Tag Archives: eating disorders

Snarling #12wbt: veganism, eating disorders, orthorexia and the culture of food policing


This post involves discussions of eating disorders and veganism, which may be triggering for you depending on your circumstances. Please read it in a safe space and access support people if you think it will trigger disordered thinking or behaviours for you. Negative comments on this issue from friends aren’t welcome and are actively triggering of ED, so please refrain from that if you know me personally.

This is not an easy post to make because it discusses aspects of my life and identity that have underpinned some of the most important bonds I’ve made in my communities, and who I see myself as. It is a complicated, long post, but I think some of the things I’m going to discuss are important to talk about.

As I’ve been embarking on building a realistic, settled and balanced relationship with my body and food, I’ve discussed a bit about my history with disordered eating here. I’ve posted here about my how my relationship with food has been fractured and dissonant from a very young age.

I remember having compulsive eating behaviours from the age of about eight. I was a compulsive emotional eater, and engaged in covert or “sneak” eating – a mountain of mugs built up under my bed from quiet gorging on icing (frosting) that I would make and eat with a closed door. Sneak eating is still something I do, though I try to minimise it. I can’t remember if I ever saw covert eating modeled for me, though I think all of us have seen compulsive overeating in our communities.

Disordered eating, even if it doesn’t develop into a diagnosable disorder, is really common and was very observable in the interactions of the microsystem I grew up in, particularly with my parents and siblings (holler ecological systems theory and Bronfenbrenner) – and I think that’s influenced by and tied up in lots of non-medical social stuff, particularly around gender from our macrosystems. Hiding food is something I think lots of women do, or at least, I’ve known lots of women to do it. And fixation on food and dissonance around how we think and behave is not the fault of the individual in a wider sense, because our culture encourages it in everyone, especially women.

So, my baseline throughout my life has been to have a very quirky relationship with food – I have reflexively used it to service every emotional state. Celebration, sadness, shame, self hatred, joy, feeling ill. My thinking around food has tended to be historically very extreme – food has been good vs bad, and eating certain foods has by extension made me good or bad.

Food is interwoven fairly inextricably in how I process my feelings and identity. Untangling that is not totally possible, though taking steps to minimise the entanglement is positive for me.

When I was 20, I discovered a lot of things about animal testing and the way that animals are treated in food production that disturbed me (and still disturb me) and my response to this information was to exclude animal products from my diet, very strictly. I went vegan. This conversion happened over a period of a week. It was pretty sudden and pretty dramatic (like a lot of things I’ve done in life!) I think that my response was a rational and positive one.

Veganism can be a rational response to cruelty. It is. I believe that. I believe everyone has the right to choose to distance themselves from systems that they observe as harmful. I think veganism is pretty rad as a way to disengage and also engage with systems that are often unspeakably awful.

I became more involved in the vegan community online, and made lots of friends in the Sydney vegan community, who now remain some of my deepest, most meaningful friendships. I love these people. They are honestly some of the kindest, most gentle and caring folks I’ve ever known, and they’ve been there for me through thick and thin. I don’t think it is their veganism that makes them awesome, but I think their general disposition towards being concerned about justice and kindness informs their veganism. They want the world to be fairer and kinder, and this is how they go about it.

I wanted (and still want) that too. Unfortunately my disordered eating – cycles of binging and restriction and very polar thinking about food that has distinct mental health outcomes of depression, anxiety and physical health symptoms (starvation, overeating, swings in weight and blood sugar) – was worsened by veganism. It’s really easy to develop an even more extreme set of rules (and ways to rebel from these rules) about food when you’re following an ethical framework that sets out, very clearly, “good” and “bad” foods. The labels are a bit different – “ethical” vs “unethical” but the thinking is so close as to be the same. For a person with ED, separating disordered eating from veganism is close to impossible. I’m very proud of people who through therapy and lots of personal work are able to do this.

The problem for me became that my ED both caused ‘lapses’ from veganism because of it’s nature and my veganism caused behaviours with my ED, because of culture of the framework.

When you’re vegan, you feel the weight of the suffering of all animals on every meal, on every bite (and many vegans would argue you should, and that this constant gnawing guilt is positive. I personally think that’s a bit fucked up.) Every choice you make takes on global, massive, heavy significance. And let’s be honest here: many (not all) vegans scrutinise each other and everyone else. They just do. They scrutinise others in the same way people do on thinspiration/pro-ED forums. They do in the way hardcore paleo people do. The organic crew. The no-sugar people. They do in the way any group others people outside the club. And I know what vegans say about other people when they’re 100% sure no other non-vegans are in the room because of how long I flew stealth because of shame, before awkwardly admitting in a few calculated safe-risk situations that I wasn’t as pure as my friends.

I went away for the weekend with a girlfriend/partner back in the day, who was vegetarian but pretty accepting/non judgemental of most folks, and at the time I was pretty seriously vegan. I remember sitting down for a buffet breakfast at this fancy, lovely hotel and agonising over eating the mushrooms (which may have been fried in butter, but I didn’t know either way and it was killing me). Her gentle, kind words (which I’m kind of paraphrasing here because it was a long time ago!) have always stuck with me: it’s just a plate of mushrooms. You eating these mushrooms doesn’t make you a good or bad person.

