Saturday, November 29, 2014

If I Don’t Like Me, Can I Take Care of Me?

Originally posted October, 2009 when Marsha Hudnall, RD, MS first joined the WeAreTheRealDeal site. Marsha has taught hundreds of women how to live the HAES (Health At Any Size) lifestyle through her decades of work at Green Mountain at Fox Run, a women’s retreat where she serves as owner and director. Read Marsha’s blog at A Weight Lifted.

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I often ask women when we meet in nutrition counseling sessions to imagine that after successfully adopting a healthy lifestyle, they found their weight remained the same. How would they feel?  Would they be okay with that, or would they be shattered?

Their responses are all over the map.  One thread, however, appears to correlate with how long they have been struggling with weight.  It seems to come down to how much their weight defines who they are, and those who have struggled the longest are the most defined by it.

Their stories have been heard repeatedly:

  • The woman who was singled out as a child because she was larger than the other kids, often due to developmental weight gain (that which can precede growth spurts).
  • The daughter of the weight-worried mother who didn’t want her child to “suffer the same problems” and subsequently faced a focus on size and restrictions in her eating.
  • The woman who was and is larger than the societal ideal (distorted as it is) and has faced discrimination her whole life.
  • And many more variations on the theme.

The journey to self-acceptance for those of us with these kinds of stories often revolves around the struggle to believe in ourselves, that we are okay as we are, that we don’t have to change our bodies to be valuable, to be loved.  Our struggle to accept ourselves often hangs on our core belief that we aren’t acceptable because of our bodies, something that was ingrained in our psyche as children, and cemented there as we maneuvered through our fat-phobic society.

In contrast, we women who grew up without the unfair burden of size difference may not feel deep dismay about ourselves as worthy people when we gain weight.  But we usually end up in the same place if we begin to struggle – not liking ourselves because of our weight, or because we can’t successfully achieve what is seldom a realistic goal.  We start recording a tape of negative self-talk that, although maybe shorter in length than women who started theirs years before, delivers the same crushing blows each time it plays.

The way out for both groups is the same, too.  Mimi Francis, our behavioral health therapist at Green Mountain, often asks,

“How well has not liking yourself worked so far?”

The truth is, it doesn’t work.  When we define ourselves by our bodies, and we dislike those bodies, then it’s much easier to abuse ourselves.

The dream that weight loss solves all problems complicates it even further.   Because thinness is pictured as inseparable from health, happiness and wealth, it’s difficult to realize that a smaller body size doesn’t automatically equate with success.

The fat acceptance movement, I believe, is a movement that can help us all move away from these misguided thoughts, feelings and behaviors.   In my book, it’s not about a dichotomy between those who want to lose weight and those who don’t. It’s about helping us all understand that weight isn’t the real problem, if one exists at all when we let go of weight worries.

If we could all realize that, we’d be much better able to discover what the real problems are, and likely see our success rates at solving them skyrocket.

Does your body size affect your ability to believe in yourself?

WATRD

photo courtesy of Stuart-Miless

Comments

39 Responses to “If I Don’t Like Me, Can I Take Care of Me?”
  1. Meems says:

    I’m thrilled to see a new contributor who represents a FA/HAES perspective!

    I’ve been seeing a nutritionist for about 6 months now and started because of a pretty sudden 10 (now 20) lb. weight gain. She’s been amazing with not focusing on weight, but rather making sure that I’m actually taking care of my body.

    Something I feel as though I’m constantly repeating here is that anyone who says that FA just encourages people to stay fat is missing the point. Why would anyone want to take care of herself if she dislikes who she is?! I really believe that learning to like yourself, regardless of weight, is a precursor to becoming healthy (if you aren’t already) and taking care of yourself both mentally and physically.

  2. LeAnna says:

    I was shocked at my response to the first question. I would be shattered if my weight remained the same.

    My body size is directly related to my happiness with myself. It’s sad, but it’s true. I’ve always thought that if I lost weight, I’d be able to get the boyfriend I want and then be happy. Truth is, I’m not outgoing and I don’t have enough confidence in myself (probably tied to weight issues and being criticized for it all throughout school) and that’s the main reason why I haven’t been able to find love or friends.

