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WEEKLY WELLNESS// we're eating our veggies this week.

Weekly Wellness is a community driven project to help each of us adopt a more mindful lifestyle. It is a twelve week experiment wherein we (Laura, myself, and whoever else wants to join) commit to one small change for each of those weeks in an effort to see how even a small shift can reap big rewards. (For the introduction read this and this.) 

I must apologize for missing last week's recap. What follows here doesn't deal with one specific week of the challenge, but I wanted to share it nonetheless. While I'm not one to usually pay attention to stats and numbers, I can tell when a post is read more than others, and I'm constantly surprised that the posts dealing with health and body issues are among the top. It is my great wish that there is information contained in what I've written over the years that others find helpful. (This is my way of saying: thank you--for your continued support and kind, kind words). 

I didn't know what a calorie was until I went to college. 

I mean, I have a vague recollection of the 2,000 calories per day dictum, but beyond that, nothing--I had never looked at a nutrition label in my life. 

I grew up on chicken and rice and peas. Every night. For dinner. Bless, my mom because she made the dinner each night and around the table we sat--food only part of the experience. But, to this day, if I ever go out, chicken is not my food of choice. I've had enough of that bird to last a lifetime.

When I got to college and gained the standard freshman fifteen the proposition of losing weight was daunting. And that was the task at hand: losing weight. Not switching to a healthier diet, or a healthier lifestyle, not learning to read the whole of the nutrition label, but learning to lose weight and quickly. And what that meant was learning to read calories. 

And learning to read calories was, as it turns out, my very own Pandora's Box. 

My pediatrician recommended Weight Watchers. And then my gynecologist, as well. And so I embarked upon that path. And I did what I was told. I ate the fruits and vegetables and I made sure to eat no more than my 20 points, and no less either.

And it was so easy. So easy that I wondered how anyone could ever struggle with their weight when, with the right information, to lose it was the easiest thing in the world. 

Oh, the hubris. 

Now of course I look back and can see I was a woman obsessed--a woman who went to bed each night with the pain of hunger just below my ribs--a woman fed by information that was totally and completely wrong. 

I lost my period immediately. 

And so I went to the same doctors who had suggested the diet plan and I told them I didn't have a period and everyone told me not to worry, it'd be sure to return. 

And it did. Months later, when I began to eat again. 

I followed the plan. I ate the allotted points. And those allotted points added up to roughly 1,000 calories.

1,000 calories is not enough for a woman of my height. At 1,000 calories I was starving myself. This is not opinion. This is fact. And I know this now because other (more informed) doctors have told me this. Someone once commented on one of my posts saying that Weight Watchers is not about deprivation, it would never endorse starvation. But I'm just laying out the facts: I ate the points suggested to me for my weight and height--in a program recommended by more than one doctor and I starved. Until my body couldn't starve any more. And it did what it had to do to make me eat: I began to binge.

You know how if a person hasn't slept for a certain amount of time (I'm talking days) the body will collapse--actually inducing sleep? Or if blood isn't getting to the head fainting occurs so that the head is on the same level of the heart and blood can reach it more easily? The body takes control. It takes over.

That's what binging was. The body taking over. That's why it felt so beyond my control. Because I was starving, my body bypassed my conscious mind (my will power, if you will), and it fed me. A lot. Fed me to the point of over-feeding, because my poor body was so damn terrified that it would never be fed again. And then it clung to every single calorie and I watched, helpless, as the weight accumulated. 

I was at war with myself--my body engaged in trench warfare, shoveling in food, because it couldn't trust that I would ever again feed it.

I still eat too much sometimes--enough that people would label it a binge. But I know better, it's not a binge, it's just too much food over a short period of time because I'm feeling guilty or bad or just worn down--the reasons are many and often without sense. But I am not driven to binge the way I once was. I am not possessed and out of control. 

I used to say that recovery is like a grain of salt tunneling through a glacier. It takes ages. It took my body a really, really long time to trust me again. I would sit on the train and have an unhealthy thought like I've had enough today, I need to eat nothing else and I'd feel a tightening in my chest--like a large door closing and immediately I'd be hungry. I'm now pretty sure that tightening was panic on a cellular level--was my body recognizing the thought and preparing itself for what was to come.

