Category: Moving

For the rest of us.

Just a heads-up, in this post I reveal specific details of how I eat and exercise.

I wrote this post several months ago, but didn’t post it. Here it is now.

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I don’t usually talk too much about how or what I eat, because I’m uncomfortable with the often performative, status-grubbing nature of doing so on the internet. I also don’t want to give the impression that the way I eat is the only right way to eat, or that anyone should compare what they do with what I do, because there is no such thing as one, true way to eat.

But it seems like people may have gotten the wrong idea about how I actually live and eat, to the point where I now joke with my husband in the grocery store that I am required by law to only purchase foods packed in syrup.

I am not a fan of stereotype-busting, either, because it seems to throw people under the bus. So that is not what this post is about. Rather, this post is about my lived experience and the reality of my relationship with food. This is what is true for me about eating and exercise. I want to be able to write about that openly.

So: it’s come to my attention that I’ve become a person who eats 5-8 fruits and vegetables a day and who exercises, on purpose, almost daily.

I feel zero angst about either of those things.

The snack food I eat, at this point, is mainly with my clients. I enjoy it, but it’s not as compelling as I remember it once being. Sometimes I’ll have a bigger treat, but not as often as I did when I was preoccupied with those foods (chips, brownies, ice cream, chocolates) because they were “forbidden.” For the most part, I fall within the serving guidelines recommended by Canada’s Food Guide — and not entirely on purpose, but not entirely by accident, either.

I don’t choose to limit myself to a certain ceiling, but I do try to ensure I reach my minimums, and in doing so, I mostly stick to the ceiling without trying. (If that makes sense.) Ellyn Satter calls this “add on, don’t take away” nutrition. It works for me. I eat in a way that I think is pretty moderate. It does not look like a diet — my weight is stable, I eat the amount of energy my hunger and fullness cues lead me to eat, I use fat and sugar in things, and I am afraid of neither cheese nor carbs.

But it also is not the free-for-all that many people assume.

I’m not particularly fussed about seeking out fancy food, though I like it when I have it, and I’m not a perfectionist about eating or exercise — not by a long shot. I used to be. I used to be so rigid about my eating and exercise that it made my life miserable with constant hunger and constant soreness and a constant, sinister euphoria. I believe that the way I got here, to this place where I can eat nourishing food in a way that is satisfying, with zero pressure or angst, was through permission and structure.

This is really, really hard for many people to believe or understand. They believe that permission can only result in a free-fall into endless binge eating, and that structure can only mean very rigid, restrained rules about eating that feel burdensome and unnatural. (Naturally, most of them also believe that the latter is the Right way to eat, the former is Wrong.)

People also seem to believe that, if fat people aren’t being told their weight is bad, and being threatened with ostracization and disease and death, they will have no motivation to care for their health. I am living proof that this is not true. Maybe some people need threats to motivate them, but I rejected the idea that I had to lose weight or else well over a decade ago. I am perhaps lucky that I did this at a young enough age that I was able to take time to fumble around and find my way with eating and movement – not an easy task in a culture that is increasingly disordered about both of these things.

Now that I’m 35, doing things to feel good on a daily basis, that also happen to reduce my long-term risk, are salient rewards for me. I care about my health, and I’m convinced it’s because I learned to care about myself, rather than to denigrate myself. I’m convinced it’s because I refused to internalize the stigma that wants me to believe I am less-than, a burden on society, an eyesore, an unattractive nuisance; because I learned that my body belongs to me, that I don’t owe my looks or my health to anyone else, and that my body is my home.

I’m also convinced it’s because I gave myself permission to eat food, while supporting myself with structured meals and snacks. Eventually, I moved from having random snack food for lunch to having meals that incorporated multiple food groups. Then I started adding on more fruits and vegetables because I learned to like them more, and noticed that they made me feel good.

