Losing My Religion

Reflections on Shuffle-Play (the thing where I write a reflection inspired by a song from that day’s run)

Dieting is so much like a religion. Think about it:

It’s common in religions to have lists of actions that are permissible to do and not permissible to do. Diets are entirely made up of those kinds of rules.

Religion often uses the language of “clean” or “unclean” – dieting has begun to take on this language as well with the rage of “clean eating.”

Religion speaks of sinners and saints. We often refer to a decadent dessert as being “sinful” or call ourselves “bad” or “good” depending on how well we have followed our dietary rules on any particular day.

In fact, dieting has become a religion, at least in American culture. A religion that many people strive after and fill countless hours pursuing and perfecting.

I freely admit that long before I ever memorized the Small Catechism I knew the calorie values of most foods.  I pored over exercises in magazines that might give me the legs I wanted. I devoured book after book that filled my head full of information about this eating plan or that one.

And I found community within the dieting culture, too. It’s like a language that most women have all learned how to speak: “Oh, I shouldn’t be eating this.” “No, I’ll have a diet coke.” “I lost five pounds!” “Can you believe how she let herself go?” “Ugh, I feel fat today.” On and on we speak the dieting language – adding some new terms now and then: Whole 30, Cauliflower Rice, Pilates, FitBit, etc. – but it really is all some new lingo for the same old thing: monitor, restrict, try to shrink, rebound, binge, repeat.

I’ll admit as well that I’ve let the lines between dieting and religion get blurry – especially during the season of Lent. So many years I have decided to fast during Lent and have told myself it was for spiritual purposes, yet knowing that I was very excited about the idea of what the Lenten fast might do for my figure.

Some people find comfort in strict religion, just as some find comfort in a strict diet. In fact, when you consider some of the most popular religions, the ones which teach a prosperity gospel (just do this and this and this and God is going to bless you so hard!), they bear a striking resemblance to the most popular diet plans (just eat this and do this and you will look so good!). People like the prosperity gospel preachers because they give an easy recipe for how to live your “best life now!” But eventually reality sets in and people realize that life is full of ups and downs and no amount of faith or good works or good attitude is going to save you from the hard times. Rather, what is life-giving is faith in the One who is with us when times are good or bad, the One who loves us when we are good and when we are not so good.

I guess in the same way, I’ve realized that every diet plan is just another version of the prosperity gospel – full of empty promises, oftentimes repackaged or re-worded, but all just the same. I’ve put my faith in countless diet gurus and exercise moguls: Denise Austin, Bob Harper and everyone from the Biggest Loser, the P90X guy, the group leader at Weight Watchers – I wanted to trust in them and their advice. I built big dreams on their promises, but at the end of years and years of my efforts to fit myself into their tiny molds, I realized my salvation was not in trying so hard to follow someone else’s path. My salvation when it comes to me and my body is just to accept myself the way I am and listen to my body.  It is saying “no more” to dieting.

People get very nervous about the idea of getting off the diet treadmill, because as with any deeply ingrained belief system, it is painful to realize that something you once put a lot of faith in is smoke and mirrors. By the time I was ready to let go of dieting, it just felt like sweet relief, but I can tell that there are many others who aren’t yet ready to call it quits. “It’s all about health,” they say. “I want to live as long as I can so I have to lose weight and be healthy.” That’s all well and good, but I question how much life is really in the life of a dieting person. When I was in the thick of a diet, I was constantly thinking about food, anticipating the next meal or regretting the last meal. I couldn’t really enjoy going out on a date with my husband because the food was full of a land-mine of calories. I couldn’t eat with my children because they would never eat the bland, awful things I allowed myself to eat. My days were marked with checks and numbers on my calendar, calculating my efforts for the day. I was either rigidly eating just a few different “safe” foods each day, or I was in the depths of an all-out binge and absolutely hating myself, planning to get back “on track” the next day.

I grew so sick of tomorrow.

I grew so sick of tomorrow that I realized the only way out of it was to dedicate myself to today.

To be happy today.

To be good enough today.

To allow myself to eat today.

To believe that just as I am, I get to savor everything life has to offer – and I don’t have to wait until I lose those twenty pounds or until my pants are looser. I can have it all today: happiness, joy, movement, love, freedom, food, peace – all of it. NOW!

