Category Archives: Thoughts

Gym Thoughts Are Relentless

 

hamster-wheel

My brain is exhausted.  I cannot stop the constant stream of thoughts both for and against exercise, shoulds and shouldn’ts, wills and won’ts… the clashing and battling seems like it will never quiet down, will never be resolved.

Do I go to the gym tonight? What would I do there? I could run on the treadmill, but I dunno, I’m feeling pretty tired and I don’t really want to do anything too intense.  I could just walk for a little bit.  But then what’s the point of that?

Well, that would be better than nothing, right? At least I would be burning some calories.

Oh, wait, I’m not supposed to be thinking in terms of weight loss or calories. I’m supposed to be exercising in ways that I enjoy, only in ways that make me feel good.  I’m supposed to listen to my body and honor it and move how it wants to move.

Okay, well how does it want to move right now?

….

I’m on the bus, I just finished a full day of work.  My eyes feel tired, they have that burning feeling right behind them that just makes them want to shut.  I ate a piece of chocolate raspberry cheesecake at work.  I feel fat now, I can’t deny that.  I feel fat and guilty and I can feel the familiar urgency to do something to combat that overindulgence, to work it off immediately, to run and run until my thighs don’t chafe anymore, till my cheeks don’t bounce and my back doesn’t have automatic folds.

But that’s impossible to do in one workout.  One workout doesn’t do shit.  So what’s the point of going tonight? If I go tonight, I’ll have to go again tomorrow and the next day and the next, and I know I’ll never keep doing that, so isn’t it all just futile to begin with? What’s the point of going at all if it’s not part of a pattern?

I know the irrationality of this.  Logically, intellectually, I know that, in order to get to a place where I can truly and totally accept my body, this is the opposite of the kind of mentality I need to have.  I shouldn’t be thinking of the future, but of the present. How would it feel today to move my body? How would it feel right now to lunge or ellipticize or walk on incline?

The thing is I find it utterly impossible to even entertain the idea of exercising without taking weight loss into consideration.  I can’t walk up a single flight of stairs without picturing my thighs slimming down, ever so microscopically, step by step.  I can’t lift a heavy box without relishing in the bicep burn.

I’m so tired of the thoughts.  They take up so much space in my brain.  Like a never-ending hamster wheel.  And I can’t help thinking… if only it were a literal hamster wheel.

At least then I’d be getting my heart rate up.

 

 

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Jeans

The other day I decided that I was going to confront my fear of jeans.

Everyone at work is always talking about “getting” to wear jeans.  They’re so “comfortable” and “casual.” Who are these people and what kind of jeans are they buying?

When I contemplate putting jeans on, when I even so much as glance at the one surviving pair of jeans I have hanging in my closet, comfort is the furthest thing from my mind.  I go straight to constriction, inflexible, inner-thigh holes, muffin-top, flat butt. I go to all the jeans I used to have that I can’t fit into anymore. I go all the way back to my first pair of Joe’s jeans with a patterned patch on the rear pocket my mom bought me when I was in tenth grade and a size 27.  I go there and I feel the (by now) predictable onslaught of old, buried feelings; I feel a wave of familiarly crushing failure, of humiliation that I had to give away an expensive pair of jeans (and then several increasingly larger pairs) because they no longer came up past my thighs.  I still go there, my non-teenage self, about eight years later.

Why can’t I give myself a break???

Anyway, so it’s getting cool out, crisp and breezy, and I was standing outside on my lunch break and staring at this girl’s butt.  It was an average butt, nothing spectacular, she wasn’t a rail, just normal. And I thought to myself, there’s no reason I can’t have a comfortable, warm, weather-appropriate pair of jeans.

And so I walked, very purposefully, mind you, to Nordstrom Rack, feeling ready to be self-accepting, ready to fight any implications of any particular numbers on any particular tags, and to just find a pair that fit.  Comfortably.

Here's a pic I snapped of myself in the dressing room mirror.   (Heheh)

And voila! Look how GREAT I looked! (Just kidding).

