On loss, fear of gaining weight, & mindful eating
I’ve been running two very slow miles on an AlterG anti-gravity treadmill during my weekly physical therapy sessions, but the hamstring is still nagging me. The medical experts stress that I need to be patient because of the stubbornness of this injury. I’m not a particularly patient person. And honestly, I have had my ups and downs. One day I’ll feel hopeful. The next I’ll feel the sharp twinge in my bum and will be tempted to start wailing.
My little man can relate.
Feeling sad about a running injury when so many others (like most of the world’s population) have so many bigger problems makes me feel sheepish and guilty, but someone recently helped to make me feel better. She said what I’ve suspected but felt silly saying aloud. “You have suffered a profound sense of loss, and it has changed your life.”
It has, and it seems to be more challenging not having this part of me as I enter this lovely but busy season.
I gave a speech this past Sunday that partly dealt with not allowing the Advent season to leave you frazzled and burnt out. I reminded the audience that God doesn’t need perfection from you or the decorations in your home or a calendar brimming with potlucks, parties, and planned events to be adored. Baby Jesus – the Light of the World – was born in a dirty, smelly stable, which goes to show you beautiful things can come out of imperfect situations.
Well, not only did I wake up the morning of the speech with my left eye almost completely swollen-shut from some weird allergic reaction (thankfully, taking Benadryll before the speaking engagement reduced the swelling and redness), but I walked in to the hallway of the bank where the event was being held and then opened a glass door in front of me, which promptly set off the alarm. Fabulous.
Actually, this all made for a great intro to my speech, and I left feeling encouraged not frazzled. But just as I’d warned the audience, the feelings of peacefulness might not last.
This week has been a doozy, and I feel more stressed than ever. And, frankly, a lot of my heightened stress has to do with the fact that my primary outlet – running or at least more rigorous cardio – has been taken away from me. I just can’t get my heart rate up enough to get those endorphins flowing without feeling pain in the high hamstring area.
I have a friend who is a runner who just found out she has a stress fracture and is now in a boot. She said to me that this is the worst possible time to not be able to run. We joked about how we’ll be gorging on holiday goodies without burning off any of the excess. As someone who encourages people to not fret over occasional (even small, daily!) indulgences or to ever fear getting fat, I hate to admit that I am approaching this holiday season and the binge-fest that often comes right along with it with some trepidation.
If I were a better body image expert, I’d tell you that I never ran to give me an excuse to eat more, but how about if I be an imperfect but honest “expert.” I loved to run, but I also love to eat. If I know in advance I get to eat out at a restaurant, you’d better believe I’ll check out the menu and decide what sounds the most delicious.
When I was regularly running fairly high mileage, I routinely burned around 3,000 calories a week according to my Garmin watch, which is fairly accurate (and that was only counting running, not my other daily physical activities). I could basically eat whatever I wanted and not gain an ounce. Of course, me being constantly “rungry” could explain why I never lost much weight either (I never have shed the seven extra pounds from Thomas, or I don’t think I have. I don’t weigh myself anymore). I remember back in early October popping another handful of candy corn and peanuts in my mouth and then later wondering why my skinny jeans weren’t loose yet. (Note to self: Skinny jeans are supposed to fit to your body and not be baggy.) All the running in the world won’t make up for mass candy corn consumption.
The candy corn is gone. (I didn’t eat it all. I swear.) But there are cookies, candy canes, and rushed schedules that make wholesome eating a little more challenging, so I’m afraid of gaining weight. I still have not stepped on the scale since I decided to put an end to my recurring scale sickness. As I wrote in that post, I am more than a number. I believe this and know it intellectually, but I have to admit I’m afraid of all those Christmas cookies and all the opportunities to eat more than I normally would coupled with the fact that I’m not a calorie-burning inferno any longer.
There. I said it. Yes, I have some fears about gaining weight now that I am sidelined from running. No, I didn’t run or exercise to be thin but to be healthy and strong, but now that I can’t, I do admit to worrying about the repercussions. As a proponent of making peace with food and your body, it pains me to say that, but not admitting it wouldn’t be authentic. And if this blog has ever been anything at all more than a rambling mess, it’s been authentic.
I had a kind reader who is working to overcome an eating disorder write me recently and ask for advice about this season. She’s afraid she’s going to eat too much and start hating her body. If she had asked me this last year, I would have probably been more eloquent and wise. Maybe I would have told her she’s more than a clothing size, and that the reflection in the mirror only gives us a snapshot of whom we are – and it’s frequently a distorted one at that. I may have told her there is no shame in eating a few Christmas cookies or swigging some eggnog, and doing so does not make us “weak” or “bad.” I might have told her to pray the Serenity Prayer. I may have asked her what she’s really afraid of because chances are, she isn’t really afraid just about gaining weight. She’s afraid of something deeper. Eating disorders, fear of weight gain, body image angst – these are all symptoms of a greater illness. Take me, for example. I still struggle sometimes with not feeling good enough. I had a dear friend ask me not too long ago what it would take to get to that good enough place. I am working on it. There are some internal scripts that were pieced together in my past that I still need to edit – or just burn. When I was in the midst of my eating disorder, I was more afraid of losing control and than I was of gaining weight. It was very revealing to me when I finally realized that I was trying to make myself thinner because I felt like I could not make myself more lovable. The healing truly began when I realized I didn’t have to. I didn’t have to do anything to have worth or to earn anyone’s love.
