Tuesday, July 19, 2016

you can't judge my body

a boy recently dumped me because he didn't like my body (too skinny).  at least, that's the reason i interpreted from the one minute break up conversation. 

why does this reason piss me off more than any other reason i've ever heard in my life?  i'm so glad you asked.  BECAUSE I HAVE SPENT YEARS TRYING TO LEARN HOW TO LOVE MY BODY.  the last thing i need is someone else telling me they don't like something about it.

when i was thinking about this a little more today, i thought "i don't think anyone i've dated or been friends with has ever judged my body."  i mean i have, for sure.  but i had to scan each person in my life until i finally remembered one other:  a guy i was casually hooking up with about 4 years ago, who was 21 and very buff (and on steroids), told me after sex one day "you know, you could stand to do a few squats." 

i responded "i'm 32; this is the best it's gonna get, honey."

and then i proceeded to never again have sex with him.  but i did start doing a lot more squats.

why?  because i was still very intertwined with my bulimia.  i had just run a marathon; i was nearly the skinniest i've ever been.  i was teaching tons of fitness classes; i was well toned.  there was no reason i should have felt bad about my body, but of course i did.  and hearing it confirmed from someone i had just had sex with tore at my ego.

"i'm just gonna shake."
but this one last week--it hurt way more.  in a totally different way.  i have done a FUCK TON of work to love this body just as it is.  not because of its shape.  but because it houses a beautiful and brave soul.

no one gets to judge my body: no one gets to say i'm too fat.  no one gets to say i'm too thin.  no one gets to say i need to do a few more squats.

INCLUDING ME.

re: that one minute call last week: i don't think i'm maddest about the judgment received or the self-judgement inflicted afterwards; it was that i didn't stick up for the years of work i've done.

i respect each person's unique fetishes and attractions.  i respect each person's decision to date who they want. 

but i really respect myself, and my body.  and so, my gift to myself today, on my 8th wedding anniversary (if i still do that type of thing), is to come to my own defense.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

love letter

let me situate you in my life right now:
  • yesterday i went to art therapy and was talking with my therapist about how i was fearful about the idea that other people may not approve of my lifestyle.
  • on the way home from that session, i listened to a podcast and heard this: "i got married largely because i was trying to please my mother... neither one of my marriages seemed to make her particularly happy. so it occurred to me that i didn't need to get married to try to make someone else happy. only person i could make happy was me... so I don't need to get married again."
  • this morning someone i started seeing recently called me and told me that they didn't want to date me anymore.
this afternoon, here i am, feeling fiercely independent and yet very unsettled. i taught yoga right after the upsetting call this morning, and it was hard to teach.  i centered myself for a few minutes before the class and then taught a class on twisting and releasing.  i expected to leave feeling a little more full, but i had a weird feeling in the pit of my stomach. 

the feeling in my stomach was familiar--it was the feeling that used to always trigger binging and purging.  i recognized this and texted a few friends.  texting friends meant that i was less likely to do it: i would have to answer to them later.  i then avoided eating lunch out of the fear that it would lead straight into a binge session.

then, at 4pm, i finally ate something. and didn't binge.  and didn't purge.

i think inherent in risking lots of emotional connections is that i'm sometimes going to feel unsettled about relationships in my life.  but it also means that i have a lot of other people around to talk to when i need extra support.

and so i owe my lovely independence that i love so much to you all.  xo

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

butterfly

i found this old journal today, with entries from march 2006-may 2008.  let me tell you what just happened to occur during this period of my life:
  • i started binging and purging; 
  • i became consumed by bulimia; 
  • i met the person i thought i'd spend my life with
...and subsequently avoided dealing with the eating disorder because many of its symptoms were masked in the early stages of this relationship.

there were other events of course: a few weeks in italy, visiting my sister who was studying abroad;  my own study abroad experience in germany, with many additional trips around europe; the successful defense of my dissertation; and getting engaged.

though i was just completing my phd, the journal reads more like a young adolescent's diary.  the painful extremes i felt in relation to food and to my body were hard to re-read.  there was shame embedded in the writing, and i felt immediately ashamed while reading my own words from ten years before. i cried, without realizing why. later this afternoon it clicked: i was mourning the years i lost, the experiences i lost to bulimia.

in an entry i wrote while in london, i talked about an amazing gym i went to.  in an entry in an airport, i wondered whether the bathroom was crowded and whether there was an empty stall with a sink in it that i could use to throw up.  and though this part wasn't an entry, i was reminded of my stay at a hotel the night before a flight back to the US where they had an all you can eat buffet bar. i went back up the buffet several times until my binge cycle was complete, and then i went up to my room to throw up.  i clogged the toilet throwing up and prayed i wouldn't get charged any additional fees.

