Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Dieting and Eating Disorders

I first remember feeling ashamed of my body when I was in my early teens.  Although before that point, I was well aware i was fat, I'd never felt it as a real problem until secondry school.  At the age of 14, when my body was just maturing, and with my weight at10st7lb (a healthy weight even by BMI) I first decided to 'do something about my weight'.

This was also around the time that I started to experience problems with my mental health.  Initially, my main symptoms were my panic attacks, and my panic attacks came in the form of attacks of vomiting.  My desire to lose weight therefore corresponded to a time when I felt sick alot of the time, and when I added intentional weight loss to the inevitable symptoms of my illness I lost alot of weight, very quickly.

On the one hand, I was suddenly receiving compliments even from the popular kids, I felt I could wear anything I wanted, I was proud of my self-control, and my ability to reshape my body.  On the other hand, my physical and mental health was suffering - my starvation was fuelling my panic attacks which were fuelling my starvation.  I had developed what I recognised as anorexic behavior - I avoided food, grouped food into 'safe' and 'banned' categories, weighed myself daily, and obsessed over everything I did eat.  By the age of 16 I was 7st, drinking heavily, and self-harming.  A pattern that continued for many years.

Somewhere in the middle of all this, I got my first mental illness diagnosis (agoraphobia) and my first course of medication (anafranil).  The reduction in, and eventual cessassion of, my panic attacks as well as (I believe) my increased reliance on drinking and SH as methods of control, led to the gradual reduction in food restriction.  By the time I left university at 21 I'd gained back all the weight I lost through starvation, and more.

A change in medication to Prozac put paid to the drinking (thankfully) as I couldn't drink more than one drink without feeling ill whilst I was taking it.  The break from it taught me the art of sensible drinking.

I was able to free myself from SH by philosophy - I came to view it as an acceptable action, something with no sense of moral wrong in and of itself.  I gave myself permission to hurt myself if I really needed too, on the proviso that I wait at least an hour after the urge caught me.  In an hour I'd reassess - should I wait another hour?  I found the urge, for the most part, passed.  And if it didn't that was ok too.

So I'd gained weight - in fact, I was now a UK size 16 - bigger than my previous highest weight.  Which I still thought was too high.  Sure, I'd gone about losing the weight in the wrong way, but I still felt losing weight at that point was right.  This time it'd be different.

A succession of failed diets over the next 8 years.  I blamed my history of disordered eating on their failure.  Every diet marked the return of the eating disordered behaviour.  Not able to be sick on demand anymore, I made myself sick.  My weight shot up and down so many times my stomach and thighs are layered with stretchmarks.  Every time I gain weight, I end up at a higher high weight.

I have lived the last 15 years with eating disordered behaviour.  I blamed my failure to lose weight on psychological weakness.  My mental health made me too fragile to diet, it was my thoughts that were at fault. 

I now realise that one reason that dieting sparked mental health problems was that I wasn't eating enough food.  The return of ED behaviours was due to them being written into the fabric of dieting:  When you diet your supposed to obess over every calorie, your supposed to categorise foods into 'safe' and 'forbidden' categories.  Dieting encourages you to punish yourself for being 'bad'. 

When I draw parallells between pro-anorexia message boards and dieting ones it's because I've been a member of both.  They're the same.  They encourage the self-same behaviours.  Their message is the same 'deny yourself and you will be beautiful'.

Dieting is the socially acceptable face of eating disorders.  It encourages you to think in ways that are inherantly unhealthy, to demonise foods that are 'fatty' vs. foods that are 'slimming' regardless of nutritional value. 

My relationship with food needs mending.  I need to remember that no food is 'bad' and that I can eat anything I wish.  Fruit and vegetables don't lose their vitamins and antioxidents by association the apples in an apple crumble are still apples, the vegetables on the top of a pizza are still vegetables.  A diet of Special K is neither healthy or balanced. I need to remember that it's ok to not eat if I'm not hungry; something I'm actually having more problems with, as I'm so used to avoiding hunger - because in the past I have only felt it when I've been starving. 

It's time for me to complete my healing.  I've learned to manage my mental health problems over the years by learning to take care of me and acknowledge my own needs.  My most recent major episode of depression came as a result of a diet - my meds made me gain weight, so I stopped taking them.  I'm much happier now, unmedicated again, but with a nice full box available if necessary - and I've got more in my life than I ever believed I'd ever be able to have.  

I'm learning that taking care of my body is the key to looking after my mind, 
and I'm finding the freedom to do so in learning to like my body

Friday, November 13, 2009

In defense of liking my body

In response...


"your hourglass shape, "straight normal-size nose," "firm arse" etc. etc. are all just as much parts of the culturally imposed beauty ideal as thinness is."
I suppose so yes, but I'm I think thinness is beautiful as long as it's not from starvation...   Things belonging to the social ideal aren't automatically ugly.  And neither are things not-belonging.  I, personally, don't feel the need to reject every aspect of an ideal which is part of the culture I belong too - I do think our cultural ideal needs to expand with our cultural experience, and in line with reality.

