Category Archives: Body Image

Health kick update

I am pleased to report that my health kick is going well!! To recap, I had quite fuzzy goals. Nothing specific like a dress size, or a race to enter. I just basically wanted to move more, eat more veg, and feel a bit better.

I run in 90-100+ degrees currently - now THAT is dedication.

I run in 90-100+ degrees currently – now THAT is dedication.

Well, so far, I have succeeded! I have run twice a week since that goal. I am pleased that even running this small amount has allowed me to improve – I was worried twice a week might not be regular enough to see improvements in my pace and distance but I have gone from walking 1/2 of my paltry [<— must not be negative! Must be positive about my achievements!] 2.3 miles to jogging the whole way, and from struggling to get a 10.5/min mile, to averaging 9.5/min mile, with a PB of 9.23/mins. NOT BAD. Most importantly twice a week was just enough to get running vaguely pleasant – the first 6 or so runs I HATED almost every minute of – my body ached, my lungs burned and I felt like it was an uphill struggle. Now, while I wouldn’t put running on a par with eating chips on the sofa, it is now enjoyable in its own way. I am about ready to start turning one of my runs into a longer run – I’d like to build up to 10K over the next 6 months or so.

But my Houston Bayou run is pretty beautiful

But my Houston Bayou run is pretty beautiful

I am also zumba-ing once a week, and lifting weights twice a week. I am not sure if twice a week weight lifting will make much difference, but it is good to feel strong and do something a little different to cardio.

Most boring food picture int he world?!?

Most boring food picture in the world?!?

My diet *is* better. It’s not amazing, but it is better. At least 1/2 of the week I am not having a McDonalds for breakfast. The green smoothies started to make me really queasy (my body really revolts against green things), but I have managed to have a banana and greek yogurt, or oatmeal with pumpkin some of the time – that’s a step up. I have a healthy BMI, so I wasn’t looking to particularly cut things from my diet (hello vanilla goldfish), but I was looking to get healthy things in – I am having more salads, and each day I have 1 serving of carrots and 1 of cherry tomatoes as snacks. I am almost at my 5 a day!! It doesn’t sound like much, but when you are allergic to almost all fruit (except the occasional banana) and most vegetables make you hurl (see the green smoothie issue) it’s an achievement.

I am actually also quite proud that I have managed to keep things sane as well. I have never entered any kind of lifestyle change without setting crazy intense goals for myself. Last time I tried sport, I was running a Tough Mudder (all of it! No skipping obstacles!) within 8 months. When I tried a healthy eating plan, I got myself visible abs in 12 weeks (which as I started at the same weight as when I was 24 weeks pregnant with Sam was quite a hard won achievement). It’s very weird for me just to do ‘healthy behaviors’ for the sake of doing healthy behaviors, and to press ahead of them without hope of some clear short term reward. It makes it easy to think ‘oh, I won’t bother with a run today, I’ll do it another time’, but I have soldiered on so far. I keep telling myself that having things in moderation IS a healthy behavior, and I think of all these cheesy motivational quotes like:

“You can choose to make just today [or this meal] healthier”. Or “You are still lapping everyone on the couch”.

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Kinda hokey, I know. But hey, whatever works, right?

 

Image credit

http://vi.sualize.us/pos_of_motivation_quotes_videos_tips_gym8_picture_twsM.html

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Wish me luck on a new quest for a healthier lifestyle

When I started this blog, it was mostly about health – or at least dietary intake (which admittedly was not always healthy) and fitness training. I think I reached the pinnacle of my health in February 2012 – thanks to a stint with Amy Layne on the DAMY bikini body plan, I had developed a very healthy attitude towards my diet and fitness, I loved my body, I was lean and strong, I ate a good amount of both healthy (fruit, veg, whole grains, nuts) and unhealthy (alcohol, cupcakes) things, and I was fit enough to run and complete a tough mudder. Pretty good all around.