I also started playing around with exercise — first, as basic transportation to work, which took all notions of choice or resentment out of the equation. Then, as fun things I voluntarily chose to do, like snorkeling, and underwater headstands, and finding the secret beach, because they were fun and made life worth living. When old, disordered thoughts cropped up (and they did, reader), I noticed them, labelled them crap, and refocused on having fun. Finally, I’ve learned to incorporate movement as a basic part of my daily maintenance. My daily walking recess makes me stronger and gives me that wonderful sweaty, heart-pounding, lung-stretching, slight-muscle-burning sensation that I used to find so uncomfortable, but now crave.

Maybe the permissive, autonomy-building approach doesn’t work for everyone, but those of us for whom paternalism and coercion don’t work deserve to have healthy, peaceful relationships with food and movement, too.

That’s who this blog is for. That’s who my whole life’s work is for: the rest of us.

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Proof of life in comments.

Your friendly neighbourhood plague rat.

French version of this post here, courtesy Stéphanie Potin-Grevrend.

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I like to go on walks. I live in a good neighbourhood for it, near the beach.

During the summer, I spent a fair bit of time swimming at the beach. I have a lot of anxiety about going outside at all, thanks to about twenty years of sexual harassment and fat bashing from strangers, so it took me a couple of summers of living here to work up to that point. (And I still got exhorted to consider polyamory by some dude on the boardwalk. This world is just one big ambivalent boner, sometimes.)

I got a swimsuit that covers me nearly head-to-toe. I practiced going down to the water on my own and putting my toes in, and then walking back home. Then I practiced going down to the water and wading around and then walking home. Finally, one day I cannonballed into the lake from a pier, and this summer I went swimming several times and really enjoyed myself.

I was aware, the entire time, that the people around me (it’s crowded) were very likely judging me. Or at least, some of them were. Maybe some of them pitied me, maybe some of them thought I was “inspiring” for being a fat lady exercising in public (maybe I was on a Weight Loss Journey ™ !) Probably some of them just thought I was gross, disliked having to see my fat body in tight swimwear, and wished I had stayed at home under a blanket. Such is life.

It is painful to know that people make judgments like this, and that they sometimes directly tell me all about it (WOOOO FAT BITCH!!!), but ultimately I have decided it is none of my business until they make it my business. And despite being an oversensitive sadface whinybaby, I work hard to fight against the impulses that tell me to just stay home forever, or at least until everyone else has been killed in the coming zombie apocalypse.

(No shit, sometimes I fantasize about a world where I am blissfully, peacefully alone, and can walk down the street without anyone looking at me or thinking anything about me; where my body and my time are not subject to the whims of strangers. I watched the first twenty minutes of 28 Days Later with morbidly rapt attention.)

Now that the weather has cooled and the fall colours are out, there’s no more lake swimming to be had, but plenty of lovely walking to do. I have a complicated relationship with exercise, due to a history of overdoing it and hurting myself, but since I work from home now, I have to be extra mindful of making the effort to get out.

I make that effort as often as I can, because it makes my legs feel awesome, because my knees get cranky if I sit around for a couple of days in a row, and because I love the slight burn and tingle in my lungs and heart from going up a really good hill. I love having an excuse to listen to loud, obscene music through eardrum-killing headphones, and to be as close as I can get to blissful aloneness. I love coming home and peeling off my sweater and letting the sweat dry and feeling the happy warmth in my chest while I drink delicious cold water.

But when I stood up to go for a walk on Tuesday, I hesitated more than usual. The conversation of last week – about how fat people need to be shamed and harassed for their own good – came back to me. I was hyper aware that, if I went out, people would be judging me, pitying me, or wondering if they should speak up and point out to me, for my own good, that I am fat.

I went out anyway. Almost the entire time, I felt like a plague rat. I felt that people would look at me and assume I was diseased, and shudder and move away. And even though I was doing something ostensibly good for my health, this understanding and awareness that people find me gross did not make it easier or more rewarding to care for my health.

The emotional risk of being fat in public makes it tempting to not care for yourself by going out and getting some fresh air and walking around like you deserve to be in this world. The emotional risk of being fat in public makes it safer to stay home in your dinky, 90-year old city apartment with creaky floors and a tiny living room in which it is not fun for you, or for your downstairs neighbours, to exercise.

