Reframing "Exercise"

Joyful Movement Exercise Fitness

I talked with two clients today about reframing this concept of “exercise.” In the U.S., we have such a complicated relationship with physical activity. We’re often compulsive about it or we’re resisting it, which is something that seems to happen with all “shoulds.” 


What would it be like to change movement into a “want” instead of a “should?” For example, this past weekend, I got my little front yard city garden started. I dug in the dirt and put some seeds and small farm plants into raised beds. I don’t like lifting weights, but I felt my strength as I carried 40-pound bags of topsoil. My muscles felt happy to be of use, and I profoundly enjoyed the process and promise of new Spring growth - on both an embodied and a deeper spirit and soul level. 

 

Eating Disorders Recovery Intuitive Eating

This is one form of movement that nourishes me. I can get blissfully lost in the process. What type of movement brings you joy? What gets you into your body — not in a self-conscious or body-outcome-oriented way, but in a way that feels good and feels integrating for where you are in your life path? What movement takes into consideration any body limitations you have in a compassionate and non-shaming way? 

 

Furthermore, how can we be the change we want to see in the world if our bodies are not attached to our minds? Several clients this past week talked about how much more CREATIVE they feel when they are feeding themselves enough and getting enough sleep. I’m a big fan of rocking the rhythm once in awhile to live life to the fullest, but it’s interesting to me to keep hearing that creativity flourishes better when we take care of our bodies and not just our minds. It makes sense. We take ACTION with our bodies — and do we ever need more fierce change agents in the world! 

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I encourage you to think about the kind of movement that brings you joy and vitality and strength — and do more of it — of course, only when you are fed and rested enough to really reap the benefits. What movement nourishes you? Planting, exploring, dancing, adventuring…? Think outside the box (or the gym). 

 

(“Joyful Movement” — Step 7 of Nourish: How to Heal Your Relationship with Food, Body, and Self) 



Clothes at Every Size

This is a guest post written by Simmons College dietetic intern, Daphne Levy, who worked with me for the month of April. Over the past year, I have been collecting resources for this blog post. Daphne, however, took the project to the next level, adding even more clothing resources for people of size. She also writes candidly about her lived experience of being in a body that not all stores cater to, which is something that I personally don’t experience. This makes Daphne a more fitting author of this Spring blog post. What I experience is called thin privilege and it’s for real. Some women in one of my groups this week talked about how it feels to experience weight stigma and fat shaming on a regular basis. It was eye-opening for the smaller-bodied women in the group who don’t experience this kind of treatment.

In New England, when the weather turns warmer and clothing layers are shed, it can be a time for people in all kinds of bodies to struggle to feel good about themselves. Spring is a time of rebirth and the blossoming of the new growth after a winter of inward contemplation and rest. Spring is not a time for body shame. A big thank you to Daphne for this insightful post. Please share it with your friends, particularly those who struggle to find clothes that fit their bodies.

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Clothes at Every Size

by Daphne Levy

Finding clothes that allow you to feel good in your body is one of the hardest things to do in recovery from disordered eating. Feeling good in a body should not be an experience only for thin people. Between having a poor body image and limited access to plus-size fashion, finding clothes that “feel good” can be a daunting task. Even with the increasing popularity of the body-positive movement, our society continues to promote mixed messages. I self-identify as a person who is “small fat.” This means I live in a body that is “obese,” but one that experiences less weight stigma than people in larger bodies. An example of the stigma I recently faced was when I went shopping at my favorite clothing store last weekend and I could not find a single thing that fit me. When I spoke to the employee about how problematic it was to not sell a size above large, she responded with, “If I had known they were going to discontinue plus-sizes, I would not have accepted the job here.” I have been a long-time customer of this retail store, so when I learned that this specific location discontinued plus-sizes, I was shocked.

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This experience left me feeling incredibly disappointed, insecure, and confused. While waiting in line with my friend who was purchasing clothing, I noticed there were several shelves that contained various kinds of candy and chocolate bars. At that moment, I recognized how misleading it was to promote these harmful messages. Why was it okay to sell a variety of foods that are commonly demonized as “junk,” while also shaming body diversity? How is it okay for clothing stores to sell candy but not a size above large?

I left that store feeling extremely upset, yet hopeful knowing that my friend and I were going to another store. As soon as I walked into this store, I could locate the clothing racks that carried my size. I was immediately relieved to see numerous racks of clothing that had sizes bigger than the ones I wear — in plain sight. This was my first positive shopping experience since being in recovery from my eating disorder.

