Sunday, January 13, 2013
In my dieting days, I used to measure progress by how many calories I ate, measurements, weight, and various other numbers. I measured all food down to the last tenth of a gram, and obsessed over whether to add onion slices to my evening salad. Those details would end up being the focus of my life, dominating my thoughts at all hours of the day and night.
Despite all the time and effort I put into dieting, I never really lost weight or got any healthier. The opposite, in fact, since none of that was helping my depression or anxiety at all.
Now I'm trying to forget all about the numbers. I'm still measuring portions, but now I'm doing it to make sure I get all the nutrients I need each day. To make sure I'm getting enough, instead of making sure I'm not having too much. I'm not weighing anything, either. Instead of taking half an onion and weighing it out, I'm happy just to add half an onion to the tracker. I'm OK with dividing a pound of ground chicken into equal portions without weighing each one. I might be off by a few grams, but it feels a whole lot more natural.
Not having that need to obsess over every tiny thing is a big deal. It's a totally different kind of progress from what I used to aspire to, but it's much better for me.
Sunday, January 06, 2013
In my first post, I talked a bit about HAES, which stands for Health at Every Size. This is basically my philosophy when it comes to my physical health, and by extension my mental health as it relates to my body.
HAES means that no matter what weight you are, there are things you can do to improve your health. It also means that if you do improve your health, but don't lose any weight, it's OK. Improving your blood sugar, or cholesterol, or blood pressure, is still meaningful even if you don't lose the pounds. Increasing your cardiovascular fitness is still going to improve your health -- including your heart health -- even if you remain fat.
The other thing about HAES is that it recognizes that the weight your body "wants" to be, the weight that is most healthy for you, isn't necessarily a weight that society considers acceptable or healthy. Everyone's body has a "set point", a weight which you body would naturally gravitate to if you let it. It's the weight at which your body performs the best, but it's not necessarily a weight that puts you in the "thin" category. Your set point might be a weight where you're carrying 20 pounds, or 30, or 50 more than that. What happens then? You can spend the rest of your life off and on diets, fighting with your body, or you can accept what you body wants and work on being healthy at your set point.
So that's a set point. And let me say, I have absolutely no idea what my set point is. I was put on my first diet when I was eight years old. My mother was riddled with food issues and insecurities, and she passed them along to me with great skill and enthusiasm, so I was always self-conscious about my body.
The thing is though, I wasn't fat, and I didn't actually start getting fat until five years later. By then I was so messed up about food that my relationship with it became extremely unhealthy. I went from binge eating to compulsive overeating, to ridiculous crash diets, starting at 13, and didn't stop for well over 20 years.
What this means is, I have no freaking clue what weight my body "wants" to be, because I've spent the last quarter-century trying to force it to do what I wanted it to do.
Another interesting thing about the set point is that very often, constant rounds of yo-yo dieting increases it. This happens because by dieting, you're fighting for control over the set point. Your body wants a particular set point, but by dieting you're trying to force your body to reconsider and choose a lower one. Thing is, one way or another your body will always win that argument. And by trying to force your body to accept a lower weight than what it considers optimal, you're messing with the metabolic mechanism that decides what's optimal in the first place. That can cause your set point to increase, and that's why, when you stop dieting and gain the weight back, you end up gaining more than you lost.
So, just imagine how badly 25 years of that has confused my body. I fully accept and expect that my set point is going to be higher, perhaps much higher, than what is considered socially acceptable for a 5-foot-nothing woman. Even when I achieve my goals of improved physical and mental health, it's more than likely that I'm still going to be fat.
And that's fine by me.
Sunday, January 06, 2013
Thanks to a severe leg injury that took a very long time to fully heal (and still gives me a lot of pain), my physical fitness is not only in the toilet, it's down the drain, past the treatment plant, and out to sea. It's been nearly three years since I was last exercising consistently. I have no muscle tone, especially in my core and lower half, because the nature of my injury meant that I was stuck lying down most of the time.
I have a great deal of work to do to regain the fitness that I lost. I also want to build on that and be even stronger, because I think becoming physically healthy will be an important boost for my mental health (I live with major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder).
Over the past few months I've been struggling with exercise. I realize now that that's mainly because I've been trying to do too much, and pushing myself too hard. Walking, especially down hills, is physically painful for me at the moment, and I live in a very hilly area. I was forcing myself to go out on long walks and returning in so much pain that I was taking myself back to bed for a couple of days every time. I became extremely demoralized all over again and eventually stopped trying at all.
I'd totally forgotten that there were other ways of exercising, and I'm thrilled at all the alternatives the SparkPeople site is showing me. Seriously, I had no idea I could get a decent cardio workout by sitting down, but the 11-minute seated cardio video is really perfect for my fitness level right now, and my leg doesn't ache afterwards.