Eventually, though, I got home and enjoyed the lovely feeling of having moved my body in a way that wasn’t punishing. I took this picture and reminded myself, once again, that I deserve to exist and to take care of myself in the ways I deem most appropriate. And that, even though people will question me and judge me, they are wrong. They are on the wrong side of history, and until the sea change happens that will show just how ridiculous our culture was for stigmatizing people based on appearance, I need to survive.

I went out again the next day, and I’ll go again today. It’s stupid that it has to be an act of rebellion, but for now, in this world, that’s exactly what it is.

Since this is a post about my personal experience, either play nice or don’t play. Suggestions of noisy music are welcome.

Food and exercise are not matter and anti-matter.

French version of this post here, courtesy Stéphanie Potin-Grevrend.

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How often do you hear someone say they need to “work off breakfast,” or that they spoiled their workout by eating some calorific food afterward?

I hear it quite a bit, and it always bothers me. Let me count the ways.

First of all, reducing food to “calorie intake” and movement to “calorie expenditure” – setting them up as opposites, one cancelling the other out – disregards the real, complex, essentially human experiences of eating and moving.

It sets food and movement up to be rivals, competing for control over your weight. In doing so, it centers weight as The Priority.

It assumes one should always be in a state of calorie deficit, pursuing weight loss to the exclusion of enjoying your food, or moving for the fun of it.

It also implies that the only reason a person would exercise is for the purpose of off-setting what they eat – that food is matter, and exercise anti-matter.

Black or white. Zero or one. Positive or negative. All or nothing.

Even if you have given up the intentional pursuit of weight loss, it can be hard to escape this kind of thinking. It is imbedded, in many ways, into our culture and our language about eating and exercise. If you find yourself thinking this way, that’s okay – we all internalize messages from our surroundings. The question is whether you examine those messages, and how you act on them.

The best reminder you can give yourself in these instances, where either you have thought of food and exercise as negating each other, or someone else has sent this message in your general direction, is this:

Food and exercise are not enemies. They are friends. They work together to create and sustain life.

If you were to only eat without moving, you might remain nourished, but gradually become weakened in your bones and muscles, your cardiovascular fitness would wane, and you would become very ill. If your internal organs also stopped moving, you would die.

On the flip side, if you were to only move without eating, you would also become weakened (but probably not gradually), and then you would die.

Important note here: “moving” means literally that – any movement that you do in a day. We’ve come to prioritize and privilege rarefied forms of movement in our culture, usually involving gym memberships and special clothes and/or equipment, but your body does not care – your body cares about whether you can do your activities of daily living with adequate energy and strength, and how well your heart and lungs function. You don’t need a gym membership to do any of that (though if you just like going to the gym, then bully for you.)

Simply moving through your day – hell, simply existing without voluntary movement at all – uses up energy. But how many people reduce their activities of daily living to just “calories burned?”

“Oh, I need to burn some calories, so I guess I’ll clean up the kitchen and then concentrate on this book for a while!”

It would be absurd – because even simple activities like kitchen-cleaning and book-reading are about so much more than just calories burned. They are experiences that involve emotion, problem-solving, engaging your senses. They are the stuff human lives are made of.

You cannot reduce human life to a thermodynamic transaction.

There is more to it than that.

There is more to eating than calories, even biochemically – there are vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, essential amino acids, antioxidants, electrolytes, fluids, dietary fibre, all the raw materials for repairing and remodeling every single cell in your body. More than that, there is culture, family history, occasion, artistry, skill, growth, feelings of joy or resentment, pleasure or distaste. There are emotional associations and memories, and there is the basic affirmation of life – “I need to eat to survive, and I am worth the effort to survive.” Every act of eating reaffirms your right to exist.

There is more to movement than calories, even biochemically – there is bone strengthening, muscle building, aerobic fitness, neural growth, balancing of hormones and lipid transporters, and every single involuntary movement and chemical reaction carried on below your conscious awareness, working around the clock to stave off entropy. More than that, there is fun, adventure, challenge, mastery, strength, place associations, social bonding, the experience of being an alive thing on a round, blue speck in the galaxy. There is a basic affirmation that you exist in a world you were designed to navigate.

