Tuesday, September 17, 2013

You don't know you're beautiful

I have spent the last two hours...TWO HOURS researching sweatpants on the web. What ones look the best? (Seriously, they are SWEATPANTS, does it matter?) Can you/should you wear yoga pants in public? What about undergarments? How do you avoid VPL? Do workout capris look good on short women? Two hours I should have been sleeping I spent obsessing about the fashionability (yes, it's a word) of sweatpants. REALLY?

I get caught in these moments of obsession from time to time when I really start to anguish over my appearance. Am I wearing the right clothes? The right hair? The right make up? It manifests in hours on pinterest or other relevant sites.  I get a disquiet in my spirit and I want to spend lots of time shopping, yet usually end up taking everything back. I start to analyze what other people are wearing.

Note: if you ever catch me staring at you I'm probably wondering if the jeans/top/highlights you are wearing would look good on me. Or you spilled ketchup on yourself, and I'm trying to decide if I should tell you.

During these times of hyper-vigilance on exterior things there really isn't a noticeable change in my outward appearance. But I can tell that I become inwardly focused. I become unsettled, discontent. My world becomes about me, and I'm more concerned with finding the time and money to search for a new outfit (that I will probably return) than I am about being kind and available to those around me.

In my opinion, that's the crux of 1 Peter 3:3-4
"Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight."

For me, the passage isn't saying I should never wear a cute dress or fancy shoes, but external appearances do not define me. Isn't that a hard concept to grasp when my daily inbox is filled with store emails promising all things bright and beautiful? When no matter what we look like we always feel like we need to look better? But it's rubbish. Perishable. If I'm going to spend two hours obsessing about something I want it to make a positive difference in the life of another person, not to lead me to the conclusion that I really should opt out of sweats more than I opt in.

Contemplating the role of sweatpants in modern society (or more accurately, should I wear them to school pickup) led to me to disquiet within my spirit. Focusing on the external never brings me peace. When I'm able to focus on having a gentle and quiet spirit (notice it doesn't actually require that I remain quiet, phew), I'm able to find a portion of that unfading beauty. Something that won't go out of style next season or be too tight if I hit the chocolate a little too hard.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Walk or run?

This morning the alarm clock went off way too early. Well, too early after a second insomniac night. But I knew this was my one chance today to run. If I hadn't signed up for a sprint triathlon next week I surely would have went back to bed or found a different activity I could do later in the day. But I like to run alone and not at the track...which means this was my only moment to squeeze in a run so I don't collapse next Saturday. So I hauled my tired, achy booty out of bed, laced up my shoes and headed out the door.

Note to self: if I ever make the goal of getting up early every day, I must first have the goal of going to bed before midnight.

My entire run I listed out all the arguments for running...and for walking. Do I really HAVE to run to be healthy?

Every weekend my facebook feed is filled with pictures of friends finishing 5K's, 10 K's, mudruns, half marathons, marathons, and triathlons. Has it always been like this? Nope. According to the organization "Running USA" (www.runningusa.org), participation in running events from the 5K on up has increased 80% since 2000. That doesn't mean that 80% of us are running, it means that we have moved from approximately 8.5 million in 2000 to approximately 15.5 million in 2012. Still a small percentage of total population, but it's not just my imagination that more people are running. Women in particular are increasing running participation, especially in the half marathon. All that to say, based on what other people are doing running feels like something I SHOULD be doing. And even when I run, I feel like I SHOULD be running farther (I've already come to terms with the fact that I won't be any faster, so no guilt there).

Second note to self: Running USA keeps track of what half marathon races have the fastest median finish times...and the slowest. If I ever plan on picking a half marathon, I shall pick a slow one.

But is running necessary if my goal is increased overall health? Not necessarily.

The argument for running
  • I can get the same amount of "work" done in less time. I can run for 35 minutes or walk for 55. 
  • There is a sense of accomplishment in doing an activity that growing up I never believed I could actually do.
  • I have met and developed a bond with some really great people through running, even if they are all much faster than me.
  • If I want to run in a road race or mud run with some friends or for a charity, I need to include running in my weekly exercise. As in if I want to run, I need to keep running.
  • The more demand I'm able to put on my cardiovascular system through vigorous exercise, the more benefit to my cardiovascular health (as in I have a hard time consistently keeping my heart rate high enough to count as moderate-vigorous exercise when walking).
  • Post-run I generally feel awesome.
The benefits of walking over running
  • I CAN get similar cardiovascular and energy expenditure benefit, it will just take me more time. But if I also figure that post-run I also have to shower whereas walking mostly does not require de-stinking myself, maybe the time argument is a wash. Hmmm...
  • Almost always I look forward to walking. I can put on my music, listen to a podcast or book, or chat it up with a friend and enjoy the time. Some days running is fun, and some days running...
  • I like to have some social exercise sessions, and I can almost always find a friend to walk with. No matter their pace, most people are willing to go for a walk. Fewer people run, and if they do they are generally much, much faster than me.
  • My need for special clothing decreases with walking. With running I'm always having to worry about the status of my shoes, which undergarments are best for keeping the sisters happy, wicking fabric, visors, workout bottoms that prevent chafing...all that to say a running wardrobe can be high maintenance. Walking just requires a decent pair of shoes. The number of considerations for clothing greatly decreases, and I can generally stay in my everyday clothes.
  • My knees hurt less, which make me active the rest of the day. One of my overall goals is to include more daily activity through walking or biking the kids to school, etc whenever possible. If my body is hurting from exercise I'm much more likely to just grab the car keys.
  • I don't think I look too strange when I walk. When I run...

So running or walking? Either.