Tough Mudder game face

Tough Mudder game face

Then things slid – I moved to Houston, I got pregnant and due to polyhydramnios was taken off all exercise, I finished my 12 week DAMY program and did not sign back up, I had a baby, I accepted I was allergic to fruit, I became a faculty member at an R1 institution at the time of great funding crises, I became a working mother and acquired a stay at home husband, to whom I charged the family cooking. A million and one wonderful excuses that kept me from living a healthy lifestyle.

I don’t think I realized how far things had slid until Amy Layne (my old DAMY coach) facebooked me out of the blue and asked how I was. Good question Amy, good question. Amy works hard with her clients to look after their mental and physical selves. I worked hard with Amy on body acceptance, and healthy (normal?) eating attitudes: how to listen to my body, how to remove guilt, but focus on health, how to relax (I still have my Heavenly accupressure mat that she sent me!). And still I love my body, I have stayed away from my eating demons, I am happy. But. BUT. The physical side? Ummmm…. yeah…. A McDonalds EVERY day (seriously, I did this)? A maximum of 1 serving of fruit or veg a day? Liquid intake consisting of ONLY Diet Coke and coffee? Carbs made up almost exclusively of vanilla goldfish and Cadbury’s Fingers? Seriously, my diet was exactly that: sugary hits of nutrient depleted food. And exercise? Forget it… it was firmly on the ‘to do’ list, never on the ‘done’ list.

What could I tell Amy? That she had spent 12 weeks coaching me, and working with me, emailing me and helping me for no show? That although I attribute recovering so quickly after my hemorrhage to my body fitness she gave me, I had let it slide? Seriously – eeek! You don’t know Amy, she cares so deeply about her clients (hence she still emails them 2 years later), I knew she would be upset and I couldn’t do it.

So, that was my turning point…. my kick up the backside. My ‘I need to do something’. Sadly (or maybe not so sadly) I am no longer in a place (mentally or otherwise) where I feel I want to make sudden drastic overhauls to my lifestyle.  And anyway, working with Amy made me swear off radical quick fixes (I am looking at you Master Cleanse. *shudder*). And my years of living badly and surviving have also made me fearless in the face of cupcakes and fries, so it’s not like I can be motivated to cut them out completely. So, I am making slow, manageable changes. A vegetable smoothie for breakfast in the morning….

1/2 avocado 1/2 cucumber 1/2 bunch fresh spinach 1 c coconut water 3 tsbp Fage 2%

1/2 avocado
1/2 cucumber
1/2 bunch fresh spinach
1 c coconut water
3 tsbp Fage 2%

(anyone who has smoothie recipes that don’t involve fruit – please share!)

And at least 2 veggie snacks a day (carrots, peppers or tomatoes). I don’t care if my other snacks are indeed goldfish, I have to eat veggies twice a day. And I am aiming for one salad a day as well. Considering that my BMI is healthy, I figure that that takes care of my diet fairly well – how badly can I eat around that? (Hey, don’t answer that).

I am drinking a lot more water and a lot less Diet Coke (the jury is pretty out on whether this is good for you or not, but hey, surely it can’t hurt?). And exercise…. hmmmmm… well, I am getting out of the house every night and planning to run three times a week (kinda only making it once a week, but hey…). I have a million excuses reasons why my exercise plan is not going as it should, but I’ll save you from them. Suffice to say that for 40 minutes every evening I am least upright, outside, moving and not on the sofa eating chips.

Sam and Ellie benefit from the walking too

Sam and Ellie benefit from the walking too

Small steps, but please, wish me luck sticking to them! I am amazed at how I have changed from telling people they can do anything health related, to openly struggling to make the very basics of a healthy lifestyle mine. I want to get back to my ‘old self’ now that I am settled into Houston, motherhood, faculty life, home ownership and whatnot. I want to have a healthy lifestyle. I can do this, right?

Who am I? Labels and ourselves.

Labeling theory in Psychiatry – in brief – states that people’s perception of others is coloured by the labels given to them by society, the perceiver or the perceived. Labeling theory was initially concerned with the effect of labeling someone as mentally ill, after Rosenhan’s 1973 study whereby 12 sane stooges got themselves admitted to a psychiatric hospital under the label of ‘mentally ill’, after complaining of hallucinations. Their task, after this, was to be released; a task that should be easy enough as they would simply have report to be free of hallucinations, and be ‘themselves’ – correct? Well, it was not the case. They failed to get spotted as ‘psuedopatients’ and had extensive medical reports of their ‘strange behaviour’. An example that always stuck in my mind was when one of the confederates was recording notes from being inside the institution, the psychiatric staff reported it as ‘strange writing behaviour’.