Even if you are disabled, even if you have some impairment, your body is still exploring – from the bat of an eyelash to a trip to the bathroom. You are negotiating, discovering, navigating a physical existence.

You were made for this world. You belong in it, and it belongs to you.

Eating and moving: your right to exist, and a world in which to exist. They are not rivals. They do not annihilate each other. They collaborate to make a whole person, body and soul.

Stories of dangerously reductionist thinking in comments.

Gym class.

Let’s talk about gym class here for a minute.

I wasn’t a particularly fat kid, but I was always slightly larger than average. I was heavier, and a little taller, than most of the kids my age (until they caught up with me, height-wise, later on — then I was just heavier.)

And though I’m a naturally pretty strong person (HULK SMASH), and have always had a freakish ability to do sit-ups, I have never been athletically gifted. There are lots of reasons for that, biomechanically and personally, but I’ll just leave it at that to avoid the million-word rant on growing up a flat-footed, bookish girl in contemporary America.

Nevertheless, the memories of my childhood are filled with movement, with gleeful sweat and breathlessness. I was terrified to learn to ride my first bike, but I did it, damnit, because there is pretty much nothing better than the feeling of being on two wheels, of that flexible, dynamic balance that depends entirely on speed.

Before we were old enough to know better, my girlfriends and I spent large chunks of our adolescence doing insane things on bicycles. Unfinished construction sites, vacant lots, empty meadows, random kid-created trails through the forest tracing the precipices of ravines that would’ve made our parents faint if they’d known what we were up to — that’s where we spent our time as girls, just average girls, none of us particularly athletic — on mountain bikes in Oregon.

Then there were the summers spent in pools, developing underwater sunburns, learning to hold our breath for a solid two minutes, sinking to the bottom of the pool and screaming to each other in a cataclysm of bubbles. My dad would hide quarters on the bottom of the pool, and this chubby, short-sighted kid would surface dive eight or ten feet to retrieve them, sans glasses or goggles, with absolutely no problem at all.

And then there was the issue of gym class.

It started off well enough, in elementary school, when it was just glorified indoor recess, with floor hockey sticks, pillow-soft dodgeballs, and the occasional “slightly irregular but for-reals” parachute donated for the purpose of making little kids pee themselves with joy — and, once a year, the climbing rope that only one strangely monkeyish kid would ever be able to climb. (Thank you, Mr. Jukkala, for the memories.)

At the end of the school year, we’d have a field day, where everyone ran in goofy obstacle courses and sack races, just for the excellent ridiculous fun of it, and — God’s honest truth — I even once did a charity run when I was ten, because I had two secret weapons: Fleetwood Mac on my dad’s cassette Walkman, and I skipped the entire way. Because I sucked at running even then.

In short, I had a pretty happily active childhood, despite being the unathletic and slightly fat child of two decidedly unathletic and slightly fat parents. Until gym class became a “thing,” that is. A graded, micromanaged academic requirement, starting in junior high — unhappily coinciding with the absolute social, emotional, and physical nadir of human existence. Or at least of mine.

If you want to destroy all the inherent joy in something, slap a grade on it. Go ahead; I’ll wait. Put a grade on your bleary, early-morning coffee-making skills, or set a number of minutes of daily television-watching required to achieve aptitude, or hell, challenge yourself to finish peeing in record time, and watch as the fun (or even the absolute neutrality) of these things is eroded, little by little, until it becomes a chore to drink coffee, watch TV, or take a leak.

Then compare how well you do on those chores compared to your peers, and watch your self-respect begin to circle down that little, demoralizing drain shaped like a “C” — a statistically average mark — written in red ink.

Now, this isn’t something I’ve made up for the benefit of a bunch of lazy icky fatties who want an excuse to feel like they’re not total losers. It’s a phenomenon confirmed by behavioural research — and one of many reasons why I have mixed feelings about school in general, though I’m naturally a good student.

But it’s one thing to destroy the intrinsic joy of doing, say, a set of math problems or memorizing the names of the presidents of the United States — and if a kid has a good enough teacher, or naturally enjoys a subject enough, they might even make it through school without having their spirit crushed in a particular topic.

