very smart crunches the numbers and gives you an indication of how balanced your diet is, how active you are, and how well you sleep.

What are the Body Media Fit components?
There are three parts to the system:  the armband (this does all the measurements); the optional display unit (which displays calories burned, steps taken, activity levels and the time for today, yesterday, your goal, and a trip monitor); and the Web interface, the Body Media Activity Manager.  The whole system is available on the Body Media site for about $260.   You can get the system on other sites, like Amazon.com for about the same.

Crystal asked:

How are you liking it?
I am still loving it!  I admit that I'm excited to sync it online and see all of my statistics. I also admit that I get a little antsy when I'm not wearing it.  It's become something I don't like to leave my house without.

Before I started using the Body Media Fit system I never knew if what I was doing in the gym or in the kitchen was enough to help me regain control of my body.  Now I have a much better idea of what I need to do and how I need to eat in order to be healthy.

It has helped me remove 75% of the emotions that were holding me back from truly being successful at weight loss.

 Is the arm band comfortable to wear?

It's still comfortable for me.  I barely notice it is on my arm until it starts beeping (I have it programmed to go off at intervals to remind me to drink water, to get up from my desk, or that I really should be getting out of bed).  I've heard some people say that it's hard to wear while in bed, but you really do get accustomed to it.

Does it stay put?
Not always -- certain exercises will make it slip (especially since it should never be so tight as to act like a tourniquet) such as boxing/Wii Boxing, but it's not a bother.  It stays where it should be all other times. 

Do you wear it all the time?
The makers still recommend 1 hour of downtime a day (such as when you're showering/getting dressed) to let your skin breathe as well as let the unit recharge. 
While I said above that I don't like to leave home without it, I will take it off for special events (though the BMF does have a beadazzled version in their offices, I'm told, I don't think it's quite formal enough for the wedding....)

Are you finding it helpful for staying on track and accountable?
Yes, and no.   I'll say this -- you have to be motivated to do the work.  You have to get to the gym. You have to record your food intake.  When I'm motivated to do both of those things, the Body Media Fit system definitely makes recording everything super easy and straight forward.

However, the Body Media Fit system isn't a drill sergeant, nor is it a task master.  It will not send electrical shocks through my body when I've neglected to log a meal.  It will not set off an annoying air horn when I haven't made it to a gym.  In sum, it's helpful, but you have to want to be held accountable.

Do you use the subscription program it talked about?
Yes I do.  I've talked to many people who use the BodyBugg software, and the consensus is that the Body Media Fit online application is much easier to set up and use.   AND hold on to your pants here -- they're getting SMART!

Do you have to?
Yep. And for $6.95/month (if you subscribe for a full-year plan) it'd behoove you to do so as well.  Some people spend that much on coffee in a day!

Are you finding it to be helpful?
It is more than just helpful.  It has been instrumental in turning my life around.  My brother and I even got one for my dad.  My boss got systems for himself, his wife, and his brother.  I recommend it and explain it to everyone who asks about acquiring the system for themselves. 

I cannot encourage people do purchase one enough.   If you are serious and are ready to commit to this process (weight loss, weight gain, health gain, etc.), the Body Media Fit system is the first step I'd recommend. 

We all know that weight management and a healthy lifestyle is more than just numbers (emotions and psychology play a large part in all of this), but you cannot deny that the numbers play a huge part in all of this as well.  The Body Media Fit system helps you to separate the emotions from the facts.

From people in bars:
1.   No, it is not a SCRAM device.
2.  And no, it cannot detect alcohol intake (but you should put it in your food log).
3.  No, I haven't worn it while having sex.
4.  I haven't committed a violent felony (yet) and this is not a condition of my parole.
5.  No, there isn't someone in the crowd with a remote that will shock me. 
6.  It can't play MP3s (but you can clip the new iPod Nano or the Shuffle on the armband). 
7.  You want me to do jumping jacks? In heels? Fine.  Yep. 5 calories.
Your questions:
Yep... send me an email, or a DM on twitter (@fatgirlvsworld) and I'll answer them!

*Disclaimer 1: I'm not an employee for Body Media, I am just a user of its products. The opinions represented herein are solely that of FatGirlvsWorld, not Body Media Fit.
**Disclaimer 2: I was contacted by a representative for Body Media Fit to guest tweet for them. This entry, as well as the guest tweets are of my own volition and also express my own opinions. I am not being financially compensated for providing my opinions, however they were kind enough to provide me new armbands for the unit, as mine has suffered through many long runs. Though BodyMedia has been supportive of the blog community, often providing units for review, I purchased my own unit back in Feb. 2010.
***Disclaimer 3:  They were also ridiculously awesome in providing a Body Media Fit system for my dear friend, Chris, after I pointed Chris' blog out to them. Talk about an awesome company!

