Mirrors and Your Life: Are You a Victim of This Sneaky Thief?

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Sunset on the Connecticut River: No Make Up Needed

I wonder when it starts. When do we start caring about that image staring back at us in the mirror? I do know babies love mirrors. Pets can be interesting in front of a mirror, too. I also noticed that 7 year old girls like mirrors, at least when they are shopping at  Justice, a popular girls clothing store (however, not sure if they are looking at themselves or the cool unicorns on the leggings they are trying on).  I remember when I belonged to a gym decades ago, usually going in the early evening when my children’s father  was home from work and they were ready for bed and I could finally escape. This particular gym had mirrors everywhere! Yes, I understand that it is important to have the right “form” when lifting some heavy weights, or apparently, you can hurt yourself (hence, the heaviest thing I lift is my vacuum cleaner). I never quite understood the exercising in front of the mirror thing, though. I also always felt a bit under-dressed in my jogging shorts and long tee shirt, when all the other women had on these interesting outfits….thongs were the rage back then with tights. To each their own, but all I was there for was the rubberized track so I could jog mindlessly around in circles, and relax until I felt the tensions of the day slip away. But those mirrors. Floor to ceiling, wall to wall. Not sure if those girls in the thongs could see themselves from the back, but my guess is they probably already checked it out at home before presenting themselves at the gym. Clearly, they liked what they saw in the mirror and felt good about it (I hope) because they went out in public like that. Like I said, to each their own.

Anyway, I decided to write about this topic because over the course of the past few weeks I have experienced various casual discussions with individuals from different parts of my life (family, friends, co-workers, etc.) that have to do with dealing with that image. That reflection of ourselves in the mirror. It struck me how much our appearance really matters (for some more than others).  What we are judging ourselves on varies from time to time, depending on our age, and what we might be going through. The change of seasons, especially going from winter to spring and summer seems to escalate the chatter about weight and dieting. Anxiety builds as the time gets closer for us to remove the secure layers we have enjoyed over the cold dreary winter months. People complain about weight gain and how they will appear in their shorts, if they can fit into them. Often people are focused on specific body parts, such as hips and thighs and butts and tummies (of course). As we age, changes in our bodies become ridiculous, and seem to happen overnight. A friend of mine tends to wear pretty scarves to kind of hide the inevitable changes to necks that happen after a certain age. Her mom told her that trick (funny, the only tricks my mom taught me have to do with cleaning and cooking…priorities, I guess). Anyway, I have discovered that if I lift my chin up high enough, and jut my jaw out, I can miraculously be rid of those seemingly new wrinkles under my neck…..although I look kind of weird and it is really hard to maintain, so I don’t walk around that way (often). And then, of course, we have the saggy arm issue and the veins. My old high school friends and I  got together recently over drinks and appetizers, and the conversation was pretty hysterical. We actually laughed out loud at what our topics of conversation have evolved into over the years. Before it was where we were going to get the beer, and how we were going to sneak out at night (and other things) and now it was all about veins and the horror a few of my friends have gone through to get rid of them. I know it is a medical issue however it was still struck us as funny. What have we become?! The mirror does not lie.

The very sad thing to me is the way mirrors literally steal time, precious hours away from some people. I remember a woman I knew who was married to a younger man. She was truly a “spiritual” person, into yoga and art and organic everything. However, whenever she would visit relatives she would be in the bathroom for over an hour to apply her make up. Somehow, she did not feel right with her natural face or whatever, so that she had to apply foundation (that creamy stuff that is the color or your skin and is supposed to cover imperfections?), and blush (to make it look like you are rosy and healthy?) and eye make up and lip stuff…..and VOILA. She missed some meals with us, but she looked good.

I regret the amount of time I wasted when I was young and hated my curly wavy hair. I spent hours in front of the mirror devising ways to wrap it and pin it and tape it and iron it just to make it be straight. It took me until I was in college and 20 years old to finally get it layered and let it go. I felt free. It was like I retired, and left a job I no longer had to do. My time was freed! I just had to wash my head and that was it. Why had I wasted so much time trying to change something that was naturally me just because I did not like what I saw in the mirror?