But despite my determination and my relatively calm, collected mindset before the lunchtime shopping extravaganza (challenge, really), I found myself hesitating to take the size 32s off the racks, and sticking to the 31s. That one extra inch, something in my head just wouldn’t let me go there.

The first pair of 31s didn’t even come close to buttoning.  They didn’t even entirely clear my thighs. And I knew this would happen, too.

… the thoughts started to bubble up, I could feel them forming and festering, like water being heated on a stove, little bubbles at first, then bigger, stronger, threatening to blow the lid clear off.  I’ve never worn bigger than a 32, and the way these jeans were fitting (or straining, rather), it seemed like I’d have to go all the way up to maybe a 34, and they rarely even carry that size on the racks.  Soon I won’t be able to shop at regular department stores. Soon I’ll know names like Lane Bryant and have to buy jeans at Costco and wear only miu mius and black. Lots of black…

I struggled to keep that lid down on those thoughts.  I fought hard. Because I know where that leads, letting the thoughts spill out and over, and I refused to spend the rest of my day under a big, thick cloud of self-loathing, debating whether to throw in the towel on the whole intuitive eating, trust-your-own-body thing and just get back on Weight Watchers.  Quick and easy fix.

Like a Band-Aid.

What deeper issues?

Nothing’s wrong, just fat. Fat’s in the way.

I carefully peeled those jeans off my bulging thighs – how had I not noticed before walking in here how soft and offensively BULGING they are??? – and bit my mental tongue as I tried on the next pair.

Here’s where I stopped feeling shitty about myself, blaming myself, (okay I didn’t stop I just lightened up on the self-hatred a teensy bit) and instead got really pissed.

Same brand – True Religion.  Same size – 31.  And they buttoned.

No, they didn’t fit comfortably, but they fit one hell of a lot more comfortably than the previous pair.   Same number on the sewn-in tag, but undoubtedly different sizes, unless there was some kind of Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants bullshit going on.

I can at least begin to understand how sizes might vary from one brand to the next, but within the same brand? It just doesn’t make any sense. It doesn’t make any sense at all and what infuriates (and saddens) me even more is that I know there are so many women out there who are beating themselves up over these numbers. These numbers rule our lives.  And they’re not even reliable.

I don’t know what I’m suggesting.  I know it’s not possible to throw out the whole sizing system and start afresh, with everything matching up perfectly and consistently across the board, from California to Italy to China (though I’m not aware of any Chinese designers…).  But I just wish we could take some of the stigma off of certain numbers, and, because I know I’m not dramatically overweight, if I’m even technically overweight at all, and because I know there are probably tons of girls just that little bit bigger than me who would love to shop at Nordstrom Rack, I wish the good, quality jeans-makers would go bigger than a size 32.  How is that the biggest size on the rack?  Why is that where they draw the line?

Well, I left the dressing room empty-handed and bought myself a nice, size-free Steve Madden purse.  Because purses are non-threatening.

 

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Teach Me How to Cope

Today is one of those days where it’s all you can do not to set a match to a pile of envelopes and sprint out of the office.  This job is soulless, it’s meaningless, it’s boring, it’s mundane, it’s trivial, it’s a waste of my brain. My precious attention span is being used up, I can feel it draining away, bleeding into the greedy pockets of these real estate brokers… if I stay here any longer I WILL do something crazy.

Like forget to track the mail one day.

Or eat chicken wings at reception.  And answer the phone without wiping off the sauce.

I can’t focus on a thing. I have my list of to-dos, I have my priorities, my tasks, my chores… but I don’t want to do any of them. Nothing. Because I hate it here. But I have to stay… at least for four more months.  Four. More. Months.

But I guess that’s a different issue. The present issue, the problem staring at me in the face right now is how to get through this day, this hour… without consuming everything remotely edible within a 27-floor radius.

Food is everywhere… not only in the gift shop downstairs, but in the Starbucks across the lobby, the Tully’s near the elevators, the vending machine by the mail room.  Food promises distraction, sweetness when things get sterile, warmth when things get cold, crunch when I’m feeling hopeless and low and bored.