#OctGTD: Balance

First of all, I want to thank all of the #OctGTD participants who got their mileage in to me this Friday.  If you haven't done so already please email me your total distance for October 1-7.

I wanted to talk a little bit about BALANCE.

By-in-large this is a cardio/endurance challenge.  Please do not forget to do your strength training, your core training, and/or your food logging.   I would love to hear your stories of how you're incorporating the #OctGTD challenge into your cross-training routines and all-around wellness plan.

Many of you (and I won't rat anyone out here) have emailed me or DM me on Twitter saying that you're disappointed in your mileage tally (sick, not motivated, injured, etc.), or that you think you bit off more than you can chew.

I'm not trying to be unkind, but seriously I don't want to hear it.

First and foremost:  you should NEVER feel guilty for listening to your body--even if it says "we need to sit this out for a week."  If you are sick/injured, figure out how to get yourself better and then we'll worry about the miles, okay?  #OctGTD, no matter how awesome it is, is not worth risking your health and well-being.

For those of you who think you bit off more than you can chew, I'm happy to adjust your miles.

But has it ever crossed your mind that it's okay to come up short in the challenge?  It's okay to not reach your mileage goal.  It's okay to get to the end of the month and come up shy.  This is the lesson we all have to learn:  it is okay to set goals and make plans and not be able to complete them 100%. 

Was your intent there? Was your heart in it? Did you commit to yourself and the goal?  These are things you should be able to answer for yourself. 

In school, failure was anything under 65%.  In life, we draw that imaginary line between success and failure. So what if you pledged 100 miles and only ran 80. You still ran 80 miles. Would you have ever thought that was possible?

Likewise, if you're blowing your mileage out of the water because you set the bar so low, what does that say about how you feel about yourself? Are you selling yourself short in other places in your life? 

The thing is this, my friend, this challenge is more than just October.  This is the rest of your life. 

We can't always fudge the numbers.  Sometimes we have to take a step back, reevaluate, and come up with a new plan.

When you set your own goal and came up with your own reward, theoretically you considered (1) your ability, (2) your schedule, (3) and your commitment level.

So if after one week things aren't looking too good, where are you falling short?

If it is your ability/fitness level:  this should be a LOUD wake up call.  I've said time and time again that weight loss is NOTHING without health gain -- and fitness is a part of health.   How can you use #OctGTD as a starting point to improve your own fitness?  If you are only focusing on the mileage and ignoring strength training, this is also something to be mindful of.  You should want your fitness to apply to your whole body.

If it is your schedule:   I love the Nike ad "Someone busier than you is running right now."  I know you all have busy lives and wear many hats.  You need to put yourself and your needs first sometimes.  It might mean you have to be creative or communicative, but it is possible.  The people in your life want you to be healthy and happy.  Let them know how they can help.  If you want it badly enough, I'm positive you can make it happen.

If it is your commitment level:  I will say this as many times as you need to hear it.  You are not letting me down. You are not letting anyone else down.  This is about you and the promises you make to yourself.  If you aren't keeping those promises, what does that say about you?

You have 3 more whole weeks to dig deep and figure out who you want to be when this all ends.
Do you want to be the person who meets challenges head-on or do you want to be the person who sits them out?

An aside directed to someone who shall remain anonymous, but this is applicable to many of you as well:

You do not need to "earn" your food through exercise.  You shouldn't feel like you have to burn off dinner by going to the gym late at night.  If you are doing these things, you haven't learned a thing.

The gym is not a confessional where you go to absolve yourself of dietary sins.   Your exercise and meal choices should be plans that work with each other and are informed by the other, but are not emotionally connected or dominated by the other. 

Just like it's okay to come up short on mileage, it is okay to have one day where you consume more calories than you expend.  That does not constitute a failure.  On a habitual basis you will feel it, but it is not physically bad nor should it make you feel like you're a bad person to put food into your body, especially when it is asking for it. 

Pay attention to the trends.  Pay attention to your behaviors.

Take a deep breath and try to figure out why you went over your calories (were you just that hungry? were you being mindful of the situation?) and then come up with a plan to handle those situations in a matter-of-fact manner.