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Living in this incredibly fatphobic society makes living in a fat body hard. I use the word “fat” as a neutral descriptor term in the hope of reclaiming its meaning as such. With that said, it can be so hard to find your personal style in recovery. It might even be traumatizing if you live in a larger body. There are several reasons why this might be. One of the main reasons is that most fashion bloggers/influencers are thin. Additionally, the retail stores that do carry plus-sizes typically only carry up to sizes 1-2XL. This is an example of fatphobia and the stigma that fat folks face everyday. Brands that claim themselves as “inclusive” should not have a size limit because that portrays that they only accept a certain type of fat person. I believe that brands carrying plus-sizes should offer customizable clothing and should feature fat people wearing their clothes on their website.

I would like to validate the challenge of witnessing your body change (read: gain weight) throughout recovery. Not only do you have to witness your body changing, but you continuously have to nourish it and challenge your Eating Disorder Voice all day long. Add buying clothes to the list of things to do, and no wonder you might feel unmotivated!

But let’s say you wake up one day, feeling courageous. Picture yourself as “recovered” for a moment. What does that look like from the outside? What would you be wearing? If you live in a larger body and find that second question difficult, let me ask you, what would you want to wear if you were in a smaller body?

It is more than okay if you cannot answer those questions. I don’t blame you. Diet culture has framed feeling confident in your own skin a radical act, especially if you are fat. Having limited access to clothes that reflect your personality and style makes it even more intimidating. I can only imagine how it might feel to live in a body that is constantly rejected and invisible in this society. If you live in a larger body and experience this type of stigma regularly, I want you to know that I see you and I won’t stop fighting for you.

Below is a list of stores/brands that carry a range of plus sizes. Please note that the size range listed comes from the brand’s website or their size guide and may be different in the store.

A little bit of everything

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Higher end

Swimwear & more

Activewear

If you liked this content and would like to read more about my non-linear 10-step approach to healing your relationship with food, body, and self (starting with a free worksheet), click on the green button below.

What is Embodied Living?

Embodiment Embodied Living

I often talk with clients about what it means to inhabit the body and to live in an embodied way. When our body says, “I’m tired,” and we take care of it with sleep — or “I’m hungry,” and we feed it, we are practicing embodied self-care. But what about the less-obvious ways that we connect to our bodies?

Sometimes when I’m in meditation — or simply engaging in life in a less harried way — my body feels like it’s been hit with a lightning bolt. Heat and energy rise up from my toes to my head and I feel a restlessness and a deep calm at the same time. I call this sensation Truth Rising.

Nourish Book Eating Disorders Awareness Week

I can choose to ignore Truth Rising and keep organizing my sock drawer, or I can stop, listen, and do what feels deep-down truthful in that moment. Sometimes I have to write (lots of times I have to write), sometimes I have to pray and wrestle with something deep in my soul, sometimes I have to do a really hard thing that I don’t want to do. 

Like confront someone. Or set a boundary on my time and energy. Or say “no.” Or say “yes.” Or dig deep down to that angry part of my soul that feels crusty and unpracticed and say something that is controversial but honors my heart and being.

Sometimes Truth Rising comes like gangbusters through my body. I honor it by listening to it, breathing through it, noticing what it is telling me, and making choices that respect it (and ultimately my soul). Sometimes I have to wait a bit to know what it’s saying to me and sometimes the time to act is Now.

Embodied Living

Have I ignored Truth Rising over my lifetime? Hell, yeah. Way more than I’d like to admit. It’s so darn easy when you’ve had good training in Truth Ignoring. In fact, I’ve been an overachiever in Truth Ignoring. The world teaches us to plod along and use our minds instead of our guts and soul-stirrings. Our brains are amazing parts of us, but I don’t think they are the clearest paths to our spirits.

As I tell my clients, embodied living sets you free and brings you closer to the life that you want to lead, whatever that life might be. When we feed ourselves well and get enough sleep, we create room for different communication from our bodies. The Truths we hold in our hearts and souls bring us to living a life that is naturally more loving and expansive.

In the moment, that Truth Rising sensation is about me and my truth, but it’s way more than just me. If I’m living in Truth, I’m doing so that others around me can live in theirs more closely, too. If we are parents, we feel those eyes on us, but all of us touch so many lives throughout any given day — or fail to touch them when we aren’t present. 

Inspiration Diet Wellness Non-Diet Weight Loss

Truth Rising is so incredibly and delightfully (sometimes scarily) contagious. I see it in the groups I facilitate and in the groups I participate in. When we live our lives more closely to Truth, then we live our lives larger and more connected — and have the individual and collective energy to make the world a better place.