It is another thing entirely to interfere with a person’s joy in one of the basic requirements of biological life.

When you put a hamster in a cage, you’re preparing to give it a pretty bare-bones existence. And what do you provide it? Food, of course, and definitely water. A place to poop and a place to sleep. And a hamster wheel.

It’s considered cruel to keep a dog tethered to one spot without a place to run, or cooped up in a tiny apartment unless the owner is really dedicated to going on walks. Even my cats, the most indolent creatures ever to occupy the earth, need strings and foam balls and random, crumpled up pieces of paper to bat inconveniently beneath furniture. They sleep, eat, and poop for twenty-three-and-a-half hours of the day…but for the remaining thirty minutes? They are tearing it up like it is their mission in life.

Animals need movement, and even have an appetite for it, just as they do food and sleep. Also, humans are animals. We need to move. All of us — even those of us who are not physically gifted. But, just as with eating, external pressures and expectations get in the way of our ability to negotiate this very primal urge.

People say we need gym class because OMGCHILDHOODOBESITY!!! People say that this generation of children is hopelessly addicted to screens of every variety, that they will be the first generation to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents.

People, in short, say a lot of stupid things.

You want to help fat kids move? Help them enjoy moving. Help all kids to enjoy moving. And how do you do that? Well, I can tell you how you don’t — by throwing a bunch of them together like army recruits to do bootcamp calisthenics, and then give them mostly-arbitrary grades for it.

Just like with eating, helping kids to move well requires a division of responsibility — which, strangely enough, is pretty much what happens when you turn kids loose on a playground: the adults choose when and where and what to make available, and the kids take it from there. They get to decide how much, and whether, and which. And, unless you’re a disgusting misanthrope, you’ll trust the kids to work to their own level, to their own strengths and capacities.

You won’t interfere, you won’t get heavy-handed, you won’t suck all the natural joy out of it. And you’ll leave the red pen in the classroom.

You probably have some choice words for gym class. And that’s why the good Lord gave us comments.

What’s all this, then?

It’s my blog about normal eating. You’re reading it.

So, I’m working on this thing I like to call my Unified Theory of Kicking Ass. What that means is, I’m reading and learning stuff about normal eating and nutrition and how people change their behaviour.

I have a pretty decent understanding of this stuff already, since I’ve almost finished my nutrition degree, but I’m looking for something more.

Something that will really help people. Something that will totally kick ass.

The thing is, there are a lot of useful theories around. There’s intuitive eating, and eating competence, and demand feeding, and health at every size, and various non-diet approaches to good nutrition. And we’re going to discuss them all on this blog.

They’re based on solid evidence. They work. And a lot of people really, really like the idea of putting them to work in their own lives.

But that can be really, really hard to do.

I know because I went through it myself.

I had a serious Dieting Incident that really messed me up. It took me five years to relearn to eat, and move, and feel normal with my body again.

I’m not perfect by any means, but I’ve reached a place that is, apparently, enviable: I feel comfortable around food.

I don’t think of food as “good” or “bad.” I don’t see my weight as a reflection of my character. I combine what tastes good and what feels good without a lot of thought. I mostly get hungry at regular times, and I mostly eat until I feel just right. My weight is stable, finally.

I’m cool with food. And I’m pretty cool with my body, too.

Five years ago, I literally thought I would never get to this place. I cried just thinking about it. (Yeah, I’m emotional like that.)

But I’m here, and it’s every bit as awesome as I’d hoped. And the reason I’m writing about it is because, after being involved in the Fatosphere, and reading so many discussions about food and intuitive eating and whatnot, I know there are tons of people out there who feel like I did — that normal eating will never happen for them.

Well, I think it can. And I’m here to help.

Normal eating is what we’re born to do — and I truly believe we can relearn how to do it, if it’s necessary. (And it is.)

So, you’re here. I’m over the moon you’re here, because I really need your help with this.

I’ll tell you what I figure out along the way. I’ll bounce ideas off you. In return, I hope you’ll give me your suggestions, your thoughts, your stories and your support.

Help me develop this thing, this Unified Theory, and I’ll be your biggest fan. Seriously. How could I not?