The point of the experiment was to show that the stooges’ behaviour was seen in a different light when they were labelled as ‘mentally ill’, and to raise awareness of the possible problems caused by the stigma that may be associated with mental illness. I have not kept up to speed with modern day labeling theory in scientific research, but I am aware that it is used in the diet and fitness literature to positive effect. Whether it is substantiated or not, Runner’s World has reported that if you are starting to learn to run, it can be beneficial to label yourself – to yourself and to others – as a ‘runner’. This will, apparently, help you stick to your new running plan, and help other encourage you.

I don’t know if Runner’s World is correct, but I have been thinking about labeling a lot recently – in terms of how we label ourselves. And how this can be a positive or negative thing. I moved to the US 24 months ago. Back then I was 118 lbs of skin and bone and hated sport. As a friend put it ‘you don’t have limbs, you have twigs’. I labelled myself as ‘skinny’ (skinny-fat maybe, but nonetheless, ‘skinny’). I didn’t eat carbs. I just didn’t. Once a month there would be a transgression (often alcohol fuelled), but otherwise I was strictly anti-carb. Another label. I was also bulimic. Not a label I wanted others to know, but a label nonetheless.

Then I got out of a very destructive relationship. I looked around and saw that I had moved continent on my own, been knocked back pretty hard in my personal life, but picked myself up and started again. I had established my own life far from home, far from my friends, in a very different culture. And I loved it! As I came out of a subservient position in my personal life, I began to think of myself as ‘mentally strong’, and along with a few other reasons, decided that this required a stronger body. I started weight training, I loved it, so I started body building. Nutrient timing, a strict cardio routine and heavy, heavy lifting ensued. Within 3 months I was regularly running 10Ks, bench pressing my body weight, squatting god-knows-what and I relabelled myself as ‘fit’ or ‘sporty’ and ‘a body builder’. I was 126 lbs of muscle.

Then… I don’t know quite what happened. I relaxed my diet. I started to really dig into my work, writing my first big grants, and pushing papers out. I became a Mum to little Walter who needed a lot of love and attention. I stopped lifting for some reason. I ran a bit, but not seriously. I did zumba and labelled it ‘cardio’. I got back into cooking and socializing. And I kept labeling myself as ‘fit’ and ‘thin’.

Until I had a wake up call. I went to England, where I could not wear endless floaty dresses (Brrrrrr….) and found my trousers could not get over my thighs (no exaggeration, I had to borrow clothes to fly home as none of mine could be put on!). I didn’t quite believe it was real, as it was not *me*. I was ultra fit! I was skinny! Sure – the dial on the scale had moved to 143 lbs (good grief) but that was muscle, right? I mean, muscle weighs more than fat? Everywhere I went, I found people to agree with me. ‘You don’t look any different’, they said, ‘You are so sporty’, ‘all that activity, you can’t have put on weight’, ‘it must be muscle, it is a body builders body!’. I believed it all, as it fit my labels I gave myself.

Then I spoke to another friend. He asked me how my trip to England was, and I said that I had had a wake-up call to having put on a lot of weight (I said it with a smile in a jolly manner). I was shocked at his response: he cheerfully replied ‘yup’. In the next sentence he said ‘you used to be so fit’. I crossly thought ‘I am fit’ and was shocked at his honesty. Then, later, I really thought about it. I am not super fit anymore – 5Ks are not always easy. I struggled to run 6 miles on Saturday, when timewise 1/2 marathons were completed before breakfast every other week – for real. I am not super skinny anymore. I am currently, to be honest, kinda chunky. So, I need to relabel myself, and not cling to labels that are not true – as my friend had accurately relabeled me.