All of this comes to us through our very own bodies. I described what Truth Rising feels like in my body, but I know it feels different in different bodies. There are so many ways to practice embodiment and to live our lives fully. But we don’t do this by trying to change our bodies or by ignoring their messages or controlling them. We do this by listening.

It’s Almost March: Are You in New Year’s Resolution Meltdown?

Nourish New Years Resolutions February

So many of us set goals to change our diet or exercise in the new year. Then, by March, we burn out and the gyms are empty again. This can leave us feeling demoralized and ashamed, as if we somehow failed or don’t have enough willpower. The end of February is Eating Disorders Awareness Week. It’s just about that time we start beating ourselves up because we haven’t maintained our new year’s resolutions. And for those of us who feel victorious, it’s a good time to ask if our fitness and eating goals have become so rigid and obsessive that we’re miserable and on our way to an eating problem.

Instead, let’s reframe resolutions this year and think of them as explorations. Not big, sweeping changes that aren’t sustainable, but deeper goals that reward us on many levels and build slowly over the year. And, in honor of Eating Disorders Awareness Week, let’s create explorations that will prevent and not encourage crazymaking around food or shame our bodies.

Diet Weight Loss Non-Diet Intuitive Eating

1.    I resolve not to diet.

Set realistic goals about the things that you’d like to change about your relationship with food and body. Be patient with yourself and honor the process it takes to get there. Research shows that dieting doesn’t bring sustained weight loss, yet the $60 billion diet industry profits from our low self-worth. Vow to never diet again and instead make choices aligned with taking good care of yourself at any size – which sometimes means eating cake to celebrate a friend’s birthday or treating yourself to your favorite dish. Food restriction and overeating are opposite sides of the same coin. Don’t deprive yourself; instead, listen to the wisdom within your body that tells you when and how to eat that’s best for you.

2.) I resolve to include conscious movement in my life.

 The right music can transform dish-washing into a satisfying dance party in my kitchen. Movement comes in all shapes and sizes. Think outside the box – or the gym. What form of movement nourishes and feels good to your body and soul? Do you like to move your body alone or with others – outside or inside? Does vigorous or more gentle movement ground you? If you feel joy when you move your body, you’ll be more likely to do it again and again. It’s not a truly healthy habit if it stresses you out or doesn’t bring you joy.

Conscious Joyful Movement

3.) I resolve to feel my feelings instead of eating or starving them away.

We often use food — either over- or under-eating — as a way to deal with (or not deal with) challenging feelings or thoughts. Eventually, it can just become habit. Mindless overeating is something almost all of us do at times, but it also can be a way of self-soothing when our physical and emotional needs aren’t being met. Do you find yourself eating more food than is comfortable to keep yourself awake — or during social obligations that aren’t all that fun? Maybe you actually want sleep or to be in different company, but you treat yourself to food instead. You take care of the part of you that enjoys yumminess in your mouth, but not the other part of you that needs sleep or connection. Strive to meet the needs underneath the feelings and you may find that food falls into place as just one of the many pleasures of life.

4)   I resolve to discover what truly nourishes my heart and soul.

Nourish Heart and Soul Eating Disorder

We can be so afraid in our culture to sit still and ask ourselves what really fills us up. We compulsively eat, drink, shop, exercise, text, clean, play games, and work. We are sometimes afraid to simply be and to check in with our hearts. Are we afraid of what we might find? We may not know our heart’s desire. If we do know, we may not know the first thing about connecting to it or bringing it into our lives. Sometimes it’s hard to change and try something else, even if that something else might be good for us. We may be so conditioned to feeling lousy, criticizing ourselves, and living in our heads instead of our hearts; sometimes it’s hard to imagine operating otherwise.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to eat or exercise differently in the new year and setting goals. But don’t forget that the reason you are overindulging in food, drink, or sedentary living may be that you are starving for what matters most to you. Explore this instead and watch what happens! Check in with yourself (or, if you are a planner, your calendar) every month or season. Are you filling your life with the things that matter most? If not, make appointments with yourself. Build that nourishment right into your life the way you schedule other priorities. You matter.  And if some binge-eating, exercise resistance, or loss of center creeps back in here and there, try dispensing with the self-criticism. Recognize this as a sign that your soul and spirit need more nourishment and give yourself that gift.

This Eating Disorders Awareness Week, be gentle with yourself and explore what you hunger for.


