Eating And Health

New post for the new year. This was originally going to be a comment on The Rotund‘s post on mindful/comfort eating but then the comment just kept getting longer.

Society views health as something visible. Anyone who has been “invisibly” sick and disbelieved knows this. Just as people have been “invisibly” (e.g. fat) and healthy and disbelieved know this. If you look good, then you must feel good, amirite? Everyone else is lying or faking or doesn’t know what’s good for them.

And that’s where all sorts of eating issues come in. I’ve mentioned before that I find emotional eating perfectly fine. There are two aspects of health. The physical and the mental, and we ignore the mental. It’s not uncommon for us to ignore the mental to the point of damaging it. It is not unhealthy to eat if eating helps. If eating something comforting on a bad day improves someone’s mental health, then actually, it’s healthy. Becoming dependant on it to feel better is not, but same goes for anything else.

I’m not saying that exercise can’t help someone’s mental state. But it doesn’t help everyone’s all the time. Sometimes, if there is an answer, food can be it. Or food can help be it. We look at cute videos of small animals to make us happy. We listen to up beat music to make us smile. We take a warm bath to relax. We step outside in the summer and take a whiff of freshly cut grass and feel at peace. We use all our other senses to aid ourselves in feeling positive. Only taste has this added layer of guilt or shame. And that’s not going to help anyone who wants to feel better. The shame about playing music too loud and damaging our ears or taking too hot showers can cause dry skin is barely there. But it is for taste because taste has to do with weight, and well, all that.

I was thinking about this yesterday. I woke up late and rushed through everything skipping breakfast and missing lunch. By the time dinner came around, I had zero interest in anything in the kitchen besides some ice cream. But I couldn’t just eat ice cream. So I left it alone and continued to be hungry. Until a few hours later, it hit me. Yes, I could just eat ice cream. Because, get this, eating ice cream was healthier than not eating it, in that context. It’s true that eating a lot of other things in my kitchen would have been healthier than the ice cream. Maybe a salad or some oatmeal or . . . really just about anything. But the thing is, those weren’t options because I wasn’t going to eat them. I just wasn’t. My relationship with food, my relationship with motivation eliminated these things as being options.

I think the point is kind of lost in there. My point is sometimes re-framing is in order. In that situation, I wasn’t choosing what to eat, I was choosing to eat. In a comfort eating situation, it isn’t choosing to indulge in something unhealthy, it’s improving one’s immediate well-being. The morality of food is another issue, but even saying “brownies are bad for your body” does not make eating one for comfort morally wrong or overall unhealthy. Because while bodies are awesome, we are more than our bodies. We are also more than our minds. We are a unit of both and that means understanding balancing the health of both is important.

Yeah. That. Mental health. It’s ignored. Combined with the Big Bad of eating for something other than sustenance makes people fail to see comfort eating as a tool rather than a Terrible Idea. I guess I could have just written that comment without the ramble. But it’s the journey and all that. . . I need to get used to this blogging thing again.

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January 19, 2011. Tags: , , . Current. Leave a comment.

I Did Need to Eat That

Dances with Fat is one of the many FA centred blogs I read. And her most recent entry (Do You Need to Eat That) reminded me of a story I want to tell. Which is good because I’ve been lacking in the update ideas department as of late.

I’ve mentioned my disordered eating before, and how sometimes it’s a response to stressors, but sometimes it isn’t. In the past, I experimented with eating as little as possible for no other reason than I thought it felt good and I wanted beyond any hope or reason to be skinny.

The first time I started doing this was in high school. Breakfast would be one packet of instant oatmeal, and lunch would be half an apple, dinner would sometimes be a binge, but also sometimes be a frozen Weight Watcher’s dinner (which, are pretty good as far as frozen dinners go, surprisingly). One of these nights, I was going to sleep early due to a new sleep schedule I had imposed on myself. My dinner was going to be guacamole and chips, since my father had made guacamole for the family dinner I would be skipping that night.

He saw me eating the chips with guac and on the third one, he asked “Do you really need to eat that?” Since the chip was already loaded, I ate it, but then said something like “I guess you’re right, I should stop now.” and did.

