This often surprises people, even my close friends, but sometimes – often, actually – I find myself thinking mean things about my body. Usually, I am able to notice the thought (‘you used to be thinner’) and replace it with a compassionate statement (‘you look and feel amazing!’). But I have done a shitload of work, and am almost half a century old, so I can do this, pretty much as automatically as most girls and women immediately scowl at themselves when they look in the mirror.
Last night I went to see a local screening of the new documentary, Embrace. Do you remember that thing that went viral on Facebook in 2013, when a woman (Taryn Brumfitt) posted a Before and After picture? Unlike those annoying ones we usually see, that for most of us trigger a combination of “That’s inspiring/I hate myself” – Tamryn’s post showed a slim, beauty contestant Before photo and a fuller, more relaxed, tastefully nude After photo. Whoa, that was revolutionary! And the ensuing frenzy (3.6 million clicks!) showed she had clearly struck a nerve. And this realization led to the creation and production of Embrace.
The audience last night was all female. Mostly adults, a few teenagers there with what I presume were their moms. Women of varying ages, sizes, ethnicities. All of us taking the time out of our hectic schedules on a cold October evening (we had our first snowfall earlier in the day!), to spend an hour and a half watching an emotional, often disturbing visual analysis of how our self-image has been shaped largely by the media (which we can’t get away from today), a “wellness” industry that makes a ton of money from our feeling like shit about ourselves, and cultural/societal perceptions and definitions of beauty.
I have often said and written and posted my belief that if we girls and women spent less time and money and other resources on efforts to make our bodies and faces fit into what we’ve been led to believe is hot and sexy, world peace and hunger would be resolved, not to mention the state of our environment. I saw on Facebook recently some new trend with “macros” and I looked it up. When I saw what it involved I thought, holy crap, that looks really complicated and time-consuming – I could write several more chapters in my book each week with the time that would take to plan and count and track! I rather write a book than have a thigh gap!
Right now, with the presidential election less than two weeks away (phew!), and lots of people on soapboxes about women’s rights, and respecting women, and not objectifying women, etc – I have often found myself rolling my eyes. Not because I disagree. I totally agree. But I think so many of us are completely unaware of the fact that while it’s easy to hate on a public figure for what we consider misogynistic comments, we are completely letting the bitch in the attic get away with murder. You know, that voice we have when we look in the mirror, or look longingly at the jeans we wore before kids or before menopause, hoping to one day fit into again. That voice that says, “You have no discipline. Why did you have to eat all of that? Why did you drink so much? Why can’t you get your ass to the gym?” That voice that makes us believe those seductive Before and After photos, that makes us plunk down hundreds of dollars on cleanses and the new fad diet book and the new It workout. As always, it is far easier to complain and get furious at an external force, especially when it’s someone or something that is easy to make the scapegoat. It’s not easy to do some personal inventory and realize that gosh, I would NEVER talk to my daughter or my best friend the way I talk to myself. Gosh, how much time and money am I spending on this quest to fit into this image I have of what I should be like? Why do I believe that this will make me happy?
As a coach, I often struggle with this on several levels. I am a firm believer that I must walk the walk. So I am happy that I really do love to exercise. I love to run, swim, bike, do yoga, hike, snowboard, pretty much anything that works my body to the point of sweating and panting and adrenaline and endorphin release. I am also really happy that I genuinely love salad, fruit, green smoothies, healthy grains. I love how I feel after a healthy meal. So, my struggle is when people may believe that I exercise and eat healthy because I am highly disciplined and I do it to be skinny. Because this isn’t exactly accurate. Yes, I am disciplined. I love chocolate muffins but I choose to have green smoothies for breakfast, because I am an adult and I understand consequences. I love to exercise but yes, some days I really have to force myself out of bed early or outside in awful weather, because I remind myself that I have never ever said, ‘I wish I had taken the lazy way out and skipped my workout because I didn’t feel like it.’
There are a lot of exercise and dieting trends out there that make me cringe, because I see them as a way for people and companies to capitalize on the bitch in your attic, while you basically continue to practice self-violence. When I starve myself, or ignore my body’s cues and eat and drink and move in ways that are really stressful, both physically and emotionally, I am in a very real way, self-injuring. I am not talking about someone who one day makes the decision that her health needs to come back under control, supported by the results of a physical, and she embarks on a mindful, compassionate, gradual, sensible plan that incorporates exercise that is right for her body and lifestyle, and whole foods and adequate supplements, sufficient sleep, and efforts to manage her stress, with long-term goals. I am referring to drastic, quick fix efforts. I am talking about doing workouts that are much better suited for a 28-year-old than a 40-year-old. We need to listen to our bodies, no matter what social media wants us to crave.