See, God gave us our appetites and our bodies. I’ve never been rigid when it comes to religion – because I know God is all about grace. So no wonder it has felt so alien all these years to be so rigid about my body. I was supposed to be loving it and treating it gently, not constantly trying to bend it to my will and shape it into something else.

If you are still on the dieting treadmill, it’s okay. I just want to tell you how good it feels to be off of it. I weigh no more now than I did when I was dieting, I just like myself a lot more now. Once I stopped dieting, the binging stopped and that has been life-saving. That isn’t to say that there aren’t still days when I want to eat my feelings, and sometimes I do, but I work especially hard then to be kind to myself. I don’t punish myself with exercise for hours, I don’t starve myself the next day to try to make up for any excess the day before. Instead, I eat and I move and I do things that make me happy. I treat myself grace-fully.

I feel healthier than I have in a long time and I eat better. I eat real food. I eat all kinds of food! I love my appetite and I love eating with my husband, my kids, my friends. I look forward to holidays finally after dreading them most of my adult life.

The religion of weight-loss proved to be a false god for me. The times I was thinnest I was so unhealthy – starving and smoking my way into smaller and smaller sizes. My life had no life. I was too hungry and self-absorbed to think about much else. If there is anything I have done that has been detrimental to my health, it has been the constant cycle of going up and down the diet rollercoaster. It’s been detrimental to my physical health and my mental health. So much anguish and energy and time I frittered away at the altar of diet culture.

I have a Facebook friend who is currently on some weight-loss regime and every few days she is going to her weigh-in place and then she posts online how much weight she has lost. She is so excited to see the scale go down. I have such compassion for her because I have been there so many times. I’ve felt that exhilaration, I’ve felt the envy of the people around me as I shrank, and I’ve been drunk on the feeling of power it brought. And who knows, maybe she will be one of the 5% who is able to keep off the weight with militant attention and self-control, measured portions and a couple meal-replacement shakes a day for the rest of her life. God bless her. It’s not for me. I took that road a thousand times and it never led anywhere good. This road, though? This road of being comfortable in my current skin, content in my current life, joyful in eating what sounds good to me, and the scale stashed securely in a back closet? It’s a journey I hope to continue for a long-ass time.

Losing My Religion

by REM

Life is bigger
It’s bigger
And you, you are not me
The lengths that I will go to
The distance in your eyes
Oh no, I’ve said too much
I set it up

That’s me in the corner
That’s me in the spotlight
Losing my religion
Trying to keep up with you
And I don’t know if I can do it
Oh no I’ve said too much
I haven’t said enough

I thought that I heard you laughing
I thought that I heard you sing
I think I thought I saw you try

Every whisper
Of every waking hour
I’m choosing my confessions
Trying to keep an eye on you
Like a hurt lost and blinded fool
Oh no, I’ve said too much
I set it up

Consider this
The hint of the century
Consider this
The slip that brought me
To my knees failed
What if all these fantasies
Come flailing around
Now I’ve said too much

I thought that I heard you laughing
I thought that I heard you sing
I think I thought I saw you try

But that was just a dream
That was just a dream

That’s me in the corner
That’s me in the spotlight
Losing my religion
Trying to keep up with you
And I don’t know if I can do it
Oh no I’ve said too much
I haven’t said enough

I thought that I heard you laughing
I thought that I heard you sing
I think I thought I saw you try

But that was just a dream, try, cry, why, try
That was just a dream, just a dream, just a dream
Dream

 

 

You’re My Best Friend

Reflections on Shuffle-Play (where I write each day inspired by a song from that morning’s run)

I’m not at my

Shiny

Glittery

Most excellent

Very Best

State of Being

Today.

Not even close.

Pretty sure if I were to step

On the scale today

It would say

I weigh

One thousand pounds.

I don’t want to care about that

Yet, I do.

I care that I feel cumbersome

XXL

Taking up too much space

Uncomfortable.

Last week I felt great

And I did nothing differently

Than I have been doing this week

Yet I blame myself today

I must be living wrong

Eating wrong

Doing wrong

To feel so crummy right now.

Because why else would I feel so icky?

It must be my fault for feeling

ICKY

Icky is the word for it.