If there’s one thing you know how to do as a person with fucked up eating, it’s hide things and worry about what everyone will think. The thing that is sad about veganism and some other frameworks for eating, is that the fear of social exclusion is not ill-founded, and being on the receiving end of abuse and hostility is a real thing that happens (especially online – like many other folk, vegans are some of the worst keyboard warriors I’ve met). I think it’s a bit more intense with veganism though than say, organic eating, because it can go to the core of how people see themselves in their world. I was intensely worried about what eating those mushrooms would mean for my friendships, and my whole sense of self. Who was I, if I ate the mushrooms? Was I bad or good? Was I worse or better? It was deep ED land, compliments of veganism.

I know that’s not a nice thing to hear, but it is true. Vegans need to stop and think about how what they do and say may be actively triggering and harming people in their ranks (and outside of them. And I’d argue that distinction is heaps more murky than people like to acknowledge). And while veganism doesn’t cause eating disorders, it can make them worse without heaps of support and critical reflection, and I’m not sure that kind of support and reflection goes on in these communities enough. I really do believe people with ED are attracted to things like veganism and say, paleo or low carb eating as well, because of their strict rules. I know I was.

It’s all very muddy and hard to pick apart when you really sit down and look at how it all interacts. I would engage in sneak eating of forbidden cheese because it was “bad” and doing bad things felt good (and then bad again very quickly) and I would then renounce cheese and engage in ritually shaming myself (mostly in my head). I would also engage in shaming and criticising others (sometimes on this blog!) for eating non vegan foods, mostly online (because hiding behind a keyboard and sneering at vegetarians/omnivores is a lot easier than doing it in person at a dinner party, where you have to deal with the social consequences of the actual rudeness of saying these things to another person’s face). Shaming others for food choices is a pretty classic ED behaviour which I don’t do any more because I am aware of it, and check it. It makes me sound like a dick and it ruins connections with others. There are other ways to talk about veganism that are more positive and helpful for everyone (who doesn’t love a vegan cupcake stall, or vegan cooking blog, am I right?)

And I am not vegan at the moment. That’s really hard to type. HARD, PEOPLE. I hide my non vegan things (see how I say “things?” rather than naming the actual items? Yep) in the opaque vegetable crisper drawer of my fridge because I am just so fucking ashamed and terrified of my non vegan friends seeing my dirty shameful food. In my head, no matter what I do, I can’t separate the eating of an egg (though a painstakingly researched free range, low concentration of hens per hectare egg) with being an evil person. This may sound bonkers to you, but it isn’t wild thinking in the context of the vegan community. The answer isn’t as simple as not eating the egg either, because the underpinning psychological tic just lays dormant, waiting for another object to affix itself to. And I need complex conditions under which I can stop feeling the guilt and shame (such as being abroad, where making vegan choices is way way harder, therefore being vegetarian is less of a transgression. Welcome to the merry-go-round, guys!).

All of my instagram photos obscure or hide elements of my shop or cooking that involve non vegan products. Is this positive behaviour? No. Is this culturally influenced? Yes.

All of my instagram photos obscure or hide elements of my shop or cooking that involve non vegan products. Is this positive behaviour? No. Is this culturally influenced? Yes.

There’s a name for this manifestation of ED, and while it isn’t a diagnosable condition, it’s pretty spot on (and I didn’t know about it until a friend mentioned it in passing to me today and I was pretty much like WOAH and that prompted this post). It’s called ‘orthorexia’ and you can read more about it here, and here, but basically it is “righteous” eating. To quote:

Orthorexia is a term coined by Steven Bratman, MD to describe his own experience with food and eating.  It is not an officially recognized disorder in the DSM-5, but is similar to other eating disorders – those with anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa obsess about calories and weight while orthorexics obsess about healthy eating (not about being “thin” and losing weight).”

I believe that orthorexic thinking is, at least for me, something that can crop up for people who are trying to overcome restriction and binging. It’s a nifty little side step in which ED can hide. I’m not counting calories! I’m eating healthy! I’m not logging my food, I’m just NEVER EVER EATING SUGAR. I’m not obsessively exercising, I’m just religiously having a green smoothie every day and excluding gluten (even though I’m not gluten intolerant or coealiac). I’m not weighing myself, I’m just feeling like a saint because I’m only eating organic food. I’m better. I’m healthier. I’m good. You might not be pathologically orthorexic, but I bet a lot of us “good feminists” (hello, more purity politics) recognise these thoughts!

There’s been some famous cases of orthorexia and people being honest about their food habits, such that of Jordan Younger – and some heavily oppressive flack they’ve copped for that honesty. I get grumpy at the coverage of this – you’ll notice a distinctly anti-vegan, pro-meat tone in some of the articles (hooray, this silly person now eats meat again just as they should! Down with vegans!) or a pro-vegan subtle weight loss message (do we really need to include before and after photos of the person who had dramatic weight loss due to their restrictive veganism? Who is that useful for? So basically we’re still ogling and approving of the skinny, right? Fuck off.) Personally I think Jordan Younger is really fucking brave to do what she did. 