It took a lot of time, and quite a bit of proof (food) too, for my body to forgive me and know that I'd never again withhold sustenance. And only once that trust was built was I returned to myself. 

It's still a process. It's still slow. And that gran of salt is still trucking. And it moves by the small choices I make day after day, week after week. A little more water, a good book in my hand, more vegetables, and getting myself to the exercise class even when I think I might lose my lunch during the worst of the squats. 

That's why I'm so enjoying the Weekly Wellness challenges that change with the weeks. Because it's to say, yeah, I'm doing this, I'm in this. I'm doing what I can to make my life better. It's not an overhaul--it's small, mindful choices tunneling through the crap of processed food and a society with ridiculous beauty standards and a whole diet industry that says the calorie count is the end all be all.

I had to learn how to unlearn what a calorie was. That's been the game-changer. Giving up the low-fat and fat-free and "healthy" foods. Forgetting the points assigned to eggs and tortilla chips. Trusting that my body will tell me when it's had enough if I can quiet my own fears and the hum of all-that-wrong-information enough to listen.


Alice said...

This is such a great post. A person very dear to me has struggled with an eating disorder for many years, and it meant a great deal to read your perspective. Thank you for being honest and courageous enough to write it. x

Kristen said...

I'm roughly the same height as you are and I had the same experience on weight watchers. I cannot believe I used to work out, hard, and then not eat because refusing the "extra" points I "earned" by working out was considered a victory. I also think all of the low fat and fake chemical sugar products encouraged by the diet (show me some one who hasn't gone a box deep in the "1 point carrot cakes" and I'll show you a liar) had a lot more to do with messing up my body than just the low calories. Anyway, I like your weekly wellness post, it reminded me what matters. Yesterday I ate a lot of chocolate cookies near lunch time, but then I put broccoli in my whole wheat pasta for dinner... and I think that is what life is all about. :)

LittleAnn said...

What you went through with weight watchers is pretty much a mirror of what I went through. But I went through it very recently so I still have quite alot of anger about it. Which seems stupid, I'm angry at weight watchers. I'd never really known what I weight until February this year when I'd all of a sudden woken up 2 dress sizes bigger (or at least that's what it felt like to me at the time) and I stepped on those weight watchers scales. The weight started dropping off, the compliments came in thick and fast, and I found this amazing rush and pride in starving myself - because you're right, that's what I was doing with my points allowance. And I got to a healthy weight, but not once was I ever asked "would you like to stop here?" so I thought "I should keep going", and before I know it, I'm diagnosed with an eating disorder, after being the girl who has never stepped on a scale until she was 21. Reading your post gives me so much strength right now. You write with such elegance and knowledge. There is so much (bad) information out there. Thank goodness for women like you who are brave enough to share their stories, and their strength. xxx

Amy said...

I used a popular calorie-tracking website to lose weight a few days ago. I was OBSESSED with keeping track of my food. On a date night, we'd go out to eat dinner and I'd have to go home before we went to the movie so I could track my meal before I forgot something I ate. I lost weight, of course - it's impossible not to on 1200 calories a day. Giving up my reliance on that website and learning to trust my body to let me know when it's satisfied was a huge breakthrough, but it hasn't let me down. In total, I lost about 40 pounds, gained back about 5, and have been hovering within a pound or two of my "healthy" weight for more than four years now. Thank you so much for sharing your story!

Anonymous said...

Hi Meg, I really must passss on your advice to my husbund. He is 6 foot tall, has high blood pressure and has the worst eating habits (although he loves to lecturre everyone else on theirs) Anyway good luck.

hannah debbie said...

unlearning what a calorie is...yeah, that was the toughest part.

Heather said...

I really loved how you described your body here & what it did when you didn't give it enough food. Also calories scientifically are a unit of energy/measurement, so why not give our bodies the energy it needs to breathe & sustain us comfortably? Throw out the numbers & just listen to our bodies, I really liked that point of instruction here. And our bodies tell us subtly or not so subtly (diabetes, high blood pressure etc) when we need to fix something in the way we are living..

jessica renae said...

meg, it doesn't surprise me that your posts on food, health, and your own personal journey are among the most read - they are always the ones i look forward to most (although i enjoy it all, i must say).

i love reading (and sometimes re-reading) these posts because for me, it's a step in overcoming my own shame around my body, my under-eating, my over-eating, my own experience through the muck.