Don't let the thought that if you aren't running you aren't healthy keep you from being more active and improving your health. Just move. Grab a friend. Move. And to my running friends, keep blowing up my facebook feed with your active pursuits. I'll be cheering you on, I may just not cross the same finish line.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Start One

I had a moment of sadness this weekend: too many of my pants are too tight. My arthritic knees are becoming symptomatic again (i.e. my knees feel like they are 80). Despite cool temperatures I had my worst run in forever on Sunday. I started feeling just "blah" even though I've been really active. While I love the freedom of not relying on the scale for validity, I've also been developing some unhealthy eating patterns that regardless of weight can lead to negative health consequences down the road. My knees tell me that right away. Down the road it can lead to increased risk for diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. So while still trying to maintain a relationship with food that doesn't involve guilt, punishment, or deprivation I also need to make some habit changes.

Do I try to completely revamp my life with one major holy grail master plan? Or do I take the snails pace and make one or two small changes at a time? This question has been tickling my brain for the last several days so I spent some time today geeking out over research on how to make lasting habit change. I by no means exhausted the current research, but I will share my thoughts with you based on the research and my own past experience.

So which is better? Major overhaul or small changes? Answer: depends. The why of the change plays a major role. For example, if NOT making a certain change will lead to immediate or certain harm there is much motivation to make the change permanent. If you suddenly develop a nut allergy it would behoove you to immediately rid your house of any possible dispensers of anaphylaxis...or stock up on epi-pens. But if your why is more vague or non-life threatening (i.e. my pants no longer fit) you will get more long term traction if you make small, incremental changes and then build on them. If healthy living was just about knowledge we'd all be a lot healthier. We generally KNOW we should eat fewer oreos and more broccoli, but it's our behavior patterns that are non-compliant. If you make one change and are successful it increases your belief that you can make more positive changes. Sometimes when we try to make a huge healthy life overhaul we get discouraged within days. Even trying to make "15 small changes" at once means a big lifestyle change. And often that is completely overwhelming.

The other problem we run into when trying to make major changes is we get bogged down in trying to find THE PLAN. What rules are right? Should I be eating paleo? Vegan? Vegetarian? Mediterranean? Hostess diet? Should I be running or walking? Is interval training or long duration better? And suddenly there are so many choices and we are unable to actually make a decision on what to try. We get bogged down in the details. I've caught myself several times spending hours and hours researching which exercises I should be doing, when in truth if I was just doing anything for that same amount of time I'd be healthier.

So this week I decided to start taking the turtle's approach. In the past when I've realized my eating and exercise habits were out of whack I'd make major crazy changes. I'd clear out the pantry of anything "unhealthy". And the minute I'd start banning so many foods I'd crave them all the more. I can drive by McD's everyday and never give it a second look until I decide to never eat fast food, then the the golden arches become a beacon of light. I'd create a workout plan that is more appropriate for a college athlete trying to increase performance than a mom trying to be healthy. And within two days my arthritic knees are unable to let me sit in a chair without major pain...which overall makes me more sedentary than if I just try to add movement throughout my day.

Back to the turtle's approach: Start One. Start One healthy habit a week. One. That's it. Not one AND another and another and another. That's been my approach in the past: "I'll drink 10 glasses of water a day...AND I'll cut out sweets...AND I'll get up at 5 am and exercise for an hour...AND..." By noon on Monday I'm tired, hungry, and heading to the bathroom every 5 minutes. The change will last maybe until Tuesday. Maybe. So I'll start with one.

And if I'm successful with my healthy habit, and it feels like I'm going to maintain that habit with ease I'll Start One more habit. If I struggled I'll give myself another week or two.

My Start One habit for this week: no eating sweet treats (meaning candy bars, cookies, cake, ice cream, etc.). I'm not eliminating all sugar, just those things I was snacking on waaay too often and they were becoming part of my everyday (every hour??) menu instead of the occasional treat.

What about you? I'd love to hear your approach to habit change.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

My breakup

"I have always thought the actions of men the best interpreters of their thoughts." -John Locke

What I was saying and what I was doing were in complete contrast. On one hand I was saying that the scale and other similar measures didn't matter. That my character was not to be judged by any number. But my actions told a different story. Each morning I would step on the scale to be judged: good or bad. I would get out a tape measure weekly to see if the jury would convict or exonerate me. I based my self worth on how my smallest jeans fit.

My actions were displaying my true thoughts.

The scale was an idol. The tape measure a ruler. The jeans a shrine. All shouting that my size was the most important thing about me, no matter what my words were saying.

The first principle of Intuitive Eating is to reject the dieting mentality. To really grasp once and for all that "dieting" doesn't work. Usually "dieting" results in weight gain in the long run. We are often able to "white knuckle" it through bouts of restrictive eating only to find ourselves in situations of uncontrollable binging after...which is a mix of biology (our ancestors didn't want to starve) and psychology (tell me I can't have something and I want it even more). Or we find ourselves at the other end of the spectrum where we are truly afraid to eat.

Part of letting go of the dieting mentality is getting rid of the false measurements of success. If I really believed the scale didn't determine my worth, why did I step on it everyday to determine my mood? So in March I packed away the scale. I also packed away diet books (seriously, with at best a 5% success rate, why had I wasted money on these??) and clothes that would fit "if I just lost five pounds." It was scary. I was afraid without those measures I would surely pack on 100 pounds within a few months.

But I asked myself, in the next five years if I could eat nutritiously, exercise for mental and physical health, and have a healthy relationship with food but the scale remained the same or (gasp) even went up, would it be worth it? And what was I risking? I was already struggling to keep off the weight I had lost. If I tried this grand experiment of ditching the scale (and the dieting mentality) and it was horrible, I could always buy another book.

Almost four months after packing away the scale I can honestly say it's been one of the most freeing things I've done. My day is no longer determined by the scale. I don't just say my self worth isn't determined by a number on the scale, I follow through. The scale is packed away in the deep catacombs of my basement, and I plan to leave it there...unless I dig it out to throw it out our second story window.

Monday, July 8, 2013

What is intuitive eating?

