Tag: obesity

Heroism and Weight Loss

fat-supermanI’ve been thinking about writing this post for some time.  Everyone who reads this blog is probably aware of my distaste for weight loss in the media.  I know many find shows like the Biggest Loser to be encouraging but for me they are the opposite.

What bothers me is they paint fat people as bad, and reformed fatties as good and that just isn’t true.   As I often say,  ‘a lot of people lose weight in prison’… Losing weight is hard enough without having these types of morality judgments thrown in our face.

So that’s media but this post is a slightly different take.  I would like to talk about how we as a culture often couch weight loss in heroic terms and how this is almost never helpful.

Just the other day I was watching a show and the reporter asked the man how he had ‘overcome his heroic battle with weight loss’.  This is not uncommon phraseology for our average conversation. All of us, including myself, have used such phrases when talking about weight loss.

What’s wrong with that you ask? I mean losing weight is really hard.  Why is that not heroic?

Well, let’s start with some definitions-

Over on about.philosophy.com author Kendra Cherry asked her readers How Do You Define Heroism?  Pretty much every response is something like this:

“A hero is a person who would risk life and limb just to save people or a person. these people standout as brave intelligent and loving. these people need to be recognized”

So what are the elements of being a hero:

1. They are brave

2. They are worthy of recognition

3.  They are loving

4. They risk their own safety to help other people

It is this last aspect that is the most common thread in all the responses.  Another reader says:

“Heroism is when you act out of the kindness of your heart. Whether you’re helping someone on homework, or helping someone who got hurt, the main thing is that your helping someone who is having a hard time”

So, heroism clearly involves being unselfish and serving your fellow men and women especially when doing so is difficult.

indexHow does weight loss fit such a description?  I can’t think of any other change of appearance that is lauded in such ways.  For example, if someone gets a face lift they are often derided, criticized but I’ve rarely heard that when gastric bypass is done.  Why is one surgical enhanced change heroic and another isn’t?

You could say that gastric bypass is required where a face lift is not? Well, the research from the Health at Every Size movement would strongly disagree with that assertion, but even if you accept that gastric bypass is necessary I don’t see how it is heroic?  If I break my leg and have surgery on said leg (essentially fixing a problem in my body like GB) does that make me a hero?  No, it makes me a person with a broken leg that was fixed.

I can see no part of weight loss that involves risk to help other people. You can help people get in shape or encourage them to enter a race, but that’s not really the weight loss, that’s your service in the community and amongst your loved ones.  Anyone should be lauded who serves others no matter their size.  That is worthy of the hero label.

What about athletes? Who are they serving and we call them ‘sports heroes’?  One could argue such a term is misapplied to professional athletes but I would counter that most athletes are participating in a team or cause greater than just themselves.

For example, an Olympian is certainly worthy of individual applause but also their gift of performance on behalf of their country makes it worthy of the hero label.

There are a few sports like golf that are truly individual events and then I would say they aren’t really heroes but simply exceptional.  We like them because they are good at something and we are not. Nothing wrong with that!

But I hear you saying ‘Rachel it’s so hard.  Shouldn’t we be encouraging?’.  My answer is ‘of course, we should’.  However, there are lots of hard things we do in life that aren’t really heroic.  If I am a PHD candidate and I complete my thesis am I lauded as a hero? I’m encouraged, congratulated, cheered but unless there’s a disability or something extraordinary I rarely hear the kind of language we apply to weight loss for any other ‘hard thing’ in life.

Why? Because the diet industry in America is a 20 billion dollar industry.  They want you to spend money and what better way to get someone to spend money than to either make them feel really good or really bad about themselves.  A tepid, lukewarm person never bought anything.  They have a vested interest in convincing us that we need to change and that if we make said change we can be the hero.

Now, you might suggest that I am focusing on mere semantics and poor word choice.  I would argue back that according to the Huffington Post the average American woman has dieted 61 times by the time they are 45 and that’s starting at 16 (I would start much younger- 81% of little girls in America have dieted before the age of 10).

Assuming some marginal success in most of those diets, the average woman has been the hero 61 times,  and then fallen sometimes quite speedily off of her pedestal.  Then to make matters worse 35% of women gain more than they lost on said diet.