    Granted, I don’t exercise and eat whatever I want without moderation, so it’s not like I’m trying to be healthy or lose weight. I feel like I’m stuck between, “I don’t have to change my body for other people” and “I’m not healthy, I should change this.”

    I often find myself saying, “I personally don’t like the way my body looks. If I change it, I’ll have more confidence in myself.” That sounds like nobody’s opinion is influencing me, but when I think about it, deep down I know it’s society that makes me not like my body. I can’t disconnect my personal feelings about my body from society’s effed up conventions and standards.

    Well, I’ve gone on long enough, but I’ve been a lurker here for a while and the first sentence really shook me and my beliefs. Thanks for listening.

    • lissa10279 says:

      LeAnna you’re not alone; many women feel their weight is tied to their happiness, but though losing weight can do many positive things for someone’s self-esteem, it’s not the be-all end-all…that needs to come from within.
      “I can’t disconnect my personal feelings about my body from society’s effed up conventions and standards.” — so true! Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  3. lissa10279 says:

    What a beautiful post, Marsha. This line resonated a lot: “When we define ourselves by our bodies, and we dislike those bodies, then it’s much easier to abuse ourselves.” SO TRUE.

  4. mollie says:

    I’ve gotta say, I checked out that Green Mountain retreat site, and honestly as beautifully-phrased and empowering a s the site and the mission is, look at the daily schedule! Does that look like excessive exercise to anyone else?

    Of course you’ll get to a healthy weight by working out twice a day! That’s not life, that is boot camp with group therapy thrown in. Thoughts?

    • Gina says:

      I would hardly describe a day of optional yoga and Tai Chi classes, plus a one-hour hike, as either “excessive exercise” or “boot camp”.

    • Marsha says:

      Hi, Mollie,

      You’re right — exercise twice a day isn’t life for most of us. We have jobs and other responsibilities that call. But even more importantly, exercising twice a day isn’t necessary to achieve and maintain a healthy weight. And if we set our goals for that much exercise, life will surely confound most of us and we won’t get where we want to go.

      Instead of promoting excessive exercise, our daily schedule at Green Mountain reflects an attempt to help women find activities they like. We neither expect nor encourage someone who is staying with us to go to every class. We ask instead that they mix up their activities over the course of their stay with us so they can experience different types of physical activity and hopefully find something that appeals so they can continue doing it at home.

      We also encourage them to start listening to their bodies so they can feel when they’ve done enough exercise, and not buy into the old attitudes that have many women who come to us thinking “I better do it all so I can make the most of my time here and lose as much weight as I can.” We hope they’ll go home with a new outlook that recognizes they are undertaking a new way to live that doesn’t focus on an external goal such as weight loss but on an internal one that measures how we feel in the moment. That is our best guide to helping ourselves really take care of ourselves.

      • Gina says:

        Your retreat sounds really nice. :-)

      • Mollie says:

        Hi Marsha,

        Forgive me if my post was blunt- I’m in recovery from some ass-kicking bulimia which included the usual nasty amount of excessive exercise and purging calories, so admittedly I was a little biased when I read your website, as I am constantly on the look-out for ways in which our culture supports ED behaviors, and quick to protect girls who wrestled with what I did. It’s a knee-jerk reaction because it feels so personal to me, and I think in this case I approached it with less of an open mind than I could have. I realize your retreats do wonderful things for women, and not everyone would approach it with the same eating disordered brain that I have. I’m only 2.5 years out of my ED, so I’m still a little touchy :) Anyhow, sorry if I was rude, and thanks for taking the time to respond to me.

        Best,
        Mollie

        • Marsha says:

          I admire your vigilance, Mollie. It’s sorely needed in today’s world, unfortunately. FYI, I’m in 30-year recovery from bulimia and can still be touchy about the issue. Which I view as helpful to the women who come to us. So thanks for your note and your passion.

      • Hil says:

        That sounds wonderful! I so wish that I had figured out physical activities that I enjoyed sooner in life. P.E. managed to convince me that I was just not an exercise person because I hated running and competitive sports. It took me a while to figure out that I love dancing, walking, yoga, and the occasional free weight session.

    • Jennifer says:

      I have been to Green Mountain a couple of times and I feel the need to defend the exercise schedule.