But the thing is, I did really need to eat that. And a lot more food, at that. But I knew and he knew he wasn’t asking that question, he was telling me to stop. I remember only one or two other instances of being asked that by someone. All I can remember about those times is being pissed off and ashamed. This culture sucks sometimes.

November 20, 2010. Tags: , , . Reflection. Leave a comment.

Two Setbacks

So updating is something that maybe I should do at times when I have a blog and all.

Lately I’ve been much more accepting of my body. Partially because it’s been shorts weather (for me, anything above 50 is shorts weather), and I’m so much more comfortable in my shorts than pants. This is because pants have to fit thighs and bellies and butts and then also preferably not extend past my feet too far. Shorts are easier. Shorts have to be baggy, have pockets and comfortably fit my waist. All the other nonsense is covered by their excess bagginess and the fact that they’re short. They’re like skirts without the chub rub (’cause my shorts are also knee length.) I guess it comes down to the fact that I know what I want with shorts but even though I’ve basically been in this body for at least five to seven years, I don’t know what I want in pants yet.

I had one really good week. Every day that week I felt more and more confident in my body. But then it got cold and I was changing in front of a full body mirror and I feel like all the body love I managed to accomplish that week managed to fall apart when I was standing in front of the mirror in those pants. While, as I’ve mentioned before, I generally fit in straight sizes due to my height and what might actually be a tenuous status as a fatty*, I feel like this setback in clothes has made me feel even more strongly about all bodies being able to find clothes that fit them. It isn’t just a question of visibility and versatility, though those are probably the two most prominent reasons. It’s the fact that accepting our naked body is one thing, it’s something only you and those you let in (and also medical professionals) are allowed to see. Accepting my clothed body seems to be a lot harder than accepting my naked one. Because clothing doesn’t always fit right. Because clothing impacts how everyone else sees me. Trousers of all sorts seem to create a roll that wasn’t there before. They seem to highlight the size of my thighs. They throw all the proportions that were fine a second ago into some sort of weird shape I don’t want. It’s not that I’m wearing the wrong size pants, I’ve considered it. It’s that I’m not comfortable with the uniformity my legs get. All the muscle and the fat just gets lumped into one casing. Or maybe that I’m just not comfortable. When I notice this happening to me when I have all the options that I do, I can’t imagine what someone who is solidly plus-sized has to go through.

My other large setback has to do with the fact that my temporary apartment is soon to become my former apartment. This means that I’m having a hard time cooking or going grocery shopping and again, limiting my calories to an unhealthy number. This is part to do with the fact that I keep odd hours and partially because I’ve eliminated meat from my diet for moral reasons and this makes finding a decent sandwich a bit more difficult. I’ve already felt the mental/emotional side effects of the self-imposed starvation** kick in this morning when I had my breakfast with me on the subway and I absolutely did not want to eat it in public. I am pretty far along in this whole body acceptance journey, I think, especially considering that my active and reflective participation has been happening for fewer than six months. That said, I would be a liar if I weren’t hoping I’d lose a few pounds and keep it off for a while if I’m going to do this silly diet*** anyway. I am far enough along though, to say that when I am back in a more permanent residence, I will stop this nonsense. Which is a huge step for me. Usually I’m promising myself that as soon as I can, I’ll halve my calories and double my exercise. It’s liberating going the other way (well, for the food anyway, I still plan on exercising more ’cause it helps me sleep better). So while this is a setback it’s one that’s let me see how far I’ve come.

*I still don’t have enough body and cultural awareness to actually make this call.
**I believe my current caloric intake is around 1,200 kcal a day. So still within “normal” diet rules and starvation might be too harsh of a word, but I’m kind of hungry right now, but nowhere is open and I don’t have any food.
***Diet in this particular instance means what I eat, not a means to lose weight.

May 28, 2010. Tags: , , . Uncategorized. 1 comment.

Walking Doesn’t Burn Calories

My mother came to visit me last week and we did the touristy thing. The touristy thing here involves an insane amount of walking (Her: “Do you want to take a cab? Are you sure you don’t want to take a cab?”) and lots of stairs (Her: “So this country doesn’t believe in elevators?”). Also, eating delicious food. Which prompted the following conversation*.

