Tag: weight loss

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.

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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.

32 vs 17

So tomorrow I go back to my home in Utah, get back to work and training for my swims in my free time.  Aside from a little stomach ache today, I’ve had a great time and it was a nice break from my everyday life.

I don’t know how detailed I can get without shaming people but I learned a lesson this week I felt was worth sharing with all of you.

When I was about 17 I had an experience that stuck with me.  I had always felt bad about my weight and felt like it was something I couldn’t fix that I wanted to fix.  I was at a family reunion that summer when someone said something cruel about my eating ice cream and I threw the ice cream away and stormed out in tears.

My brother, who I was not normally close with, got very angry, stood up for me and stormed out of the restaurant, walking the rest of the way home.  My parents, uncle and cousins were also very supportive and the incident blew over with probably nobody remembering it but maybe my brother and me (although he claims to remember nothing from his childhood).

Well, that’s always stayed with me and on Friday night I was with the same person eating ice cream again and he/she made another comment about my weight and at first I s laughed it off but then I got mad.  This time instead of storming out I stood up for myself and said

‘You know what…..I know you would be happier if I was skinny but you will just have to deal with it’ and then I left the table and cried outside. I’d say an improvement in 15 years wouldn’t you?  I was pretty upset and frustrated that nothing seemed to have changed over such a long period of time, that nothing I had done in the intervening years had made a dent or changed that person’s attitude towards me.  I was still the same girl eating ice cream, feeling bad about myself.

For a second I felt 17 again…How could a situation mirror itself so closely after all that time?

Or was it?  This time it was not my brother, Dad or cousins standing up for me.  It was me, and yes I felt the tears of 15 years of frustration and pain, but I had said something that made an impact.  In fact, the next day I had flowers and a letter of apology from the person.  Forgiveness was granted and yet none of that would have happened if I had kept my mouth shut and smiled through the ridicule or if I had made an unsightly scene.  I certainly had not received an apology at 17.

Maybe all of us had learned something in the last 15 years after all? Hurray for humanity and a victory for underdogs out there.

Redemption and a high five to the 17 year old me!

Then
Then
Now
Now

How Mrs. Claus Relaxes

I mentioned the other day that I have a hard time relaxing and taking the day off. Well I do know 2 things that  I love and would do all day if I could and they couldn’t be more different- MMA (mixed martial arts) and massages

As my Christmas gift to myself I decided to do both and I did them with some Christmas flair!

I’ve learned some new moves since my last video.  I love doing the blocks.  I’ve also gotten faster and higher in my kicks.

Putting on my wraps before the training
Putting on my wraps before the training
awesome kick
Nice high kick! Ah ha!
gloves 2
Nobody will mess around with this Mrs Claus!
left hook
Body shots. I’m thinking of those cabinet makers slowing things down right now! 🙂

And then the massage.  I love massages.  If I was super rich I’d have a massage every day.

DSCF0924
Happy face. Little nervous at my eye alignment in this picture but don’t I look relaxed?

DSCF0920
Ready for the massage
DSCF0919
Merry Christmas!

Now that’s how you get it done!

This Fat Girl Kicks Butt

I’ve mentioned in previous posts that I have taken up boxing.  This has long been an interest of mine ever since I took self defense at BYU.  It was such a thrill to be able to kick the tar out of my teacher (he had padding!).  Plus, it is the kind of thing that growing up big you don’t think you can do.  Not in a depressing, sad way but in a nonchalant, not even think twice about it way.  It didn’t even occur to me to try something like boxing let alone that I might actually be good at it.

Despite loving my class I let the hobby slip away and didn’t pick it up again until earlier this year.  Let’s be honest the last year and change has been tough for me and I can’t tell you how great it feels to get the stress out with each punch.  I started out going to boxing is for girls which I still attend and think is awesome but it is a bit of a drive from my house.  Still, I go when I can.

Fortunately I saw a trainer named Ben at my gym doing a UFC type of training and I was so excited! I asked him if he would train me and its been great.  He is such a creative trainer, always coming up with new tools and routines but my favorite is still the UFC, mixed martial arts routines. He’s also a super encouraging guy that makes me laugh.  We have great chemistry which is essential in finding a trainer or a friend for that matter.

I did it twice this week.  Make no mistake it is a hard workout.  I sweat like a marathon runner but it is so satisfying. I honestly never want to stop and only do so when my body revolts.

It’s also so exciting to see people watching me and I can tell they are thinking ‘wow, that fat girl can kick and punch’.  Booyah!  Everyone always sees me as this sweet smiling Mormon girl but there are other sides to me and how great to get that out in such a constructive and satisfying way.  I love it! It just goes to show that you should keep trying new things and thinking outside the box.  You never know when you will hit upon something that you not only like but are actually good at.  At the very least you will keep exercise interesting.

To me it the perfect contrast to swimming, which is all about fluidity and peace.  Boxing is tough, aggressive and exciting. The two makes for a perfect exercise life. Rahhh!

Here is a video of the training.  Doesn’t it look like fun? It’s so great!

Btw, I saw Warrior this week.  Loved it! Very inspiring with a good script and great acting.

GSL Open Water Swim 2012

So I did it.  After all the hard work, training, anxiety, practice and even a last minute sinus infection I made it!  I completed my goal and swam the Great Salt Lake Open Marathon Swim.

Hail the conquering hero! Me and my medal!