it's when i'm mired in the hardest parts that i come back and read posts like this one again. so i can show myself real proof that i'm not alone. i'm not the only one who's been there (who sometimes IS there), and i'm not the only one who's still fighting the slow battle back to confidence and health, away from calorie counting and being defined by the size of my stomach.

the last week, i slipped. a relapse, if you will. starting last night, i've been digging myself out of the whole i jumped in, and this post was just what i needed this morning. recovery is a grain of sand - i've lifted myself up again and realized i'm still going, still working, still maintaining some level of recovery that two years ago i didn't believe was possible.

thank you for sharing your experience. reading it is a monumental piece for me in working through the shame i still have of my own, at times.

thank you.

Kris said...

This is lovely. Your wellness posts (not just this challenge, but in general) are my favorites, too. Over the past 3 years, I've done a lot of internal work on this subject, and I'm not ashamed to say that, while I have a long way to go, I am proud of my own progress.

Do you want to know what happened 3 years ago to jump start my thinking? I gave birth to a daughter. A beautiful, happy, lovely, talented baby girl. And when I think about her thinking about her lovely self and perfect, healthy body with the same poisonous language I use(d) when I think about my own, it makes me physically ill. I'll do my best to make sure it doesn't happen. I will FIGHT it, and the place to start is with me.


Anonymous said...

The way you describe how your body and you were at war, and how your body had to relearn trust... it's just amazing to read what I didn't know how to articulate.

Anonymous said...

thank you.

Diana said...

This is what I needed to hear as someone dealing with the weight war. I have tried WW and many other fads, and you're absolutely right about what they do to you. I found nothing to be a better substitute for when I just honestly cared about my health--walking, eating until I had enough and not until I was sick.

These posts are so helpful for me because, as Jessica mentioned, it helps me to overcome my own shame. I wish there were more women like you out there, that our culture would share this message rather than the detrimental ones. Nevertheless, thank you again for sharing this with us all.

And if you ever decide to write a memoir, please let us know. I will be among the first to purchase it!

April A said...

I've often felt as if my body is betraying me. And that's the problem, it's not my body's betrayal to be anything but perfect, but instead my own betrayal to not accept anything less than perfect.
Long time reader, first time commenter! This post really resonated with me- I was sitting at my work desk thinking about my small breakfast, feeling a little smug. Then I read. And I immediately ran down to the cafe for a real breakfast. Thanks for reminding me.

Anonymous said...

This was brilliant. I have always had issues/anxieties around eating. I don't even know if there is a term for this, but the thing that kind of concerns me now about my own eating habits sounds a little similar to non-purging bulimia. I don't over-excercise. I don't excercise at all, actually. But I will pig out, and then not eat very much. and then repeat the cycle.

I don't eat regular meals.

I eat too much processed food and sugar.

I'm 5'6 and weigh about 160 lbs, with not a lot of muscle.

I don't even know where to begin...

but I feel fear of food. the cost of it. the time it makes to prepare it. the clean-up.

where it is stored in the body...

I'm a size 12.

But I also think I'm kind of beautiful...

what do you even call that?

Anonymous said...

I'll keep coming back to read this post when I need some reassurance. Thank you for being the therapist I don't have in the format I never thought I'd have it.

EM {Pushups with Polish} said...

Loving weekly wellness! Laura got me started! Some of the challenges are harder than I thought, especially trying to unplug!

Anonymous said...

I am so thankful for your vulnerability and transparency! Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Brady said...

You have the most sensible view of food I've ever encountered. I think of you often when I'm deciding what to have for a meal or snack. What will fill me up...what's REAL...what's truly healthy.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you for writing the words that I know are in me but won't come out. I could list all the millions of ways I can relate to you but instead I will just say this: me too, Meg, me too. How great and beautiful to know that with work and knowledge, it can get better.

Elise said...

thank you so much for sharing this. your words speak so much to where my heart has been...

Jay said...

Sweet Meg, sometimes I find it hard to comment on your posts. Not because I don't like to, but because you use your words so well, and a mere comments doesn't seem to do it justice.

I do appreciate your words though, a lot!! And through the years I have followed your blog, your perspective has helped me to keep a level headed mind more than once!

Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and feelings with us, and may you stay as brave, kind hearted and level headed as you are :)

Best of wishes from Norway