Then I thought about it some more: how could someone who was a friend of mine say this?? How could they be so mean? Then it occurred to me: he used labels like ‘unfit’ (or just ‘not fit’ would be more accurate) and ‘heavier’ to mean exactly that: not fit and heavier. It didn’t have all the negative connotations I associated with these terms. I think (I hope) to my friend, I was exactly the same Lekki in terms of integrity, value, intelligence, interest, fun – in fact all ways – as I was when I was a muscle bound runner. I was just heavier and less fit – nothing more, and nothing less. He used the label to be exactly what it was: he did not become the psychiatric ward worker above who viewed me and my attributes through the lens of these labels. I am less fit and 25 lbs heavier, and to coin a Southern phrase: ‘It is what it is’ i.e. nothing more and nothing less.

So, I have rejigged my labels of myself, knowing that I want to change them, and I will.

I am, as of this moment:

-25 lbs heavier than when I arrived in the US
-2.5 dress sizes larger than when I arrived in the US
-Unable to run more than a 5K without stopping to walk
-Tired after 3 sets of 12 reps with 12 lb weights (really).

This helps me when I think ‘I don’t really have to lose weight to be as I was two years ago, I just need a crash diet to lose this water weight’ or when I think “Oh, I am fit, that was just a bad day – I need some more sleep!”. *IF* I want to be thin, and *IF* I want to be very fit, it is going to take some work.

But, that it is all it is. It has no bearing on the rest of me. And, I am also, as of late:

-A productive and devoted scientist
-Able to let go of controlling everything and enjoy life in the moment sometimes
-Able to look in the mirror, not like some aspects of what I see but not freak out and still see some things I do like
-Able to prioritize: I choose to let work / my puppy / my friends take precedence over my fitness and body sometimes
-HAPPY.

That being said, I am also capable of change. I am following a 1/2 marathon training plan, and the DAMY bikini body plan. In the next 12 weeks, I would like to get back to a size 8-10 (UK) and get somewhere near the weight I came to the US at. I would like to be able to run 10Ks as and when I like, and half marathons with some prep. And I will, but while I can’t: it is what it is. Nothing more and nothing less than that. I have more important (to me) things to judge myself by.

A lil’ note on normality

So, some random thoughts on what is normal… or at least, what is healthy. You may take the two interchangeably throughout.

It is normal to have thighs that touch at the top when you stand.

Look: here is an airbrushed photo of under fit mega-fitness model Jamie Eason (whom I have lil’ bit of a girl crush on):

Her dedication is such that when she goes on holiday she packs a cooler full of healthy food, and eats out of it! Yet, in this posed, touched up picture her thighs almost touch. ‘Nuff said

It is normal to be able to ‘pinch an inch’ (approximately) of loose skin in your abdomen.

Remember when you used to cover books with wallpaper / wrapping paper for school, and if you did it while the book was open, the paper would rip when you shut it? Well… if your skin were 100% taught it would rip when you stood up. Blood and guts everywhere. Love that inch a little more now?

It is normal to have some cellulite – however thin you are, however ‘clean’ you eat, however far you run.

It is normal to look terrible in some photos, without it being an accurate reflection of your body shape / size.

It’s normal to be 3D

Some magazines, airbrush out the evidence that women are not as flat as a pancake (or a crepe for all those Americans used to delicious, fluffy, buttermilk nuggets of deliciousness… dripping in syrup… I digress). In real life, our lumps and bumps stick out. We’re not a 2D image.

It is normal to look your age, which is not the age you were 3 years ago.

Your shape, your proportions, your skin tone and tightness changes as you get older. Sure, it is all relative, but *you* will look different to how you did at 18, when you are 22, and how you did at 22 when you are 25 and so on. Much as Disney would like us all to believe we look like Miley Cyrus until our 32nd birthday when we wake up having morphed overnight into Amy Adams in Enchanted, which we will remain like until our first-born has their first-born, when we will suddenly look like Fa (Mulan’s grandmother) – sadly it isn’t so.

We slowly change bit by bit with age, and we can look beautiful at each age. So we might as well enjoy it while we can. You’ll probably look back and wish you had otherwise.