Again, this is more than just a one-day challenge.  This is the rest of your life.  Be kind to yourself.

A follow-up to "Do as I say, Not as I do."

As I have mentioned in my last post (and many others), I have a dietitian in my weightloss/health gain arsenal.  I wanted to take the time to explain to you why I meet with my dietitian in the hopes that you might consider meeting with your own dietitian (I guess I can share mine...).*

First of all:  there is a difference between a dietitian and a nutritionist.  A dietitian is a registered health care professional that has not only studied in their field and had practical in-the-field experience before being certified, but they have to take a nationally recognized certification test.  Nutritionists don't have the same certification requirements and are not licensed titles.  They can both be helpful, but I strongly suggest consulting with a registered dietitian.

Secondly, dietitians bridge the gap between doctors and (cognitive/behavioral) psychologists. A doctor might tell you that you need to lose weight, and you might know you're an emotional eater, but a good dietitian can help pinpoint the area where those two things intersect.  They can help you understand your biology, psychology, and behavior around food. 

Also, as many of you might already know, many doctors will tell you that you need to address your weight/diet but give you no direction as to how to achieve the results they want.  A doctor might tell you that you need to rework your diet to lower your blood pressure, a dietitian can tell you how.  A doctor might tell you that you need to lose weight, a dietitian can show you why you're not at a good weight right now.  Dietitians have the scientific know-how, the experience, and the time to help guide you whereas a doctor might leave you alone to figure it all out.

(Personal aside:  I've cried at my dietitian's office.  I don't think I really need to explain to 90% of you that food and weight issues are emotional for people that have been obese/overweight most of their lives.  Part of taking the leap to see a dietitian is recognizing that you don't know how to do something that seems so basic:  nurture yourself healthily.  It's hard to recognize that you've failed yourself and you need help.  Luckily, this humility and awareness is part of remodeling your life.  A dietitian will recognize this as a healthy step and hand you a box of tissues. Don't worry, things get much better from that point on.)

Thirdly, if you're a disordered eater (not just eating disorders, but someone who doesn't eat well as an instinct) a dietitian can help give you the tools to get back in touch with yourself and put you on track.

As I suggested above, many of us have lost or suppressed our natural instincts to feed one's self in a healthy manner.  Our diets are wrought with emotional complexities that never used to be there before -- guilt, shame, anxiety, loneliness, panic, etc.-- that often pushes us to the extremes of people restricting calories or people inundating themselves with calories. A dietitian can help you remove emotions from the equation, or at least put them in context.

And lastly, a good dietitian will help you kickstart your process as well as fine tune your diet once you are on track with food and exercise.  You might be trying to lose 50lbs, gain 15lbs or just feel better in general.  A dietitian will be able to look at your current eating habits and make suggestions to help you progress in your desired direction in a healthy manner (no tricks up their sleeve!).  They might even send you back to the doctor (as mine did) to get some follow-up tests or to get everyone on the same plan.

Please feel free to ask me questions about me, my dietitian, or the process in general. 

*I also wanted to raise this issue up again because of the Marie Claire article and its backlash.  While the fitness/health blog community can be helpful in giving suggestions and sharing their own story, nothing will ever take the place of you seeing your doctors, consulting your dietitian, and trusting your own instincts.  Please do not use my blog, or any other blog that I might provide a link to, as a substitute for common sense or as a justification for hurting yourself, your body, or your mind

Do as I say, not as I do.

((Part of the reason why I wanted to post this is because of the whole Marie Claire article fiasco (there are many more blogs talking about it... and if you want to share your reaction/link, please do so in a comment!))

I want to make sure that all of my readers know my POV:
While I'm blogging about my journey, I know that I am responsible for my content.
I hope my emphasis on HEALTH is much stronger than any emphasis I might place on weight loss (as someone who was obese, and now is overweight, my journey is about weight loss right now.  There will come a time when weight loss is out of the equation.  My blog will then be about maintaining a healthy weight and healthy lifestyle).
I want you to know that I am imperfect and that I still struggle.
I want you to know that this is a lifelong journey, and I'm still figuring things out.
I purposefully do not post my weight loss/gains. I do not post my daily calorie counts/burns. I do not post my measurements.  For me this journey is about the emotional details, not the physical ones.  But that's MY choice.
I am not writing from the POV of someone who knows everything and wants you to emulate my model.
HOWEVER, if you're going to learn one thing from reading my blog is that you must be HONEST about your thoughts and actions before you can change your life in a meaningful and enduring way.