I’ll eat till I’m too full, then spend the rest of the day marinating in the tragedy of my discomfort. Then I’ll go home, eat “dinner,” look at myself in the mirror, bury myself in my comforters and wait till it’s time to do it all over again.

I’ve come to realize that, for the past six years or more, when it has come to coping with my emotions, the blanket-soother known as food has covered pretty much all my bases.  Loneliness, despair, frustration, sadness, boredom, anger, confusion, even joy… all of these things have been kind of balled up into one big mass of “feeling” and remedied – numbed – with food.  It’s no surprise, then, that I now find myself poorly equipped (understatement)  to cope with my emotions, especially today, in the oh-so-public workplace, where sinking beneath a hot bath is neither an acceptable nor an accessible option.  And anyway, hot baths are effectively soothing only when I’m at least somewhat chilly to begin with.

So what about summertime?

No one has ever taught me coping skills, and they are so important.   I don’t even know how to identify my emotions with any semblance of accuracy, let alone feel them, deal with them.  Why haven’t I learned these things?

In a lot of the books I have read about disordered eating and the path to recovery, the path to discovering your physical hunger and disentangling it from your emotional hunger, the most crucial step is always, essentially, to figure out what it is you’re feeling when you find yourself bingeing (restricting, depriving, throwing up, whatever the case may be), and then, once you have identified that feeling, to find a different way to cope.

I get it. I understand it. It makes perfect sense to me.

And yet, I don’t seem to be able to put those pieces together.

Yes, here I am at work. I am lonely amongst all these people. They are people who don’t know me, people who have different values and who work there for far different reasons. They don’t care to know me, and I don’t particularly care to know them.

I am also frustrated. I am frustrated that the first thing this crabby old woman named Pat says to me on a Monday morning, before I’m even technically on the clock, before I’ve even changed out of my boots, is: “Good morning, I just wanted to let you know that there’s a jam in the color printer.”

I am also scared. I am scared that I won’t find it within myself to do what I truly want to do, to follow through with the arduous and expensive path to grad school and beyond, and that I will just stay here.  Settle. I’ll stay behind this desk, stuffing envelopes, processing multi-million-dollar closings on commercial real estate properties (not my money), feeling simultaneously indignant and embarrassed that I, an Ivy League graduate, am where I am.  And then proceeding to feel disgusted for feeling so entitled and self-righteous.

Okay, there, I’ve done some of the investigative work, some of the naming and classifying.  Now what?

I’m not physically hungry.  In fact, I ate lunch only a little over an hour ago.  But I still want to go downstairs and order a large, extra-dark, with-whip hot chocolate and an old-fashioned doughnut on the side.  I still want to go ramble around in the gift shop and allow the kind yet mildly intrusive Asian man watch me deliberate over king-sized chocolate bars.  It still feels like there cannot possibly be enough food in this building to sate me; surely I would need something more like a Costco-scaled pull-cart stacked with muffins, cinnamon rolls and coffee cakes, at least to start, not this measly bag of Famous Amos cookies.

 

So I guess my question is, how do I cope?

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The Bra Metaphor

I’m writing this post at work.  I’m writing it out of anger.

I ate a 3 Musketeers bar at lunch, and the guilt has been crashing down on me in waves ever since.

I was still a little hungry after my chicken quesadilla, and I wanted chocolate.  So, staying true to the principle of Unconditional Permission, I gave it to myself.

Maybe a 3 Musketeers bar wasn’t really what I wanted.  I think I wanted something with a little more crunch to it, something that would involve a little more teeth-work.  Maybe I would have preferred a Ritter Sport Milk Chocolate with Butter Biscuit Bar, and, since that just seemed far too indulgent (and expensive), I made the mistake of compromising, causing me to now feel guilt rather than satisfaction.  Maybe I was comfortably full two-thirds of the way through the 3 Musketeers, but finished it anyway because it is so hard to wrap up or discard only a few measly bites of a candy bar.  Or maybe I was denying the residual twinge of guilt I felt from eating the quesadilla and, consequentially, decided to eat more in order to bury those feelings for just a little bit longer.