I should be really clear in writing this post that I think our politics around food need to start functionally omitting discussions of blame, “total” behaviours, or polarity. If I could encourage myself and others to have one personal affirmation, it would be “I am not my food, and my food and habits do not determine my worth.”

That is super challenging as an affirmation because many vegans and healthy eating gurus (including, let’s face it, me still) just Do. Not. Believe that. Or preach it. The subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) message is: your food DOES make you good or bad.

My friend Cassie, who is vegan, is probably one of the most legit excellent vegans I know because when I nervously talked to her about this, she just didn’t judge me (or if she did, she didn’t do it out loud, even if that was super hard for her). I think she saw my anxiety and decided somehow that being a good human was more important than being the vegan police. That giving me a space in which I could be my whole integrated self, and not triggering my ED, was more important that insisting I meet a standard. For that I’m grateful, and even if she doesn’t realise it, I felt closer to her and less fucked up in that moment.

I am facing a new health challenge at the moment that I’m still mulling over, and trying to be critical of when fitting it into my knowledge of myself as a person with “food issews”. My fertility doctor just told me I have the compound heterozygous MTHFR gene mutation, which has implications for how I absorb folate (I don’t do it well, and need to supplement with folenic acid), and has links to recurrent pregnancy loss as well as other health concerns.

There’s a raft of information about eating and living with MTHFR, but my friend flagged with me that it could prompt orthorexic thinking and eating, which is a legit concern. Some of the advice given to people with MTHFR (particularly compound heterozygous MTHFR and single or compound homozygous MTHFR genes) is pretty extreme and I’m not sure yet how scientific some of it is. Some doctors with information online about MTHFR genes recommend excluding dairy and gluten, but the rationale for that I’ve yet to discover.

I’m not feeling triggered by the (so far small) changes I need to make to diet and supplementation because of MTHFR so far. I know I’ll need to monitor that, though. There is always within me the potential to find just another new way to limit or alter my behaviours for piousness. And the potential for that around making babies? Huge, because of how huge the stakes are emotionally. There’s few things I want more than to take home a healthy baby at this point, so I need to be reeeeally careful I don’t unthinkingly use that to support making wild choices. 

The #12wbt probably does provide a holding space for people with orthorexic thinking and behaviours, I don’t doubt. Loads of it is triggering of those thoughts in me. There are messages around altering your social ties, avoiding or altering social situations and creating defence mechanisms for eating “unhealthy” foods that definitely cater to orthorexia.

But on the other hand, Michelle Bridges does preach balance. She talks about the whole journey being important, not the destination. There’s lots of contradictions in the message, but she does try to encourage people to be real about their eating and not judge themselves for what they eat, instead being consistent and generally nutritious, not perfect. There’s so many competing ideas in the #12wbt but I think an effort is made to navigate away from extreme eating, and to include a range of foods. There’s no eschewing of sugar or carbs or fat. There’s a little bit of everything, and I like that.

This post is not designed to say that veganism is bad, because I don’t think it is. I would love to somehow find my way back to being vegan and not feeling fucked up by it, I’m just not sure that will happen any time soon – and I carry daily guilt around about that. I would like to get rid of that guilt (even as some people think I should feel it even more keenly, I’m sure) and reclaim my humanity from the intrusive “not good enough” feeling that always comes from somewhere. Veganism is not bad because ways of eating can’t be inherently bad – but it is complex, and it is made up of flawed humans who sometimes make not very kind choices in how they treat people. In the end, there will always be the vegan who doesn’t give a shit about how people feel because they’re a warrior for animal rights, and then there will be the ones who make you soup and celebrate the efforts you do/can make. The ones who remember that veganism was originally designed to be about what is “practical and possible”. 

At the moment my focus is just on eating balanced meals that have a bit of everything (and by everything I do mean sometimes chips, chocolate and beer) and becoming a person who is generally thoughtful about food but not compelled to act by an internal script of goodnes/badness.

I really want to be able to display chilled out, balanced behaviours around food for my children and minimise purity politics in my home. This probably means they won’t grow up in a home that is 100% vegan and with a Dad that sometimes eats meat (and a Mum who doesn’t feel totally comfy with that choice, but tries not to be a dick about it). I mourn that a bit. I don’t want them growing up thinking veganism is bad though and I want that to be a choice they can make if it is made feeling whole, and empowered, and happy. I recognise that will probably be complicated for them, just as it is for me.

Most of all, I want my kids to know that I will love them no matter what they do or don’t put in their mouths. That their worth isn’t defined by what they eat. While that seems to have skipped my brain, I want to work hard on it being installed in theirs from the beginning.

Advertisements

Snarling #12wbt: and here comes emotional eating


It’s no secret I’m having a truly crap time personally. I can’t imagine how much more crap it would be if I wasn’t eating balanced meals full of fruit, veg and enough protein. (Thanks, 12wbt!)