      They provide many exercise opportunities throughout the day. However, no one does them all. You do as much as you need for your level of fitness. In addition, most of them are 45 minute to 1 hour opportunities, so it’s really a ‘taste’ of Zumba or a 1/2 hour hike (once you drive there and back). The idea is to get people to try new ways of movement so you can figure out what things motivate you and incorporate them when you get home. In addition, it’s a very supportive environment and there is no pressure to perform. There are people there who find success in being able to walk 1/4 mile on a track when they leave and fitter people who are excited to jog rather than walk 3 miles when they leave.

  5. Fab Kate says:

    It’s not just about self esteem, it’s about health as well. unfortunately, I think we as weight loss bloggers spend so much time focusing on some sort of media expectation that we really have unrealistic views of our bodies. I see so many people on the blogs I follow… lovely, sexy women with no health issues… agonizing over 10 or 20 lbs difference between their weight and some weight chart put out by an insurance company.

    On the other hand, it’s not ok to think that loving yourself means letting yourself become unhealthy. The post talks about healthy eating… would I be disappointed if I had engaged in a healthy eating plan and not lost weight. Sure. But I’d also know that I’d need to exercise more. But for me, being much more overweight than average, I know that losing weight will help with my health issues (and has already done so). If it were one of the women I mentioned previously, I’d suggest that they might already be at their healthy, normal weight.

    And I’m sure when I get to my healthy, normal weight I’ll know because I’ll stop losing…. and I’m just as sure that it will likely be some 30 lbs above what Met Life thinks I should weigh.

    If we truly define ourselves by our bodies (and in some ways we should: we ARE our bodies) we should also love those bodies as we love ourselves. We aren’t constantly comparing our spirit or our personality to those airbrushed women in magazines, why should we be comparing our bodies?

    While I honor any personal acceptance movement, I worry that the fat acceptance movement isn’t always about accepting and loving yourself the way you are, but is too often used by self hating individuals who feel hopeless about improving their health as an excuse not to gather their courage and fortitude and make changes in their lives that will improve the quality of their health. At times, it seems that we’re accepting the fat, and the toxic effects on our lives, when we should be embracing our potential.

    • Shulamit says:

      “While I honor any personal acceptance movement, I worry that the fat acceptance movement isn’t always about accepting and loving yourself the way you are, but is too often used by self hating individuals who feel hopeless about improving their health as an excuse not to gather their courage and fortitude and make changes in their lives that will improve the quality of their health. At times, it seems that we’re accepting the fat, and the toxic effects on our lives, when we should be embracing our potential.

      I find it to be the opposite. Fat acceptance has taught me that thin does not necessarily equal healthy, and fat does not necessarily equal unhealthy, and that I can be healthy at my current size. That’s the whole idea of HAES, isn’t it?. The only times I’ve felt hopeless about improving my health were the years I spent believing that I had to be at a societally-approved weight to be healthy. Fat acceptance teaches the opposite. It’s not FA that leads to hopelessness about the possibility of health, it’s the weight-loss industry.

      • Marsha says:

        Yes, that is the whole idea of HAES, Shulamit. The bottom line is that many of us are going to stay fat no matter how healthy we live (and are) because that’s how are our bodies are designed. If we spend our lives trying to change the impossible, and constantly failing, how could we feel anything else but hopeless?

    • “…is too often used by self hating individuals who feel hopeless about improving their health…”

      I often say that the best part about beating your head against a wall is stopping. I think many people have come to the conclusion that pursuing weight loss for the sake of weight loss is not giving up, but rather is declining to beat your head against said wall. Based on my experience, I believe I can improve my health greatly, but it will not significantly alter my BMI. It’s not hopeless in the slightest.

  6. Sarah says:

    I did not believe in myself at 345 pounds. If I had stayed at that weight I can only imagine what else I would not believe in. Love, trust, the list goes on. 185 pounds later and almost 5 years of maintenance I believe in me and my ability to do anything and that has nothing to do with what I look like. There is no way that I would have learned to love myself had I not gone on this journey. Accepting that fat, would have been a death sentence for me.

    • lissa10279 says:

      Beautifully said, Sarah, and congrats on your journey and success!