Bloated

Crabby

Pudgy

Icky.

A massive zit

A zit the size of a newborn

adorns my chin

It greets everyone before I do

When I walk in the room

At the age of forty-seven

My zit the size of a small village

is nestled in the midst of my wrinkles

Looking out of place

But determined.

I ran this morning – even faster than usual

But felt heavy with every step.

I have a cut on my thumb.

The small red pepper I was cutting up

To go in my eggs

Was tricky to cut.

My thumb was not.

It sliced and bled so easily.

And hurts like hell.

The band-aid is obtrusive and

Wants to type its’ own words.

Dear sweet baby Jesus

I hate all my clothes –

They are unflattering and

I blame them for

Being so…

Plain

Ill-fitting

Dark

Hot

Itchy

Blah.

And my hair!

My hair is weird, dry, and flat.

And decidedly gray.

Not a shimmering silver.

Not arctic blond or nearly snow-white.

Just gray.

Cloudy, rainy day-gray.

When will I ever

Get it all together?

I’m drinking my water

I’m eating my vegetables

Getting plenty of sleep

Nary a drop of alcohol
But still.

This day, I feel

Hit by the ugly truck

That hit me once

Backed over me

And hit me again

And then parked on top of me.

Overnight.

Why oh why

Oh why oh

Why

Are some days

This way?

The only thing to do

Is take good care of me

And gently, softly say

“Tomorrow will be better.”

I remind myself that

looking good

And feeling good

Every day

Is not the rent I have to pay

For being a woman in this world.

Some days you will feel like a rock star

Some days you will feel like crap

But every day, you are valuable.

Every day, you are worthy

Of love

Of nourishment

Of joy

Of being treated well.

On the days you feel less

Than your most excellent, perfect,

Shiny, shimmering self

Remember to be extra kind

To yourself.

Some days

Are just this way.

Be kind to you.

Maybe ask yourself what you need

Right now.

A nap?

To be quiet with a good book?

To go for a walk?

A movie?

Whatever it is –

Be sure you are looking for ways

To bless yourself

And not punish yourself.

Punishment is never the way

To treat someone when they are feeling down.

Love

Nurturing

Sweet words

Gentleness –

Give yourself these things

You deserve them.

Especially on days like this.

Be your own best friend.

 

You’re My Best Friend

By Queen

Ooh, you make me live
Whatever this world can give to me
It’s you, you’re all I see
Ooh, you make me live now honey
Ooh, you make me live

You’re the best friend
That I ever had
I’ve been with you such a long time
You’re my sunshine
And I want you to know
That my feelings are true
I really love you
You’re my best friend

Ooh, you make me live

I’ve been wandering round
But I still come back to you
In rain or shine
You’ve stood by me girl
I’m happy at home (happy at home)
You’re my best friend.

Ooh, you make me live
Whenever this world is cruel to me
I got you to help me forgive
Ooh, you make me live now honey
Ooh, you make me live

You’re the first one
When things turn out bad
You know I’ll never be lonely
You’re my only one
And I love the things
I really love the things that you do
You’re my best friend

Ooh, you make me live.

I’m happy, happy at home
You’re my best friend
You’re my best friend
Ooh, you make me live
You, you’re my best friend

She’s a Beauty

Reflections on Shuffle-Play (a daily exercise to write a reflection based on a song from my morning run)

What antagonizes me is all the mental energy I have given it over the years. Even though I have worked hard to battle it, still, whenever anything is wrong or upsetting in life, my first reaction is to return to it – my crutch, my solution, my goal that I hate.

I’m referring to the rollercoaster that is dieting.

This is how the storyline goes:

On an otherwise unremarkable every-day, I decide that something in my life is uncontrollable or vexing and I feel the frustration in my body. Even if I had previously been totally satisfied and comfortable in my skin, a sudden loneliness or frustration or anxiety occurs and my knee-jerk reaction is to blame my stomach that is unacceptably rotund or my infuriatingly sturdy legs.

One way or another, I decide it is time to take control of the situation and monitor my caloric intake. Diet. I have called it other things: finding balance, cutting out the junk, being healthy, taking care of myself, eating clean – but ultimately it is all the same thing: dieting.