Having been given two days off work because I’m literally cracking up under the pressure of grief/stress, and having cried in front of colleagues yesterday (best ever), emotional eating is back in force. Yesterday it was cheesecake, chips and pide.

Emotional eating is HARD. The thinking for me that is hard to circumvent is when I’m already doing all the stuff to defuse it – talking about my feelings, being supported. But yesterday, I frogmarched myself into the staffroom and ate a bigass plate of cake, because I was like “you know what, FUCK not having cake right now.”

But in the end, that sugar didn’t make me feel better. It didn’t do anything towards my wellness. It didn’t heal anything. I didn’t get anything from it, except a petulant satisfaction that I CAN DO WHAT I WANT and LOOK I DESERVE CAKE RIGHT NOW.

One thing I’d like to move towards with slowly processing emotional eating is continuing to find new coping strategies (and I’m already doing that, hence continuing). I’m thinking of getting a snap band and a boxing bag for home to replace my more destructive angry feelings. I’ve started crocheting and hooking my way through feelings is good. It keeps my head calm and my hands busy.

image

Crochet keeps me calm. I'm new to it, but already am finding it a useful tool for debugging my brain.

But I’m yet to find something that consistently and effectively scratches the itch that emotional eating does.
I guess I just want to find ways to cope that I don’t regret 10 minutes later, you know?


Snarling 12WBT Week One: sweet potato is god & nope I will not measure. Nope. Nooope.


Let your words be anything but empty: why don’t you tell them the truth? Say what you wanna say, and let the words fall out.

– Sara Bareilles

This week was the first week of the Michelle Bridges 12WBT, and I started with a very open mind and a resolve to take it all on and discuss it all in myself. To be brave as I threw myself under the trigger bus. Really. And I spent surprisingly less time being angry and rolling my eyes than I thought I would (though those moments definitely *happened*).

I’m not totally sure how to break these posts down, to be honest. There’s so much to be said about fitness and eating programs, so much to be shaken out by the roots – some stuff deserves props, and that spectrum goes right through to “jesus wtf now I’m going to go cry in the shower” kind of awful. So I’m just gonna go ahead and use headers to organise myself and my many meandering thoughts.

My pre-season promises to myself

Michelle Bridges has two stages to her program. There’s the “pre-season” which comes with a whole list of tasks and homework to get you prepped for some of the Round, which took me about four weeks and included everything from pantry chuck-outs to making personal goals. The Round is the 12 weeks in which you are actively following a meal plan and exercise plan.

One of the tasks is, as I said above, making personal goals that are measurable, observable and realistic. From the very beginning I knew the BIGGEST parts of my journey were not around how many squats I could do, or how many veggies I was eating. My biggest challenges were around how I was going to let the program influence my increasingly positive and yet so fragile relationship with my body and not fucking hating it.

So here’s my promises to myself.

  • I will not measure or weigh myself throughout the 12 weeks. Why, you ask? I wrote about that right here. 
  • If the pressures and triggers of the program mean I lapse and do weigh or measure myself, I won’t punish myself for it. I’ll talk to a friend and get a hug and work out how I could respond in a more loving way to myself next time.
  • I will follow the most generous meal plan. I will not engage in crazy calorie restriction. 1200 calorie plan NOOOOPE.
  • I will train my eye away from caloric information, and focus on ingredients. I will continue to view food as experiences, not food as fuel. FUCK the idea that food is just fuel.
  • I will take care to talk back to Michelle Bridges in my head, and my own internal Mean Girl. My internal Mean Girl uses words like “should” and “must” and “bad” and “excuses” when thinking about food and working out. Whereas the loving, Sara Bareilles voice in my head says stuff like “honey you’ve got a headcold, don’t you even THINK about going to the gym. Couch, tea, snuggles and chocolate STAT.” The Sara Bareilles voice doesn’t use shame tactics. She wants me to be happy and well and acknowledges that guilt and shame and restriction are the other dangerous side of the compulsive eating coin. Brain Sara Bareilles is human, and empathetic, and knows it’s all part of a Bigger Picture. Unlike Michelle Bridges, Brain Sara Bareilles doesn’t subtly mock me (yes, she actually does this in the Mindset Video “Getting The Most Out Of Your Exercise”) for feeling shit about dragging my tired ass to a cardio sesh. She’s like “oh boy, yeah. That’s balls. Being tired is hard!”
  • I will note thoughts that focus on weight loss rather than feeling good, energetic. I will note thoughts that focus on results and not inhabiting a state of being. I will try to write them down and think about them.

So, those are my goals. Onto week one, and what it held.

Let’s tackle the first elephant in the room: the goddamned name

Nooooo, Michelle Bridges, whyyyyy. Bodies do not need to be transformed, they need to be inhabited. The word ‘transformation’ is like lighter fuel for delicate, regularly mown over self images in women.

I’m sorry not sorry, but an emphasis on “transformation” when it comes to our bodies is rarely ever helpful and is almost ALWAYS a way to other people, disconnect folks from their bodies, and make shit emotionally hard.