Whatever the cause for my guilt, its effects were obvious.  My bra immediately shrunk.  It must have shrunk three sizes.  I can feel it cutting into the top and sides of my rib cage, and separating my back fat into thick, fleshy halves.  They’re probably visible through the back of my shirt, those unstoppable overflows of flab, which is why I’ll choose to spend the rest of the day sweating rather than take off this sweater.  Rather than let someone see the soft back of me.

I want to take this bra off.  This bra, which entirely escaped my notice all throughout the morning, now clutches at me like the jaws of death.  I’m at the front desk, no one else is around, surely I could just slip it off through my sleeves and tuck it into my bag, very quickly and discreetly, and spend the remaining two and a half hours with my arms folded across my chest.

No, I can’t do that, this is a new job and taking one’s bra off while manning the front desk is probably – definitely – not a good idea.  A client might walk in.

Breathe.  Sit up straight.  Think about something else.

I can’t.  It’s so uncomfortable. I need it off. I hate this job, I hate that nothing ever fits, I hate that I have to keep buying bigger sizes.  I hate bras.  They’re sexist.  And suffocating.

I can imagine the angry red lines that are surely imprinting themselves into my skin as I sit here.  I hate that I have to sit here.  And my pants, the waist, it’s cutting in now too, and I won’t have time to go to yoga later, I’ll never be able to work out again, look at all these overweight office women, soon I’ll be one of them, eating at my desk until my bra pops and I spend my lunch breaks shopping at Ross for sizes I’ve never conceived of…

Breathe.  I accept my body.  I accept my body. I trust my body.  Breathe.

Fuck this.  Fuck spending hours tormenting myself over one candy bar, and fuck struggling to accept myself.  I am so tired of hating my body.  I am so tired of being self-conscious and afraid.  I am so tired of depriving and bingeing and judging and repeating empty mantras in my head to somehow trick my brain into believing I’m a normal human being worthy of love and acceptance. That I’m not disgusting and hideous and irreversibly undesirable.   When am I really going to be free of this? When does it end?

Will it end?

I hate this motherfucking bra.

bra back2

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The Parts We Hide

When you’re looking at your fat, what do you see?

I mean any kind of fat: visible, pinchable fat; imagined, nonexistent fat; any part of your body that appears, to you, to be too big, too fleshy, undesirable, shameful, or disgusting; any part that you spend excessive amounts of time and effort endeavoring to hide or disguise. Think about it.

Yesterday, I sat up in bed, lifted up my shirt and stared at my stomach rolls. I counted them.  I squeezed them.  I hated them.

Fat rolls are something like a faux pas.  They’re cringe-worthy.  If you catch a glimpse of someone’s fat rolls, whether because their jeans are too tight at the waist, or because they forgot themselves, sat down and hunched over while wearing a two-piece, you immediately avert your gaze, as though to spare them the embarrassment, the shame.  Fleshy rolls encapsulate everything awful about fatness, everything horrible about not adequately fulfilling cultural ideals of beauty.

I thought of this while I was staring at my stomach.  Because the more I thought about it, and the longer I stared, I realized the rolls themselves weren’t so inherently repulsive.  In fact, I didn’t even mind them so much (while alone in my room, of course).

It was what they signified that made me want to suck them off with a hand vacuum, or slice them off with a pair of kitchen scissors.  The folds of fleshy skin, spilling over the tight elastic waist of my leggings, were all at once failure, ugliness, loneliness, incompetence, undesirability.

No wonder I always try so hard to hide them.

But what if we changed our beliefs about the parts of us we perceive as shameful? What if we viewed our cellulite, our big puffy cheeks, our fat rolls (real or perceived), with kindness and acceptance?  What if we saw our fat with same kind of neutrality with which we see the palms of our hands?