And I am really quite good at it. Why the heck wouldn’t I be? Anything a person has done most of their life since they were 15 they would be good at.

I know how to watch every morsel I eat.

I know what food has more calories and what food has less.

I know where the hidden calories are and how to avoid them.

I know how to ‘lighten up’ dishes and use smaller plates.

I know how to add in lots of greens and other veggies! Yes! (Because you’ll definitely lose all your taste for junk food forever if you just eat more greens!)

I know how to stay out of difficult situations or prepare for them by bringing along food.

I know how to remain satisfied so I don’t get too hungry and go off ‘the plan’.

And I know that within a few weeks, people will begin to notice, my efforts will begin to pay off, and the compliments will start to come – and they will feel like the sweetest, most savory reward. “Have you lost weight?”  “You look great!” And I smile a self-satisfied smile to myself.

By this time I might be starting to get rid of some of my old ‘fat’ clothes and spending a little more time in front of the mirror, admiring my shrinking shape. I’ll shake my head and think to myself, “I can’t believe I had let myself gain so much weight again.” Tsk Tsk. Never again. And I will feel such pure satisfaction and pleasure at my resolve, my courage, my tenacity, my ability to take up less space in this world now. Even though I banished the scale to the dark recesses of the closet a few years ago, I won’t be able to resist dragging it out to watch the numbers confirm what I already know. I’m slimming down. I’m trimming down. More acceptable, attractive, and positively tiny by the day.

And then I will start to weigh myself every day. Because why not? Isn’t this super fun? Isn’t this just the best time ever? To be obsessed with each morsel I am putting in my mouth, fixated on what fits me again, enchanted by my cheekbones reappearing, but never fully satisfied because there’s always more weight to lose. “Just keep working at it, Ruth. Just a few more pounds. Be patient.” And I settle in for the painfully slow, death dirge which is any weight loss that comes after the first 10-15 pounds.

But knowing it will never be enough. Never. Losing weight is the really un-fun game that never ever ends.

But back to how things go:  Then, I get hungry. Or shaky. Or tired. Or bored. Boredom is a big one: I can lose weight easily when I stick to a tiny menu of ‘safe’ things – but, like most living creatures, I adore food and flavor and after a while, usually about six weeks, I would rather pluck out my eyeballs than stick to the same claustrophobic eating plan day after day, week after week. I decide to give myself a break, and the break feels so good that I slowly slip away from worshipping at the altar of all my ‘healthy habits’. Even as I cower under the guilt of succumbing to my appetite yet again, I savor being able to enjoy pizza with my kids, cream in my coffee, a piece of the birthday cake at the party without worrying all the dang time about calories, fat content, the size of my rear-end…

Until I decide it is time to take control of the situation and monitor my caloric intake…

Put this cycle on repeat, to more or less degrees of freneticism, and you have the last 32 years of my life.

On good days, I can say I have put dieting behind me, that I am past all that crap and I no longer waste time on it – and that can be true for months and months at a time. I won’t weigh myself, I eat intuitively what sounds good to me, I exercise daily but just because I love it, I’ll soften all the incessant ‘rules’ about food and just live. I like being in that mental place. It is a relief, because then I’m able to focus my energy on things that actually matter: my family, my writing, work, travel, living and enjoying life!

But that seed of insecurity still lives in me and sometimes it still grows strong. I crave the affirmation, the self-satisfied weird pleasure that comes from giving in and just dieting a bit – shrinking into the ideals of the world around me.

In 2012, I finally received my doctoral degree after nearly six years of hard work (not to mention I did it while raising my small children, and while going through the sickness and death of my parents). While everyone around me knew this was a big accomplishment for me, any accolades or congratulations I received were sparse and lukewarm at best.

That same year, I lost a significant amount of weight…and you would think I found the cure for cancer with how people were in awe of me for that, constantly stopping me at church and on the street to compliment me.

I knew how lopsided it was – to be congratulated for counting calories, to be congratulated for not putting stuff in my mouth, for taking up less space in the world. I knew it was messed up that this seemed like my really big accomplishment that year – to others, and to me, too.

But this is the price we pay for the world we live in. This is what I get for growing up in this culture, a child of the 80’s, subjected my whole life to commercials featuring thin, thinner, thinnest. Heavier people being portrayed in media as punchlines, sexless, expendable, or just plain invisible.