during this period of my life, my whole being centered around bulimia (which i affectionately called "mia," as if it were a friend).  i knew there was a disconnect between my mind and body: i wrote about it, i drew about it, and i summarized articles and books about it.  but i also wrote about the need mia was serving in my life.

in the parts of the journal where i wrote about this new relationship with billy and then engagement, it was scary to feel the differential between how i felt about myself and how i felt about him. i mused to myself today that there was no way my relationship with billy stood a chance.  anyone reading this could tell that all of my attention was focused on mia.

reading back through this journal gave me the range of emotions any loss spurns (the loss of experiences over the past several years): i felt denial in the first readings; like "it couldn't have really been like this." i felt anger at myself for taking so long to recover, for somehow ignoring all the things i knew. i felt deep sadness for myself and those that were in my life that weren't receiving my full attention.  moving through the grief was how i spent a majority of my afternoon (while multitasking through my day).

and, on the other side, i felt acceptance for where i am now; happiness for the support i have in my life; gratitude for the ability to change.

June 29, 2016: butterfly
that ability to change though.  yes i still think about food and exercise more than the average person.  yes i still panic about desserts or missing a workout.   yes i still workout on vacation. 

but i am not the same person i was then.

on the first page of the journal i wrote "i'm waiting to become the butterfly; i'm 1/2 way there--"

so much gratitude that i kept evolving.  and for all those on the journey with me.

and so much hope for anyone else going through that shit.  or any shit.  because if i can get from "mia is my closest friend" to butterfly--there's hope for anyone. 

evidence that change is possible.  that miracles happen every day.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

24 years (un)strong: cycles

this piece is originally posted on cycledork.com, but re-posted here for blog continuity.

i have struggled with eating disorders for most of my life, though i have only just realized how long.  through writing this piece it became clear to me that i started the practice of ignoring my body when i was 11.  after practicing that for so long, it's no wonder that it can seem normal to me.

i’ve written before about how long it took me to start listening to my body and its signals.  oddly enough being obsessed with my body was directly related to ignoring it.

when i think through the increased severity of the stages of the disordered eating choices i’ve made throughout my life, i can track the inverse relationship to being present in my body.  it may sound evident, but the effects of engaging with an eating disorder affect every part of sense of self.

--age 11: not allowing any fat in my diet
when i was young, my best friend’s mother started counting fat grams.  it was all the rage in the early 90s, and my best friend and i started counting as well; it seemed like a fun game.  i got pretty competitive with myself and tried to keep my fat grams just under the minimum suggested per day.  i stopped eating things i liked.  not because i wanted to lose weight; not because i wasn’t happy with my body.  i loved the game aspect of it: so much so that i didn’t care that i couldn’t eat cake at my friends’ birthday parties. i learned very quickly to ignore wants and cravings… for the sake of the game.  i invented reasons "oh, i just don't like cake; i never have!"

as a result of the extreme fat deprivation in my diet, i had severely dry skin.  my mom tried to get me to eat a spoonful of olive oil each day.  i refused to, but pretended i was by pouring a tiny bit out of the bottle each day. the low percentage of body fat then prevented me from getting my first period until i was a couple months shy of 15.

--age 21: becoming obsessed with exercise
i continued the fat gram counting, and later recording of fat intake and exercise output for years.  i didn’t become obsessed with exercise until i became a fitness instructor in undergrad.  the culture of teaching fitness is that “more is better” and i bought right into it.  i was teaching 8-10 fitness classes a week, and i went to at least another 5 a week for fun/experience/whatever i told myself was a good excuse.

ignoring body signals is pretty necessary when you are doing way too much exercise.  muscles hurt. injuries happen.  and ignoring them is the only way to continue that level of exercise. 

the length of my cycle extended during this time: i was having periods with less frequency and i wasn’t sure if it was normal for me or if something was wrong.

--age 23: restricting calories
i went on a hormonal birth control method at 22 that caused me to gain a lot of weight, despite me not changing my eating or exercise patterns. i panicked.  for the first time in my life i was upset with how my body looked.  but, i felt like i knew what i needed to do: eat less calories.  my eating got very competitive.  i tried to eat the fewest number of calories i could per day: this got down to about 600-800 a day.  and i was still working out 1-3 times a day.  the weight did begin to come off.

however, i was starving all of the time. i learned to ignore the hunger pains, and to hide them from others.  i would bring snacks to my grad school classes as a cover.  it would be one of the only things i would eat that night, but i wanted it to seem “normal” to other people.  i would eat the snack part way through class, trying to keep my stomach from making noises.  but it must have looked suspect as i broke a granola bar up into 6 pieces and slowly ate them over the course of an hour, watching the clock to keep it evenly spaced over the hour.  the reason i realized this was obvious was that one of my professors pulled me aside after class one day and asked me if i was experiencing any eating issues.  i laughed, and told her i had just gone off the birth control i had been on, and that the cause of any weight loss was probably a result of that.

during this time in my life, my periods were pretty irregular.  i often took pregnancy tests, certain it wasn’t a result of my diet.   but i was never so concerned that i thought of changing any of my exercise or dietary behaviors.