      A success story like yours is why I (personally) take issue with the FA movement, because accepting being X lbs (in your case, 345) was, as you noted, a “death sentence” — so it’s almost like, why would I support something that could be so harmful to someone? We all know cancer, diabetes, heart disease, etc. are often related to extreme obesity …

      No, I don’t think anyone should be discriminated against, of course not!! But I don’t think accepting oneself as “this is how I am” (if someone is morbidly obese) is the healthiest thing, either, esp. knowing what we know about obesity and mortality rates. There was a great post about this — the word “acceptance” you can read here–http://www.thefabulousfatties.com/2009/10/20/do-more-than-accept-it/

      • Cynthia says:

        I have my problems with extreme anti- all diet dogma among some FA people, but I know that it took accepting all 385 pounds of myself before I was able to make any changes in my life. I had to decide that I was worth the energy eating healthy foods and moving more would give me. I had to accept that I might never lose weight, but I didn’t have to refrain from activities I enjoyed like dancing, taking a walk and lifting weights because I was afraid of the rudeness of other people. I had to know that my value as a person exceeded any merit in their comments. I had to know that my life was worth living well even though I had never before and probably never would fit anybody’s acceptable body type mold. That was a few years and over a hundred pounds ago. I’m still fat. People still make rude comments, but I’m healthier, more active and more at peace with myself than I was when my sole motivation was losing weight to become acceptable to someone else’s standards. Would I enjoy being thinner? Probably, because it still looks easier to be a thin person in our culture than it is to be a fat person. If it’s a choice between accepting myself as a fat person who lives a rewarding life or rejecting my life as second rate and unworthy because I’m fat, I know my choice and I know I’m good enough to meet the challenge.

      • Marlie says:

        FA does not encourage people to be unhealthy, but it does occasionally ask why an individual should owe their health to anyone else.

        Why isn’t it enough to give a straight statement?

        I do not think anyone should be discriminated against.

        The end, no buts, no qualifications.

        When people add those, what they’re really saying is “you did this to yourself, so if you’re not going to change, you deserve what you get”. If people believe that, then they should say so, and not hide behind niceties. We could then find our true jumping off point in this ongoing discussion.

    • Marsha says:

      “Accepting that fat, would have been a death sentence for me.”

      Sarah, there’s a lot of confusion about the word acceptance that I tried to address in a roundabout way in my post. It’s not about giving up on change; it’s more about giving up on shame and hopelessness. Perhaps the quote below from two leaders in the size acceptance field will help. It’s from this page on our website: http://www.fitwoman.com/fitbriefings/healthateverysize.shtml

      Acceptance gets rid of the shame and can actually motivate, as explained by Karin Kratina and Jon Robison in Moving Away from Diets. “Positive change is much more likely to come from self-love than from self-hatred; people seek to take care of themselves when they feel they are worthy of it.”

      • Lampdevil says:

        “people seek to take care of themselves when they feel they are worthy of it.”

        Yes. Yes yes yes, and also some additional yes. YES. Fat Acceptance isn’t about just sitting around and not taking care of yourself at all, in some sort of act of stodgy defiance. In my experience, when I started considering myself a decent person worthy of good treatment, I started taking measures towards improving my health. I stopped seeing my body as some sort of grotesque enemy, and started viewing it as this awesome machine that can be strong, that reacts to how I treat it, and that works better when I treat it well.

        I’m constantly befuddled at all the people lamenting that FA means Being Unhealthy. It doesn’t. It.. just… totally doesn’t. The dominant image of health in our society is a thin body, which certainly explains the perception. But a fat body can still be a healthy one. A thin body can be an unhealthy one. Taking good care of oneself should not hinge on if the actions involved will make one’s body socially acceptable, but it’s SO EASY to fall into a trap of self-defeating self-loathing and just do nothing at all. I’m an obnoxious noisy FA proponent because I believe that it can make us all healthier, body and soul.

      • Meems says:

        This. Thank you. I feel as though this is constantly being said, but not being heard about FA – people are more apt to take care of themselves when they think that they are worth taking care of, regardless of size or weight.

  7. Hil says:

    “I often ask women when we meet in nutrition counseling sessions to imagine that after successfully adopting a healthy lifestyle, they found their weight remained the same. How would they feel? Would they be okay with that, or would they be shattered?”

