Let’s Call a Ceasefire

Have you ever noticed that weight loss is always described in military terms or as something to win?  A few clicks on Fitness magazine’s website quickly provided me with many perfect examples. Take a closer look at newspapers, magazines and commercials – the war theme is everywhere.

 

  • “Beat the odds, and your genes, with these strategies to lose weight and keep it off for good.”
  • “For years you’ve been told that saturated fat is public enemy No. 1 in the battle against obesity and heart disease.”
  • “Researchers now believe that it’s best to tackle exercise first.”
  • “Losing weight is a precise numbers game, so you can’t really afford to loosen the reins too much.”
  • “The story of how she conquered her emotional eating habit.”
  • “Daily weighing is a winning weight-loss strategy.”
  • “Gaining more than five pounds over a week is a red flag.”
  • “Score a stronger core.”
  • “Burn calories and blast fat fast.”
  • “Tone your trouble zones.”
  • “Fit women whose flab-to-fierce successes will inspire you.”
  • “Don’t let these 12 bummers sabotage your spring or summer fitness plans.”
  • “The Seven Day Fat Fighting Menu.”
  • “Expert advice on how to fight your body’s natural chemical slowdown.”
  • “Battle to the finish line with our head-to-toe top picks for performance running gear.”

Common metaphors shape the way we perceive the world. By using these terms, we imply that weight loss is a struggle, one that requires you fight your own body to win. It also dictates the solutions we think are available. If losing weight is a battle, we choose strategies like obeying superiors (fitness experts), relying on willpower to fight obstacles (cravings and fatigue) and dehumanizing the enemy (berating ourselves for being fat). In our society’s war paradigm, we only view self-care as a means to stay motivated and have the energy to continue the fight.

At first, I wondered if I could use conflict resolution terms and techniques to create new positive metaphors. However, I realized that by doing so, I am acknowledging that a conflict existed in the first place and that it may arise again in the future. I settled on a completely different metaphor.

I am not at war; instead, I am caring for a newborn baby. Look at how drastically this changes my approach:

Discerning over Obeying
Instead of relying on external experts to tell me how to win the weight loss battle, I listen to my own body’s cues. Babies cry when they’re hungry and stop when they’re full. They know the exact amount needed to feel content. I will remain mindful while eating and alert to my body’s sensations rather trusting the latest fitness industry leader or shocking media headline.

Health over Weight Loss
Instead of making weight loss something to win or lose, I remove it altogether from the priority list. Babies are seeking contentment, not a certain physique.  By listening to their body, their weight will fall where it should for optimum health. If I place health and contentment above all else, my weight will naturally fall to its intended number, which may or may not fit society’s standards. It is a side effect, not the goal.

Support over Coercion
Instead of using willpower to push through discomfort, I will pay attention to what is causing the discomfort and tend to it in a positive way. When babies cry, it is usually one of four things – they need food, sleep, cuddling or a diaper change. Before parents begin to tell the difference between these needs, they try each one until the baby is content.  I will try all of my self-care options (more sleep, time with friends, more exercise, etc.) until the issue of willpower resolves itself.

Natural over Processed
Instead of choosing modified diet foods, I will choose unprocessed and organic as much as possible. A mother’s milk has what a baby needs; the closer to its original form, the better. However, it is not always practical. Mothers may pump breast milk or supplement with formula, depending on the situation. I will be flexible in my food choices, yet strive for pure, natural forms of food.

So, although the title for this post is “Let’s Call a Ceasefire,” from now on I will remove aggressive military terms from my vocabulary when talking about my health. I am not attacking, fighting, battling or trying to win the war on my weight. I am nurturing, nourishing and caring for my body. YAWN. Time for a nap!

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Crossword Clues

crossword puzzle

“They say Confucius does his crossword with a pen.” — Tori Amos, Happy Phantom

When I do the occasional crossword, I start with the Across clues and see how many I can answer before moving to the Down column. Usually, when I go back, clues that stumped me the first time are more obvious with a few more letters. In some cases, I realize that I had the wrong answer.

My crossword puzzle “strategy” serves as an apt metaphor for an epiphany I had recently.

For as long as I can remember, losing weight was the prerequisite to any other important goal in my life. “Just get your health in order and then you can begin.” I thought this would give me the confidence, discipline and energy to pursue other personal developments and dreams.

In other words, I wouldn’t let myself move to the Down clues until I’d answered all the Across ones first. Even though “insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results,” I earnestly tried so many times. But without any new insights, it was pointless.