So, now we aren’t really a weight loss villain (to use the cannon of terms) that is probably reserved for sinful foods and the companies who pedal them but we are something even worse- the fallen hero.  I mean think about what that means.  61 times the average woman not only feels let down with her own frailties but is no longer the inspirational tool for her family and friends.  I’ve felt it and I bet most of you have too.  It is devastating.

images

I actually remember one time my sister telling me ‘you can’t gain the weight back because then you wouldn’t be this person that we admire’.  She was very little and didn’t mean to hurt my feelings but is that not what all of us go through on the roller coaster of weight loss? 2012 I was at my peak of fitness and weight loss, then I had a personal crisis, chronic pain and a herniated disk in my back.  Things changed and so did my body.

I’m not making excuses.  That’s just what happened.  I felt guilty for a long time.  Like I’d let everyone down, which is insane when you really think about it.  What had changed was something in my body.  My other actions were exactly the same.  I still swam my races, I still blogged.  I still worked.  I still held book club and spent time with my friends.  I still traveled.  All of it.  I can’t think of one thing for other people I could do in 2012 and couldn’t or didn’t do in 2013.  So why did I seemingly let them down?

Because I wasn’t the hero anymore. 

That’s why this language about our bodies is so important.  It can have devastating repercussions that can make us feel like failures, and we already feel that way because of the way we look.  The language just piles on. And sometimes it is not just language.  I have friends who’s parents were vocally disappointed in them for their weight loss struggles. Instead of sympathy and encouragement they received pity and disgust.  (Luckily my parets have always been pretty good about letting me live my own life)

What worries me most is if being the fallen weight loss hero is hard for adults, imagine what it must feel like for a child who has so little control over his or her bodies in the first place?  That I do know.  I remember vividly the feeling of disappointment after diet, after diet, not only frustrated at not looking the way I wanted to, which is hard enough for a young girl, but letting everyone down in the process.  For goodness sakes, now these kids are even letting down the President.

So, in a perfect world where everyone took all of my advice what would I suggest? How would I encourage others in this hard thing called weight loss? I would treat it like the accomplishment of any other worthy goal.  ‘that’s great’, ‘I can see you worked very hard’, ‘great job’, ‘congrats’, ‘I’d love to go jogging with you’, or any number of responses without vaulting the person up as a hero because of the way they look.

What do you guys think? Have you felt like you were letting down people when you gain weight or fail to lose?  Do you think the hero narrative is helpful or hurtful?  Please share your experience, as this is just what makes sense to me.  Love you all!

heroes03capamericapostyo8

 

 

Exercise and Weight Loss Success

Many of you know I believe in a healthy lifestyle or the Health at Every Size Movement http://www.haescommunity.org/. 

How do you determine the success of a health regiment or diet? I would wager that 90% of you would answer “weight loss”  or if you didn’t you probably would be thinking ‘weight loss’ in your head but saying something more socially acceptable.

Here’s the thing- THAT IS WRONG!!

Every day there seems to be more evidence that the link between weight, even obesity, and actual health is not as strong as we once thought.  This defies the logic of the ‘war on obesity’, Michele Obama, scores of trainers/dieticians but that doesn’t mean it is not true.

Read this book.  It will BLOW YOUR MIND

health at every sizeThink it is just one woman’s crazy enabling antics?  No.  The book has 7 pages of detailed recommendations from doctors, leaders, scientists etc.  (see articles for more back up

US News World Report 

New York Times, and New York Times

The Today Show

To start the book Dr Bacon (I know ironic last name) shares her testimonial.  Here it is directly from the book:

health at every size 2This quote might lead you to believe the book is merely anecdotal but its not.  There is real science to back up what she says about eating healthy, being happy and not worrying about weight.  She leaves no stone unturned answering questions about diabetes, cholesterol, heart disease, bone density, and even has the most brilliant defense against gastric bypass I’ve ever read. I’m telling you it will change the way anyone, not just the obese, look at eating, health and exercise. Here is my favorite (this is also quoted in Amy Farrell’s brilliant book Fat Stigma):

UC Davis.

“In this study, a group of fat women was divided into 2 groups, one receiving coaching in restrictive eating (diet) and exercise, the other being encouraged to eat a healthy diet, listen to their bodies cues, to foster ways to engage in fun exercise and take part in a fat acceptance discussion group.

Significantly group 1- the traditional diet/exercise group- initially lost weight, but by the end half had dropped out; most had regained weight; blood pressure, cholesterol, and other metabolic measures had not improved and self-esteem levels had dropped.

In contrast, group 2 hadn’t lost any weight, but most stayed with the 2 year program; their blood pressure, cholesterol, and other metabolic measures had improved dramatically; their self-esteem levels increased substantially; and they exercised regularly.  Encouraged to pay attention to their bodies, to stop restricting calories, to fight the discrimination they experienced as fat people, and to enjoy their bodies through physical movement and eating well- the non-dieters showed significant health improvements.  But, and this is the key point, they never became thin.”