I have a 15 year old daughter and I take my role as her mother in this area, very seriously. She will not give two shits what a presidential candidate says about a woman, but she will very much internalize and be informed by how I treat my body, talk about it, feed it, move it – and why I do all of the above (do I do it to be skinny or to feel strong and healthy?). She pays attention not just to how I perceive and treat my body, but the bodies and appearances of other women, in the real and virtual worlds. When a mom is indignant by a celebrity’s remarks about women, and then she complains in front of her daughter that she (the mom) is too fat for xyz, or wishes she looked younger, I am willing to bet my annual membership at the YMCA (which is precious to me!) that her daughter is on some level feeling her own self-worth starting to chip away, or at the very least depend on how she herself measures up in these areas.
We live in challenging times. Most Americans are following the SAD (Standard American Diet) eating plan, which means, most of what we eat and drink is some processed, sugarized, chemical something-or-other that does nothing for our immunity or stamina. We also spend most of our days sitting down, behind a wheel or a desk and/or in front of a screen. We are stressed out because of all of the above, plus we have to keep our kids away from opiates and guns and whatever the latest virus is in the headlines, but get them into college. We hate our commutes and our jobs but need to pay our bills. We have hundreds or thousands of Facebook friends but nobody knows how we really feel because we are scared people won’t like us anymore if they know the truth. We don’t trust anything that smells of religion, but we want to believe in something because deep down, we need that anchor. So, we fill the void. With addictions – food, alcohol, shopping, exercise, social media, cleaning, organizing, work, volunteering. They turn into addictions because they started out as a way to take off the edge, or numb from the discomfort of boredom, pain, lack of focus, ADD (Adventure Deficit Disorder), stress, hopelessness, lack of control – and then they start to interfere with our relationships, our goals, our ability to perform as parents, at work.
So, we come back to the easiest target – our bodies. Rather than look at what is really important to us, what feeds our soul, and what can really help us feel like we are healthy and living wholeheartedly – we listen to the bitch in the attic that says, get your body back. Get rid of the wrinkles. A lift here, a tuck there, the Gap.
JUST. STOP. IT.
You are beautiful. You are gifted. You ARE a gift! I believe in God and I believe God created you to be here to share love. To embody love. I believe that our health is not the main purpose or goal of our journey here on earth, it is something we need to nurture so that we can be the most effective love sharer we can be. Having an Athleta catalog model body is not your role on this earth, if it means you must spend lots of time and money forcing your body into this “ideal.” Yes, there are people whose journey through life includes a stint as a supermodel. And that is wonderful. There are people whose journey includes being an elite athlete and all of the hard work that that entails. And I truly admire them. Hopefully, that lights up their spark. And, there are many of us who love the thrill and the challenge of running marathons and doing triathlons and swimming across oceans and climbing mountains. Many of us love the taste of an amazing salad, and we love a big bowl of linguini, but we may opt for the salad because we know it feels better in our body. Or we may opt for the linguini because we really want it. It’s all good. The world will not be a better or worse place for our choice, necessarily. However, if we continually act in violence toward ourselves by making choices out of mindlessness, based in self-hatred rather than self-compassion, I do believe this affects our collective psyche. I do believe that the way I treat my body impacts the world. Starting with my daughter. And going further, like the ripple effect a stone has when dropped in a pond, because when I do not honor and accept and nurture my body, my temple, which houses me for the time I am on this earth, then I am not spreading a loving message through my own thoughts, intentions or actions.
So, let’s do this. Let’s all watch this movie and talk about it. Let’s pay attention to the messages we are putting out there. Let’s tell the bitch in the attic to shut the f—k up. We are worth it. We are enough, right now, as we are.
Yesterday was my birthday and I posted on Facebook:
So, I posted the above status and someone commented how she couldn’t even fathom swimming 100 laps (FYI my Y’s pool is 25 yards long). And her comment took me right back to something I find myself reminding myself, and my friends, and people I coach, pretty much every day:
One of the many lessons we learn in yoga, that is practiced on the mat, and then as we become more self-aware we take the practice off the mat and into our life, is that comparison is at the root of most Resistance, leading into Suffering. So, in other words, when I say, gosh, I am in awe of your ability to run an ultra marathon, I could never do that – I am comparing myself as I am today, with who you are today, and I am immediately not only discounting my own possibilities, but I am in a way ignoring the many hours of training and prioritizing and self-doubt and growth, that led to your ability to show up to your ultra race this weekend. Because, when I say, gosh, you are incredible, I could never do that, in a way, I am putting you into a demi-god, superhuman category. Which means, we are separate, we are not alike, and I may as well not even bother.