Most of the time now I fight this ridiculous culture, I damn the word ‘diet’ to hell, and just eat when I’m hungry, stop when I’m full, and exercise for no other reason than it makes me feel good and I love it. But just yesterday I found myself lingering over the image of a new diet book on Amazon, wondering if I maybe ought to try it.

But I won’t! I won’t, because dear Lord, I don’t want to look back over my life someday and realize I spent most of this gorgeous existence on the hamster wheel of dieting. It would be different if the outcome was ever something new, but it is always the same – for me and for 95% of people who go on a diet: Yes, weight is almost always lost with dieting, but eventually the weight always comes back, and oftentimes more than what was lost in the first place.

I want my children to remember me as a person who was passionate about all sorts of interesting things, that I loved and lived extravagantly – not with my head buried in a little book where I tediously wrote down my calories and exercises for the day, not bound to a cycle of consistent, certain, repetitive frustration. Let me give my energy toward celebrating this strong body, this healthy body that has never had to be on medication for anything even though according to the body mass index charts I have been considered “obese” most of my adult life, this body that has borne two healthy children, this body that has climbed mountains and run marathons, and holds my brain which is full of good, kind thoughts.

It’s so hard to shake the seduction of dieting. She’ll always call out to me, promising all sorts of false glory, but I am so infinitely tired of her. She’s already stolen way too much of my time, energy, thought process, and money. Not a second, a smidge, a dime more.  Join me, for your sake and for the sake of the generations who follow us and say a huge, emphatic NO to the diet industry. Tell them to take their diet books, plans, monitors, pills, bands, meditation CD’s, exercise DVD’s etc. and shove them all. Join me in ceasing the effort to take up less space in the world.  You are never “bad” for eating the delicious cake. You are lovely – no matter if your pants are snug or loose today. You are so freaking beautiful, just as you are, in the body that God gave you.

She’s a Beauty

By The Tubes

Step right up and don’t be shy
Because you will not believe your eyes
She’s right here, behind the glass
You know you’re gonna like her ’cause she’s got class

You can look inside another world
You get to talk to a pretty girl
She’s everything you dream about

(But don’t fall in love) She’s a beauty
(She’s one in a million girls) She’s a beauty
(Why would I lie?) Why would I lie?

You can say anything you like
But you can’t touch the merchandise
She’ll give you every penny’s worth
But it will cost you a dollar first

You can step outside your little world
(Step outside your world)
You can talk to a pretty girl
She’s everything you dream about

(But don’t fall in love) She’s a beauty
(She’s one in a million girls) One in a million girls
(Why would I lie?) Why would I lie?
(But don’t fall in love) If you do, you’ll find out she don’t love you
(She’s one in a million girls) One in a million girls
(Why would I lie?) Now why would I lie? Uh

(Step outside your world)

(But don’t fall in love) She’s a beauty
(She’s one in a million girls) One in a million girls
(Why would I lie?) Now why would I lie?
(But don’t fall in love) If you do, you’ll find out she don’t love you
(She’s one in a million girls) One in a million girls
(Why would I lie?) Why would I lie?

(But don’t fall in love)
(She’s one in a million girls)
(Why would I lie?)

 

 

 

 

 

Extraordinary

Reflections on Shuffle-Play

Extraordinary by Liz Phair

In the church basement we are collecting items for the next rummage sale. It’s a fun time of year as all sorts of interesting items show up. There are tons of Halloween decorations and Christmas decorations, old bookshelves, lamps, a nativity set, immense amounts of clothes and dishware, odds and ends of every sort – including books. Oftentimes the books are romance novels and mystery novels, but this time someone dropped off two huge bags filled only with dieting books. From “Wheat Belly” to the “17-Day Diet,” to old guides from Jenny Craig and Weight Watchers Points booklets, it was a small weight loss library. As I looked through the books, I wondered about how many broken dreams were between those pages.  How many times had this person bought a new diet book and thought, “This time! This time it will work. This diet will be the one.” And maybe some of those diets did “work” for a while, but obviously not forever, because more diet books were purchased. I thought about all the wasted time and money in those two huge bags of books. What great things could this person have accomplished in the hours that were spent counting points, calories, grams of turkey? How might this person’s life had been richer if instead of recording the number of minutes of cardio at the gym, he or she had learned a new hobby or written a letter, a book, a poem? What made this person decide to finally get rid of these books?