Think about how much easier, how liberating, your days would be.  You could sit at your desk without constantly adjusting your sweater to ensure that no one can glimpse a stray bulge from a side angle.  You could walk past a window without trying to gauge your thigh-width.  You could see a picture of yourself and just… let it go.

Art by Nikki McClure

Nikki McClure

I wish we would stop hiding ourselves.  Part of the reason society has such a warped perception of what the human body should look like has to do with the fact that only “ideal” bodies are ever out in the open; they’re the only ones for whom exposure is deemed acceptable, leading us all to believe that to wear shorts, or even just a tank top, we have to fit this standard.  Maybe if we stopped hiding, we could all see the full spectrum of bodies that exist.  Maybe we wouldn’t feel so alone.

As I continued to stare at my fat, I tried changing my inner dialogue, that stream of hateful judgments.  Instead, I told it thank you – thank you for getting me through pain, sadness, and loneliness.  Thank you for always being there for me, for helping me to cope.  One day, fat, I hope not to need you anymore, to be able to use methods other than eating to deal with difficult situations and emotions, but for now and for the past, I am grateful.

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Good Morning, Fat

I’ve become painfully aware of how often, over the course of one day, I make body judgments.

"And the verdict is... TOO FAT!"

Me, from the perspective of my love handles.

Once I really started paying attention, I noticed how rarely an hour goes by in which I don’t find myself judging, comparing, envying, speculating, scolding…  I make countless judgments about my roommate’s thighs, my sister’s waist, the girl who pours my coffee’s arms, and (duh) my own body in comparison.  It’s gotten to the point where I am afraid to go to yoga, due to the glistening six packs and never-been-chafed thighs surely waiting for me there.

The other day, my therapist suggested I come up with some affirmations, some positive, individualized statements that I can repeat to myself in these circumstances, when I find myself comparing or judging.  “Ultimately, as you continue repeating them, they’ll begin to be true!” she said.  I held back a scoff.

The word “affirmation” invariably makes me think of Charlotte from Sex and the City (the crazy one!).  I’m not gonna go around spewing some new-age mantra, and tiptoeing through the self-help section.  It hasn’t gotten to that point yet!  Right?

Well, maybe it has.  I started yesterday, and the affirmation of the day was: I accept my body.

It’s kind of nuts how many judgments can present themselves in the mere moments between waking up and dragging yourself to the bathroom.  I think I repeated that statement at least five times before I even got out of bed (in my head, of course.  I could summon the courage to say “I accept my body” aloud only once yesterday.)

The thing is, how are these judgments serving us?

They’re not.

The world wouldn’t end if we abstained from turning and lifting our shirts in the mirror to monitor muffin-tops, or if we refrained from gathering our tummy fat together in our hands.  Our bodies aren’t malicious, half-inflated balloons waiting patiently for that window free of body-checking when they can blow up beyond recognition.  Our bodies are on our team.

I don’t know how the start of your morning generally goes, but mine go something like this:

I wake up.  I throw the covers off, lift up my shirt and look down at my stomach.  Is it bulging more than it was last night? Does my underwear look tighter? I squeeze my tummy fat.  Then, still laying on my back, I bend my knees and look at my thighs. Are they inching closer together? I try to remember what they looked like when my favorite cutoff shorts fit comfortably.  Surely much less triangular.  I then get out of bed, walk a few paces, turn and lift my shirt in the mirror… don’t get me started on mirrors.

I think you get the idea.  Maybe you can even relate to some degree.

So, basically, yesterday morning went something like this: I accept my body, I accept my body, I accept my body, I accept my body, I accept my body…

I can’t say just yet whether these affirmations will work, or what “working” even entails, necessarily… but I will keep at it and keep you posted.  Though I will say, there was one encouraging moment. Towards 8pm, I finally got so fed up with repeating the statement that I changed without looking critically in the mirror or body-checking at all.  I just changed clothes and walked out of the room.  Less opportunity for judgment.  It was kind of liberating – and, hey, it actually saved quite a bit of time.

Do you notice yourself making constant judgments?  How do they serve you?  Have you ever experimented with affirmations?

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