Guest Blogger Gets to the Heart of Gender and Body Image

Transgender Body Image Eating Disorder

I am in the editing phase of my book (to be released this Winter) entitled Nourish: How to Heal Your Relationship with Food, Body, and Self. I'm taking a long break from blogging to finish this book that I'm so excited to share with you soon.

In my hiatus, I was blown away by the beautiful poetry and clarity presented by Schuyler Bailar, a student/athlete at Harvard University, who spoke so eloquently at the MEDA eating disorder conference I recently attended. Schuyler is studying psychology and competes on the men’s swimming team. He also happens to be a transgender man recovering from an eating disorder and a public speaker. Schuyler finished his warm, honest, and informative presentation with this letter that he wrote to his mother the evening before he had surgery to remove the breasts that he was born with. I will let Schuyler's words speak for themselves. 

There has been a lot of discussion in my professional circles since the release of the movie To the Bone (warning: content of this film may be triggering to anyone who suffers from an eating disorder). One of the major concerns is that this film is yet another with a very thin white female as the protagonist. Those of us who work in the field of disordered eating know that anorexia nervosa (as well as other eating disorders) exist in people who have bodies that are not emaciated or thin. They also exist in people of diverse race, gender, and sexuality.

Transgender Body Image Eating Disorder

In the wake of this film's release, it seemed timely to introduce this inspiring young person's writing. Schuyler Bailar's piece below was first published on his blog and he gave me permission to repost it here. You can find information about Schuyler and more of his writings on his website

 

 

 

Dear mom.

I know that a lot has been going on.

I just got out of rehab, I‘m asking you to call me your son, and I want to move out.

And it seems like a lot is about to happen.

I know that surgery is scary and I know most people don’t understand why I would voluntarily undergo a double mastectomy to remove a part of my body of which most of my female friends are jealous.

And I’m not going to lie and tell you that I’m not a little bit scared, and a little bit sad.

Even though I’ve never wanted them, my breasts are a part of me.

Last week I made a video of myself for myself for later, with my bare chest exposed. And as I did so, I felt this strange surge of pride in my body – a love of every bit of me.

I haven’t ever felt like that…

There’s always been something I’ve hated or wanted to change. Some part of my body that I picked out to pick on.

But that day, even though I saw things I didn’t like, even though I saw things I really do want to change, for some reason, I still felt love and pride for everything. Including my breasts.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing that’s making me doubt my decision to get them removed, but I felt a sort of strange sadness that they’ll finally be gone – kind of like getting rid of a bad habit or something.

And I can’t say I’m going to miss them. Because I’m not.

But it still feels surreal.

My body will be cut open, the fat sucked out of me, my mammary glands thrown out along with my ability to ever nurture a child.

I’ll be patched back up, and wake up probably 10 pounds lighter…

And I will be whole, yet some of me will be missing.

And I will always love that part of me, in a peculiar way. I will always be thankful for the strength and courage they demanded I show as they grew (and grew and grew and grew) to declare to the world this was not me. I am not boobs. I am not woman. I am Schuyler.

But back to how you’re involved.

I like to believe that this body is just as much yours as it is mine.

My little brain, my little arms, my brown eyes with green flecks, my little fingers all grew in your body from your body.

And my body, though it has a separate consciousness than yours, is an extension of yours.

And I want you to know something as I move forwards in my transition: I do not hate the body you gave me.

People talk about transgender individuals being “born in the wrong body.”

As if being born is just something that happens.

As if there were not people and love and care and pain and happiness and joy and terror involved.

Born. Given life. Brought into the world. There is nothing wrong in that process. There is no “wrong” in birth.

I was not born wrong at all; I was not born with the wrong mind; I was not born into the wrong body,

In fact, you did not birth a body at all.

You birthed me; a whole and entire person.

A person with teeny little finger nails, tiny eyes and tiny hands, little itty bitty feet, and a huge heart… a whole person all the same.

A lot of trans people talk about how their bodies betray them and how they hate their hips or lack thereof, their breasts or lack thereof, their femininity or their masculinity…

But I don’t…anymore, at least. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had my days of raging, of self-harming, body-hating… I’ve written a good deal of poems angry at my body — some on my body.

But these days, I do not hate my body.

In fact, I have worked hard learning to love every bit of myself – every part of my body that you gave me to love.

And I am proud of it all.

Because you birthed me whole; I arrived an entire person.

And through the past year of treatment and travel and just plain old life experiences, I’ve learned a love that I will always have

For this body of mine.

For the parts that I don’t agree with.

For the parts that I have always agreed with.