But mostly I thought about how a few years ago I did the same thing. I had at least a couple big bags full of dieting books that I gave away to Goodwill. This is why I did it: it became clear to me that life was too short for one more minute of the craziness of worrying about how much I weigh. With all the delicious food in the world, I couldn’t bear to only eat oatmeal or egg whites for breakfast anymore. Determining how good or bad my day was by whether or not I had stuck to a certain plan or an allotted amount of calories had done absolutely nothing to benefit my life. It took me decades, but I finally realized it was madness to give so much time and energy and money toward trying so hard to be ‘less’ in any way. I said a giant “NO” to the diet industry and sighed a relieved “YES!” to life and listening to myself – my body and my own wishes and wants.

However, it’s hard to learn to listen to your body, your wants and desires, after spending decades trying to bend your body into submission. From the age of 12 until decades later, I had known I was too big, too hungry, too much in every way and the only solution was to manage the calories, manage the hunger, battle myself until I would someday reach that elusive smaller size. I learned how to be good at starving. I mastered denial and self-control, how to say, “I’ll have a diet coke” when everyone around me was having ice cream. Occasionally I did shrink almost as small as I wanted to be – but of course it was never enough and impossible to sustain. I was hungry all the time, weighing myself incessantly, irritable, longing for food until the humming in my head just got louder and louder until finally, I had to eat – eat everything in sight. That is what happens when you starve – then you binge.

I don’t starve myself anymore because I don’t want to binge anymore. There will always be people who say that dieting is about balance and that one can manage their weight without starving. But dieting is always about restriction, and restriction almost always produces binging. It’s a very small percentage of people who lose weight that are able to keep it off, and those who regain weight often end up heavier than they were before they started trying to lose weight. In fact, I heard one researcher put it this way: the most effective way to gain weight is to go on a diet. Craziness.

So, while it isn’t easy to learn to listen to my body instead of battle it, it’s all I want to do now. I’ve given up the fight. That’s not to say that I don’t care what I look like – I do! I just see the process differently now. I sometimes choose to eat spinach and drink water because I like how they make me feel. I sometimes choose to enjoy a piece of cake with my kids because cake (but mostly frosting) is a beautiful thing. I choose to not eat processed cheese food very often because I don’t like how that makes me feel. I run most mornings because I love it. I will not force myself to go to the sterile gym and hang around in other peoples’ sweat for an hour every day just because I have to burn a certain number of calories. I listen to my cravings – for food, for movement, and I thank God for my strong, healthy body.

And I pray that whoever dropped off those bags of books in the church basement has found peace and joy in her or his skin, too. I pray they move their bodies for the love of it and eat exactly what they want to eat today.

If you want to be free from dieting, I recommend reading this article: http://www.intuitiveeating.org/10-principles-of-intuitive-eating/ and reading the book, “Intuitive Eating” by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. An excellent podcast I listen to often is Food Psych by Christy Harrison.

You are extraordinary – as Liz would say – you “ordinary, average, everyday, sane, psycho, supergoddess!”

diet books

Extraordinary by Liz Phair

You think that I go home at night
Take off my clothes, turn out the lights
But I burn letters that I write
To you, to make you love me
But I drive naked through the park
And run the stop sign in the dark
Stand in the street, yell out my heart
To make, to make you love me
I am extraordinary
If you’d ever get to know me

I am extraordinary
I am just your ordinary, average, everyday, sane, psycho, supergoddess

You may not believe in me
But I believe in you
So I still take the trash out
Does that make you too normal for you?
So dig a little deeper, cause
You still don’t get it yet
See me lickin’ my lips, need a primitive fix
And I’ll make, I’ll make you love me
I am extraordinary
If you’d ever get to know me

I am extraordinary
I am just your ordinary, average, everyday, sane, psycho, supergoddess

See me jump through hoops for you
You stand there watching me performing
What exactly do you do?
Have you ever thought it’s you that’s boring?
Who the hell are you?

I am extraordinary
I am just your ordinary, average, everyday, sane, psycho, supergoddess