Doesn’t that blow your mind?

One of Dr.  Bacon’s patients describes her battle and realization of her own worth so beautifully:

health at every size 3

I recently have become aware of the activist Jeanette DePatie, otherwise known as The Fat Chick.  She gets it.  I wish someone had explained this to me when I started exercising (instead I went into it expecting to lose 100 lbs in the first year. Sigh…)

I am happy most of the time. I love  my life most of the time.  I have times when I’m more fit than others but I’ve basically looked the same since I was 17 years old and I was always ashamed by that, like it was this big failure I could never overcome.  Now I just make sure I have clothes that fit me in lots of sizes and work out at least 3 times a week.  Would I like to be skinny?  Yes, but I’m finally not convinced I’d be any happier if I was (or healthier).  The guilt is for the most part gone.

I hope this encourages all of you.  I started my journey saying I was the Only Happy Fat Woman in America and I had friends who fought me on it.  They thought I was just being patronizing or disingenuous but it was true then and today it is still true (I really had someone argue with me saying I was basically full of crap.  Not true).  TV will make you believe you have to be miserable if you are fat (biggest loser sorry)  but its a lie! Be healthy, be happy, be human, have bad days, eat cake and then work out for an hour the next day, find stuff you love, therapies that work and live the best life you can.

Every time Tanya and I swim together people look and have a surprised expression.  I know they think ‘I’ve never seen a girl that looks like do what they are doing’ and that makes me so happy.  It may be my greatest legacy of all.

So thats what I have to say on that.  Get active.  Be happy.  Love life and Follow God.

And just keep at it.
And just keep at it.
Do something you never thought you could do.  I love MMA (kick boxing) and I'm not too bad at it!
Do something you never thought you could do. I love MMA (kick boxing) and I’m not too bad at it!
Do a fashion show when you find a cute pair of jeans.  Who cares!
Do a fashion show when you find a cute pair of jeans. Who cares!
Find something you love.  Even after all the swims I've done it still makes me smile
Find something you love. Even after all the swims I’ve done it still makes me smile
My trainer who has stood by me for 4 years. She is why I go to treehouse and she is one of my rocks.  I really love her.
My trainer who has stood by me for 4 years. She is why I go to treehouse and she is one of my rocks. I really love her.

I would also just add that my times in the water when I’m at my thinnest and best trained is about 3 minutes faster than when I’m not.  My recovery is much better but my time really isn’t.  Funny. It just goes to show what your definition of success makes such a difference in achieving it.  If I was only focused on times I’d never be successful.

A Defense of Curves

Got Curves? I do!

I’ve mentioned the infamous Maura Kelly op-ed in Marie Claire many times on this blog . The one where she compares fat people to heroine addicts

“”I find it aesthetically displeasing to watch a very, very fat person simply walk across a room — just like I’d find it distressing if I saw a very drunk person stumbling across a bar or a heroine [sic] addict slumping in a chair.”

and

“I think I’d be grossed out if I had to watch two characters with rolls and rolls of fat kissing each other… because I’d be grossed out if I had to watch them doing anything.”

It is hate speech of the worst kind and the fact that a major fashion magazine would publish and then defend the smut is unbelievable.

Anyway, I came across an article by Josh Shahryar for the Huffington Post refuted each of Kelly’s claims and her subsequent apology.  It is so awesome!

http://huff.to/992Yrd

I was particularly moved by his last segment called The Conclusion.

I don’t normally share whole articles on this blog but I was so moved I wanted all of you to read it.  Being on a new diet this last week I think I needed to read this article.  So beautiful and moving:

5. The Conclusion

I’m not a personal issues expert. But I’m a human being living in the West who knows what’s going on. And what I see is this: there is an incredible amount of bias perpetuated against overweight people in the media. They are almost never the central character — always neatly tucked in as a secretary, the nurse or a character who’s too old to rouse romance. The last time I saw overweight people in a movie as the central character was in Paul Blart: Mall Cop and recently in Precious. Both the movies had a bit to do with weight.

When they appear on TV shows, it’s about weight. Guess who the loser in The Biggest Loser is… Guess who’s huge on Huge (by the way, a very witty show that got canceled). And when it comes to commercials, There’re always those damn ‘fatties’ that can’t seem to lose their weight without this or that new magical drug or diet.

