Tag Archives: fitness

Snarling #12wbt: fitness, pregnancy and failure


There’s lots of inspiring posts by bloggers and feminist commentators on the web about the way pregnant women are monitored and socially controlled. Notions of success and failure as pregnant women (and as parents) are omnipresent and heavy to shoulder, and many of us uncritically and despite-our-critique internalize and suffer through them. If you’re a feminist who is or who has been pregnant you know what I’m talking about.

During our most recent appointment with the fertility doctor, I willingly (because I want to have a baby) entered into a space where no critique was off the table. My food intake, movement, use of substances like alcohol, sleep and weight were critiqued. Pretty painful and non evidence based statements about the relationship between weight and miscarriage were made (for the record, there is no link between being overweight and miscarriage although there is to being seriously underweight). I was told to make my body like “fertile ground for a baby to grow”. My male bodied partner was asked two questions and fleeting attention was given to his diet. It was all about how I might succeed or fail in my fertility and it was, almost 100 percent, about how that was squarely on me.

This is not really radical or harsh. It’s the norm. Women’s bodies, always under scrutiny, become even more pressured and framed as public property open for discussion (by family, co-workers, friends, doctors, strangers) when people become aware that you are trying to become or are pregnant. If you are already fat, people feel incredibly entitled to comment. Every mainstream book and article drips with judgement for fat bodies. And to resist this in any way is seen as irresponsible and un-motherly. People will give you props if you wholesale drink the koolaid, no questions asked. Be a good girl, be ashamed of your fat.

Here’s where it gets complicated for me. I want a natural birth as much as possible. I am very medically phobic and want to minimise the involvement of obstetricians and interventions in my birth journey. This means doing everything in my fucking power to avoid gestational diabetes, which pretty much boots you from the birthing centre. I am very, very worried about GD. Medically I’m in a “risk category” (we could talk for a long time about how these are used to frighten mostly women, and mostly women of colour regarding pregnancy).

I’m choosing to address my concerns by exercising and eating well but I have to wonder at how much GD is shaken like an angry fist of the gods (mostly by obstetricians, GPs and birth lit) rather than just put on the table as a necessary thing to negotiate much like fatigue and morning sickness. It’s a thing that bodies do, but unlike nausea and tiredness, GD is directly linked to weight and weight is an issue through which we can control women.

It features more thought, but the politics of pregnancy are pretty deep. I am privileged in that I have enough able bodiedness to avoid some of the worst of it, but I definitely get some blowback.

For some interesting reading about how fitness is a site of failure and success in fertility and pregnancy, you can always read Alice MacLachlan’s words over at Fit Is A Feminist Issue.

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Snarling #12wbt: fertility and self image


I’ve been struggling so much to love my body on a fundamental, deeply emotional level in the last six months.

As many folks know, my husband and I are trying to have a baby. And we got pregnant easily last October; ridiculously easily. Within a few weeks of trying. We were both excited/terrified to be parents and spent a solid two months prepping and planning for our little jellybean to arrive (who from the start we named Elliot.)

And then, as easily as they came to us, bub was gone. We lost our little Jelliot bean in early December. It was my second loss, and my husband’s first – I lost my first baby, August, in February 2009.

Since then I’ve been incredibly angry at my body. Deep down, undeniably, bone achingly angry. I feel broken, and terribly incapable.

And now, undergoing fertility testing, my body has just become a site of emotional and physical trauma. It feels like all it gives me is pain, and heartbreak. I have felt, more than once, that I’d replace it with a new one if I could.

So doing the 12 week body transformation is about way more than just eating and moving for me. It’s about starting to get to know my body again, to try and get pleasure and health back. To forgive it, to enjoy it, and to start quarrying these massive stones of anger out, so that something beautiful can flow in.

Wish me luck! 


Snarling 12wbt: disrupt the skinny narrative already


A comment that Mish Bridges made in one of her mindset videos last week has stuck in my brain like (as Josie Packard from Twin Peaks would put it) “some haunting melody”.

She talked about people who exercise but don’t lose weight because they eat more than their calorie burn. She cites the example of people who are “fit and strong but they’re not losing weight”.

Hold the phone, MB. What exactly are you saying here?

This encapsulates so much of what’s wrong with fitspo. It claims to be about health, but ultimately, unavoidably, inextricably, you have to WANT to be skinny too, or you’re not committed to your health. And there’s apparently something so objectively BAD about fatness that even if you’re super fit and strong, you’ve still failed. Being small is just that important.

This is an utterly toxic message. As a teacher, and a person who wants to have a child, I’m absolutely furious at the idea that fitness is not enough. Well, I actually don’t think it should be a value in itself upon which we judge people’s worth or success. But really? A fit strong fat person is always a failure because they’re…well because they’re fat?