More recently, what I’ve really been mourning more than not running is a sense of identity loss. It’s not just that I’m no longer a runner; that never defined me. I was a person who ran. Truth is, I feel very hidden lately. The invisible mama and all. So I’m not really afraid of gaining weight and taking up more space. I’m afraid of not being noticed at all, of my kids growing up too quickly and me being left in an empty house with nothing but a heap of regrets. And, yeah, I’m afraid I’m going to be one of those people I read about on a woe-is-me forum that never really rebounds from a high hamstring injury. Those are the real fears. My weight is the scapegoat.
Today I felt down, and I chose to not fuel my body with the best food. That made things worse, and I had to take a deep breath and not let it all go downhill from there. I tend to globalize my behaviors and emotions. I lose my patience with my kids. Ergo I am a bad mother. I screwed up and ate two chocolate chip banana muffins instead of just one. Ergo I might as well have a third because I am a pathetic, horrid creature with no will power.
I’m getting better at not allowing my thoughts to implode and leave me feeling crushed and defeated. Something that has helped me achieve this is to not just tell myself take it one day at a time, but to break it in to even smaller increments. One moment at a time. (Go on and pray the Serenity Prayer. It’s a beaut.) Yup. The Feast of Saint Nicholas started with fighting children and me hollering over the clatter that I hate Christmas! What I really hate, of course, is all the noise, noise, noise. I can relate to the Grinch more than the joyful Whos sometimes, I’m afraid. But things got better. I explained to the kids that I didn’t hate Christmas, but that I was having a hard time with all the fighting and hoopla and what I really hated is that the true meaning can get lost in the candy cane highs and gimme, gimme, gimmes. I’m also having a hard time with the Advent/Christmas decorations. I went to sit in our library (my favorite place to reclaim peace and to get cozy with kids and books), and our entire Fontanini Nativity set had mysteriously migrated to the couch. It feels like there’s just more to clean up. I know I should be glad my 2 and 4-year-old are getting up close and personal with Mary and Joseph (Baby Jesus stays hidden until Christmas), but it’s no fun to sit on a Wise Man.
I had to remind myself of my puffy eye, me setting off a bank alarm, and reminding the audience that it’s up to us find peace in our lives even in the midst of the chaos. Take a deep breath. Eat a cookie. No, don’t. You’re not really hungry for a cookie. You’re hungry for peace!
Tonight I broke a sweat doing safe upper body weight training and core work, and I also reminded myself that I choose to exercise and eat healthfully not as a form of punishment but because I want to feel my best physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.
I don’t want exercise to morph into a purgative measure. I want it to be for me and done out of a genuine love for myself and what I have to offer to others. The same is true with eating. It’s very difficult to lose weight – and keep it off – if you don’t love yourself. If you approach eating as a way to deny yourself of something, then at some level you’re saying you’re not worthy. You’re not lovable the way you are. That’s rubbish. How about choosing to exercise and eat healthy because you do care about yourself? How about saying “I choose to move my body and eat more wholesome food” rather than telling yourself you should do those things?
Besides, no one likes a “hangry” person. (Hunger = anger)
In some ways, I feel like I’m having to relearn some of the principles I had to embrace when I was recovering from my eating disorder, so perhaps that email from the woman struggling was timely. Besides what I wrote above, I’d encourage her to practice mindful eating. This is one of the most powerful ways to free yourself from fearing food or obsessively counting calories, something I admit I was tempted to start doing when running was taken away from me. This phrase is thrown around a lot, but it’s rarely practiced. I was reading the most recent issue of Cooking Light, and it had an article devoted to the practice. Kate Meyers, the article’s author, explained mindful eating well. “The concept of mindful eating,” she writes, “centers around the emotional and spiritual value of food – how it makes us feel, and how it helps us not just to live but to thrive. It says that the way to eat is less is to pay attention more. This happens when you teach your brain and palate to deeply enjoy the experience of eating in the present moment.”
See, eating is supposed to be pleasurable, not a source of angst. Pay attention more, and you’ll almost always eat less.
The article went on to interview Geneen Roth, a body image and mindful eating expert. She offers some rules to follow if you’re trying to eat more mindfully. These are worth noting during this busy time of year when it’s easy to mindlessly nosh on tasty treats at myriad social gatherings. She encourages you to eat when you are hungry and to eat sitting down in a calm environment without distractions (eating in the car doesn’t count). Here’s what’s really crazy: She urges you to eat what you want. That’s right. If you don’t really feel like the kale quinoa salad today, that’s okay. Give yourself permission to eat something else, and then eat it until you are satisfied, but do it in full view of others. No secret stashes or binges. You should not feel guilty about eating. And above all, eat with gusto! Eating is an act that must be savored. If you eat with intention, if you listen to your body’s cues and share meals with others, if you eat what you want when you want it, then eventually you will teach your body to tell you what you need. You will have your fill, and you won’t be afraid of the pending famine that used to always come after you felt like you had eaten too much or decided to start another diet.
I’ve had to learn to trust my body and what it tells me. Too many times I don’t pay attention to its cues – whether it’s been pushing myself too hard through an injury or eating too much or too little. I’m going to love myself and trust myself more this holiday season and in to 2014. My body will tell me what it needs, and sometimes that’s a glass of wine and scone studded with chocolate chips. Sometimes it’s a green smoothie jam-packed with spinach and chia seeds.
I have suffered a loss, but I’m not going to fill it unnecessarily with food. However, I am going to enjoy what I eat. I am going to be grateful that while I can’t run for stress relief, I can hold a plank for two minutes and sit now without too much pain. I’m going to eat when I’m hungry and eat what I want in the company of good friends and loved ones.
I’m going to remember that this season is a season of hope and set my eyes on what’s to come.
How’s that for a digressive tangent for you?