Criminals can and do get central characters, otherwise. Druggies do. Even rapists and child abusers get more frequently featured. Fat people just aren’t good enough. (And to come to this realization right now just truly, deeply and profoundly upset me.)

The only shows, commercials or movies in which they get treated as normal people are those oriented towards the African-American population. Kudos to them for having the empathy. Only the oppressed can feel the pain of the oppressed.

Overweight people have become marginalized by the media simply because they’re overweight. Just like African Americans were marginalized because they were black and more recently, gay people because they’re gay. I understand fully that unlike the color of someone’s skin or someone’s sexual orientation obesity is a medical condition and a problem, but obese people aren’t. That is the issue. That is the problem. That is what both overweight, “normal” weight and underweight people need to come together and fight against.

The first step towards losing weight is not putting your mind to it. It is not making a list of things you will absolutely not do. It is not locking up the fridge. It is knowing that even if you fail at losing weight, people will still love you for who you are and not the number of pounds you’re packing. That people will judge you by your character and not because you are unhealthy weight-wise (and some people are perfectly healthy even when they are overweight). It is that feeling that you are doing this for yourself not because you have to fit a mold created for you.

That cannot be accomplished as long as Western culture continues to brand people who weigh more than what it deems aesthetically pleasing as unacceptable. It’s gotten so bad that even a few people who’re skinny live in constant fear that they might add a few pounds and not look beautiful enough to not be judged by people. And since media plays a huge part in formulating our cultural perceptions, it needs to change immediately — whether people like Ms. Kelly like it or not.

To that end, I urge everyone who finds size-ism in the media as a menace to view this as a watershed moment. It’s time to come together and fight this bigotry to the bitter end. Change does not come without someone pushing for it. If we want this to change, if we want for us, overweight or not, to not be judged by our BMI, we need to not let this fire die down.

We need to stand up and demand change. Even if it means we need to force the issue daily on social networking sites. Even if it means we have to boycott media that continue to practice this bigotry. Even if it means we have to hold peaceful demonstrations for the end of this practice. If media does not change, we cannot change this culture that seems to have been forever marginalizing overweight people.

It’s not just people judging you on the street. It’s about losing job opportunities. It is about equal treatment in the health care system. It is about being able to breathe, knowing everything’s gonna be alright.

The media’s side-stepping the issue and pretending all’s well reminds me of a scene from the movie Good Luck Chuck. Chuck is hexed so any girl who sleeps with him ends up meeting the love of her life in the next few days. His overweight secretary finds out about this and like any woman, she wants to find the lover of her life. She corners him one night and begs him to have sex with her, but he won’t. It goes on for a couple of minutes. Then, finally when he’s on the ground and she’s on top of him and he refuses, she tears up and says, “It’s okay. Close your eyes and pretend I’m someone beautiful.” He looks up, visibly moved, and says, “I’ll pretend it’s you.”

Well, pretending is just not good enough anymore.

(So awesome!  I hope I can keep the discussion going and show people a different version of what a fat American can do.  I bet Maura Kelly couldn’t swim a 5k!)

It’s not just girls that need the positive body image messaging

Diet Before 10

I shared this with my facebook community but thought I’d do the same with my blogging community.  I think this photo tells a lot.

I can relate to this photo because I was on diet before I turned 10.  I have almost no memories of not being on a diet in my life.  In fact some of my most vivid memories are being put on diets or being told I was fat by kids or even coaches, other adults.  As all my readers know I was also bullied for nearly 2 years (4th and 5th grades) because I was overweight.

I have to say compared to some of my overweight friends, my parents have actually been pretty great.  They did put me on a diet when I was young but overall they tried to be supportive and loving.  I did not get a ton of pressure from them to lose weight and I certainly was never told that I was ugly, embarrassing, fat, whatever.  I hear such stories from some of my friends and I’m grateful for good parents.

So what is my advice to parents who have a heavier child and don’t know what to do? Here goes:

1. Set the whole family on a healthy lifestyle regiment so that one child is not singled out. Then everyone wins.  It could even be a fun project to do together.

2. Explain that it really isn’t about appearance. Its about health, energy, happiness.  Perhaps give them examples of athletes, other adults who maintain a healthy weight.  (show them my blog about my swims 🙂 )

3. I think a lot of parents feel guilty about their overweight children and that just makes the child feel worse for failing their parents.

4. Do not EVER be embarrassed by your child.  This will only teach them to be ashamed of their bodies and could lead to behaviors later on that are far worse than being overweight such as self-abuse, eating disorders, and addiction.