"Ready, set..."
"Just jump in..."
"Ready 1-2-3..."
"Just jump in, you'll be fine..."

Similar phrases have been uttered from my mouth over and over and over again this summer as our six year old is trying to learn to swim. She is a logical thinker who likes to know the exact outcome of any move along with possible ways it could go wrong. And for a six year old with a tendency to worry, learning to jump in the pool leaves lots of unknowns. So she hesitates. And hesitates. And hesitates. Slowly she's gotten her courage. Slowly she's been brave enough to put her face in the water. Brave enough to jump.

I've felt a lot like her lately with my writing. I'm afraid that my words won't be well received. I'm afraid that I'll make some big proclamation about a goal or a plan only to see it all crumble a month later. So I hesitate. And hesitate. Slowly I'm remembering, I write for me. The joy is in the writing. If others actually read, all the better. If others actually enjoy the words, I am beyond blessed. But that's just icing on the cake.


Wait, where was I?

Ah, yes. I've always been cautious about writing about a specific nutrition plan, aside from our trials with eating only whole foods. I'm afraid that I'll promote something that a month later I realize isn't the greatest plan. But I've also been wanting to share more about "Intuitive Eating." I'm going to stop hesitating. I'm going to write. I'm going to share from my experience about the book* and the ideas that have changed how I view food.

What is intuitive eating?
In my words, it's learning to listen to your internal cues for hunger and fullness. Eat when you're hungry, stop when you are full. Most of human history people have done this (that is, when food was actually available). Yet largely due to the marketing of foods, foods that are designed to eat beyond fullness, and chronic dieting, we've completely lost touch with hunger. We either constantly eat and never really feel hungry or restrict our eating to the point where we ignore our hunger. We eat out of habit. We eat out of emotion. We restrict out of guilt. Often times our hunger and fullness cues are so blunted by ignoring them we have no idea when we are hungry or full. Intuitive eating is learning to listen to those cues and can be helpful both for those who chronically restrict food to the point of ill health to those who constantly overeat for a variety of reasons.

It's no small coincidence that we as a society are dealing with both overeating and under-eating. Even those at a "normal" weight often cycle between times of restricting ("dieting") and times of overeating, often after a diet or before gearing up for the next one. Been there? I have. It's an unhealthy merry-go-round and I wanted off. I was regaining weight and had started looking for the next plan...the one that would hopefully be the holy grail of all things skinny. But I also knew the statistics that no matter the plan, people fell off more often than they were able to stay on. Chronic dieting is the biggest predictor of weight GAIN (yes) and also is more likely to lead someone to a clinical eating disorder. Why would I continue to engage in something (dieting) that had a better chance of doing harm than achieving a healthy outcome?  So I looked around and found the few intuitive eaters I knew. Saw how they never obsessed over food. They stayed a natural healthy weight for them. I wanted that. No obsession. Health.

So in March I bellyflopped into principle #1: "Banishing the dieting mentality."

*Information about intuitive eating can be found in the book "Intuitive Eating, 3rd Ed" by Evelyn Tribole & Elyse Resch. I can't recommend the book enough.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

What I've gained...

The blogsphere and diet book world are full of stories of what people have gained by losing (weight). Heck, I've probably written a post or two about it. But seldom does anyone ever write about the process of regaining weight, unless it is with a firm resolve to start back on a path toward smaller-ness. Or sometimes there is a confession about eating too many seconds and not enough minutes on the treadmill. Such reflections are often filled with guilt and remorse and a question: how did I fail again??

But I'd like to take a different path. What have I gained by (re)gaining? Yes, about 18 months ago I did what I thought was impossible and lost a bunch of weight and kept it off for a good 9 months. Then slowly I wasn't nearly so militant about my meals. One thing led to another...but I'm here to say it isn't all bad. Here's what I've gained:

1. An appreciation for those who have struggled with weight maintenance. I always figured "how hard can it be? If you lose weight you should be able to keep it off." Yet 95% of people who set out to lose weight either never get there or are unable to keep it off. Why? Part of it is old habits dying hard. Part of it is biology kicking in and amping up hunger hormones. I never understood it, but now I get it on both an academic and a personal level. And I finally understand all those people who desperately want to get back to their high school size. My high school size was nothing to aspire to, but now I have pictures of a smaller me that taunt me.

2. An improved body acceptance. Yup. This body. Right here, right now. The one that no longer fits into my cute jeans but has more energy to go out and play with the kids. The one that is worrying less about each and every bite of food and more focus on those I share my meals with. At my smallest I really was a slave to food and exercise even though I was eating very little. Every thought was an obsession over how each and every part of my life would affect the scale. It made me pretty self-centered and unable to devote myself to things that really mattered. And I was never accepting of my body at my smallest. I'm now actually more accepting of my body here and now.

3. A final commitment to getting out of the dieting trap. In the book "Intuitive Eating" the authors describe our first diet as being similar to a first "love"...intoxicating. We always look back at that first diet with longing, thinking if only we could rekindle that same magic we could find ourselves back into smaller jeans bliss. But most of us (see #1) are going to be stuck on the dieting roller coaster. I would say every single diet plan out there claims to be a "lifestyle change", but we are often unable to keep up with that lifestyle for a variety of reasons. I saw it in myself and I see it all around me, people either constantly on a diet or looking for the next big one that will work. All that paired with times of overeating before the "lifestyle change." I don't want to be always looking at the next diet or be a slave to the scale. I want to live.

So does all this mean I've thrown health, fitness, and nutrition in the garbage? No, eating nutritious foods helps my body and mind feel better. I just no longer beat myself up if what I consume isn't nutritionally perfect. I still exercise for my mental health and for lifetime health. And I'm actually finding I enjoy both nutritious foods and exercise more when I'm pursuing them out of health and enjoyment rather than out of guilt.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Debt Free Marriage

This picture was taken exactly 10 years ago, almost to the minute. We were young. Blissful. Naive.