For the parts that are invisible…

For this body of mine.

Because no matter how life changes it, this body will always be beautiful, this body will always be something you created.

So.

Dear mom.

Thank you.

I love you.

© S. Bailar 2015

Transgender Body Image Eating Disorder

Feeding the Soul

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Have you ever gone on a vacation but found that you had a hard time slowing down…? 

I have. And I noticed it a few times this summer. 

We can sometimes be so task-oriented in our lives, trying to cram so many things into a short day or week — even if they are rich, meaningful experiences — that we can suffer from a lack of spaciousness. 

Spaciousness is that luscious time that unfolds naturally. In the unfolding, we have room to breathe, to create, to reflect, to have insights, and to really connect with whomever is nearby. I consider spacious moments to encourage creative and spiritual growth spurts. I connect with my truest self, and I and grow more deeply with family and friends when we have some lazy, unstructured time together. 

I also notice that the active, productive, movement-oriented part of me struggles with unstructured time. I get a little restless. I need a balance of doing, being, and creating, and I am appreciating and trying to listen to this more and more as I get older. 

FeedingTheSoul.org

I talk with clients often about how those mini food breaks during the day (you know, the ones where you aren’t really hungry, but find yourself foraging) may sometimes be the sensory part of us yearning for some downtime. Something rich to eat might give us a 5-minute moment of bliss (goddess forbid we stop for more than 5 minutes!), but is that really what we are looking for? Perhaps what we really want is the richer taste of spacious time to do or be or make whatever it is that calls to us. We might not feel that we deserve those regenerative moments, but maybe we do deserve a bit of chocolate. 

What would it be like to fill up space with whatever calls to us in the moment — with what we really want to do, not what we feel obligated to do? Perhaps a few moments to sit meditatively under a tree, or look at the stars, or putter around the house, or write a letter or poem, or maybe even begin to prepare a more spacious and delicious, health-filled meal. There are other things that call to us besides something to eat. I have heard my clients and those in my groups talk quite a lot recently about the spiritual food and connection that we all really long for. 

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As I said, I’m not so good at this practice of spaciousness, but I am striving for it in my busy life of juggling family and work responsibilities. The summer is a fitting time to practice being a bit more spontaneous and slow. I recently visited North Carolina and wrote a poem, as a result of taking a few quiet moments with a (now dead) tree in the forest. I’m doing something I’ve never done before in this blog: I’m sharing a deeply personal bit of writing that I never meant for public consumption. The poem came to me in the spacious moments that followed my tree encounter. It was rattling about in my head for a bit until I took the time to write it down. I asked my family and travel companions specifically for time and space, both in the forest and later when I wrote the poem. That’s not generally something I’m great at doing, but I learned how important it can be to ask for quiet and creative space when it’s needed.

A couple of people that I trust told me that my blog readers might appreciate the poem. I hope you do, and I hope you allow yourself some spacious, open, creative moments this summer.

 

AWAKENING

There are many ways to kiss the ground, says Rumi. 

AwakeningPoem.org

I choose lying in the palm of the hand of Nature. 

So much more than a felled tree, 

I am cradled and filled with comfort that never came easily. 

Amid the clear spring water, the moss, the turk’s cap lilies, 

I took a breath,

then another,

And connected with my soul

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Because my soul is

the clear spring water, the moss, the lilies, 

the smooth bark of the supportive tree. 

 

After kissing the ground, I kissed a man. 

A bee stung me mid-kiss, as if to say, 

“No, my dear, not back to this world yet. 

Stay with us in the woods, 

stay with your soul. 

You need more work before you are ready to merge with another.” 

I must embrace my wise,

earthy, 

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watery, 

fiery, 

airy

Self

and feel that Self solidly connected with everything

like I did when the palm of the hand of Nature

cradled me close. 

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I became a tiny child and my wisest oldest self

and the smooth, supportive tree

At the very same time. 

 

When I feel the nudge of a bee, 

I respond by picking some plantain,

chewing it up, 

and drawing out the sting. 

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When I feel the sting of his words, 

I can turn to the plants and

not let the words hurt me. 

For the sting is not really about me. 

That little bee just wanted my attention. 

To share his not-so-sweetness.

That little bee just gave me his message, 

the repeat of a message I’d received in other ways. 

It’s time to forgive.  

It’s time to write. 

It’s time to let things bounce off and back. 

It’s time to sit in the palm of the hand of Nature, 

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Alone but not lonely. 

Then, 

only then, 

I will be ready for

kisses. 

 

Blessings on your summer, 

Heidi