"By listing them as reasons to like your body you're implying that the only reason to like your body is if it looks as close as possible to that beauty ideal. "
I fear I have been misunderstood, or perhaps not set the scene strongly enough.  I was referring to finding things I like specifically while looking in the mirror.  There are other things I like about my body, but that I can't necesserily see in the mirror - such as my physical strength, or my sense of touch. And you can be beautiful or sexy and not fit into the cultural ideal; and there's plenty of me that doesn't. An example of beauty i can see from where I'm sitting, my boyfriend is the most beautiful person I've ever known, in every way - he's quite short (which is sexy), and has a beard (handsome) - not exactly the ideal for the North East of England).
How do you think women whose boobs are saggy, or whose noses aren't "straight and normal sized" (which is also a very racialized concept) should learn to love their bodies
Look for things THEY like about THEIR bodies?
As to it being a racialised concept, I'm was talking about myself - and I'm a white middle class woman about in the UK, about to turn 30. So yes, I'm referring to my own racial and cultural standards here, because truthfully I don't have alot of experience outside of my these bounds. I don't claim to speak for anyone else here, it's a pretty self-involved project all told.

How do you think women whose bodies are less culturally acceptable than yours might feel when they read this post?  If there is nothing that is generally considered attractive about a woman's body, is her body not worthy of respect?
I would hope that they'd be able to find beauty somewhere in themselves. I would hope they realise that I'm talking about myself and not critisising them.

If you, Anonymous, honestly believe your own body is 'less culturally acceptable' to my body (which you've not seen) and want me to second-guess how you feel: I hope you love your 'culturally unacceptable' body, and if you don't then I hope that you can start opening yourself to seeing things you do love about yourself.

I suspect, however from your comment and the fact you don't want to reveal your identity, that you feel pretty bad. I'm sorry if you do, because I've spent more than 15 years feeling pretty bad too.  I suspect that you're so used to seeing insult and cultural pressure that you apply it to anything you read. I suspect you might not like yourself very much and if that's the case I'm sorry that you chose to interpret what I said about liking myself as a personal attack on you. But I don't know who you are, or any of these theoretical people who might be reading - it's not really my responsibility to second-guess anyone's feelings, they can think whatever they want.
If there is nothing that is generally considered attractive about a woman's body, is her body not worthy of respect?
And yes, everyone's body is worthy of respect.

The revelation to me, in saying that, is that for the one of the first times I've said it I've not silently added "except mine."

Thursday, November 12, 2009

How to love your body?

I'm fairly new to FA, and becoming happy with my body is an ongoing project.  My last post was (from just a few days ago), explained the revelation of looking at my body in the mirror and not hating everything I see, I've written about the way I've treated my body in the past, and how I hope never to disrespect it like that in the past.  But I'm still calling my body "it".  My body isn't an "it", it's me.  When I'm hating what I see in the mirror, I'm not hating an external Body, I'm hating myself.  When I'm hurting my body, I'm hurting myself. 

Disrespecting my body is disrespecting myself.

So now I face the issue of dismantling the 'mind-body' split:  Something, incidentally, which I have never believed in intellectually - as a student I used to think (and I still do think) writers who believed that the mind was something separate [and implicitly better] than the body were deluding themselves into human superiority.  (I have a degree in Philisophy don't 'cha know).  I know that I get physical symptoms when something's wrong psychologically  (my panic attacks have always manifested themselves like stomach flu).  And yet it's taken me 10 more years from knowing and believing these things to even recognising that I unconsciously acted as if I believed in this delusion, let alone tackling the problem.

There are changes I'm going to have to make to break out of this now-conscious social training.  I've got to look after myself, in a much less perfunctory way.  I need to be remembering that in order to be healthy I have to nourish and care for my mind and my body.  I need to harmonise myself, retune my mind into my body.  To train myself to believe, consciously and unconsciously that mind and body are one.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

In the mirror

Last night I had to get changed in a bathroom with a full length mirror. I've not seen myself in full length (almost) nudity for so long that I feel it deserves a blog entry.

Seeing myself all at once, made me pause (even though I was in a rush) - and brought up quite a lot of thoughts and feelings I wanted to share.

The first things I saw looking in the mirror were the parts of my body I don't like (which in the spirit of openness I will share)

1. My belly - which is a little large for my liking, I admit. Especially as it seems a little out of proportion with the rest of me
2. My stretchmarks, especially the livid red ones under my stomach and on my upper thighs which appeared with me putting weight on recently (immediately following yet another doomed diet, of course).

And that's it for the dislikes.