This week, I attended a yoga class for the first time, something I’ve wanted to try for ages. Usually, many fears stop me. What will I wear? What will other people in the class think of me? I only have so much time in the day – shouldn’t I be doing something that would help me lose weight faster?

Yet after the class, I realized that I’d finally switched columns. By getting in touch with my body and relaxing my mind, I will gain new letters to help me work through the entire puzzle. The Across clues (or weight loss) won’t be as difficult or feel as impossible to solve. Each column informs the other; they aren’t separate and linear.

When I’ve exhausted all resources and have those last boxes left, I can ask for help. Every crossword puzzle has those last few that you just don’t know, no matter how many clues you have.

Where else am I stopping when I don’t know the Across clues? All of my professional jobs have led to stress and burnout. What can I do to switch columns and help me see this issue in a new light, with higher level insights from myself or others?

Photo by gajman on flickr

Food for Thought

As we all know, food is not just energy for our body. Food can represent comfort, tradition, medicine, celebration, culture, status and love — the list is endless.  We associate food with memories and places we’ve been – both positive and negative. To complicate matters, our current society has a lot to say about what you should eat and how you should look. Quick judgments are made about your character by what’s on your plate and how much you weigh. There’s an obesity epidemic, have you heard? Your weight is everyone’s problem.

Like each of us, I’ve absorbed information about food over a lifetime and processed it from my unique perspective. I don’t expect that this metaphor will resonate for everyone, though it may provide some food for thought. (Pun intended) I uncovered this metaphor after asking “But why do I feel this way” over and over. I knew my unhealthy behaviors were based upon complex, underlying beliefs. I just didn’t know what those beliefs were.

Restricted Eating

Based on my internal questioning, I found that the act of dieting reinforces a restrictive mindset that permeates all aspects of my life. It represents holding myself back, denying who I am. It is the physical act, every day, of telling myself that I should do as I’m told.

You should be a size 6. You should always be selfless and fade into the background. Be responsible. Don’t bother anyone. (Again, these are just my own feelings) Ideas about weight are intermingled with other statements about my place in the world.

Therefore, when I fail a diet and gain weight, I feel exposed and vulnerable. I’m suddenly unable to hide from the disapproving masses. Appearing in public when I’m overweight is like wearing a neon sign that says “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Please don’t look at me.”

In the same way, when I speak my mind, put myself first or become the center of attention, my immediate reaction is to retract into my shell.  My “good” self, who pushes me toward restriction, is frightened. She wants to hurry back before everyone sees what we’ve done.

Overeating

However, the other part of me is angry and wants to take advantage of this opportunity. If dieting represents restriction, then binging/overeating represents complete and utter freedom. It’s my untamed ego, on the loose yet still laying low. However, she is hounded by my good self the entire time – “We should feel guilty. This isn’t right. Let’s turn back.”

I see the “bad” self in dreams when I’m screaming at people, breaking things and beating up authority figures. She doesn’t appear in my waking hours, thankfully, but it’s an expression of frustration for years of self-denial.  In real life, instead of breaking the law, I eat whatever I want because it’s a way of saying “FU” to the world of restriction – food or otherwise. It’s like a jail break – I want to have as much fun as fast as possible before I’m caught.

Good or Bad, Still Trapped

Obviously, these are opposites on a continuum. When I artificially hold myself at the restricted end of the continuum, I am anxious and tense. I always fear failure. When I can’t do it anymore, I spring to the other end like releasing a taut rubber band. I eat to show my independence, to show that no one can stop me. But soon, the eyes of disapproval are too much and I trudge back to restriction. Either way, my soul is being controlled. Even when I think I have freedom, I am still just reacting to the perceived voice that judges me.

Complete Paradigm Shift

So how will this play out? Will I scurry back to restriction or careen out of control?

I’ve decided to throw the continuum out the window. No matter where I am, even in the middle, I am still a prisoner to these illogical beliefs. I want real freedom. I hope that by dragging these beliefs out into the open, the light of day will expose them as frauds.

Photo courtesy of photographer Heather Hanson

Coming Into Focus

I have a fear of seeing my photograph — a fear much more intense than simply being unpleasantly surprised by an unflattering angle or poor fashion choice. My weight is part of it, certainly. It is always jarring to see yourself as other may see you, especially when the weight gain has been so dramatic and fast.