I am not saying that these things can’t be minimized, or even negated (some of them), but they are all normal, healthy and beautiful facts of life.

Having said that, I would also add:

It is normal to go hungry sometimes

Yup. It is. If you are close to a meal time, and hungry, it is OK not to eat. You probably won’t overstuff yourself, if you exercise some control. You’ll deal with the hunger just fine; modern diets are full of promises that ‘you’ll never go hungry’ or they are full of ‘free’ foods you can eat unlimited amounts of. There is no need to graze 24/7, and a little hunger might do you some good: shrink your stomach, increase your insulin sensitivity, mobilize some stored fat. If you are confronted with only unhealthy / undesirable eating options, sometimes it’s OK not to eat anything, and just wait.

It is normal to hate cardio.

Sorry, but this is not an excuse not to do it. If you have a sedentary life you need some exercise. It would be great if we all had a sport that we were passionate about and wanted to do all the time. But it won’t happen for some of us. Walking, biking, swimming endless lengths, the dreaded treadmill / elliptical, they get dull. Fast. You can minimise the boredom by varying the type of workout, but ultimately, if you are skipping your regular step class again because it is boring or unmotivating (like the Tae Bo video you bought, like the treadmill routine you started, like the walking to work thing that slipped by the wayside) that’s probably just a fact of life you need to suck up for your health. Heck, I LOVE Zumba, but 80% of the time, when I am hungry after a long day at work: the sofa is so much of a better option. I make a commitment to do it and do it anyway

It is normal to feel deprived

Most readers are probably surrounded by a cornucopia of delicious food options at every meal. If you are in the US the cheapest food is possibly some easiest to get and some of the most immediately palatable. You probably find it acceptable to drink a few glasses of wine / bottles of beer every night. You probably end up at some 3 / 4 semi-social work engagements where you are offered highly calorific, but tasty food. Salads can be boring. Grilled meat / fish and steamed veg can get boring. I love Atkins as a lifestyle, but believe me, I love cupcakes and gelato. We are taught now that we shouldn’t feel deprived. That the world is our oyster and we can and should, achieve everything we want. Every so often, if you want to be slimmer and more healthy, you are probably going to have to watch your colleagues eat pizza, and tuck into lettuce and grilled chicken. Sometimes, you’ll say no to the 20th slice of birthday cake you’ve been offered this month. And you’ll be the DD. Again, you won’t die. And you don’t have to do it all the time. Just, if a few pesky pounds are hanging around, if those lipids are not quite as you’d like them to be, this may help. And it is a lifetime decision.

It is normal to feel too busy / tired to cook and / or exercise.

But it is possible to find time. You may have to re-prioritise. I watch maybe 1 TV show a week. I don’t read as much as I’d like. Sundays I do a big shop and prepare some of the week’s food. Work around what you have to work with. Rope in friends / partners / children. Rope in short cuts (pre chopped veggies, fresh pasta sauce). Think about how you spend your time and what is most important to you.

Ultimately, I guess I have brought together two things I am have been thinking. I feel for people who hate their bodies, who wish they could change them, who are bombarded with media ideals of unrealistic (or highly demanding to achieve) body images to aspire to. But, I also see people who say ‘you’re so lucky you love the gym’ (I don’t) or who order the tastiest thing on the menu every time they eat out, but really want to lose weight. There is a halfway house: some discomfort, some deprivation, some missing out. Occasional indulgence. But then also, loving who you are as a result.

Notions of female beauty

 

I will admit, I have been obsessed with the way I look for years, probably since I can remember. Yes, I am vain. I have passed it off as many things: especially as a focus on health. It’s true that I have been interested in health since being a toddler – my mum remembers me at 2 picking the fat out of my food, and, too young to say the ‘f’ sound crying ‘hass’ in disgust as I flung it across the floor. Artificial sweeteners were banned from the house by me when I was 12. At the tender age of 3 I informed both parents that I was not getting enough fruit  [I was] and that I would get scurvy. Although I insisted my parents bought me candy every week (as they got some) my mother would remove old stale and largely untouched bags of pic ‘n’ mix from their place languishing at the back of my draw. Sweets were out – fruit and lean protein was in. Maybe some mac ‘n’ cheese too. But it’s not just health. I’ll admit it, if the endless pursuit of ‘the body perfect’ indicates vanity, then since the age of about 14, I have been vain. Sue me.