I’m doing the 12wbt to get fit and strong and yet I’m working hard to be in love with the body I have. Because you know what, I deserve that. I deserve to be totally happy as I am. And I downright refuse to value skinny for skinny’s sake.


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.


Snarling 12WBT: A feminist takes on the Michelle Bridges program. Week by week.


2014 MTV Video Music Awards - Fixed Show

[Harvey Keitel:] Ms. Third ward, your first question – what is your aspiration in life?
[Beyoncé:] Oh… My aspiration in life… would be… to be happy.

(Pretty Hurts, Beyonce, The Visual Album).

As part of my journey at the moment to understand my body and my relationships with food and exercise, I’ve been seeking structure.

Sometimes in life I think it’s powerful to admit when you just aren’t strong at organisation. For instance, at work I bring a lot of creativity and passion to leadership in programming and pedagogy, but organising locker tags? A big fat nope. I’m never going to be the lady with a neat and tidy bedroom 100% of the time (unlike my neat freak partner whose love of order is Sheldon-esque).

And having a history of disordered eating is as it sounds: dis-ordered. Disorganised, chaotic, subject to the whims of emotion and external/internal/historical influence. I swing all over the place and cycles of restriction and binging are often exacerbated by being time poor. Exercise, which I love, also goes out the window and gets complicated by emotions and life pressures and plain tiredness. My job is high stress and emotionally/physically/intellectually exhausting. And my relationship and baby making plans have demanded a lot of me lately, and they have definitely pressured my relationship with my body as well.

I’ve sought structure in the past from nutritionists who’ve left me always wanting more, and I don’t have the cash to afford coaching intensives from expensive dieticians and they only vaguely address exercise. “Move more and eat less” is the vaaaaaguest statement ever when it comes to the huge complexities of how we inhabit and understand our bodies. What does that mean day to day? I know eating nutritionally balanced food and enjoying movement (having fun!) are things that make me feel great, but finding a structure to follow has always eluded me. I just cannot generate that shit on my own.

So I started looking for a program I could follow to help me get a handle on disordered eating and start to get into regular exercise patterns, and as a feminist, pretty much every choice sucked. Pretty much NO PLAN allowed you to eat without calorie counting, and had exercise coaching, and everything made me grumpy. Everything seemed to have fat shaming built into it and it was all about goal-orientation – the goal being to reduce body mass. Because that’s like, everything, amirite?

So, left with few truly good choices, I decided to live in the grey. Perhaps I could take what I needed from a program and critique the unhelpful bits. If I worked on my self talk at the same time as benefiting from some structure around eating and exercise, and used this as a chance to actively trigger myself and work on more helpful internal responses to those triggers, I would actually grow a lot more than if I avoided using any program. What if I used the benefits found, and challenged the problematic messages with critical reflection? It’s not a common approach, but it is a pretty genius one.

After lots of thinking, I found the Michelle Bridges 12 Week Body Transformation and decided to give it my money – at around $19 a week for 12 weeks, it was a shitton less expensive than seeing a dietician and would probably have similar content.

This program is something you could have a body posi feminist field day with. Alongside the (really delicious, filling and nutritionally balanced) meals and (not too horrible) exercise plans, there is both some truly helpful and truly triggering content and thinking.

My intention? To complete the program and reflect in this blog critically as a feminist to de-construct it as much as I can and give some idea of what it feels like to be inside it. I will live out loud here, in the grey, taking good bits and critiquing the bad bits – from recipe discourse to discussion of body types. Hopefully this will act as a self reflection tool while acknowledging the nuanced reality that I live in: that to access health support, we have to work very hard as feminists on our mental health to disassemble body fascism as we encounter it all “mixed up and in” the very support we are accessing.

I refuse to be a blank eager canvas who slurps up what health gurus dish out. Nooope. Maybe, just maybe, we can talk back to the messages and triggers, pull them apart, and put them back together in ways that make more sense to us and are less punishing. Maybe having these conversations about moderating rather than rejecting health narratives is super important. I think so.

I’m going to be talking once a week about, in real terms, what it feels like to work through health messages mixed into much needed support. As well as stepping through how this negatively and positively impacts my relationship with my body, and everything in between. As a fat, queer, non neurotypical woman with disability and a history of disordered eating, who is time poor and has a real, busy life – how does the 12wbt feel in application?

In the words of Queen Bey, pretty hurts. And so very many health gurus are, underneath or even on top of everything they preach, mixing in some very painful ‘pretty’ with some good advice.

I hope other feminist women who may also be utilising some of the tools provided by the 12WBT program can follow along, and those enjoying journeys with their body in general.

I’ll also be tweeting a feminist critique throughout the process using the hashtag #feminist12wbt and you can follow me over the 12 weeks – @geekhag

Here’s to squats & snark!


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). ❤

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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.


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