5. Try to avoid using food as a reward or a punishment.  It will happen on occasions such as birthdays or at a party and that’s fine but in general find non-food related rewards

6. Avoid equating food as a sin.  Do not make a child feel guilty for what they eat.  Just encourage the good and move on from the bad. I still struggle with feelings of guilt and even sin when I stray from my diet and I don’t think that is a healthy behavior.

7. Introduce your kids to new food experiences so they don’t think that healthy food=boring food.

8. Involve your kids in the cooking process so they can see what goes into it.  A processed packaged meal will never give your children any excitement for fresh, healthy ingredients.  Also take them to farms, have them learn how to milk a cow, see where eggs come from, how to make cheese, whatever.  This may be a drag for some kids but in the end it will help them build healthy eating habits and a love for good food.

9. Be positive, positive, positive, positive!  Even today, I find I need overwhelmingly positive feedback from my trainers and other support.  I know what I could improve on.  In fact, I’m usually beating myself up more than I probably should and don’t need any help in that department.  Any added ‘tough love’ just makes me feel depressed and hopeless

10.  Make sure you explain all aspects of health to your child.  Meaning physical, mental, spiritual, emotional whatever.  All of these aspects are important for a healthy person.  Writing in journals, meditating, having honest discussion, learning new things, reading, prayer, other worship,  and learning to manage stress are all AS IMPORTANT as our weight.

11. Make sure they have correct information about weightloss, health, etc.  Despite all my dieting I never learned that type 2 diabetes was curable.  When they diagnosed me as border-line a few years ago, I honestly thought I was going to die. I was petrified.  Instead of just scaring kids with words like cancer, heart disease, diabetes.  Let’s explain what they really are and how they can be prevented and overcome.

Recently I did a wellness challenge where there were 10 categories of health including 15 minutes of spiritual reading and setting daily goals.  I think this type of overall wellness would be a great system for kids.

Now some of you may scoff and say ‘she’s single.  What does she know about raising kids?’.  Well, I was a kid once and I know intimately what it is like to grow up as a fat kid. I also have kids in my life who I want to support in the right ways; therefore I have given the topic much thought.

Its important to understand that as adults, we are all fighting an uphill battle when it comes to the health of the kids in our lives.  They have so much coming at them from the media and even other children and adults at school.  We must conscientiously work at fighting this messaging or our kids will get their self-worth from the myriad of other sources trying to claim it.

Unfortunately sometimes people that mean well can be a destructive influence.  Celebrities like First Lady Michele Obama have started a ‘war on childhood obesity’.  I really wish Mrs. Obama would rethink this wording.  I wish she was more focused on health of all children whether they happen to be heavy or skinny.  I certainly am proof that an active heavy person can do things that a lazy skinny person could not do.

Health, health, health not weight, weight, weight.

Bully / It Gets Better

This may be the post I am the most proud of. I hope it comes across the way I intend.  I hope it inspires someone.

Today for Family Home Evening I decided to see the controversial documentary Bully.   This has been something I’ve been a bit anxious for but knew I needed to do because of my own experience being bullied.  The odd part about the movie is I wasn’t that emotional while watching but then as soon as I got in my car I started to bawl. I felt all emotions of anger, frustration, despair and a little bit of hope.

Some have criticized the movie because it doesn’t go into the mindset of the bullies themselves.  My response is that every story cannot tell every story.  This is a movie about the victims and how futile the school system is in helping deal with these problems.  Granted their task is daunting but the attitude of ‘kids will be kids’ is far too present.

There is one scene in the movie where a principal actually forces a little boy to shake hands with his tormentor (a valid concept until you find out this has happened again and again with the bully feigning an apology each time).

The victim has the courage to not shake hands and the teacher says

“You’re just like him”.

The boy says “Except I don’t hurt people”.

Can you imagine if we expected such things of adults? Do we expect rape victims to shake hands with their accusers and if they don’t are they ‘just like him.”?  It made me so mad I wanted to throw something at the screen.  I actually said ‘unbelievable’ out loud and then 2 girls in the theater looked at me.

One of my favorite moments was the Mom of a boy named Alex meeting with a principal that despite proof of abuse on a bus claimed ‘I’ve ridden that bus and they are good as gold’.  The Mother says ‘When I was a child that bus would have been pulled over until the bad behavior stopped’.  That’s what we have lost.  Now I’m not advocating physical discipline for children but to pretend like adults have to sway over the behavior of children is just wrong.

Children should be safe and protected at home and school- in fact sometimes they need to be safer at school than in some homes.  I know in my case little was done to stop bullying that lasted for nearly 2 years despite repeated requests from my parents.