This vanity has been variously a good [keeping me with a healthy BMI, keeping me with a good nutrient intake, getting me to do some exercise] and a bad [over obsession, crying in the mirror, under eating / over training] thing. Perhaps it has lead me to my current job. However, I, and others, have always been interested in where it came from. The Freudians would cite a lifetime of trying to gain strangers’ approval as my working parents ‘neglected’ me at nannies. The behaviourists would point to my very slim, and very beautiful mother, who put me on my first diet at the tender age of eight and rewarded deprivation. The  geneticists would agree, but for different reasons. Trait modellers would classify me as ‘Type A’ – always striving for new goals to the end of perfection.  I had some sympathy with all the views, and others. In fact, the only view I did not have sympathy with was the more sociological view, epitomised by ‘Fat is a Feminist Issue’. I did not agree that I wanted to be thin because as a woman with a successful career in a traditionally male dominated field and a busy life I needed a ‘flaw’ and ‘imperfection’ to stop me being intimidating to men.  If that was a step to far, then certainly I needed to be small and little so that I could in some way at least seem to be subservient. I saw this as a load of old hokum, because I did not believe it was a view that generally affected women’s outlooks among my circle of friends. Until I started weight lifting.

When I first started weight lifting a lot of people said to me ‘ooooh, you don’t want to get big’ and I agreed with this at face value, after all, the goal of weight lifting was partially to tone up, but more to lose some weight (fat mass). So, I got into lifting and was fairly unworried about how I looked, havingbeen reassured from several nutritionists and personal trainers that it would impossible for me to accidentally get ‘huge’. I loved weight lifting. Just loved it, and I loved what it did to my body. Others didn’t. They looked at me and said ‘your arms are so big!’ which struck me as odd, as I was size 2, all my clothes fit and my body fat was low. I realised that what they meant was that I had biceps. Not huge biceps, not disproportionate ones, just ones that were now visible at rest. The general consensus among people was that this was wrong. Even my boyfriend expressed some concern. He is supportive, it was jokey, but there was an edge. People at home looked at me and asked me if I was ‘overdoing it’. [At this point I should point out that I was not even close to being anywhere near extreme, I would not even be competitive in bikini class competitions].

I also worried about it. I realised this when I was hiking last weekend and I had to pull  a backpack up… Frank said to me ‘I know you have big muscles but I think you might need help’. I found I was offended on some level – did he call me big? Was he implying I was unfeminine? This gave me cause to think carefully – why was my body now straying into the ‘unacceptable’? I was certainly healthy. I eat well, I exercise reasonably. I would say I am in pretty good proportions; in fact my waist to hip ratio is .7… considered ideal. My waist is 26″… a little larger than before, but a small, toned size. I have balanced figure… so what is the problem? It is that I have visible muscles. As one girl said when she introduced me to her boyfriend ‘this is Lekki from Zumba… she is buff’. But shouldn’t women have muscles? Shouldn’t women have biceps and a healthy strong core? Where has this notion that women must be small, and let’s face it, weak looking come from? I understand that sexual dimorphism is a goal; but trust me, I am a lot smaller than any guy, my arms are way less toned than most guys and if you are looking from a more emotional / practical perspective – although I can lift more than most girls (squatting 170 – y-e-e-e-e-e-e-s) even the most untrained of guys can rerack the weights with one hand, that I fail to do with 2.

I am suddenly annoyed that the conception of female beauty is so tied up with being incapacitated. Be really thin, so don’t nourish yourself adequately for endurance. Don’t have any muscle, so don’t be able to carry your luggage easily when you travel. Have large breasts and a small waist that affect your center of gravity. Wear crippling high heels and have long difficult nails. Screw it. I don’t think beauty is about this anymore – it is about strength and health — inside and out. Women should be able to lift heavy things, they should be able to run easily and they need muscles to do it. I am keeping my biceps and I think they look beautiful.