I recognize this because I have done this so many times in my life. I have been on both sides. And even as I write this, so much is becoming clear to me. In my coaching, I have always felt and said that I would much rather coach the underdog, who really doesn’t believe in herself and who doesn’t see what I see lurking below her surface (or buried deep) – than coach the super competitive athlete or otherwise driven person. I still feel very close to the turtle (“Tortuga”) I was in high school, earning me that nickname on the track team. I still feel like that girl I was in middle school who was so tortured by bullies, the girl I was in high school who felt somewhat comfortable yet not quite the right fit, no matter the social clique or country. Those feelings of not quite belonging, of not quite connecting, of the insides not quite matching the outsides – are still with me. And inform my coaching, and my personal seeking.
Several times people have told me that they appreciate how real and vulnerable I am willing to be when I write and speak. Vulnerability is the new Black, but that doesn’t make it any less terrifying. I vacillated over posting my admission to recognizing the uneasiness I felt about my drinking, and my eventual decision to quit drinking and begin a path into recovery. I decided to post publicly, because I felt the need to “come clean” with my peers and people who consider me a role model in the health sphere. I also posted it because I wanted my “audience” to have access to my new chapter in life. Most people that I know today did not know me when I was in my 20s and hated running. Facebook didn’t happen (to me, at least) until I was well into my triathlon “career” and parenting adventure. So most people who follow me today, virtually or in real life, didn’t see how much it really took for me to get to where and who I am today. Even if I did know them then, they probably were not aware of the good, the bad and the ugly of what it took to get to my current chapter as a mom, wife, triathlete, coach, entrepreneur. So, I don’t fault them for looking at me today and thinking, oh it comes easy to her. Of course she can do that – but I never could. Or, I totally suck, this is way too hard, why can’t I do it like she does?
Opening up about recovery is in a way, a gift to me as well as to anyone following my journey. I am still new to it. At this stage, it’s like I am doing the recovery program version of a Couch 2 5k running program. Which is pretty much accessible to anyone who can stand up from the couch. The recovery world is still one where anonymity is often encouraged, and when someone in recovery decides to go public, it’s a controversial move - and they are usually years and years into recovery (or a scandal forces the issue into the public realm). I didn’t take my going public lightly, and I still don’t. And I am so glad I did post that blog entry and have posted several since, because of the incredible people who have stepped into my life since then. Many of them admitted to me that when they read my post, they were flooded with relief, knowing that someone else was in the same boat as them. I was someone who like them, was also still just in the Prologue of their recovery journey, as opposed to most people who finally open up about their recovery and are years in (way past Book One).
This morning, I did a 50 minute yoga practice on my mat on my bedroom floor, followed by a 15 minute seated meditation. I shared this with my accountability group – a group of 8 women all across the US, who are in different stages of recovery. One of them remarked that she could never do that (yoga and meditation alone, at home) – her ADD would kick right in. Again, she is doing the totally natural thing of comparing her chapter 2 to my chapter 12 (well, actually more like 5 I think). I started with 5 minutes a few times per week and built it up. I still have to discipline myself into doing yoga and or meditation every day, or several times per week. I read, listen to podcasts, watch videos, attend workshops, because I want to follow people who are on their chapter 20 or their next volume. I remind myself – I want what they have and I just need to keep moving forward, one breath at a time.
We live in an instant gratification world, where people usually only show and post their Chapter 12 successes. (Though my 15 year old daughter has me intrigued with the whole Finsta thing – she and her friends have a real account as well as a Finsta account, as in “fake Insta,” and that’s where they post “fails,” and this Finsta account is only available to very close, trusted friends). This is normally what we are comparing ourselves to: the person who did a 30 day cleanse and posts the 60 pound-less After picture (but not the picture a few months later of 60+ lbs regain). The person who qualified for the bonus trip to Hawaii and posted the umbrella drinks on beach picture (but not the post each time they were rejected or laughed at). The person who kicked booze and painkillers (but not the picture of their recycling bin as they snuck to the local dump each week or several times a week, 5 years ago).
The truth is, every single success, if it is really important and meaningful and transformative, is the culmination of small, consistent steps forward. Steps that eventually add up to a new chapter in a book that is a series of chapters that build on each other. Sometimes the chapters feel like they are moving backward, as we make mistakes, or feel discouraged, or start the whole comparison game and feel like total losers. But this is just Resistance, and we need to recognize it as such. And let it go. And keep moving forward, writing our own, new story, and staying in our own book.
Now, go. Write your story. Start with the Prologue. Just Start It.
My mom always said that the best time to work on weight loss/maintenance, is when you are five pounds overweight. She said, it’s much easier to lose five pounds than it is to lose fifty. Common sense, right? This is one of the many nuggets of wisdom my mom in her sweet, tiny, shy way would share with us, verbally as well as through her actions.