I feel like I would get behind a name like “12 Weeks of Eating Some Rad Food and Moving A Bit Hopefully With Friends and Not Feeling Too Shitty About It” but I guess that’s not as catchy.

The pressure to quantify is on!

Michelle Bridges REALLY wants me to weigh and measure myself. A LOT. And she REALLY wants me to count calories. In both pre-season tasks and round tasks, and Mindset Videos, Michelle is allll about those constant reminders. There’s checkins to be completed and she tells me “you’ll regret not doing this task” and “don’t forget to count every calorie”.

So far I’ve found it pretty easy to step back from this part of things. I guess I’d already done a lot of work before the program kicked off thinking about and acknowledging that this would be present. I know that calorie counting has only ever been negative for me – and honestly, I’m not sure what the point of it is in a program that already has every meal tailored. That’s part of why I actually chose the 12WBT – because I could just eat what was basically provided for, and didn’t have to do any number crunching.

There’s some really contradictory messages too – in her first Mindset Video she talks about how the “overall journey” is what counts (a globalistic, helpful thought) but then counters that one needs to focus on everyday minute details (a bizarrely contradictory, worry inducing and unhelpful, triggering thought).

12WBT is presented as white and abled and mostly for cis women

Every inspiring story is a cis woman. I mean, I think we all pretty much can take it as a given that a program like the 12WBT is popular PRECISELY because women have way more pressure to reduce body mass than men. And 12WBT is so uncritically mainstream that no, I’m not surprised that pretty much all the Inspiring Womenz are cis women.

There’s also not one single representation or exercise program provision that I can easily find on the 12WBT website or options that takes into account that many women have disability, and have a variety of bodies and thus need to/can exercise in different ways/at all. This is not inconsistent with our culture of ableism around fitspo and health tropes in general – at least the This Girl Can campaign in the UK included one participant with Down’s Sydnrome. Do Lorna Jane and those of their ilk ever advertise with representations of women who use wheelchairs? Or exercise with prosthetics? Women with blindness? Maybe they do, but I have never, ever seen this and while there’s probably some companies and organisations that do attempt inclusivity, it’s probs almost always as exploitative Disability Inspiration Porn. 

Also, with very few exceptions, all the images of women working out and all the “inspiring stories” are pretty much white women.

So, 12WBT fails on an intersectional level, which is a shame because it could have had a bit of a bash at including and representing women of colour and women with disability. It’s not like that’s really very hard. Because Australian people of colour and women with disability are, you know, kind of everywhere.

The Forums

I honestly can’t really do the forums. It’s just an exercise in heartache. It’s like seeing all my worst, fascist body negging thoughts coming out of thousands of other keyboards. MB encourages you to utilise these for support, but it’s more like collective therapy without a guiding, helpful therapist moderating the narratives and reflecting them back.

People here talk in very punishing ways about themselves, and it’s all dressed up as fitspo (fitspiration) and self determining goal oriented enthusiasm. But if you want to know how fucked up most women are by beauty and health expectations they’re conditioned to accept from a young age, just read a 12WBT forum. It’s painful, and like reading my own journal. And it hurts because I have so much empathy and solidarity for these women, and wish I could reach out to them but as I know from experience, that’s not always useful or welcome.

I really wish women didn’t need to get together to collectively bash ourselves in order to move and eat delicious nutritionally balanced foods. But it’s a part of our culture that leaps from the pages of these forums. As far as I can see, there’s not a whole lot of moderation of the community pain by the 12WBT mods, either.

So, no forums for me.

The food: delicious sweet potato and privilege

Is delicious. But not easily veganisable, at all. Vegetarian, yes, but omitting all the dairy is a pretty big struggle with the meal plans. I think a good evolution of the program would be to include a vegan option and I would be VERY eager to jump on that.

Sticking to the Move2 program, which has the most generous calorie input, I’m not really hungry and also don’t overeat (which I define as feeling too full, a feeling I find as uncomfortable as eating too little and therefore not desirable). The meals are pretty rad, and my picky husband is mostly enjoying them too. The best thing this week was the chilli beans and sweet potato which was OH MY GOD DELICIOUS. As a foodie, I’m loving the challenge of cooking new stuff. New yummy stuff! My love of baked beans for breakfast has also been encouraged, and I’ve got time for any program that recognises the Real Ultimate Deliciousness of baked beans.

One thing I really like is that you can pick and swap things in and out, and there’s still lots and lots of lactose free options, so you can minimise and exclude dairy and eggs if you’re fiddly and clever. The plans are realistic for time, the snacks are filling, and MB encourages you to prepare food on weekends and freeze it so dinner doesn’t take forever around work and exercise things.

There is some definite, hard to avoid privilege involved in the food items, and the food for week one (which took into account breakfasts and lunches for me, and dinners that included husband) set me back around $200. I can afford this as a full time worker, who enjoys relative economic privilege, but a single mum on centrelink or a student would NOT be able to afford this. This is something that is almost never acknowledged by health gurus – that “healthy eating” is quite expensive and not an option accessible by a huge amount of people. It’s a bit rich to lay a food guilt trip on someone for whom 2 minute noodles is the extent of their means. I was poor for way too many years before now, so I keenly remember being in that situation.