I realized tonight that avoiding photographs is symbolic of my inability to look at myself — I’m afraid of what I’ll find. I fear nothingness; the lack of something unique to mark me as an independent human being, capable of true, original creativity.

I’ve begun to wonder if I focus on other people as a way of making up for my perceived emptiness. It also diverts my attention from introspection. “I’m sorry I have nothing to offer, let me invest all of myself into you. I can feel worthy in my selflessness.”

A striking scene from the Stephen King film Dolores Claiborne comes to mind — a woman was so overwhelmed with her long repressed memory of sexual abuse, that for a split second, she looked in the mirror and her body was facing away from her. She was looking at the back of her head. It’s hard to explain, but this scene terrified me.

It is a similar feeling — an overwhelming need to turn away and avoid the chaos and pain of feeling empty. Perhaps my weight gain was an unconscious strategy to keep me from looking too closely. It has certainly worked. And although this blog is a means of internal reflection, I don’t take it to the next level. It remains an idea, tentatively waiting for action.

So…I took my picture tonight — a few shots in the mirror. I stared directly into the camera for the first one but it was too much to bear. So I gazed away. Once I viewed the picture enlarged on the computer, I saw someone I didn’t recognize. I blurred the photo as a way to blunt the feelings that arose. When it’s out of focus, it’s not as overwhelming and allows me to keep looking — a good first step.

I want to treat myself as a person worthy of respect, just as I would anyone else. If that strange person looking back at me was indeed a stranger, I would treat them kindly and gently, reassuring them of their value. Why wouldn’t I do the same for myself?

Walking Through Fire

“If you suppress grief too much, it can well redouble.” –Moliere

Over the past two years, I’ve gained and lost the same 25 pounds twice.  Each time, I tried to approach it with more self-awareness, but obviously I haven’t yet reached the core. This time I won’t look for a new exercise regimen or eating plan. I already know what to do; spending time reading about the latest fitness trend will only delay the inevitable.

Instead of focusing on these external distractions, I’ve created a metaphor to give me strength and new insights as I face the emotions underlying self-sabotage. This struggle is much larger than just weight loss (no pun intended), so I’ve settled on a visual that speaks to personal transformation. I also believe this will be a more compassionate path, something that was missing in past attempts to “whip myself into shape.”

The phoenix (as the story goes in various cultures) is a beautiful bird that lives 500 years. Once prepared to die, it creates a nest, which bursts into flames. From the ashes, a new phoenix emerges.  In keeping with its method of regeneration, the phoenix is often depicted in bright warm colors like red, orange and yellow.

How does the phoenix relate to my physical transformation? I began to see many interesting parallels when I examined what happens to the body when you lose weight.

Untapped Potential
In very simplistic terms, your body’s fat cells are reservoirs of energy, waiting for release. When more exercise or reduced calories generate a need for more energy, the fat cells release triglyceride components into the bloodstream, shrinking the size of the fat cell.

I love the idea that I have huge reserves of energy and potential — ready for action! I imagine the triglyceride components as tinder for the fire — fluffy and flammable. Right now, the tinder sits in my cells, taking up space and not serving any purpose. However, once released, it will quickly catch fire and ensure that the fire continues burning.

It also occurred to me that muscle is often hidden under expanded fat cells. In order to build upon that secret strength, I must break down muscle (create that fiery nest) so it can grow back stronger. Once the fat cells reduce, my muscles will emerge.

The Same, Yet Different
After several biochemical changes, the released triglyceride components eventually provide energy for the body to carry out essential processes like breathing, blood flow and moving muscles. The heat generated helps regulate the body at 98.6 degrees.

This made me think about how “renewable” my body is. Just like the ashes of the phoenix, energy is changing its form to meet the needs of my body. It doesn’t dissipate into nothingness. Rather, it creates something new from the self that already exists. That’s powerful — I don’t need to look outside myself in order to transform. It’s all within.

Pain in Transformation
I imagine there must be immense pain for the mythical phoenix when it bursts into flames. I know that the same will be true for me in this process. My weak body will rail against the introduction of exercise; my mind will invent countless reasons why chocolate is the only thing that will ease my depression. Discomfort and sadness are a given, but the outcome will be worth the pain.

I haven’t decided exactly how I will use this metaphor to push through obstacles in my journey, but the symbolism seems ripe for investigation. I will see how it plays out…First step – find a beautiful phoenix picture for my new home.

Photo courtesy of photographer Heather Hanson