    That’s such an important question. It’s one that I’ve really had to grapple with. I used to be terrified of the idea that my weight would stay the same no matter what I did, but I promised myself that I would really commit to healthy changes and then accept wherever my body ended up. As it turns out, I lost some weight, but didn’t end up at the “magic number” that I thought would somehow make me acceptable. So, my “magic number” had to go out the window.

    I know that my current weight reflects that I prioritize healthy eating and pleasurable movement but do not make the pursuit of those things my life. No chart can tell me that–only listening to my own body can.

  8. Allison says:

    So glad to see you blogging here, Marsha! I first came over here when Kate (ShapelyProse) posted a link, and have felt the balance of body-image perspectives has been a bit out of whack when I’ve popped in since.

    Me, I’m a soundly average-sized girl, currently up at the top of what was my pre-kids comfortable range. After my first child, I never quite got here. I put so much focus on it, but it didn’t happen, *because* I was so obsessed with size.

    At the beginning of my second pregnancy, I’d just read “How to Become Naturally Thin by Eating More,” by Jeane Antonello (seems to be out of print: http://www.amazon.com/Become-Naturally-Thin-Eating-Anti-Diet/dp/0380764423/ref=pd_cp_b_3 ) And, I decided what the heck…I’d try. Considering I was in the first weeks of pregnancy, did I EVER EAT. I gained about 20 pounds (at least) before the end of the first trimester. By the end of pregnancy, I wasn’t quite so ravenous and had gained 50 pounds (compared to 60 with my first child).

    When pregnancy ended, I was outright big (202 felt big on my 5’3″ frame!), and it was scary…but I continued to follow my appetite instead of some arbitrary rules. I get exercise as I can simply because I LIKE IT. And, it took 1-1/2 years, but I’m now back to my pre-pregnancy weight. That seems unremarkable until I remind people that I haven’t dieted at. all.

    All of this is just to say that yes, focusing on health — and not obsessing about food — is crucially important. Now, if I could just get my (body dysmorphic) husband to “get it,” too!

  9. julie says:

    Absolutely tied to weight, and I have my very neurotic ED mother to thank for this. LeAnna, second comment, sums up the way I feel, except I was very sad to discover that this was the uncompromising way that I felt. I wish it wasn’t this way, but decided that it’s easier to change my body than my mind. I was kidding myself that it would all be good then, though it is better-completely due to how our culture treats fat people, nothing to do with health.

  10. ozzy says:

    Learning to love myself enough to want to be healthy instead of hating myself for not being “thin enough” has been my biggest struggle thus far. My discovery of the fat acceptance movement has done so much to help that, even though, like julie, I’d rather take the “easy” way of changing my body instead of healing my mind.

    But the idea of not defining myself by my body? Wow. Scary. So not there yet. Sometimes the road seems too long. But a thought-provoking post that brings me out of myself and reminds me that I am not alone helps a lot. So thank you, Marsha, so much, for this lovely and well-written post.

  11. Great post Marsha. I am glad you decided to become a contributor here! I think for most people body size, in addition to not using your body and feeling tired all the time, can affect your ability to believe in yourself. The best thing I ever did was decide I was a cool person regardless of my weight. That was the foundation I built on after I started getting healthy and it’s done wonders for me.

  12. DaniJo says:

    What hurts the most is it doesn’t effect my ability to believe in myself, but it affects the ability of OTHERS to believe in me. I’m not a person who craves acceptance and I’ve learned to find more positive people, but it can hurt nonetheless. Also, for the life of me I can’t recall what my answer was when that question was asked at GMFR (prob NO), but now 7 years later the answer to Marsha questions is HELL YES! I’M OK WITH IT!

    • Marsha says:

      Ah, DaniJo, you have hit upon one of the major issues of fat prejudice. Much too often, I read something that underscores that. Just this week, it was a study that showed physicians have less respect for their patients with higher BMIs. All I can say is that there are some dedicated and very smart people working on a national level to at least raise awareness of the wrongness of this. While it may be a long while before it comes to pass (probably not in my lifetime), I like to believe at some point we will be appreciated for who we are, not for what we look like. In the meantime, hooray for you that you believe in yourself and your size doesn’t factor into your ability to do so.