Anyway, I DID have bundles of energy this week due to a nice balanced meal plan and I work with toddlers. Props, MB. Props.

The exercise is not horrible but then again, I had a head cold

I was actually really pumped to do a bunch of the exercise this week but Monday brought massive relationship issues which demanded my attention and care (no, you do not go and do exercise when your spouse needs you, that makes you a shithouse spouse) and by Wednesday I had a headcold. So I got one workout in, which was a massive bummer.

The exercises laid out for the move2 program mode are actually a bit easy for me so maybe next week I might do some of the beginner mode plans because I do like to push myself a bit with exercise (not too hard, but enough to be like WHEEE, I DID A THING!).

I am not endeavouring to exercise every single day that MB tells me to (five to six workouts a week might make me cray-cray) but I am endeavouring to move as much as I possibly can. I feel like four times a week is achievable, but we will see what I can realistically fit in once I’m over this ridiculous sinus thing. I have PT on Mondays, so that’ll replace one workout. At the moment I prefer the gym to outdoors workouts, though I did feel a bit self conscious when I was there last week, squinting at my paper printout of exercises while nearby a ridiculously fit MB lookalike did step-ups so rapid I felt dizzy on her behalf.

Week one in conclusion?

Feminist eye-roll exercises aside, it’s been ok. I’m very aware all the time that I’m doing this stuff of my privilege, which has been interesting/unexpected. And I’m managing to lol my way through the bits that are emotionally hard, and soooo far, I haven’t been triggered so much that I’ve deviated from any of the goals I stated above. There were a few moments where I teetered on the edges – where I had moments of forgetting that this is supposed to be an overall guideline, not a diet. And I talked back to myself in those moments. And the talk-back worked and my thoughts naturally flowed back to healthier places.

But all in all, my head is on straight, I had a couple beers with my husband on Friday instead of eschewing them for rocket, and I’m not making myself go to bed hungry. When MB is a Mean Girl, I’m giving her a hug in my mind and fantasising about talking to her about feminism over coffee. That helps a lot – remembering that miss Mish is just as much a protagonist in her own struggle too.

I really hope there’s more sweet potato next week though. So much, you have no idea.


How I know me: A jubilee year of personhood over numbers


TRIGGER WARNING: This post discusses eating disorders, body image and exercise and eating habits. Whilst it is positive and hopefully affirming, I acknowledge it may trigger aspects of the eating disorder cycle and difficult feelings. Please read it in a safe space at a time when you feel able (or not at all). ❤

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/a21/19927256/files/2015/01/img_0143.jpg

This year I refuse to be weighed or measured. I refuse to count one single calorie.

The Judeo-Christian idea of a Jubilee period is something I learned about a child from the Bible I no longer believe in, but it remains interesting to me – the idea that at a certain time in a calendar cycle, there was a time when slaves were freed and their lands returned to them and “liberty” was proclaimed. I remember reading the following in Leviticus:

“Then shalt thou cause the trumpet of the jubile to sound on the tenth day of the seventh month, in the day of atonement shall ye make the trumpet sound throughout all your land. And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof: it shall be a jubilee unto you; and ye shall return every man unto his possession, and ye shall return every man unto his family.”

I’m not keen to co-opt concepts of Roman slavery in antiquity as a white woman with privilege, because I have zero experience or history of this in my community, yet the Biblical idea of a time when liberty and amnesty was granted is something I found interesting when I was little. It seemed a bit mysteriously wonderful to my young mind (even though as an adult it seems not at all equal to liberty or freedom or social justice. Abolishing all systems of slavery would have been a lot more effective than a Jubilee.)

I wonder in a much more general sense how often we grant liberty and amnesty to ourselves. Specifically, imagine having the state of ignorance of the statistics we all know about our bodies returned to you. Imagine giving yourself permission to say no to this way of knowing about bodies.

Imagine if you didn’t know how much you weighed, and had never known. Imagine your life if scales with the intention of weighing human bodies had never been invented, or used in that way. This may not matter to you, but for those to whom it does matter: just imagine having no concept of your body in numbers. Dwell for a moment on what that must feel like.

We are all weighed and measured at various times in our life, and we often consent to this practice without much thought, or in many cases, with eagerness. The practice of (particularly women’s) bodies being analysed through a numerical lens is something that is so culturally acceptable and preferable that we don’t stop to question it. In fact, we are told that it is part of sound medical science and a keystone to being healthy. But is it?

There’s probably a handful of times when being weighed is vitally medically necessary, but there’s very little reason the vast majority of people need to own bathroom scales. My friend Sarah gave the example of being weighed when she gives plasma (something to do with calculating how much plasma is in her blood, or how much to take, or something!). But do you need this number disclosed to you? What do you profit from knowing it?