This blogpost is not about weight loss or maintenance, though. Sorry to disappoint – though I’m thinking that if you keep reading, and you think about it, it may actually apply if that’s your goal. Rather, the main point I hope to get across, is that the best time to deal with something is when it’s first starting. The old ‘nip it in the bud.’ When I was at a monthly town meeting last week, organized by S.M.A.R.T., about The Drug Problem (and yes, this includes alcohol), a fun and educational activity was proposed for next August. I pointed out that September is National Recovery Month, so August would be perfect because it’s the month before Recovery, and even better than recovery, is prevention. Yeah, it was funny, but I wasn’t really joking.
I know this may come as a surprise, because I am now training for my 10th marathon (10th if you include two marathons which were the end of the two Ironman triathlons I did), and if you follow me over the years on Map My Run, you will vehemently disagree with this statement – but I am inherently lazy. I know right now my husband is thinking I am totally delusional, since getting me to sit on the couch takes an act of God, but the truth is, I would much rather take the path of least resistance. And all of my physical training, and the hard work I put into other areas of my life – nutrition, parenting, personal development, professional growth, relationships – is basically because I really don’t want to bother with doing really hard work.
When I was pregnant, I continued working out and eating well, because I couldn’t imagine dealing with a lot of postpartum weight to shed; when I had babies, I pushed through really hard times in breastfeeding because making bottles seemed like so much work. I insisted my kids eat well most of the time, and avoid video games, and resist travel sports as long as possible, because dealing with health and focus and social issues, and with a crazy family schedule, seemed like so much work. I spend a lot of money and energy on buying and preparing nutritious foods and supplements, because dealing with preventable disease further down the line seems like a terrible way to spend my golden years. I quit alcohol ten months ago in part because I was uncomfortable with how it was very likely creating a toxic environment in my body and in my brain, and certainly In my soul, and I was afraid that if I didn’t jump off the elevator when I did, I would be forced off it at a much lower floor. And gosh, taking the stairs back up to a better floor is not a climb I want to personally have to endure.
I guess it’s all a matter of perspective. Someone looking at a lot of the stuff I do may think I am super duper motivated, but if you look at WHY I do a lot of this stuff, it’s because I am super motivated to AVOID hard, messy work. I realize that I cannot control everything, in fact there is not much I can control other than my attitude and my choices, but I figure, if I am humbly mindful of that department, then at least I have done my best.
This month (October) is Breast Cancer Awareness month. I ran a 5k a couple of weeks ago related to the cause. As often occurs at athletic events where we train, to improve our health and feel and look our best – there was beer as part of the post-race celebrations. I don’t know if this is common knowledge, because I am certain that the alcohol industry (which has steadily grown over the last ten years in the US, with current sales at $211.6 billion per year), doesn't want this to get out – but it is pretty much proven through all kinds of studies, that drinking alcohol increases your chance of getting cancer. In fact, if a woman drinks as little as three drinks a week (and remember, these are scientific studies so that means normal pours, not your kitchen pour), she has a 15% higher chance of getting breast cancer. So, hopefully you see why I think that breast cancer fundraisers that are in the form of wine tastings or races that are featuring alcohol, are idiotic. I know, it feels good to wear pink and run 3.1 miles for a great cause. And you probably didn’t know about the alcohol and breast cancer (and plenty of other cancers and diseases) link, so I won’t hold it against you. The booze industry doesn’t want you to know. But now you know.
I recently read this really fascinating book: Drink – The Intimate Relationship Between Women and Alcohol (by Ann Dowsett Johnston). It’s a combination recovery memoir (she’s an alcoholic in long-term recovery) and public awareness cry. Backed by plenty of studies and quotes from reputable sources including the CDC, Drink points out some facts that I think most of us don’t want to hear. But I hope you’re still reading, so here’s a sampling:
I am going to guess that this will be one of my least-Liked, least-shared blogposts of all time. A friend once told me that she loved and hated me, because I was the one friend who would tell her what she needed to hear, instead of what she wanted to hear. I guess maybe this blogpost falls into that category. Because if you have read this far, that means that you may be (hopefully) a little more aware of the public problem we face today. And this is not a problem that needs to be decided by people who win elections, as much as by whether or not you spend your money and tax your liver on and with something that according to studies, is a growing problem for women in their 40s and 50s who are high-functioning and post really perfect family and vacation photos on Facebook.
Sometimes (actually, often, if not usually), the easier road is actually not the easier road to comfort and ease, but the fastest way to suffering and destruction. I recently heard someone say, “No kid says, I want to grow up to be a heroin addict.” It’s true – I really believe that each and every one of us just wants to feel healthy, energetic, significant, understood, peaceful, loved. And sometimes we think a certain road will give us that, at least in the moment. Reading up to this point, as you have done, means that you have it in you to explore uncomfortable roads, and I will bet you are willing to travel down them if you think they may lead to long-term health and wellness. I know I am far from alone on this road less-traveled, and I hope that you will continue to venture along it with me, ahead of me or behind me, but still on the same road.
Motivational coach, athlete, mom, entrepreneur. I love helping people mindfully reboot their health & joy.