Ours was a whirlwind courtship. We got engaged after six weeks of dating. We were married eight months later. We were basically complete strangers just sure we were in love. I can't even remember what made us think that it was a good idea to get married so quickly. We laugh now thinking about how little we actually knew about each other.

During our engagement we both made the commitment to try and live debt free. We both entered the marriage with debt: student loans, vehicles, credit cards...typical consumer debt. We wanted to set our marriage out on the right foot so on our honeymoon we agreed only to spend the cash we had saved and what we had received as a wedding gift, which meant midway through our honeymoon we were eating "Bowl Appetites" made in our hotel microwave and watching really lame movies on cable TV. It wasn't "fun", but it started us off on the right foot by keeping our commitment to living debt free.

It took us several years to reach the point of debt freedom. While we have never been without, we also made sacrifices. We spent one anniversary eating tuna melts at home because we didn't have "extra" money that month. In general, we have not bought expensive gifts for each other for birthdays, Christmas, or our anniversary. The process of us moving in the same direction as a couple has been worth more to our marriage than an expensive meal out or a consumer gift that is soon forgotten.

Having a shared focus in our finances has helped make us stronger as a couple. Now that we are debt free, we are starting to be a little more open to spending money on some "fun" things to celebrate our marriage. But it also means that for now we are still driving our 11 year old van until we can save up enough to pay cash for a newer one. It means that we still make a budget every month. It means we keep a common commitment to stay debt free.

The concept of living debt free carries over into our relationships. I did not want 1 Corinthians 13 read at our wedding. I didn't want to be held accountable for "love keeping no record of wrongs" (surely that's not the correct translation...it's in my nature to keep a record of wrongs). My husband is a natural "forgiver." I swear he forgets my faulty actions before I can even say "I'm sorry." I'm much different. It's in my nature to want to hold on to every little hurt, hoarding them for future ammunition. Yet just like it's not easy or necessarily fun to live debt free, it is certainly worth the peace. The peace that forgiveness brings is worth more than gold, silver, or even a new minivan.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Becoming Me

I feel like a bad friend. The kind of friend who just comes around when it's convenient. I've been a little silent on a blog front...and for a few reasons. One is I have been censoring some of my post ideas like "Keep Your Opinion on My Uterus to Yourself". Another reason is I have been working through some perspective issues when it comes to food, weight, activity, and how that all fits into my identity.

A year ago I was at my lowest weight ever. I had accomplished something. As a people pleaser, I felt on top of the world with all the positive comments. And although I said the scale wasn't important and I said my value was more than how I looked, how I looked was becoming the biggest thing in my life. And even though I was at my lowest I was never satisfied with how I looked. Something was always wrong, and I was becoming highly self absorbed...like more than normal.

And then around the holidays I started to gain back some weight. Little by little it was creeping on and I found myself searching for the next magic bullet of the diet world. But I also saw others on that merry-go-round of weight up, weight down, weight up, weight down...going from one perfect "plan" to another in hopes that THIS would be the last one. I wanted off that merry-go-round, but I was afraid of what that meant for my weight.

You could say I was in a bit of a mental/physical tailspin. I had stopped doing any major exercise for a time since I was literally wanting to cry I dreaded the things I "should" be doing. For someone who loves being active, to find myself hating activity was not a happy place to be. I also struggled with my identity. After I lost weight I was ready to define myself as the gal who had always been overweight, finally been able to lose it, and I was going to be the one who kept it off and inspired others to do the same. It was going to be Me.

But I really wasn't liking that Me. The one who was self-absorbed, obsessed with the scale (despite saying otherwise), and a little over cranky with my family if they messed up my eating or exercise. My husband said I was pretty unhappy, although I couldn't see it. I was ready to try "the next big thing" when I came across "Intuitive Eating". Although my introduction to IE was through a fitness magazine that promoted it as a weight loss tool, IE is more about self-awareness that has nothing to do with the scale. I'm learning a lot about myself and by no means am I an expert on IE. I will say that the process is leading to a place of self-acceptance while also seeking health through fitness and nutrition. That may or may not mean weight loss (or weight gain). For me, it has meant improved mental health, a better perspective on the things that are really important in life, and a renewed interest in exercise and nutrition for health having (truly) nothing to do with weight.

I was a little sad to say good-bye to the thinner me. I looked back at pictures yesterday and thought "dang, girl..." But I decided what it took me to get and stay there wasn't worth it. So I'm not going to be the woman who lost weight, kept it off, and inspired others to do the same. I'm not going to be someone I thought others would like based off of cultural stereotypes of beauty.

And I promise not to write about a uterus (mine or anyone else's.)

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Food and emotions

It's been a hard week. Okay, that may be an understatement. It has been a completely emotionally draining week, and it's just Wednesday. I'm even having a hard time generating words to explain everything that has been going on. The bombings at the Boston Marathon really shook me. As a (kinda) runner, I imagined the runners who had trained for such a difficult race that usually ends in celebration simply for finishing, which was suddenly turned into a tragic event. I also thought of the athletic trainers and athletic training students that I knew were helping in the medical tents. I thought about how they went from helping athletes with dehydration to dealing with injuries that would shake even the most experienced in emergency medicine. And how they will never be the same.

That same day our community was praying for a husband, father, teacher, and coach that had been in a tragic car accident on Saturday. He passed away the next day. Those of you who live in a small community understand how such a loss affects everyone. I ache for his family, his friends, his students, his fellow coaches, and players.

Add to that several friends and family members that are walking through their own trials. In all of these things I feel helpless to do anything. I can't fix any of it. There may be things I can do do help with the burdens, but I cannot heal any of it. It is a completely unnerving feeling.

When life gets stressful like this I want to run away. Or eat. Or run away and eat. When life is out of control food is the one thing I can control. I can shovel food in my mouth to help soothe that sadness that feels like hunger. Others will do the opposite and not eat anything in an effort to control something in life. Both actions are an effort to help control the one thing in life we can control, food. But then it quickly spirals into the food controlling us.

I've been working through the book "Intuitive Eating." The 7th principle is to cope with emotions without using food. Sounds easy, until the emotions are so intense that food seems like the only thing that will help. Monday I found myself with knife in hand and loaf of banana bread ahead of me. Back to what I knew. After a few years of dieting it is pretty easy for me to fall back into emotional eating. And the food does temporarily feel good. But in the end the emotions are still there, waiting to be dealt with. I literally said "step away from the banana bread." Not because banana bread is evil, but because I was ready to binge to try and deal with life. And I knew it wouldn't stop with that one loaf.

It's been a few days of reminding myself it's okay to eat for hunger, but mindlessly eating to try and stuff down emotions doesn't heal the emotions. I need to find other ways of dealing with the emotions. For me finding several different ways to deal...sometimes talking with friends, sometimes being alone. Sometimes finding a chance to laugh, sometimes finding a moment to cry. Sometimes going for a run or walk to use the "fight or flight" hormones that are increased, sometimes simply sitting in the quiet. In all things remembering that even when I can't understand God's plan, He's still there.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

FABULOUS...& flawed

It all started with the innocent unwrapping of a Dove Mint & Dark Chocolate square. Inside each little candy is an uplifting thought, many encouraging you to enjoy...eat more chocolate. This particular wrapper bore the thought "It's OK to be fabulous AND flawed." That thought has had my little mind racing ever since.

On the outside we are always trying to project our fabulous...our flawless fabulous. We strive for fabulous homes and are often left saddened with the constant realization that our homes will never be like those in Better Homes and Gardens. We want fabulous children that never misbehave and excel at everything. We want a flawless marriage, a fabulous body, and flawless skin. We are constantly bombarded by products and services that promise to take us from flawed to fabulous. We never let on that we are anything but fabulous (if we can help it). Often the pictures we post on facebook are the ones where our kids are looking oh so cute or perfect...or even if they are messy it is a cute mess. We share the cute stories and accomplishments. We spend so much energy trying to be flawless...only having it become more painfully clear that we are anything but flawless.

What we feel down deep is completely flawed. Each of us has our own areas where we feel like a flawed failure. We each know the crud we deal with...body image, issues in our marriage, painful memories, children that are struggling in school or life, a face that reveals both wrinkles and acne (maybe that one is just me). Often we don't want to share our flaws with others, yet we are constantly reminded of them to the point of obsession. We forget that our flaws also mean something fabulous. I know it is sometimes very difficult to see any blessing in our flaws, but if nothing else they help us connect with others when we are honest.

I've become more thankful about some things in my past, particularly my weight. Through most of elementary and all of high school I was overweight, and generally not by just a little. And it was at a time when most other kids did not carry a little extra fluff. I was teased. I took that to mean I was undesirable, that I wasn't going to succeed. I didn't run for student council because I did think anyone would vote for an overweight girl. I didn't think any guy would want to date me because of my size so I often dressed in oversized, frumpy clothes. In fact I spent most of my senior year wearing one of my dad's old flannel shirts that was 3 or 4 sizes too big. But lately I've become oh so thankful for that past.

Why? Because I never defined myself with beauty I spent time trying to better myself in other areas: academics, friendships, and service. Because I felt no guy would want to date me and often dressed the part, I have very few heartaches in the ex-boyfriend department. I became a stronger woman because of my flaws. I can look back at my high school self and appreciate that fabulously flawed girl.

Yes, we are flawed and fabulous. Perfectly imperfect. And I'm realizing more we don't necessarily need to fix all of our flaws. Sometimes it's by embracing our flaws that we can realize how they have made us fabulous.

How about you? How are you fabulously flawed?

Monday, March 18, 2013

Diagnosis: Perfection Infection

The simple joys in my life. A comfy chair. A warm cup of coffee with cream and sugar. A good book.

Sometimes I read a non-fiction book that completely rocks my world. In the past month I've read three: No More Perfect Moms by Jill Savage, How Am I Smart by Dr. Kathy Koch, and Intuitive Eating. This past weekend I had the opportunity to hear both Jill Savage and Dr. Kathy speak at the Hearts at Home National Conference. As much as I was blown away by the content of their books, I was even more so convicted and comforted by their presentations at the conference. Today I'm going to reflect on Jill's presentation "No More Perfect Moms."

Jill's message: there are no perfect moms, and we need allow to ourselves and others the space to make mistakes. Jill calls that angst we feel as part of our desire to be perfect "perfection infection"...and boy oh boy have I had that. The feeling that my house, marriage, children, career, and body all need to be perfect. And rather than motivating me to become a better person it makes me anxious, sad, and always inadequate. You don't have to be a mom to feel the negative effects of perfection infection. Everyone has areas of their life that they feel the unnecessary pressure to be perfect, whether it be from your own mind or from family, workplace, or other social groups.

In the season of motherhood, perfection infection often starts with the minute we find out we are carrying or make the decision to adopt. What is the BEST way to feed our child? Diaper our child? Set a sleep schedule (or let the child chose their own)? And somewhere along the way we find that we've not only been trying to find what is best for our own household, but we start judging others if their decision differs from our own.

And we need to stop it.

We need to stop having unrealistic expectations on our marriages, children, careers, homes, and most of all on ourselves. We are not a failure if the house is less than clean or if our children misbehave in public.  Perfection infection at times has kept me from inviting others over to my house because I was afraid of what they would think of the mess or the imperfect décor. I’ve held back from introducing myself to others out of fear of what they would think of how I looked. I’ve spent way too much time and energy worrying that others wouldn’t like me because of my size. I’ve spent money I didn’t have to buy things I didn’t need to impress people I don’t even know. I’ve unfairly chastised my children in public for misbehaving when their only crime was being a kid.

And I want to stop. I want to embrace the perfect imperfection  in my life. I don’t want my tombstone to say “She had an immaculate house, a great figure, a perfect marriage, and well behaved kids.” My desire is that at the end of my life others would be able to say that I was welcoming, gracious, compassionate, and authentic. And that starts today. And tomorrow. And the next day. Because invariably I will fail at trying to let go of my infection perfection.

How about you? How is perfection infection holding you back from what you really want to be?

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Time for a breakup?

For years I have felt like I have multiple personalities with food. One day I'm completely all about eating healthy, losing or maintaining a "healthy weight", and all things popular in the diet and fitness world. The next day I just want to accept who I am and not be consumed by the scale or my food log. If you go back to the beginning of my blog I was writing about how I was so done with all things diet and the scale...then the next month I started a restrictive weight loss program that gave me results.  Most of my life I've been an emotional overeater. I would inhale food and be completely oblivious. My time would then be littered with small, unsuccessful bouts at weight loss (at least in the long term). Then the past year and a half I was successful at losing weight through a restrictive plan.

Since November of 2011 I have been completely ruled by the scale...and I'm realizing it hasn't been doing good things for my mental health. My sister sent me an article about intuitive eating. At first I was a skeptic.... I thought (and still worry) that there's no way I could tap into my natural hunger cues. But the more I've been reading and doing my own research it started to make sense. And here is what I asked myself last night that made me finally put away the scale (at least for now):

If I could develop a healthy relationship with food where it was neither my comforter nor my enemy, if I could restore a little joy in my life by not obsessing about food or weight, would it be worth it? If never lose another pound or (gulp) maybe even gain some weight (or have to buy a larger size), would my mental health be better by not being on the constant roller coaster of deciding how my day is going to do based on the scale? And can I ever get back to the joy of just working out for the mental and physical benefits I feel and not out of guilt motivated by weight loss?

This is my hope.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Intuitive eating???

So I've been struggling with the few pounds I gained in the process of moving and holidays and just generally eating more and exercising less. As much as I say the scale doesn't matter I have been letting it rule my mornings. Like this morning at 4am after helping my son get re-settled in bed I decided to step on the scale and it was up. UP? I've been diligently not having sweets (by diligently I mean 3 days) and a few other restrictive rules I've put on myself to try and get back to where I felt I was healthier. I was ready at that moment to lace up my shoes and go for a run. I didn't. I know the slippery slope of exercising out of guilt and that's not the relationship I want to have with my running shoes. I keep thinking one of these days in a dramatic episode with my scale I'll open our second story window and chuck the scale.

But I probably won't. I'd have to clean up the pieces. And probably end up buying a new scale.

Weight loss is hard. Maintaining weight loss is hard. Statistically, only about 5% of people who lose weight are able to maintain it. That's why most of my life I've been so anti-diet industry until I actually lost, and now I feel like I'm sucked into this vortex of always looking for THE PLAN that is going to help me lose or maintain. It is an endless, mindboggling, futile game. I'm trying hard not to engage.

Yesterday my sister sent me an article on intuitive eating, so of course I've now spent lots of time researching that rabbit trail. I rely both on people's personal experiences as well as actual research. Intuitive eating doesn't promise weight loss, but a healthy, non-restrictive approach to eating. There are several approaches similar to intuitive eating (mindful eating, healthy at any size, and several others) that use the idea of body acceptance, non-restrictive eating, exercising for other benefits (not weight loss), and relying on internal cues to note hunger and satiety.

It sounds so good. I want to have a healthy relationship with food. I haven't ever had that. Most of my life food was a source of comfort, friendship, and a way to deal with hurt feelings. I would indulge in soda, candy, massive amounts of pasta, ice cream, burritos, all without a bit of guilt. I was eating them for all the wrong reasons, but I didn't have the burden of regret. Now the pendulum swings the other way, where almost any slight overeating comes with regret. Especially when the scale tells on me.

So do I think it would work for me? As a weight loss aid, probably not. The article I first read was touting it as a weight loss method, but most research shows there to be no weight loss benefit. For me personally, I think deep down I still harbor that unhealthy desire to fill disappointment with a Snickers or three. And our society is filled with propaganda from the food and beverage companies to override our innate ability to know when to eat or when we are full. (Hello advertising!)

But I'm going to do more reading. I want to have a healthy relationship with food...one where I don't compulsively overeat out of my emotions but I also don't beat myself up emotionally for enjoying a meal out with friends.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Can't change my genes, so I need to change the jeans...

"Do jeans shrink after having them a while?"

That's the text I sent to my sister yesterday. I had to wiggle myself into a pair of previously great-ish fitting jeans. It had to be my dryer. It just had to be.

Or the few pounds I've gained that seem to want to bring their friends along to the party.

It's also the style of the jeans. They are a lower rise cut than what this body should be wearing. My genes pretty much allow me to lose (and gain) weight pretty proportionately, but after having been overweight most of my life and having two kids, the belly area just needs to have a little extra support. And the low rise jeans don't do it. When I was at my slimmest I could get away with it if I was wearing a cami to prevent anyone from getting a flash my lower tummy. I knew they weren't the best cut for me, but I got them for 70% off and they were trendy and cute...something I'd never experienced in a jean.

Now that I'm struggling a bit with some old eating habits the jeans have become a bit unflattering...or to put it better when I'm wearing them I'm sporting a huge muffin top. And then it makes everything look worse. I tried to put them on again today. I felt so self conscious and thought my shirt looked awful, too. I started feeling completely down on myself which then makes everything worse. The house feels like more of a mess than it is. One day without a workout feels like a year of sitting on the couch. Every shortcoming I have magnifies in my mind.

I didn't want to change the jeans or admit that they weren't a good fit for my body. It would feel like I was giving up.

But I did it. I changed out of the cute, trendy jeans into a more flattering pair. A pair that did a better job of masking my perfect imperfections. Those jeans, too, were flattering, but a better cut for my body. I kid you not, suddenly the shirt that had just moments ago that I thought looked awful looked much nicer when I was wearing jeans that fit the right way. I wasn't nearly so discouraged about my other shortcoming. Rather than feeling overwhelmed and dejected I had hope. All because I changed my jeans.

How many times do we feel bad about ourselves because of how a piece of clothing looks? We rarely think "that's a bad cut for my body", we think "my body is bad for that cut." We place the emphasis on our own imperfections, which for most of us discourages us even further. We get to the point of thinking "why even try to improve my health?" That's the point I was at because of my jeans. A lousy pair of jeans. I was really going to let THAT determine my worth?

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Who I want to be when I grow up...

Astronaut. Lawyer. Comedienne. Teacher. Dancer. Veterinarian. Seamstress.

All occupations I thought I wanted to be at some time in my early years. Some of them are quite laughable. Seamstress? I can't even sew on a button nor do I have a desire to do so. Astronaut? Please. I hate heights and have no interest in space. Dancer? Only at a lively wedding dance.

It's a question that I never think I will fully answer. My inclinations change with time and life experience. This week I found myself asking not what do I want to "do" but what do I want to "be"? Or rather, how would I want to be remembered? If something tragic were to happen tomorrow, what would I want my legacy to be? And does the way I spend my time and energy on a daily basis reflect who I really want to be?

I spend way too much time worrying about the reflection in the mirror or the weight on the scale.  I spend so much emotional energy beating myself up over eating a Kit Kat or missed workout when in the scope of life it doesn't even matter. If I were to die tomorrow would I want people to say "She never missed a workout?" or "She never missed a chance to ask how I was doing?" When I look at the women I consider beautiful it has absolutely nothing to do with the size of their waist and everything to do with how they interact with the people around them. And I want that to be where I focus more of my energy.

That doesn't mean I'll stop placing importance on exercise, but now exercise is more about what it can do for me mentally and a chance for a little me time. It's about being able to be active as long as possible and to be able to do my job without needing an oxygen mask. It doesn't mean I'll stop trying to have lots of fruits and vegetables on my plate, but it will be because I love my body and want to feed it, not because I hate by body or want someone elses. (PS-this will never stop being an inner struggle, I'm sure).

And there are so many other things that I need to remind myself:

It doesn't matter how fashionable my shirt is, but it matters if I would be willing to give it to someone else who needs it more than me.

It doesn't matter how new or clean my car is (thankfully), but that I would be willing to help someone with their transportation needs.

It doesn't matter if I bring a simple meal or a gourmet meal to a family experiencing a hard time, but it does matter that I cared enough to bring them something edible.

It doesn't matter how clean or fancy our home is, but it does matter that I make it a priority to make others feel comfortable and welcome in our home.

I want to BE someone who is able to keep the right perspective in life. To recognize the things that don't matter 5 years from now (like if there are dirty dishes when an unexpected guest drops by), and to be able to see the things that seem insignificant but have long term benefit, like taking the time to play a game with my kids.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Body Envy

I spent most of my life in the plus size section. In my head anyone who was a smaller size was automatically more beautiful than I was. I thought if I could just be smaller I would be beautiful. Even though I could look at my fellow plus sized sisters and see their beauty, I could never see my own. I felt that there was no possible way I was attractive. It also spilled over into other areas. I didn't have the confidence to run for student council because I thought people wouldn't vote for me due to my weight. If you have a lump in your throat or a tear in your eye, you've been there too.

Then I lost weight and gained some and lost some and gained some and finally was able to get down to a healthy weight. I've been there for almost a year. And you know what, that assumption that if only I were smaller I would feel more beautiful was false. I see that even people at smaller sizes are dissatisfied with how they look or feel in their own bodies. I think most of us do. And for so many reasons.

January 1 is a prime time for us to be assaulted with images that lead to body envy. Exercise programs that promise ripped abs and a firm bottom. I started the year working out with a knockoff of the P90x system (I knew that P90x was going to be too hard on my body and wallet). While I loved the workout, I found that deep down I was disappointed that I was looking nothing like the ripped, scantily clad fitness maven. The only lines you'll see on this midsection are stretch marks from years of losing and gaining.

And it's so easy to get stuck in that icky place of body envy. We are assaulted by genetically gifted, air brushed fitness models from the magazine racks in the checkout aisles (just buying and reading the magazine won't make our bodies any smaller...trust me, I tried). We are promised a quick, easy routine on Pinterest that will melt away the baby fat. And while I'm a huge fan of exercise for your health and as an aid to losing weight, we have to realize that for most of us our expectations for what exercise can do in relation to our waistline is not really close to the reality. So for myself, I had to step away from some of the exercise videos and magazines and websites that were causing me huge amounts of body envy...leading to my own body hatred. I've started to embrace exercises and routines that not only give me a great workout but leave me feeling better about myself (not disappointed that I don't look like the genetically gifted, super healthy gal on the screen). I try to make myself more knowledgeable in areas of health and fitness so I can better create realistic expectations.

I'm sure I will always look in the mirror and want to change something (or lots of things, depending on the day), but I'm learning to be thankful for each and every beautiful flaw. That excess weight? It means I'm blessed enough to be living in a time and place where food is in abundance. By the grace of God I haven't known the heartache of seeing my child go hungry. Those stretch marks? Some of them are from the time I carried my two beautiful children. Those sore knees? It means I've had the ability to go out and be active for most of my life. That zit on my chin...okay, I'm still working on embracing all of my flaws.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The switch

In the past month I haven't posted a single blog post. I've written probably 100 in my head while driving, exercising, or laying in bed at night. I just haven't had the inspiration during the times I actually have a free moment at the computer. My last post was about the status of my post-holiday scale. I sounded so positive, so ready to return to my healthy eating...and yet a month later I stood and saw the same-ish number on the scale. Discouraging.

And maybe that's where you find yourself. Maybe a month ago you had big goals to eat healthier, exercise more, or get your finances in order. Yet as the cold days of January passed (three of ours were without heat) it seemed that you weren't able to make any progress on your goal. The Christmas cookies were replaced with other temptations. The weather made your bed way more tempting than your desire to lace up your sneakers. Your budget was broken with an unexpected expense (hello new furnace). And that's just been me. And that's just been January.

It's easy to just think "it's not going to work. I'm not going to be able to get back on track so I might as well be satisfied with being close to the track."

But for me, two days ago a switch flipped. I can't describe it, and I wish I could give you a formula to replicate it for yourself. I went from "I want to do all these things" yet not fully being able to follow through to "That's it, I'm going to do it. No excuses." And it's not just words, it's what I feel down in my gut. Like suddenly that Hershey's Bliss in my cupboard is not nearly so tempting. The knick-nack at the store isn't worth messing with my budget. It's the same mind change I had a little over a year ago when I was finally able to lose about 40 pounds. On Monday morning  (I know, all of 2 days ago) I felt that switch flip on again. It was probably the post-Super Bowl bloat that pushed me over the edge.

So for now I'm just focusing on my nutrition. If I get that back in check it seems everything else eventually follows. And it isn't easy. Just because my mind suddenly decided that snitching chips isn't worth it doesn't mean that I haven't had times the past two days where a part of me wants to slip back into some sort of high calorie snack (that's my downfall...snacks). And there is always a part of me that says "it doesn't really matter...one bite won't hurt." And if I could just take one bite that would be completely true. But for me, one bite isn't enough. I'm an all or nothing kind of girl. And for some areas of life that is awesome. When it comes to chocolate, not so much.

Shake off the discouragement of the hopes you had a month ago. It's a new day...even a dreary, cold, windy day in Illinois can be a day for a new start. A day for you to flip a switch and say today is the day I ___________________.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Out of control

Welcome January. The month I take down my Christmas tree and actually get my Christmas letters sent (maybe, they are still in a semi-assembled pile). And the month to take back a little bit of control.

November AND December were doozies on both the spending and eating front. Spending I’ll talk about in a later post. Today I’ll talk about my friend, food.

Welcome back, overeating. I hadn’t missed you a bit. Christmas cutout cookie? Don’t mind if I do. Latte? Yes please. With whipped cream? Of course. Massive amounts of cheesy potatoes? I thought you’d never ask. Christmas cutout cookie? Sure, I’ll have another (five). Pie? MMMMMM. Pie.

And thus was my November and December. Between moving, multiple sicknesses making their home in our family, and holiday festivies I fell into some old, bad habits. I would start out each day great. Healthy breakfast. Nourishing lunch. Then somewhere between lunch and bed I’d find cookies and it would spiral downward. One cookie is a treat. Six cookies…overkill. And I told myself “you can take it off in January.”

So it’s January. Five pounds up (it was eight, but I’ve been pretty healthy this week). Still at a healthier weight than I was a year ago. But I’m committed to getting my weight back to where it was…for health (and to be honest, a bit of vanity). The last five are not just “bloat” pounds…you know, the kind that a few days of eating healthy takes away…I already lost those three. The last five are honest to goodness not good for me weight. So I’m on week 2 of my cookie detox. I told myself I wouldn’t punish myself, but the cookies had to go. And I forgot how incredibly HARD sticking to a strict healthy eating plan was. After the weight is gone it’s easy to look back and think “that wasn’t so bad”…but now that I’m living it again it really is incredibly hard. Not impossible, just hard.

So fellow cookie detoxers…take heart. It can be done. It will be done. It isn’t easy. It isn’t fun. And you should find some joy in what’s on your plate. For me, the joy for now is in some really yummy butternut squash soup and not a frosted snowman.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

And now for something completely different

Resolved: In 2013 I will:

Bask more. Love more. Play more. Be easy on myself. I will never get it all done, so I might as well be fun.*

I’m a go getter. Driven by a to do list. Plagued by that never ending list. Motivated by specific and achievable goals. And that has helped me and my family in a lot of ways. But for this year I decided I’ve spent too much time trying to improve myself and my home that I’ve left little, if any, time to just enjoy life.

So this year I’m going to spend more time playing games with the kids and less time worried about if all the pieces are put away (at least right now). I’m going to enjoy time having friends and family over to our home and not worry about perfection in the décor or state of cleanliness. I’m going to exercise for my enjoyment and health and not out of a sense of guilt or fear of regaining weight. I’m going to silence my iphone and engage in meaningful conversation with my husband (actually making eye contact, not our usual conversation in which we are usually both alternately looking at each other then our facebook newsfeed). 

I want to rediscover my silly and fun self that seems to have been lost in a haze of HGTV, fitness magazines, other people's "shoulds" and Pinterest.

My resolution is completely uncharacteristic of the goals I've had the last few years. They were measurable. Time bound. Quantified. And I still believe if you really want to achieve something like weight loss, a career change, or paying off debt that written and specific goals are absolutely the way to go. But for this resolution I will just celebrate the successes and learn from the failures.

Success #1: Enjoying a quiet evening of take out pizza and conversation with friends on New Year's Eve and being in bed before 10:00 PM.

Failure #1: Spending all of New Year's Day and the following day painting and trying to be Ty Pennington in our master suite. 

Success #2: Setting aside my to do list and sitting down to blog with a cup of yummy coffee (I even have my kindle here ready for a few moments of reading).

Success #3: Waiting until January 3 to declare my resolution.

And such will be my year.

*Adapted from the wall art at Meijer that is shown above. My budget-minded self made me put it back on the shelf so I can’t credit the artist.
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