Where does our thirst to know our body weight come from? Obviously it’s socially constructed; nobody is born with a burning thirst to know their body weight (except for the little scientists among us who may yearn to know all the things!). I personally think that the urge to see a number and keep track of it over time is much more developed among women (in this I include all women, not just cis-gendered women). In most cases, the urge to weigh oneself and the blithe acceptance that doing so is a good thing is not something seen in childhood often – I work with young children and have also worked with primary schoolers, and in my experience the majority of “weight talk” sets in with almost exclusively girls towards the end of primary school – around 12. By high-school, the process of weighing and measuring oneself and it’s cousin – calorie counting – has become entwined with social success and status, personal knowledge, and self esteem.

I don’t remember when I first began twisting a tape measure around my waist and thighs, or when I first stepped on a scale. I was probably 14 at an outside guess. I grew up in a house where my mother was not very happy with her body, and nor were my female friends, but it was never mentioned by my male relatives or peers. My mother talked a lot about food, nutrition, and the shape of her body – she hated her knees and arms and would go to great lengths to buy clothes that didn’t exhibit them to the world. Later in life she lost a significant amount of weight, and that was somewhat of an extension of the same set of feelings – except once she’d lost the weight she had many emotional processes around feeling free and unburdened of worry, yet still a fixation on numbers (and worry wasn’t far away – it could come back as soon as a few kilos were gained back). My female friends talked a lot about their bodies – mostly from the point of view of dissatisfaction and resentment. Knowing numbers was a very real agent of that – it both acted as a catalyst for bad feelings about the self, and as evidence of complicated disturbances in our psyches in which we could look at a number and see our worth, see it going up and down, betrayed or edified by what the swinging indicator pointed to on the scale.

I’ve reflected a lot on my disordered eating and struggles with body image over the years. In 2012 I engaged in probably the most marked restriction episode of my life. I live with EDNOS or OSFED (Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified or Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder) that involves components of restriction and compulsive overeating, which present themselves in a cycle that has distinct characteristics that I now understand a lot more than I did as a younger woman. Golda Poretsky outlines this in her brief piece (ignore the sell at the end) ‘Why Portion Control Doesn’t Work and What to Do Instead” with a graphic that sums up how the EDNOS cycle generally works (with variations of course for most people). And there’s a mostly very good piece on Oh She Glows about binge eating (what I’d probably say is the “best fit” for behaviours I have – it’s a misconception that binge eating lacks a restrictive phase. Oh yes it does!).

In that year, that restrictive episode saw me losing a very very large amount of weight in just four months by starving myself and practicing exercise bulimia. I received massive social rewards for this, which were not very critical – nobody except one or two close friends saw through the good game I talked (oh, this is a feminist action, I feel so empowered…by my constant gnawing sense of hunger and fatigue? Hmmm.) And they were afraid to speak to me about it because they knew I would viciously reject their worry, and they were right – I would have. Because the numbers on the scale were going down, and this meant my worth as a person was increasing in the complicated dance most of us, but particularly those of us with eating disorders do. I didn’t want to hear opposing views. I was winning. I wrote an elated post on this blog about how incredible I felt and the restrictions my therapist had encouraged, and how I would never go back. Since then, I’ve gained all of that weight back and more. The cycle continued.

By radically reducing my body mass, I was winning. Unfortunately, this aspect of disordered eating and exercising is almost always met with social acclaim except in the most physically obvious cases of malnourishment, hospitalisation, and a reduction of body weight that is so observably intense that people suddenly go “oh! That’s not good…” But the processes of extreme behaviours are similarly pre-occupying, regardless of how observable your body in the process is, and the defence mechanisms to protect restrictive behaviour from critique are strong. Basically, fat people with restrictive components of disordered eating are mostly rewarded for their restrictions, regardless of the thought processes behind it and their indicators of poor mental health. In my case, that bout of restriction was linked to trauma from violent assault and feelings of being alone when my partner left the country mere weeks after that assault. My mental health took a dive, and with it went my ability to self regulate my emotions and so I went down a path of starving and power walking for hours a day. I was not a well woman.

What part did numbers play in prolonging and encouraging this restrictive episode?

The emotional hullabaloo in me each time I weighed myself on bathroom scales, or was measured by scale and tape at the doctors office was intense. You wouldn’t know from looking, but I felt huge anxiety and fear each time I stepped on the scales – and as the kilos dropped away, that began to mix with excitement and eager anticipation. Weigh in day became a craving for more and more loss. At the doctors office, the receptionist and doctor would beam, congratulating me loudly in front of the full waiting room for my “successes”. My doctor did not once stop and ask me how I was doing it, how I was feeling, and what my thought processes were. There is very little attention paid to mental health when people are clocking up the numbers (or clocking down, rather). I shouted my numbers from the rooftops with pride – on facebook, to friends, and became avoidant of people who didn’t react exactly as I wanted. My partner was bemused at my weight loss and didn’t express approval even once – he was very cautious to comment, and I think didn’t know what to make of it. He certainly didn’t affirm me. I was disappointed, and so sought out the approval of my instagram community and facebook friends – some of the most hearty approval came from other women who themselves had “struggled” to reduce their own body mass. The fixation on numbers is a self sustaining aspect of EDNOS – you will seek out whatever community you can find to feed your habit. EDNOS is a disease and it is a part of you that wants to survive. I think of it like a cockroach living inside me – it will do whatever it needs to in order to remain the last critter standing and it is very hard to root out and crush effectively.