It is a complicated problem but a couple things I suggest:

1.  CHANGE SCHOOLS– My parents changing schools literally changed my life.  I was fortunate enough to be able to go to private school and then my family moved but there are always other options.  There are charter schools, online schools, homeschool, tutors, whatever.  Anything is better than someone being a in situation where they are tormented.  Its like sending an abused women into a closed building with their abuser 8 hours a day.  Be open-minded, pray for direction and you will find something else that works.

2. Teach your children about differences and expose them to a variety of people.  Talk to them about bullying and what they can do if they see someone who is being treated unkindly or most importantly being ignored.  Teach them to look for people that seem a little different and try to befriend them.  When they don’t like someone try to discuss what it is and how if possible they can learn to love that person.  I’m not saying they have to be friends with everyone, that isn’t realistic but each kid that tries is one less bully.

One of the Mom’s who lost her son to a bullying related suicide said ‘He cried and then it got to the point where he didn’t cry and then it became difficult to know what’s going on’.  Watch for those early tears…

3. Find something your child is good at and nourish that skill.  Everyone is good at something (or at least enjoys something) and usually you can find someone else who shares that interest.

4. Make sure your children have one person in their life who is an uncompromising cheerleader.  Parents have to discipline their children and say things they may not like but I was immeasurably benefited by several people who loved me unfailingly including my Grandpa Richards and my young women’s leader Sister Potter.  They never gave me ‘constructive criticism’.  I was always beautiful and perfect.  Everyone needs that kind of cheerleader.  Whether its a boys or girls club or a mentor look for that for your children.

5.  Speak out about your history being bullied.  Each of us that speaks adds another voice to the world, one more voice that says ‘It gets better’.  ‘It will be OK’.  ‘Don’t give up’. ‘God loves you’.

6. This is just my opinion but I think rough housing and mean joking should be avoided.  A lot of the bullying in the movie starts out as rough housing and honestly may be viewed by the bullies as just fun but it turns so fast.  One of the kids in the movie has a sister that teases him a little bit. At one point she says ‘LOSER spells Alex’.  Things like this are not helpful and should be disciplined when possible.  Again, I’m not a Mom so its just my opinion as an observer.

https://smilingldsgirl.wordpress.com/2011/04/23/memories/

Here’s my voice:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

 

(Just to be clear when I talk about my accomplishments its not to brag but just to say ‘you can do whatever you want in your life’)

Maggie Goes on a Diet

I am so fired up and upset that I can barely put my words together.   What has me so up-in-arms you ask?  Well, I just found out about a book soon to be on the market for children as young as 4 called “Maggie Goes on a Diet” by Paul Kramer.  In this book he says that poor Maggie was bullied and made fun of so she looked in the mirror and wished she could be thin. If only she was skinny all Maggie’s problems would melt a way. (as someone who was a Maggie in school such experiences are brutal and not necessarily limited to fat girls.  If kids want to bully they will find a way).

To calm her troubled heart she then does what all overweight children do- she went “searching the refrigerator in hopes she would feel better” . (Because all children have full access to the refrigerator at home- no adult supervision in the middle of the night! I hope you catch my healthy dose of sarcasm in the above paragraph!)

Seriously, what is wrong with people? Fat children are not searching through the refrigerator in the middle of the night to calm their troubled self-esteem.  Give me a break!  I ate the same as everyone else but my body processed it differently. All junk like this does is make overweight kids feel guilty about every last treat, every piece of bread, they eat.  Hey, here’ s a thought- how about actually teaching them about their bodies, how cells absorb food, how some people have different blood sugar responses?

Many people believe children are too stupid to understand their own bodies and the complex goings-on inside.  I disagree.  I judged a 6th grade science fair a while back and the experiments were remarkably complex.  If they can understand the intricacies of electricity or volcanoes give them a shot with their own bodies. I think we’d be surprised.  In my experience anyone who actually understand how their body really works instead of just focusing on weight feels much better about themselves.   Ahhh! I’m so frustrated by this.

Maggie stares in the mirror at a skinny version of herself and knows that if she could only be thin her life would be better. She would be more popular and happier- a better person.  You know who stares into a mirror and thinks being skinnier will solve all your problems?- the millions of girls in eating disorder clinics and rehab.  I have known people going through eating disorder treatment and it is brutal.

To make matters worse in the book Maggie actually does become popular after losing weight and she even ends up as a star soccer player (because if all fat people would only exercise a little they would become star athletes- almost as dangerous a promise as becoming popular). I just lost a lot of weight where’s my star athletic prowess and hidden popularity?  What a terrible expectation to set up for children- on so many levels.