If you've been reading my blog for a while, you know I have food issues that relate to my family and its disordered approaches to food.  My brother and I strongly believe that my mom was towards the anorexic end of the scale and my father was very much toward the overeating end of the scale.

My mom told me that she went from being an obese teenager to a sexy coed in college by learning the "push away" diet -- i.e. pushing her plate away when she was full.  After she died, my brother and I talked about this and basically realized the same things -- that mom wasn't eating much, and especially as her back got worse and worse (she had 6 herniated discs; 3 in her lower back, 3 in her neck) more and more of her calories came from rum. 

My dad wasn't a good example of healthy eating either -- with his work clothes still on, he'd march in the front door, head to the kitchen and eat a big scoop of peanut butter or handfuls of Oreos. I ate the same as my brother and father -- not just the quality, but also the quantity.  Dad felt bad for me being an obese girl/teenager, but he didn't realize that he was contributing to my problems by being a horrible role model.

My mom used to tell a story about how, as a child, I was a very finicky eater.  She would try foods on me and I'd like them one day and not the next.  I'd eat a hot dog, she'd go buy a large package of them, and I wouldn't eat a single one.  I wouldn't clear my plate. I would always eat around the meat on my plate, starting with the veggies first, then the carb/grain element, and then push the meat around until I was given an ultimatum.  The easiest way for me to get praised was to eat what I was given.

At one point in my life, I very much knew my hunger.  At 29, I feel I know so much about myself, about nutrition, about the science of it all, but my actions are relatively the same.  As my dietitian calls it, I'm a "chaotic eater."  And she's 100% right.  For all of my victories, my eating still very much resembles how I ate before the Epiphany.

Before Mom died:  Mom basically cooked a few meals repeated through the month that consisted of a carb/grain element out of a box (mac & cheese, Idahoan potato flakes, or stuffing), a vegetable, and some type of meat that was usually overcooked (her pork chops were grey).  Breakfast was often something you could put in a toaster or microwave.  Every now and then dad would cook french toast or pancakes (with a package of sausage) for breakfast.  [[Edit:  Mom didn't introduce us to a wide variety of food.  The only bean I had ever known were Campell's Pork & Beans, tarted up with maple syrup and pineapples.  I had my first real Bing Cherry when I was 17 and I didn't know what it was.]]  Nutrition and balance weren't explained or modeled.

Dad's free range grazing:  Dad had to be at the train station by 7:00, and so breakfast was often some sort of rushed cramming of pastry in our mouths chased by some Tropicana OJ before we had to catch the bus to school.  We bought lunch at school and instead of making something healthy at home to bring in. I'd usually spend my money on pizza or in the snack line getting pecan rolls.  We'd come to an empty house, and were left to fend for ourselves.  Dad would get home between 7 or 8 usually, and if we didn't eat leftovers or something easy to make, dinner was often pizza, Chinese food, or McDonald's.  [[Edit:  Ms. Zeineb reminded me that I should mention here that my brother and father weren't adventurous eaters back then...]]

Cooking for myself in HS with limited options:  there was lots of pasta dishes back then, and concoctions (whatever was in the fridge put together in horrible ways).  There were a few things I knew how to make from watching my mom, but the proportions were still skewed in favor of meat/fats and fake stuff.  I was limited by what dad had decided to purchase, which was often lacking in fresh fruits and vegetables.  Eventually once I got my drivers license, I'd try to go grocery shopping for myself, but was financially limited.  I also reconnected with one of my mother's friends -- the Pausewangs -- who ran the local farmstand.

Eating/cooking for myself in college with way too many options:  my college food court more resembled a mall food court than a cafeteria with options like Burger King, Chick-fil-a, Taco Bell, Jamba Juice, as well as more "looks like home cooking options" like the salad bar, the salad wraps, the pasta station, the pizza station.  Serving sizes weren't obvious.  As a freshman, I didn't have a kitchen, but knew that the food plan would kill me. I knew back then that Jamba Juice was a whole meal (calorically speaking, not nutritionally speaking), not to be eaten with a meal.  As soon as I had a kitchen in my sophomore year, I tried to cook for myself as best as possible but was still limited by space, time, and resources.  Once I moved off campus to a real apartment, things got massively better and then worse because by then I was drinking.