I'm actually beginning to understand why people enjoy exercising. After I finish, I feel really good. My physical energy is lower, of course, but my mental energy increases. I've been living with mental illness for almost 20 years and have almost always known that exercise helps depression, but this is the first time I'm really seeing those results for myself.
Sunday, January 06, 2013
I'm still in the process of figuring out how this is going to work for me. Here's what I've decided so far.
* The nutrition tracker is counting calories, but I am not. It doesn't matter if I'm over or under my calories for the day, as long as I feel good and satisfied, and provide my body with the core nutrients it needs. Also, if I don't meet all my nutritional goals every day, it's OK. As long as I'm eating a good variety of foods, I'll make any deficits up on other days.
* Further to that, if I'm hungry, I will eat, and I'll eat something that appeals to me. If I'm hungry, I'm not going to drink a glass of water instead of eating. I'm not going to eat "a small square of dark chocolate" (damn, I'm sick of that phrase) if what I really want is a brownie. Deliberately depriving myself is no way to live, and it's not sustainable in the long term.
* No diet foods. I'm not going to choke down fat-free flavor-free cream cheese just because it has fewer calories. Apple slices sprinkled with cinnamon does not taste like pie no matter how much you want it to. If you really love apple pie, eat a piece of pie!
(The only exception is in cases where I genuinely prefer the taste of a lower-calorie version, like milk or Coke).
Sunday, January 06, 2013
I discovered SparkPeople several years ago, when I was in a dieting phase. I spent several months exercising and calorie-counting ferociously, and lost some weight. I'm not one of the very few (less than 5%) for whom dieting is a permanent solution, so I ended up gaining back the weight, and a bit more besides.
That's how dieting works (or doesn't). Each time you lapse, you gain more than you lost. There's a reason the diet industry is worth damn near 50 billion dollars annually. If dieting worked, there wouldn't be any fat people, and there wouldn't be a diet industry.
Shortly after that last dieting episode, I discovered the fat acceptance movement, I discovered HAES, and I realized there was a way out of the diet-and-binge cycle. The way out isn't a different diet, and it's not "lifestyle changes", which are really just dieting in disguise.
The way out is to accept your fat and trust your body. And no, I don't mean "accept YOU'RE fat". You already know you're fat. I mean accept YOUR fat. Accept that your fat is there, it's yours, and it doesn't make you a bad person. Being fat doesn't make you ugly, lazy, smelly, stupid, or any other bad thing. I love my fat body. I've treated it pretty badly over the years, but it's still here doing its best for me.
The trust part is important too. After many years of dieting, binging, starving, and compulsive overeating, I had no freaking clue what my body wanted. So I just started taking trips to the supermarket, buying random items that looked tasty or interesting, and trying them out. I worked on figuring out what foods I actually enjoyed eating, as opposed to forcing them down my gullet because there was only 93 calories in a cup or whatever. I ate a bunch of different foods and my body told me what it liked and didn't like. I found out that I love red peppers and purple onions, and that I seriously hate broccoli and will never (ever) eat it again.
Once I started to work on body acceptance and trust, things changed a bit. And I don't mean I lost weight, because I didn't. But I did get healthier, because I wasn't trying to change my body for reasons that hinged on self-hate. In fact, I wasn't trying to change my body at all. I forgot about trying to lose weight and just worked on improving my health.
Then some stuff happened (see previous post), and I lost most of the ground I'd gained. I ended up in a two-year depressive episode during which I didn't care about anything at all, least of all myself.
Now I'm doing my best to start the long climb out of that hole, and a big part of that is improving my physical health as well as my mental health.
Which brings me to the point. I don't believe in dieting. I don't believe it's helpful in the long term, and I know for sure that for me, dieting is very harmful. For me, dieting triggers binge eating and depression. So how, as someone who does not and can not diet, do I reconcile myself to using a tool that focuses so heavily on counting calories?
The main point of SparkPeople for me is that it provides me with a way of tracking nutrition and fitness, but I'm not focusing on calories, and I don't have a weight loss goal.
I am using the food tracker to provide myself with nutritional goals -- like getting enough protein, calcium, and iron, which are things I've had trouble with in the past. So I'm entering all the food I eat, and the calories are being tracked by the site as well as all the nutrients that I'm interested in, but it's not the calories I'm focusing on.
I'm eating food that has the nutrients I want to give my body, but within that I'm eating the foods that I want to eat. So if, for example, I want to eat a whole bag of Doritos, I'm going to eat them, enjoy them, add it to the tracker, and congratulate myself on all the protein. But at the same time, since my body isn't going to be happy eating Doritos all the time, I won't be doing that a whole lot.
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