I would like to say that the numbers didn’t matter, but they mattered hugely. Knowing at all times what I weighed was very addictive, and I would often step on the scales every day. I wanted digital scales, I wanted something more and more accurate. I wanted to see even a gram drop away. Perhaps for people who do not have disordered eating this is less intense, but it is still there. The numbers on scales and on tape measures, and the calories you count will, at the end of the day, make you Feel Stuff. And sometimes that Stuff feels good. Critiquing the good feelings, not just the bad feelings, is not something encouraged by most people around us.

A huge realisation I had was that by knowing numbers, I was engaging in not only EDNOS thinking, but in one of the fundamentally most destructive aspects of late stage capitalism – the idea that people are only worth their productivity. As a teacher, I fundamentally reject the idea that my children are only as good as their results, or the pretty things they make. What is beautiful is their learning and that’s all in their process. Their art, their music, their physicality, their cognition – all of their beauty is in their doing and being, not in the sum of their production.

So why is this different for me? In focussing on my body as a product, I separate from processes of wellbeing which can be found in eating well and moving to the best of your ability, and being in these things for their own sake – for enjoyment and vitality and loving one’s place as an alive thriving animal. EDNOS and capitalist thinking fractures my mind from my body and this divide distracts from the beauty of existing as a whole person. Beauty, as they say, moves. Why is it ok that beauty is a trophy with a number on it?

So let’s do it. Let’s ask those questions.

Why do you need to know how much you weigh? Does it make you a better partner, a better professional, a better parent, or a better person? What can you possibly get from knowing these statistics? Outside of some very small cases of medical necessity, why do you need to know?

And what happens when you know? What happens in your heart? What do you think and feel? If it is intensely gratifying for you, why is that?

What parts of yourself do you damage by knowing? What parts of you shrivel a little and change with this gratification or devastation? What happens when the number drops into the pool of your selfhood and creates ripples? What do you stop doing, and stop enjoying, and stop engaging with because you know these things?

My challenge for myself is to return to a state of not knowing how much I weigh, what my waistline is in inches, or how broad my hips are. I will not allow a doctor or a personal trainer to wrap a measuring tape around my thighs, and I refuse to do it myself. I won’t step on a set of scales, and I’m throwing the ones I own in the bin. I won’t count calories, and I will avoid reading nutritional panels that indicate them.

I won’t engage in conversations in the staffroom or with friends about kilograms and calories. I will eat my lunch away from them if I have to. And if I have the strength to insert some critique into those conversations, gently and lovingly, I will.

Does this mean I have to stop caring about my health? Actually, I have big plans for my health this year.

I plan on finding a personal trainer who can help me get into routines of moving and eating that don’t injure my personhood, but instead heal the fractures I’ve experienced and help me reintegrate body and mind. There will be goals, sure, but they will be around process and how I feel – for example “look at my thighs and enjoy how they feel in my hands and write down three positive things I do with my thighs” or “see if I walk for a while today and be thrilled for trying!”. “Make a BIG delicious salad and eat it slowly and RELISH IT.” These statements may not be perfect and I will develop others, but I am making a start on moving away from conventional ways of framing successes regarding my health. There will be times I will struggle with EDNOS and I will talk to my PT about those times and involve them – critiquing my urge to restrict or overeat and sticking to moderation and generative self-talk that encourages a disruption of the EDNOS cycle.

Basically, I’m no longer willing to be a product. I see that processes are what create states of emotional wellbeing along a spectrum – some processes need active pushback to resolve their energetically destructive influence, and others that help me and make me feel more whole need a little bit of tending to so they grow and thrive. I wholeheartedly agree with Oh She Glows who has this to say about the importance of changing processes:

I honestly do not think that I could have beat binge eating if I didn’t stop restricting my intake. This took me a long, long time to realize and I hope to be able to save some of you some time too. When I finally stopped restricting my intake, I allowed myself to eat when hungry and I stopped counting calories and weighing myself.

If you leave this article thinking that you couldn’t possibly stop measuring yourself, please think again. I actually think we can stop, as individuals, and we can resist it as a culture and move towards wellness. And I wonder this:

If for a whole calendar year you didn’t once know a measurement of your body mass or size, and asked medical and health professionals to withhold it from you too – or to not measure you in the first place – what would happen? If you simply moved and ate with enthusiasm for moving and eating, with no number known, what would happen?

What in you would grow and expand to fill that place? What could you feel and what could you stop feeling?

It’s an interesting question to ponder. Give yourself a year off – heck, maybe more! – from knowing your body through numbers, if you can.

I’d love to hear about how you’re going and maybe we can support each other.


%d bloggers like this: