Saturday, May 27, 2017

Same As It Ever Was

Yesterday I went through my 10th foot surgery. Though I'm on a light dose of painkillers, the oxycodone seems to have created a lot of brain fog. I'm still trying to get through this blog post I started earlier and keep coming back to, even though I think these are ideas I have already expressed and I'm not doing a great job of remembering what I write from one sentence to the next.

I've been following the body positive movement off and on for a while now. Some of the most inspiring thinkers in this movement include Ashley Graham, Carmen Cool and Allison Epstein. There's a lot of confusion around and hostility toward both the body positivity movement and the fat acceptance movements. Some of the main concepts are acknowledging discrimination against heavier people, avoiding judgment about health based on weight alone, and moving away from the sick beauty standard that has become the norm.

Some people want to believe there's a double standard when it comes to body shaming and thin people, but there really isn't, at least not one that's ingrained in our culture. People who say there is don't fully understand what body shaming and discrimination based on weight really are. I get the same kind of reaction when folks scream, "ALL LIVES MATTER" to the black lives matter movement. That's not to say bullying never happens to thin people, but some will mistakenly call expressing concern about someone's health and behavior "body shaming" when it's nothing of the sort. There's a big difference between negative and intentionally mean comments directed at someone based entirely on weight and those expressing concern based on specific unhealthy behaviors. I addressed the latter in a previous post. And, yes, some people are bullies, trolls or mean-spirited and will say nasty things to thin people or to just about anyone, however, this doesn't mean that there's an inherent "thin is bad" problem in our society. "Body shaming is the practice of making critical, potentially humiliating comments about a person's body size or weight." Got it? 

I was bullied when I was young. People, both strangers and those I knew, yelled at me, called me fat, fatso, lardo, and said I was ugly etc. all because of my weight. When I was anorexic, I looked scary. People stared and yelled at me on occasion, but the comments were more along the lines of, "Go eat something!" or "Stop running so much!" Throwing out these kinds of comments is not bullying. If anything, there's an underlying concern when someone says these kinds of things to someone who is emaciated. Yes, they can be upsetting, especially coming from a stranger, but they simply are not bullying statements. 

Obviously, there are still issues I'm addressing in my own mind when it comes to certain individuals online and why the content they share affects me. People who promote thinspiration or pro-ana have become the irritating thorn in my side. 

What I keep coming back to is the way people try to inflict their fears, rules, and ideas about diet, nutrition and exercise onto others. I'm not one to try to police anyone or tell anyone how she should be living. I find fault with people who try to do this and follow it by lashing out at anyone suggesting she shouldn't promote an unhealthy lifestyle, though, and I will continue to say something about it. I appreciate so much those who can present scientific findings around nutrition without trying to badger anyone. When Sam Harris interviewed Gary Taubes, neither one tried to order anyone to eat a certain way, but both were able to address findings in various studies that relate to sugar, insulin and obesity in a thoughtful and thorough manner. Sometimes you will find people who stretch the results of studies or surveys to support what they want to believe, but Sam and Gary did a good job of addressing why this happens.

I was concerned a few weeks ago after reading one woman's blog post about her obsessions with food and weight. Though she claims she is no longer plagued by obsessive thoughts or compulsive actions, the content she posts shows an entirely different story, one that's the opposite of what she claims and downright scary. Anyone can justify an unhealthy habit in her mind, but if she's honest, there's a part of her that at least recognizes the unhealthy behaviors in which she engages. The absurdity of claiming to be free of compulsions or obsessions while admittedly engaging in them and going one step further by actually promoting them publicly is shocking. Sean Spicer chews an unbelievable 35 sticks of gum in a single day, but he's not suggesting others do the same. A blogger sharing the unhealthy thoughts circulating in her head as a way to process is one thing, but a blogger encouraging others to engage in the same disturbing behaviors she does is something else. I'm not sure why, when it comes to diet and lifestyle, so many people think it's OK to do this. Merely admitting a bad habit doesn't mean a person is over or free of it, and it absolutely doesn't mean that the behavior is suddenly OK or not as bad as it seems.

Speaking of gum, a lady I know used to chew at least a pack of gum every day. That's a hell of a lot of gum. She has an eating disorder, so she came up with all kinds of excuses about why she did it. The reality was that she used the sticky paste to avoid eating meals, something she confessed later. I've heard about people who chew even more than a pack of gum a day, which seems unbelievable to me, but I know it happens. In fact, I recently read one lady's blog post in which she admitted to chewing far more than this. Addictions like this don't always mean the habit is dangerous, but there must be a reason why someone would rationalize this kind of behavior for an online audience. Again, I believe when someone is bringing these kinds of behaviors out into the spotlight, there must be some part of her that's aware that any extremes like chewing several packs of gum daily need to be acknowledged and analyzed. Always look at the deeper issues. What is it really about?

My boyfriend and I were recently discussing some of the more bizarre Instagram and Facebook profiles we have seen. He referenced one person who happens to also manage a blog and gives out advice about how to lose weight and supposedly be free of various obsessions about food and weight by abnormally focusing on food, weight, calories and body image. I bring this up because some people believe that if the intent is good or at least not intentionally malevolent, this kind of content, as bizarre as it might be, is not malicious. I disagree. It is malicious to give tips about losing weight to someone who is already underweight. It is malicious to perpetuate a lie, claiming that you are free of obsessions while the content of your posts so very clearly demonstrates otherwise. It is malicious to try to dictate how others should be living and how and what they should eat when you can't see your own unhealthy compulsions, and it is malicious to suggest that athletes, or anyone for that matter, consume what amounts to a starvation diet in terms of calories. This person's intent might not be outright malicious, but the end result potentially is.

I fully agree that we need to move away from judging others based on weight alone, and I will never support someone who throws out numbers relating to what's found on a scale, BMI, calories or nutritional values publicly as a way to suggest that what she is doing is good for her or, even more to the point, for anyone else. You do you, so to speak. What others eat or don't eat doesn't give them any kind of moral upper hand. When I looked a one lady's post recently, her calorie count for the day was added incorrectly, and this is someone who counts down to the individual calorie. I know anyone who shows a propensity toward eating disorders can get upset if she unintentionally goes over what she intended to eat, but it shows how illogical these kinds of self-imposed rules can be, how arbitrary these numbers are when it comes to actually having a dramatic impact on life. I just don't understand why anyone would put this kind of information out there, and I don't see it being helpful to anyone in any way whatsoever. If anything, it can be dangerous. Restricting, especially when exercising a lot, can have all kind of long-term consequences. It's just not helpful to put that kind of information in the public eye as a guideline, and people who are truly healthy don't typically do it.

I believe it was Carmen Cool (thought it's possible she wasn't the first) who suggested that we assign worthiness by accessing behavior, not weight. Other people don't need to know how many calories anyone else ate in a given day. This kind of information is personal and should remain so.

“Personality begins where comparison leaves off. Be unique. Be memorable. Be confident. Be proud." -- Shannon L. Alder 

Monday, May 1, 2017

That Seductive Grace Period

Those of us who have gone down the path of compulsive or disordered eating and running only to fall off the deep end know there can be a grace period. I talk about this in detail in my book, so I won't go to great lengths to explain it here. Suffice to say that you can temporarily run well while living an unhealthy lifestyle. Hell, in my case, I set records, won a bunch of races and became one of the top mountain runners in the country while battling a severe eating disorder. I say battling knowing full well that for several years, I had no intention of changing my compulsive ways while I was on top.

Part of me understood that feeding my addiction couldn't possibly lead to longevity in the sport, but, like so many people in the throes of an illness, I justified my crazy actions, in my case by pointing out that I was still running well. I was aware enough to make sure I didn't encourage others to be as thin as I was. I knew I was sick. It was obvious. Sure, I can look back and say, "Wow, I ran some amazing times and races," but I can also look back and imagine how much better I would have been had I not been so lost in the disorder, the compulsions and the strict eating habits. I can say without a doubt that I did it all wrong, but I am glad I never encouraged others to engage in unhealthy behavior. I never focused on my weight when talking about my running, because I had at least some experience with running better when I was heavier. I was a stronger runner at a more sensible weight; there's no doubt about that. I was just too afraid to move away from the idiotic idea that I had to be thin, not necessarily in order to run well, but because it was some kind of strange and very powerful internal driving force, a very detrimental one. I had competing and conflicting goals: one to be thin, the other to run well.

If I'm honest, though, I was aware on some level that what I was doing wasn't going to ultimately help me reach my full potential as an athlete. People who had gone down a similar path did too and even tried to warn me. I felt like I couldn't help it. When I was confronted, I came up with all kinds of rationalizations, excuses and bizarre explanations about how I was different. I tried to convince myself and others I would keep running and winning despite what people said. That was before my body and even my mind, to a certain extent, starting suffering from the long-term effects of not eating right. An ugly truth about eating disorders that people don't like to discuss is the aftermath, the issues that people face even after years of recovery. It starts slowly, an injury here, another one there, tightness or weakness that isn't appropriate for someone so young, more races avoided or missed, and less stellar performances exhibited. My solution was to bump up the distance, but that ultimately made things worse. I could place in a 15K, but I knew my low 35 and 36-minute 10K days were gone. I knew I was no longer close to the true elite field, even in the mountains. It took time to get there, but I knew what was happening as my times suffered; I just couldn't figure out how to switch course.

In the end, I let the compulsions win. The results were disastrous. My experiences taught me a lot, though, and I had to change in order to save myself. My goals now are to take care of myself and be more present. I am accountable now, but my mind can still get caught up in the fears and lead me down the frantic thought path if I'm not careful. During times of increased stress or injury, I have to be very careful about how I'm treating myself and thinking about myself. My friend, Tonia, wrote this piece after her recent hip surgery. It's a beautiful post about how important it is to love and respect ourselves, especially during the hard times we face, something I'm still learning as I enter another rocky period with severe nerve and foot pain, a complication after the manipulation on my right foot. Pain changes how you view yourself and makes you question who you are. It's an uncomfortable position to be in. I'm struggling lately, not just because of the discomfort, which can be unbearable, but because I'm forced to think about my identity and rediscover who I am without something that helps keep me grounded and feeling OK in the world. That's not an easy position to be in, but when my body won't cooperate, I have no choice but to adapt.