As I mentioned in a recent post skinniness as a goal is foolish because it is a unclassifiable term- meaning who’s to say what being skinny really means? Is it Twiggy from the 60’s or is it a more muscular Cindy Crawford?  Who is to say?  By focusing on being skinny there is no end, nothing is good enough and most people become obsessed with it.  It overtakes your life and all that matters is your appearance which is part of the reason this book made me so mad.  The focus is on becoming skinny and how that will make you happy, popular and athletic.  That’s just not true and it it can be a dangerous message.


Maggie is also shown as losing the weight in a fast time period by “eating fruit and oatmeal” and “exercising more”.  Tell that to the constantly on a diet 16 year old me who life guarded and swam competitively.  Tell that to the kids who eat their oatmeal and fruit but still are chubbier than all the other kids.

What are we doing in our society?  Why can’t we just love people especially little children?  Why does everyone have to look a certain way to be accepted?  Why can’t we discuss concerns of health on their own accord without them being wrapped up in vague images of being thin.  It makes me so mad.

I still remember the first time I was told I needed to diet.  I was 9 or 10.  It was my parents and despite their best efforts it is seared in my brain for all time.  At least they didn’t try to pretend I would be more popular or be good at sports if I lost weight.  It still felt like a great sin I had inadvertently committed- something that was my fault but at least I knew they loved me and would accept me either way.

The book also fails to mention that children are not responsible for the food that is served to them- whether it be at home or at school.   (My parents did serve healthy food and I was still fat but not all parents do).  What is a child supposed to do force his or her mother to make oatmeal?  Tell the school lunch lady that they can only make Low GI food?   Give me a break!  The book treats a child as an adult who can make all her own decisions and doesn’t even mention parents or parental support.

The author says he wrote the book to let children know “they are not alone in their struggles.”  How does reinforcing stereotypes, creating false promises and promoting eating disorders do anything but make a child feel more alone, more ostracized?  Did the author think of what a little girl will feel after reading his book, eating oatmeal and fruit, exercising and yet somehow she’s still fat?

How about we teach that little girl that making healthy choices is good regardless of the physical ramifications?  How about we teach her that she has intrinsic value and that her body is beautiful and special?  How about we look at each individual child and find out how their body is absorbing food and give them the right food choices? How about we teach a child that the formation of your character is not related to the weight of your body? You are not a bad person if you are fat.  I wish someone had taught me that years earlier…

I would like to write a book like that.  Maggie and her Healthy Heart.  I’m seriously so mad about this I want to scream.  Mainly because I know the hurt the little girls who are unfortunate enough to read this book will feel and believe me they are not turning to the fridge for comfort.  They are turning to their pillows wet with tears.

In my experience the only way to be happy whether skinny or fat is to accept yourself- flaws and all.  We all have imperfections and yet our family loves us- we should love us too!  Only then is weight loss typically successful and long-lasting.  Even when you are skinny you are still the same person you were before just with a little less baggage.  The core is the same.  Focus on making that core strong and then you will be happy at any size.  Let’s teach our children that message!

Surely America we can do better than this crap. Please lets do better.

For another good blog on this topic look at http://www.beautifulyoubyjulie.com/2011/08/diet-books-are-not-for-girls/

Open Water Swim

I’ve sat down to write this post several times but each time I’ve struggled to find the words to describe my experience in my first open water swim.  When I try to sound triumphant it seems cloying, when simply describing the event it feels ordinary.

Nevertheless, I will do my best to give you an idea of what the day meant to me.

Walt Disney once said that “the real trouble with the world is too many people grow up.  They forget.  They don’t remember what it’s like to be 12 years old.”   While this may be true with some adults, it is not the case for those of us who grow up overweight.

Believe me we remember what it is like to be 12 and fat.

I wish I could forget the searing images of being bullied and called terrible names. I wish I could forget being looked over and marginalized because of something that I had little control over.

How might you ask did I emerge from childhood with a happy disposition (the blog is after all called Smiling LDS girl!)  and confident demeanor?  There are many answers including most importantly my faith but one small answer is that I found swimming.

I have always loved to swim.  In fact, anything with water has, and always will, make me happy- whether it is boating with my family or spending the afternoon at a neighborhood pool there is something about the water that is freeing.  It was also the only athletic activity which I felt competitive and that did not flair up my asthma/bad feet.

me in high school swim team photo. We changed uniforms my sophomore year which is why I got to take home the jacket I still have.