Don’t get me wrong, I think checking yourself out in the mirror is pretty normal. It is great to feel like you look pretty good and presentable when you leave for work in the morning. That your clothes are kind of clean and not too wrinkled, that your hair is not a mess, there isn’t anything stuck in your teeth. It’s all good. But sometimes, spending too much time checking yourself out, especially excessive scrutinizing of particular body parts can become a problem. Sometimes referred to as “body checking”, which is a common behavior among those with disordered eating, it can be detrimental. Besides spending lots of time scrutinizing yourself in the mirror, body checking might involve squeezing fat layers, or circling wrists or arms to feel if they are the same size, and have not changed and other self-checking behaviors. For those with disordered eating, body checking often leads to more restriction and may worsen behaviors. For others, excessive checking of our bodies may lead to anxiety about our bodies and even trigger eating issues.

And although I said “the mirror doesn’t lie”, for some it actually does. My experience with individuals with eating disorders proved to me that people can look in a mirror and see a totally different image that what everyone else in the world sees. I am guessing you may know someone who always “feels fat” and complains of this and when YOU look at them it is infuriating because you see a thin person. You want to say, and probably have,”you are not fat! you are so skinny!” and find this does not help. Try not to get mad at someone who does this because to them, they see something different. Some people tend to “distort” what they see in the mirror and you will never understand or convince them otherwise. And if you experience these extreme feelings yourself, If you find that you can’t stop with some of these behaviors, and it is truly occupying too much of your day, consider seeking some support from a therapist who specializes in body image issues. Don’t let the mirror and body checking consume your life.

Even if you can’t relate to excessive body checking, and you are just a typical person who wants to be sure they are presentable, it is still important to be aware of how you feel when you look in the mirror. Ask yourself, how much of my time to I give to judging my appearance? Am I trying too hard to change the real me? Is it worth it? Am I accepting of the natural changes that occur with age? Remember, there is no right answer to any of these questions. Only YOU can judge what is important to you. It may well be worth it to take the time to wrap that scarf around your neck to cover what you may feel are imperfections that you have not gotten used to yet. If if makes you feel better, why not? Scarves are lovely, and even young women who have nothing to hide wear them all the time. And by all means, apply that make up if you like it! I love my under eye stuff which takes 10 seconds to apply but is magical and prevents me from having to answer people who ask “are you tired? you look so tired!” when I forget to put it on. Some women just love makeup, and if that is you, then have at it. But if putting on makeup is an hour long ordeal and feels like a job, then why let the mirror steal those hours from your life?

And when it comes to your body, ask yourself, how many minutes am I scrutinizing my body in the mirror? If it is a quick check after you get dressed to walk out the door, then no big deal. If you got a new outfit for a wedding, and you can’t help admiring yourself for a bit longer than a minute before you walk out the door, oh well. It is fun to dress up sometimes.  If you have a new purchase you aren’t sure about and have to check yourself out ten times before deciding to return it, no big deal. But, if you find yourself spending an hour glaring at your body with negative thought running through your mind that just make you feel awful, well, that is a different story. Try to give up some of that time in front of the mirror. Work on the words you are saying to yourself (that “self-talk” always going on in your brain). Try to make it more complimentary, (you look pretty good for an old lady!) even if you don’t believe it at first. Fake it till you make it, they say. But, if you are struggling with feeling good about yourself then maybe it is time to seek out some help.

Finally, ask yourself what YOU notice in other people. Do you really notice if someone has makeup on or not? Do you notice the veins in anyone’s legs? Do you really care about anyone’s saggy arms or chin? The first thing I notice about a person is the expression on their face. Are they smiling and happy? Are they kind? Are they genuine? Are they unique? Do they make me laugh? That is what is important to me, and I am guessing that is what is important to you, too. Then why judge yourself in ways you would never judge others? Two of my favorite people often dress up as chickens and a moose outfit just to entertain kids at our school. And everyone loves them. Does it really matter what you wear or how you look?

Don’t let the mirror steal your life away.

The Gift of Good Enough

When my son turned a year old, I made him a Choo Choo Train cake. It did not look like this. It kind of resembled a train “wreck” if you ask me. The frosting was kind of thick and it definitely did not have great wheels. I am not artistic but for some reason, since he was my first (and only) son, I thought he should have a train. When I look back, I realize no matter how bad I felt about the appearance of that very important cake, it was good enough. Now, he lives in a different time zone, and he has a birthday coming up, and I bet he would love to have me there making him a cake and would not care at all what it looked like. And neither would I.