Mother: If I lived here, I would be so fat.
Me: But think of all the walking we’ve done.
Mother: Well, walking doesn’t do anything for me. I mean, I can walk and not burn any calories.

Now, I’m not sure if I managed, but I certainly tried to convince her that walking does actually burn calories. Just like being alive does. Really, everyone needs calories so that our bodies can do their things. I know that I have, in the past, fallen into the train of thought where in order for me to burn more calories than I consume, I need to burn them with exercise. As in, if I decide to DDR for a half hour and burn 300 kcal** and then assume that a relatively inactive day added onto that would only burn 100 additional kcals so I would have to eat under 400 kcals to lose any weight.*** That was just wrong on so many levels. I’ve heard that the old diet advice “If you want to be 120 pounds eat 1200 kcals” is more like “If you are 120 pounds, you need 1200 kcals to function on the most minimal level, and then eat more if you actually plan on moving.”

And I didn’t come up with these ideas in a vacuum. My mother was a large contributor (she’s really a great mother, but still human, which is where this comes in) and she had to have heard these ideas somewhere as well. I’ve heard a lot of what she’s said about weight said elsewhere. So I’m going to try and unpack some of what she said to me this week. This time without any of the quotes.

1. Exercise is not magic. Someone who goes from being fairly sedentary to any level of activity is not going to magically drop the weight s/he always wanted to lose. Especially if this exercise is something like “walking a mile a day”. While the increase in activity will probably**** be beneficial to this person’s health this benefit will not always show up as a lower number on the scale or even a smaller pants size. This goes doubly so for anyone who assumes that an increase in activity is permission to eat what they want. Sure, you don’t need permission to eat what you want. No one does, but if the goal is to be healthy (and/or lose weight*****) exercise is only one component.

2. Eating like a normal person. My mother said something like that and I had no idea what she meant. I don’t even know if she knew what she meant. I don’t know if I know a “normal person”. I certainly couldn’t tell you what s/he eats. There are people of varying heights, weights, metabolic rates, food allergies/intolerances, able-bodyness and activity levels. Probably other things I forgot. Someone who has IBS can’t eat like someone who has no colon who can’t eat like a lactose intolerant athlete who can’t eat like a cubical worker with really fast metabolism who chooses not to eat like a vegan. Any and all of those people can be fat. Or skinny. Or somewhere in the middle. And I still can’t figure out who a normal person.

3. Gaining a pound. Anyone who has ever had an obsession with their scale can tell you that they weigh differently in the morning when they first wake up than they do before they go to bed. Before and after they go to the bathroom. Depending on how much water they drink and food they’ve eaten. If and what clothes they’re wearing. Even the spot in their cycle if they’re female. Or at least I can tell you that due to my few month obsession with a scale (I no longer own). I can also say that my pants size and my weight don’t always correlate as nicely as scale numbers gaining means pants tightening. Sometimes it can mean pants falling off. So I can’t understand why people flip out over a single pound, especially after they mention how much better their clothes are fitting. The disconnect astounds me.

The crazy thing about these three things is that while I can sit here and type the “right answers”, it doesn’t mean that I won’t say, increase my exercise when I get back to my home country and then wonder why I can’t eat like a normal person and freak out about a pound I’ve gained. The disconnect is just as strong in me as it seems to be in the people I talk to. Hopefully just being able to return to here and see that no, I’m not being logical, will be enough. It’s harder to argue with yourself than it is with someone else, I’ve found.

*My memory recall is not so great as for this to be word for word, obviously.
**I’m really good at DDR. Not like, those crazy kids at the arcade good, but good enough not to be totally embarrassed doing DDR in public.
***Pre FA days when I was “dieting”
****I’m not a doctor, I can’t say for sure. And people are individuals and who knows what which exercises might trigger especially if someone’s doing something incorrectly, etc. etc.
*****I like asterisks way too much. Also I know FA is not an advocate of dieting but I’m not going to judge. Also, in the context of my mother, this is her goal.