When I was in high school I decided to join the swim team and thankfully they had an open enrollment policy- meaning every student who wanted to participate could.  In my 3 years on the team I learned how to do strokes properly and competed in races where I actually turned in decent times. (I was one of the only girls that was willing to swim butterfly so that became a bit of a specialty for me!).  Its amazing how once those strokes are in your head you never forget them.  I still do my freestyle in the S shape that Coach Cowperthwaite taught me (yes, that was her name!).   In fact, it is very difficult to change any part of my stroke because it is so ingrained in my body.

Seared in my memory is also the feeling of weightlessness (a big thing for a fat girl to experience) that would overtake me upon entering the water.  I still love nothing more than diving into water, and I agree with my sister who once said- “swimming is the closest thing to flying we have on earth”.  It is freedom, it is lightness, it is happiness!

In my sophomore year I took a life guarding course and believe it or not obtained my certification.  I can’t explain what that meant for a fat girl- to complete a certification in something so difficult.  I remember in particular we had to tread for 10 minutes with a 10 lb brick, and I did it!

Anyway, back to Saturday.

I awoke bright and early to face my challenging swim.  I was a mess of nerves and emotion- what if I failed, what if I got a cramp mid-race and had to stop, what if my paddler didn’t show up or what if they had to cancel the race?  (You get the idea).

As a nod to my former self I wore my old high school swim team jacket.  (Yes, for once my pack-rat tendencies paid off! I have my old swim cap also but it has a rip).

this is my old high school swim team jacket. It says Middletown Knights on the back.

After arriving at the race I met with my paddler who was amazing.   Despite having never met, he seemed to get my story and believe in me. I am so grateful for his sacrifice of a Saturday morning sleep to help me. I told him he was my ‘guardian angel’ for the day.

My paddler Neil.

Everyone associated with the race was wonderful and encouraging.  Again, they seemed to all get that this was more then just a routine event for me. (All together I think there were about 65 racers- plus paddlers to accompany them, so it was a pretty big crowd).

Me with one of the awesome swimmers Erin

Once we gathered to begin the race the day started on a good, surprising note!  They had a raffle and I won the big prize!  (I tell you fortune was smiling upon me the whole day!).  I won a kayak!  It is a one person seated kayak that will be great for future races and trips to the lake.  I never win anything! (Thank goodness I have a van to take it home in. :))

Then the 10 mile swimmers started (can you believe that! 10 miles!), 10 k, 5 k (most popular) and finally it was time for my race.  There were 10 other swimmers for the 1 mile swim including a little girl who proudly announced “I’m going to win. My sister won and so will I”.  I think she came in second but still I admired her confidence.

With the sound of the whistle into the water I went swimming with all my heart.  I was significantly slower than my competitors but that didn’t matter to me.  I had the encouragement of my paddler and a lifetime of love for the water pushing me forward.   Plus, I could just feel the prayers and thoughts of my family, friends and trainers who have invested so much in getting me in that water.

An open water swim is both a mental and physical game.  I had done one mile swims before but never one quite like this.  About 1/3rd of the way through it felt like I would never get to the 1/2 mile marker, and the same for the last stretch.  It almost seems like a mirage and the end does not feel real until you are minutes, mere feet away.  Thankfully I had my paddler and cheerleaders on the side pushing me to keep going.

When I finally crossed the finish line I was overcome with emotions and actually started to cry.  The ending could not have been more sweet if I had finished first.

(Btw, I did make my goal to finish in under an hour by 6 minutes.  54 minutes!)

It was as if I was giving a high-five to the 12-year-old and 16-year-old me- saying we did it!  I can tell you one thing- never was any medal more well-earned or more proudly displayed than the one I received for simply finishing!

At the risk of sounding cheesy I would just like to say something to the young girls out there who feel they are without worth- you can do great things in your life.  You are valuable and important.  If I can swim a mile today and could pass that life guarding test years ago, then you can do whatever you dream of doing.  Just set a goal, gather a team to help you and go and do it.

There is no doubt that the year and half of this fitness quest has been full of difficulties but Saturday made it all worth it.  It was truly one of the best days of my life.  Thank you to everyone for your support and love.  Now on to the next race- Slam the Dam in Vegas on October 1st.  Life is good!

Thank you also to everyone who worked hard to make the event a success.  Thank you especially to my paddler Neil and to Jim Hubbard who went out of his way to make sure I could race, as well as organizing the race for everyone else.  Thank you so much.  (Also, thanks to those who donated the kayak!)