--age 25: binging and purging
i went through a break up, most likely the result of me being obsessed with calories and food instead of my life.  after the break up i finally decided to allow myself to eat food.  but i didn’t know how.  i would end up binging and eating so much food because i felt so hungry.  the next day i would then add a few hours of exercise on to my regimen to make up for it.  i was spending all day exercising, doing a little work on my PhD, and then binging.  after a few weeks of this, it became unmanageable.  and one day i ate so much food that my stomach hurt so badly that i couldn’t do anything—not even sit there.  so i made myself throw up.  i didn’t even know how to do it, but the food came up.

i immediately felt addicted to throwing up.  i had just saved three hours of excessive exercise for the next day and i was elated.

my choice to binge and purge involved extreme levels of ignoring my needs.  i had to mentally leave my body during the binge session: eating that quickly and that volume of food is not comfortable.  after a binge session, i never even remembered what tv shows i had watched during it: that’s how far i was from my body during binging. after binging came the purging.  even though i dreaded doing it, i would throw up and throw up until it was all out.  my throat would be raw, my eyes would bulge and look bloodshot, my hand became cracked and dry and would get cuts from my teeth.  i would fall asleep exhausted and wake up dehydrated with a headache.

i began to go to therapy the same week that i started throwing up.  in my head, i had just developed an eating disorder.  but in reality, i had been engaging with disordered eating for 14 years. 

it took me another 8 years to figure out that ignoring my body’s wants and needs was the real problem.  i stopped binging and purging but was still recording things.  i stopped recording things but still insisted on exercise through injuries and exhaustion.  it was a regular yoga practice and, later, the addition of a meditation practice that helped me finally begin to really tune in.

and once i was tuning in, there was a difference: i could notice things about my behavior and reactions and how they were related to things in my body.  i could notice things about my cycle and how they affected my mood and cravings. 

now it’s hard for me to binge and purge: being present during that process is not something i enjoy.  i’m still practicing being present.  i’m still practicing noticing all the signs. and now i can acknowledge that i’ve struggled with being fully alive in my body for a majority of my life. 

but seeing what my body can do, and noticing little changes and signals, is a gift.  one that i don’t take lightly. i’m excited for the possibility of one day experiencing a pregnancy.  for eventually going through menopause.  and for being present to all the little changes that happen along the way.

and to keep trending up, listen to this: i love this song.  

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

jane fonda and me

i was obsessed with jane fonda when i was little.  my mother used to do her workout video at home, and my sister and i loved getting involved.  especially since it involved costumes: mama let us borrow leg warmers!  shayna and i would do the workout with my mom, and we felt very grown-up.

the movie 9-5 cemented my obsession with jane.  i watched 9-5 so many times when i was young that it became part of who i am: i have been know to force someone i'm dating to watch the movie so that they can understand WHO I AM.

but it wasn't until jane fonda published her memoir that i learned more about her. jane struggled with bulimia a lot of her life, and there is one quote in her memoir that really hit home.  she said that she found herself engaging with her eating disorder when she was being inauthentic in her relationships.  here's a piece of a longer quote from a recent interview she did:
...Eating disorders don’t represent a lust for food. It represents a loss of authentic self. It’s when there’s something about our lives and our relationship to ourselves and others around us that is inauthentic. And we’re trying to fill an emptiness. That’s what I think it’s really about. It’s a spiritual and emotional hole that we’re trying to fill with food...  If girls are in inauthentic relationships, they are more apt to have eating disorders... They need to receive help, of a very specific kind. 
the first time i read the line about being inauthentic in relationships, it immediately resonated with me.  i knew that it was true for me as well.  i use bulimia as a coping mechanism for a number of things: stress, anxiety, and depression are common triggers.  but there's also the old "wanting to avoid a hard conversation" with someone trigger.

until this weekend i think i had only binged and purged once since moving to NYC.  i've been doing well on letting go of disordered eating patterns as well.  but this past saturday i chose to binge and purge.