It was definitely the most difficult race I have done so far both physically and mentally.  They almost had to cancel the race because of wind storms that had come in but luckily they abated enough in the morning to allow us to go forward.  Nevertheless, it made for choppy ocean-like conditions.  To make matters worse it was too windy to put out the normal course buoys.  These are helpful during the race because you can measure your progress more easily than looking at the finish line.  You have more to sight off and it is mentally more encouraging to know ‘I’ve done a 1/4 mile or 1/2 mile.

With no buoys I had to press forward and there were more than one occasion where I wondered if I could do it.  At one point I did some back stroke just to relax a little and not feel so stressed.  It helped (I think the kayakers thought I was crazy when I did that!).   I stayed close to the kayakers and that was helpful because they had a better vantage point to the finish line.  Plus, they were very encouraging.  (I need all the encouragement I can get in the water).

When I was 1/3rd of the way through I developed a strategy that helped me get through the race.  I figured I could do 100 strokes at a time and that would make the race seem smaller, kind of mini-goals.  Plus, the counting gave me something else to think about besides ‘wow, this water is salty.’ or ‘how come that finish line isn’t getting any closer?’.  After the 100 strokes I did a little bit of breaststroke just to use my legs more and feel like I was sighting better, shake things up a bit.  Then I rested for 20 seconds.  I’m not saying this is the fastest strategy but on this day with this race it worked.

Done!

I always learn something from these swims that I take away for my life and that’s my take away this time- you don’t have to conquer the obstacle in one mass endeavor, that feels too daunting.  However, if you can divide it up into manageable portions you can accomplish just about anything.

This week I got a blessing from an elder in my church and it said ‘if I have faith I will swim well and my swim will be an example to others’.  When you are out in those storms it’s hard to have faith in yourself, in the hours practiced, in the time spent mentally and physically preparing, but is that not the essence of faith.  It is believing in something that you haven’t seen, like crossing the finish line.  If I could believe, I could keep swimming, and I MADE IT!

Here I am at the finish line:

Thanks so much for all your support and love.  I feel overwhelmed.  Thanks to all my swim friends for helping me and becoming some of my most dear friends.  Thanks to my family and other friends for all your love and support. Thanks to my trainers and coaches for your guidance and help. Thanks to Josh and Gordon and everyone else who gave so much to make the swim happen. Most importantly thanks to God and Jesus Christ who carry me through all challenges and believe in any goal I set.   I am so grateful.

Hurray!!!!!!

Kate, Esther and I at the finish line
Me, Kate and Esther- showing off our muscles and race ink!
Esther, Kate, Jim Hubbard (who originally introduced me to open water), and me
Me with my new friend Etsuko. Both Etsuko and Esther are new to open water and they did great!
A group of my swim friends at the finish line.

Fat Stigma Never Leaves

This is a fascinating book on the history of Fat Stigma. https://smilingldsgirl.wordpress.com/2011/05/13/fat-stigma/

I read this article this week about the lingering effects of fat stigma.  It kind of was a downer.  Basically the study showed women of identical height and weight, one that had lost 70 pounds of weight and another who was naturally thin.  “Those who had been obese in the past were perceived as less attractive than those who had always been thin, despite having identical height and weight.”

“The findings, published May 29 in the journal Obesity, suggest that the stigma of obesity is so powerful that it can continue even after an obese person has lost weight.”

Sigh…I guess its good I’m doing this for myself and not to please someone else.  I see that stigma exists with overweight individuals but I always assumed that stigma went away when the weight is lost.  You think it would make someone more attractive not less? I don’t get it.

Oh well, at least everyone in my life is supportive and as far as a dating stigma, what can you do? If God wants me to be with someone He will make it work. I have not given up the hope that there is someone out there who will be more impressed by my journey not less so.

Still, human beings confuse me sometimes!  Why do you think we have such stigma and why can’t we let go of such judgmental feelings?

Once-Obese Women Still Face Stigma, Study Finds

WEDNESDAY, May 30 (HealthDay News) — Even after they shed their excess pounds, formerly obese women still have to contend with “anti-fat prejudice,” according to a new study.

Researchers asked young women and men to read about women who had either lost 70 pounds of excess weight or had stayed the same weight (weight-stable), and who were either currently obese or currently thin.

The participants were then asked about some of the women’s attributes, including their attractiveness.

“We were surprised to find that currently thin women were viewed differently depending on their weight history,” study leader Janet Latner, of the University of Hawaii at Manoa, said in a news release from the University of Manchester, in England. “Those who had been obese in the past were perceived as less attractive than those who had always been thin, despite having identical height and weight.”

The participants also showed greater bias against obese people after they had read about women who had lost weight, compared to after reading about weight-stable women — regardless of whether the weight-stable women were thin or obese.

The findings, published May 29 in the journal Obesity, suggest that the stigma of obesity is so powerful that it can continue even after an obese person has lost weight.

The researchers said they were particularly troubled by the finding that participants’ negative attitudes towards obese people increased when they were falsely told that body weight is easily controlled.

“The message we often hear from society is that weight is highly controllable, but the best science in the obesity field at the moment suggests that one’s physiology and genetics, as well as the food environment, are the really big players in one’s weight status and weight loss,” study co-author Kerry O’Brien, from the University of Manchester School of Psychological Sciences and Monash University in Melbourne, in Australia, noted in the news release.

“Weight status actually appears rather uncontrollable, regardless of one’s willpower, knowledge and dedication. Yet many people who are perceived as ‘fat’ are struggling in vain to lose weight in order to escape this painful social stigma. We need to rethink our approaches to, and views of, weight and obesity,” O’Brien noted.

https://smilingldsgirl.wordpress.com/2011/12/07/fat-stigma-biggest-loser/