Eating/Cooking for myself now:  I'm trying to find the balance. I don't always succeed, but I have the noble intent.  I think for right now I need to admit to myself that I am kinda lost.  I have never written a grocery list -- I wander the aisles of a grocery store, or the farmer's market waiting for things to catch my eye.  I still consider myself a moody eater (I eat what I think I want to eat, not something I've planned to eat). I don't keep much food in my fridge because of this (buying food when it looks appealing and then losing the desire to eat it the next day) because I hate throwing out food that has gone bad. I too often believe the excuse that cooking for one is labor intensive. When I do cook to have leftovers, I often cook for an army and grow bored of what I've cooked. 

I feel like a hypocrite saying this because in my previous entry I stressed proper nutrition and having a plan.  As you can tell, I do not have a plan.  I still forage.  I have a vague mental idea of the balance I want to achieve, but I rarely give it the time, attention, and forethought that it deserves.  Nor do I have a way of evaluating the balance when I am not food logging (as I haven't been doing for the past few weeks).  I spend more time worrying about being single than I do about what food I'm going to buy/prepare.  At some point I have to commit to myself and say "this is important."  Because it is. It really is.

But now that the hypocrisy is exposed, I'm going to take my own advice... Plan forthcoming....

#OctGTD: Update and some personal stuff

The personal aside:  So three days in... and I haven't seen the inside of a gym yet.
Life is getting in the way but that's just what it is going to be. I was walking around NYC, and walking around in heels. My legs are hurting and my dogs are barking. C'est la vie. I had a great time at Nancy's bachelorette party.  my highlight was when my friend Emily grabbed my butt (yeah these things happened and there was alcohol involved) and was impressed with how solid I'm getting.  Yeah I had guys hitting on me and such, but it means more to me that someone who knows my journey notices these things.  I think I looked great (this is the dress I settled on), but more than that, I felt great.

Business:  I just wanted to check in with you all -- because the response to the October: Going the Distance Challenge has been so good, I have 65 people to track now.  Feel free to send me an email THIS FRIDAY (October 8) with your miles (for October 1-7), but you don't need to break it down by day for my benefit. I'll just put in the weekly total.  Otherwise I'd have to hire an assistant.

Don't forget there is a #OctGTD Participant Chart that you can download (save as an Excel document) to help you track your miles.

As a second order of business, I wanted to repeat my disclaimer:  Please talk to your doctor(s), trainer(s) before taking on any new exercise program or challenge to decide what is most appropriate for your ability and health.

Know Your Body
For many of you, this is the first type of exercise challenge you have participated in and I want to make sure that you are:  (1) listening to what your body is telling you, (2) being responsive if your body is telling you that you are injured versus sore (and don't forget to STRETCH before and after a workout, and (3) setting reasonable and flexible goals that will push you but not ruin you. 

Know Your Math

Know your basal metabolic rate.
Know your activity multiplier
And know how much you are burning (I highly suggest investing in the Body Media Fit device along with your regular heart rate monitor).
Know Your Fuel
Please also consider your diet and nutrition during this challenge.  For many of you, your activity level is going up and the stress you place on your body is greater.  Proper diet and nutrition will help you get through your workout as well as help you recover.

If you need help or direction, please consult a registered dietitian (especially one who is proficient in sports nutrition as well as weight management) as many doctors/trainers aren't up to speed on this.

Make sure you are eating quality fuel.
Make sure you are eating enough of this quality fuel.

If you are food logging, keep on logging.
If you are keeping track of points, continue keeping track of your points.
If you are not doing either, consider one of the many free Web sites that will let you track your food intake -- like Livestrong/The Daily Plate or SparkPeople.

Know your life
Have a plan.  I cannot stress this enough.  Take your pledged mile total and divide it among 4 weeks.  Figure out the structure of those weeks. Do you need to/want to work up to a longer mileage per session?  Do you want consistent distances per workout.  Have an idea of where you want to be at the end of each week.

Plan for rest days.  I'll say that again.  Plan for rest days.
My definition of a rest day:  It is a day out of the gym.  I might go for a long walk, but nothing where my heart rate is elevated for a long period of time with the intent of exercise.  It is a day when I am mindful of my diet, but knowing that I am not going to be needing extra calories/fuel, I adjust my intake accordingly.  It is a day where I am mindful of my body's needs and allow it to recover.

Likewise, along with the diet aspect, have a plan to deal with your diet.  If your focus is honoring hunger, make sure you have high quality food/snacks available.  If your focus is on nutritional balance, have an idea of where your nutritional elements are going to fall during the day.  If your focus is on something else, know how it will interact with your activity level.

Be flexible, adjust when necessary.