i beat myself up about it afterward and tried to identify why i chose this coping mechanism over a healthy one.  i scrolled through everything in my life right now and ding-ding-ding found one of the usual suspects: i've been avoiding a hard conversation with a friend and have cancelled spending time with him in an effort to further deflect the talk.  inauthenticity in a relationship.  ah, yes.

i strongly considered not telling anyone, including my best friends and my blogosphere.  but not wanting to admit something is the hallmark of my need to.  and so i discussed it with coral sunday afternoon.  she told me that she would never judge me for anything that i do, and i felt the warm loving comfort of her authenticity.

so, reminder to self: stop being inauthentic! but also get over yourself and shake it off.  like jane fonda would do.


via GIPHY


Saturday, April 23, 2016

centering

i got un-centered and i don't know how it happened. for months i was meditating every day.  i was flossing every day.  i was on top of things and i was "in flow." 

and then i wasn't.

and i couldn't get it back.  something was throwing dust over my glasses; shadowing the path; blocking the metaphysical flow.  i tried taking time off: time off from work, time off from socializing, time off from anything that allowed it. i tried forcing myself back into flow by doing things like making myself a nice dinner.  i tried spending quality time with cat. i tried binging the second season of unbreakable kimmy schmidt.

today i was very angry about how un-centered i felt.  i was on my way to teach yoga to a few of my colleagues at CUNY and was listening to the most recent episode of freakonomics on productivity. in the podcast they were talking about habits and i started thinking about some of these good habits that i had lost recently--ones that i thought i had ingrained.

what keeps me in flow?

i wasn't sure i knew, but i wanted to figure it out. so, i began planning a theme around it.

as i was walking into yoga, one of my colleagues said "i've been feeling so out of it; i haven't done yoga in so long!" "perfect," i replied, "perfect."

so in class we 1) thought about something that felt in flow already, 2) identified what kept that area flowing, 3) focused on the feeling that flow created in our lives, and then 4) choose an area of our lives that felt out of flow that we wanted to use as an intention for the practice. we used the practice to explore how flow felt, how breaking out of constrictions felt, and exploring new flow.

all of class told me afterward how much better they felt.  and after class i felt centered. almost instantly. weeks of feeling un-centered undone.  i felt at ease. i went about my day and could notice where i had been acting out of habit, where i had been acting without thought, and where i had been on auto-pilot because of this lack of flow.

i texted a few friends about how much better i was feeling, and about how i was still angry about the last few weeks of un-flow.  one friend admitted that he had been worried about me.  i realized then that maybe it had been more severe, or more noticeable, than i thought. 

at 630 i got a last minute request to cover a 730 yoga class in harlem.  the class was right across the street from my office, where i still was, so the answer was an easy yes.  i texted a friend that i'd be there, and he said "i hope it helps continue the re-centering process!"  gone were any thoughts about creating a new theme for the class: i wanted to continue to focus on this idea.

after the evening class, i got even more positive reinforcement about the theme. one girl "vibed with me" so much that she wanted to insta a pic of us.  (ps that is the first time a student has done that, and it kind of made me feel like a rockstar.)

all of the positive reactions to the flow facilitation made me start thinking about how common it is to get stuck--but it isn't the getting stuck that is the problem; it's knowing how to get unstuck and get back in flow. maybe we assume that there are just times when we'll feel like this and sit back into the stuckness. maybe we hope that someone else in flow will come along and dislodge us so that we don't have to do the work ourselves.  (i'm both, and i'm ashamed of the second--i blame it on disney.)

either way, i encourage the work. go. find your flow. find your center.


Monday, April 4, 2016

goals

a friend texted me today: "your body is a huge goal of mine... i really love how amazing you look and how you embrace yourself.  spring cooper = fitness goals!"

she said that immediately after receiving this photo from me.  so i instantly thought "she's only saying that bc i know how to take things at amazing angles that make me look better than i am."

i then had to sit with what she said for a minute and think "she has seen me in a swimsuit; she knows what i really look like."

all week i've been feeling bad about my body: comparing myself to others and judging myself. sometimes are harder than others and sometimes i can't identify why. this week was one of those times.  i heard my head yell eating disordered thoughts at me several times this week and weekend.  some of the times i was able to talk back to it; some of the times i was not. (that doesn't mean i ended up binging and purging; it means i ended up believing what it said too much of the time.)

believing harsh thoughts your head screams at you sucks.  it's hard enough when someone else says something.  but when you tell yourself something, you sometimes forget that you CAN fight it.

but the thing is that you can always rephrase. you just have to remember that you can. thank you rachel for reminding me.

lighting? check.  angle? check.  filter? check.  perfect selfie? check.  perfect body? every body is perfect.  including mine.