May 1, 2010. Tags: , , , , . Reflection. Leave a comment.

Food Logs

Food logs are my big evil. Most of my serious previous attempts to lose weight have come coupled with food logs. This is because everyone says how wonderful those things are. They make you take responsibility for your eating etc . etc. It’s also because my mother is a lifetime member of Weight Watchers and I’ve unofficially been on the points diet several times (My mother is familiar enough and has enough of their literature that the only thing I ever failed to get out of my unofficial version is the weekly meetings) and a huge part of said diet is writing down everything you eat.

Well, the thing with me is that my disordered eating doesn’t appear when I weigh myself every day. It doesn’t show up (as much*) when I try to restrict calories. Mine shows up with food logs. I start out writing what I eat. I also stop snacking on say, one cookie, or one chip because then I’d have to write it, and that’s just silly and not worth it, and I guess in that way the log works. But then I look at the list and go “Wow, that’s huge!” because I list every food individually because I want to see what I eat** . This means milk and cereal takes up two lines, a third for a vitamin. Sandwiches can take around four or five. And I start wanting to make the list smaller and smaller. I have a page in my “take everywhere notebook” that has several attempts at food logs, and I can always tell where a new food log begins because I am writing on the lines again in my normal (but still small) handwriting. The last day of the previous food log tends to look like a date with three things (one of which is almost always the multivitamin) crammed in-between the lines of the paper.

At this point in the log, I tend to be so super proud of myself for managing to fit all my food in one line of space (one and a half if you include the date). I’m also wacked out, crazy pants, mood-swinging insane and cannot make up my mind about anything. Which is why the log then fails.

Hopefully the next time I’m thinking of doing a food log, I’ll read/remember this post and just avoid the crazy. Or, at the very least keep a health log (including exercise, sleep and water) on my computer so I can avoid the unhealthy attitude.

*My calorie restriction is also crazy because when I don’t or cannot check something, I will assume an apple is 150 calories and an avocado has to be 375. Also, one Oreo is what, 120? And as I sit here looking at that, an apple has to be at least 200 and an avocado can’t be less than 450, but the Oreo looks right. Quick googling tells me a large apple is 110, an avocado is 300 and a single oreo is 55. I obviously have no idea what I’m doing.
**”Veg and cheese Sandwich” doesn’t say nearly as much as “Whole wheat bread (2 slices), cheddar (2 slices), tomato (half), lettuce”

March 11, 2010. Tags: , , . Reflection. Leave a comment.

Emotional Eating

I don’t find emotional eating problematic. Boredom eating, yes. But not emotional eating, not always. Sometimes when I’m having a terrible, terrible day and all I can do is cry, ice cream is a damn good consolation. I could read a book or play a video game or watch TV, but TV and books (and even sometimes games) can make things worse. Feeling miserable for some character is just more misery. Playing video games can make me angry if I die, it’s also hard for me to do something less passive than reading. I sure don’t want to leave the house, ’cause the days where I feel like crap, I’m also inclined to look like crap (not shower/brush my hair/find clean clothes/etc.) and I certainly don’t want to risk running into other people. I’m not much of an artist, writing doesn’t make me feel better and there are only so many other by-myself activities that I can think of to do. Nothing that can make me feel better.

So I honestly don’t see what’s so wrong with attacking a pint of Ben and Jerry’s when these moods hit.

To me, my physical health means nothing if my mental health isn’t passable. If it helps, then it shouldn’t matter. I mean, yes, I do notice my mental health is tied in with my physical health. However, I’m more likely to go crazy if lack food or sleep, and while exercise and eating healthy help improve my mood, I don’t feel like unhealthy eating detracts. No exercise might, but I only start to notice it if I haven’t left the house for a few days. To me, being skinny and unhappy is not an improvement on fat and happy.

It also happens rarely enough that even if I did cut it out, I might or might not lose some weight. So I don’t feel guilty. If I felt guilty, then I’d have no reason to partake in emotional eating, and then I’d just be miserable for longer. I think this attitude is one of my few healthy ones.

February 28, 2010. Tags: . Reflection. Leave a comment.