Now for the likes

1. My big boobs, which are in proportion with my body
2. My arse, which is nice and high and firm
3. My waist - which is, even without my clothes, really rather defined so I have a good hourglass thing going on.
4. My belly and boobs are both quite firm, I don't have anything that sags.
5. My skin, for the most part, is smooth, soft and silky - and looks healthy.
6. My hair and face - I have pretty eyes, a straight normal-size nose, high cheekbones - I do ok :)

In the past I have looked at myself and only seen the negative, and this has driven me to treat my body very badly. I'm surprised, after so many years of disrespecting my body I can now find so many things to like about it. Perhaps now it's time to reward myself by treating my body with the respect it deserves.
Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Comment Moderation

Just to make it perfectly clear - all comments on my blog are moderated and any comments which I deam offensive, unhelful or that I just plain don't like will be deleted. 

Doesn't mean I won't open them up to public ridicule though.

So, Anonymous, if that is your real name, congratulations!  You have been awarded the auspicious prize for "first stupid comment on the blog" with this stunning example of general ignorance:

"Why, for the love of all things decent, won't you just stop eating"

I shall, on this occasion, indulge you with a reply...

1. Because I'd be hungry
2. Because I'd get sick
3. Because I don't want to
4. Because I'd die
and finally...
5.  Because I couldn't give a rat's arse about "all things decent."  "Decent" is just not rock n' roll.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

The Moral Question

moral adj. 1 a concerned with goodness or badness of human character or behaviour, or with the distinction between right and wrong.  b concerned with accepted rules and standards of human behaviour
(The Concise Oxford Dictionary)

So I've been reading a lot as research for ths blog, and one thing that's jumped out to me is the overwhelming view of obesity as a moral issue.  This actually surprised me, because I've always thought of moral issues as being focused on the ethics of what people do rather than what they are.

Of course I could still be right.  It would appear that most people who would seek to judge us on a moral level for our Fatness would belive that being Fat is something we do to ourselves, rather than being something we are.  Whilst I'm sure that in this weird and wonderful world of ours there are certainly exceptions to this rule, most fat people didn't end up that way by thinking "I think I'll be fat, health be damned - pass the whipped cream and a pack of bacon, I want to get started straight away."  People, as a general rule, wind up fat, they don't choose to be that way.

And diets don't work.  They can actually make you fatter. 

And even those of us who do want to be fat aren't evil.  We're not even naughty.  We can do what the hell we like to themselves - its nobodys business but ours, thank you very much.

The view of fat as a moral issue needs to be destroyed, not just for the benefit of us fatties, but for the benefit of everyone.  Fat is, and should remain, a discriptive rather than a moral issue.  Noone has the right to judge my moral worth by my dress size.  It's viewing fat as a moral issue that is behind the levels of guilt which are wrapped up with eating in modern society.  We need food to survive - eating is not bad.  Furthermore we need to stop categorizing food into categories of "good" and "bad" - because this is eating disordered thinking (compare the numerous discussions of what constitutes a "safe food" on pro-anorexia websites with discussions of what foods are "good" or "bad" on just about any discussion between [mainly] women). 

In the words of Lily Allen "I want to be able to eat spaghetti bolognaise, and not feel bad about it for days and days and days" ('Everything's Just Wonderful')

I can manage that just fine, but I shouldn't have to to worry about doing it in public for fear accusing stares and ridicule And I shouldn't have stop myself from justifying my choice of food (like everyone else seems to) with a comment like 'I didn't have time for breakfast this morning' or 'it's my time of the month.'  But I will stop myself.  I won't be bullied into colluding with prejudice.  Because I don't have to justify myself to anyone , including myself.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Obese 'struggle to earn living'?

Didn't take long to find inspiration in the news (quell surprise).

An article centred around how it's hard to find work if you're fat.
Which it is.  

I was interested to note that 'overweight and obese' is contrasted with 'normal and underweight'.  When they're going to blame us all being unemployed on health problems (because all fat people have them) it seems rather daft to put the two groups associated with health risk in two opposing categories.  I'd be more interested if it was divided into 'norman and overweight' vs. 'normal and underweight'.

Back to that argument then.  "One charity said there was no doubt obesity affected work, through prejudice and health problems" (doesn't mention which charity, suspiciously - is weight watchers a charity yet?).

The main prejudice that we face in regards to finding employment is the assumption that FAT = SICK, employers (like the writers of this article it would seem) subscribe to this notion that as being obese is a disease, they treat you like any other sick person - and put you straight on the reject pile.

Add to this the myths surrounding us Fatties.  That we do nothing but eat, we're gluttenous, we're lazy.  We'll spend all the time we're there shirking work and eating cake, for goodness sake! That's when we're not off to the doctors for our blood-pressure and heart disease and Deathfatz...

As a Mad Fattie I can recognise it as the same prejudice that compels me to lie on job applications about my medical history - noone will employ you if they think you'll end up 'on the sick'.

The entire second part of the article is dedicated to an informed discussion on how it's our fault for being fat, and how the Obesity Epidemic must be stopped (with no discussion as to how to do so).

Righteous anger is so easy to find.