  13. meerkat says:

    Of course! Because hating myself was just a strategy to accomplish something, not a conclusion based on perceptions of myself and my values, and since it doesn’t work I will just flick it off like a light switch. It is that simple! How could I be so stupid as to not do this earlier?

  14. I’m reading this as being sarcastic, meerkat, but just checking to be sure. :)

    • meerkat says:

      Yes, that was sarcasm. But seriously, hating myself works very well at reducing incidents in which I make stupid assumptions like that people want to hear my opinion or be my friend or something (as if I were a worthwhile human being), with awkward, embarrassing, and/or traumatic results. Unfortunately it did not work well enough to stop me posting here! I guess I should try to hate myself more?

  15. fafajadmiko says:

    Their responses are all over the map. One thread, however, appears to correlate with how long they have been struggling with weight. It seems to come down to how much their weight defines who they are, and those who have struggled the longest are the most defined by it.

  16. Jen says:

    I am in the infant stages of changing my own attitude towards weight loss, body image, food obsession, etc. I want to thank the author of this post, along with those that chose to comment, both negatively and positively. 2 1/2 years later, your words are helping me shape my approach in my own journey of self acceptance.

    I have struggled with food my entire life. First, I was a child in a large, poor family, and out of hunger, we competed for every scrap of food we ate. Then, we received state assistance and, as our cups runneth over, we ate more than we should have, more “junk food” and learned to eat for the wrong reasons. Both my parents were considered obese, and I was exposed to society’s attitudes towards overweight people early on. I was also a shy, introverted child who was criticized for that, so I have constantly tried to seek approval from others and tried to be what is considered “normal” in society and believed that who I was was not good enough. I still struggle with these issues, a history of verbal and emotional abuse and the behaviors that result – like striving for perfectionism, and with a long history of starvation and bingeing to keep my outside looking normal so no one would question what was going on in my inside.

    After years of this struggle, I finally let the binge take over. I then set out on a crazy round the world tour of all types of diets. Now, exhausted and more unhealthy than ever, I have been researching the FA/HAES philosophy. I think I am more at Leanna’s stage of “I feel like I’m stuck between, “I don’t have to change my body for other people” and “I’m not healthy, I should change this.” I get really angry that I can’t eat and do whatever I want and still be okay. I feel like even the HAES philosophy is a restrictive diet, telling me what to do to be healthy – and then I see how silly that idea is…I am actually fighting being healthy. What does that say about my feelings toward myself?

    “Positive change is much more likely to come from self-love than from self-hatred; people seek to take care of themselves when they feel they are worthy of it.” Wow. True. My journey is going to be complicated and deeply personal. Reading through the other comments helps me understand how complicated it is. Everyone is in their own stage of acceptance, everyone is still learning what it means to be healthy because healthy is an individualistic ideal. No one can tell me what healthy is for me. Sure, there are plenty of facts, studies, and statistics about nutrition, but I have to come to my own conclusion about what is best for me.

    Admitting this is a personal issue does not mean I don’t understand what role society has played in my food addiction/obsession. I am 38 years old, a product of TV/Radio/Internet influences. My mom started out as a stay at home mom who cooked meals from scratch and by my pre-teen years, she had to go to work to support the family and we became slaves to the prepackaged meals, snacks and fast food restaurants. We also stopped having meals at specific times together at the table – it became a free for all during the day – then we would have a quick dinner in front of the TV at night. I don’t remember any overweight people on TV being portrayed in a good way. Celebrity became bigger than ever over these years, think Kirstie Alley’s struggle all over the magazines – along with plastic surgery, exercise programs, weight loss programs – all advertised zealously. We definitely need to change how our bodies are portrayed in the public – but I think we need to come together as a society and say enough already – and stop supporting anyone who uses these ads – some of the HAES related articles I have read lately have been on web pages that have Weight Watchers advertisements right along side them!!!! How distracting is that – to be trying to learn how to accept myself at the same time while seeing an ad for a popular weight loss program out of the corner of my eye.

    I thank everyone who is truly supportive of other people’s journey to health. I do wish we would strive toward people acceptance instead of fat acceptance. Skinny, fat or in between, we are all on our own journey and could use a lot more support from each other and a lot less pressure from society to be a certain way to be accepted.

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