Although this is a “nutrition blog” the idea of “good enough” is relevant. It doesn’t only apply to baking the perfect looking birthday cake for your child. It applies to all aspects of life, and especially to eating (and exercise). I have observed that many people tend to turn to food and eating to feel better about not being “good enough” in some aspect of their lives. I also have seen people avoid eating and starve themselves because they don’t feel “good enough”. Let’s face it, people, women especially, are super critical of their bodies. They are NEVER good enough. I don’t think it is always about comparing yourself to others, but often just being hypercritical of yourself. I have witnessed both women and men be critical of their bodies (but mostly women, probably because we women spend more time on things like appearance….unfortunately). Much of the time the discussions focus on weight loss but sometimes I notice we tend to over-scrutinize body parts. Butts too big or too flat, legs too flabby, arms too thin, chest too small or too big, hips too big or no hips at all. I am always fascinated when I get the chance to people watch on a beach. It is so glaringly obvious how different we all are when it comes to our bodies. Tall, short, muscular or not, round, straight, long legged, short legged, even kids and teens all differ. Dark, light, red headed, brown or black or white haired, curly, straight, bald. No two people look alike. And yet, we still scrutinize as if we can change things, and even worse, when we can’t we blame ourselves.

It is not only our bodies that we want to perfect, it is our eating. I absolutely love those nutrition-innocent adults I know who “just eat”. They don’t read labels, they don’t analyze every ingredient, and they definitely don’t jot it all down in their app. They may be healthy eaters or not-so-healthy eaters, but still, I just love them,probably because in my world it is refreshing to be around people who are not obsessed with it all. Yes, I do preach healthy eating and totally believe in the fact that you do feel better when you tend to eat a variety of healthy foods on a regular basis.But is it really necessary to find that one bar with less than 5 grams of sugar? What if it does have 10 grams but also has protein and fiber and tastes good? 5 extra grams of sugar translates into 20 calories. Do you really think that will matter? Yet, I have overheard people talking about things as minute as this, just to be a “perfect” eater. There are other things people monitor, and actually, some things definitely worth avoiding (such as trans fat). But when we take it to extremes, it just creates stress (not good for health).

Besides bodies, and eating, many people also have unrealistic expectations about exercise. I had a wonderful experience awhile ago with working with a young woman who was not feeling too energetic and thought maybe eating better would help. As it turned out, she was not sleeping well at all. She had recently moved and previously had been working out at the gym for 2 hours a day. Now, she just did not have the time so she stopped. She admitted to being an “all or nothing” kind of person, and said that if she could not do a full 2 hour workout, it wasn’t worth it. I shared with her some recent article I read stating that even 30 minutes of walking daily helped people sleep better. Anyway, I asked if she thought she might be able to incorporate something like that in her life to see if it helped, even though it was not her “perfect” workout. She agreed to try. Only a week later, she came in all energetic and happy. “This changed my life!” she said. Apparently, just adding in the walking helped her sleep which made her feel so much better. We also tweaked a few things in her diet (her snacks and lunch were lacking protein and so she was crashing pretty regularly). After adding in some protein sources and the walking (both doable) she felt much better. The best part of all in my mind was that she was able to do it despite her old “all or nothing” frame of mind. She was totally ready to change from that paralyzing way of life and embrace normalcy. It is not always that easy.

Anyway, I think we all can relate to being somewhat picky about certain things in our lives. We had fun at work the other day talking about all the things we had some OCD (obsessive compulsiveness) about. I just can’t leave dishes in the sink at night (it needs to be empty in the morning). I also can’t be late for anything. I used to have to stop on the treadmill when I was finished (say 3 miles, or 2 miles, but could never stop at 2.5). Now, I stop on some off number just on purpose (2.33 miles, or 2.71 or even 3.2). I do this just to challenge myself and stop being so silly. When I shared that with some co-workers they all cringed. It really bothered one person especially, and she said “Ugh! I could never do that!”

Has anyone every accused YOU of being a “perfectionist”? Can you relate to some of these scenarios? You might enjoy this article on perfectionism in Psychology Today

In the meantime, just for fun, why not challenge yourself? Don’t read that label. Don’t jot it down in that app. Skip the gym and go for a walk. Or stop on the treadmill (or bike or elliptical) on an off number. How does it feel?

And next time you are at the beach, or anywhere for that matter where you are people watching, embrace the beautiful diversity. And remember, “good enough” is a gift you can give yourself.

 

Clothing Statements: What Message are YOU Sending?

IMG_2649I love people-watching. The other night my husband and I went out for what was supposed to be a quick bite somewhere outside, but turned into a somewhat late night of watching the band that happened to be there………and dancing the night away. The outdoor venue we went to is a casual place that serves pretty good Italian food, pizza and bar food. We like it because it is not too expensive and has a nice big outdoor patio with umbrellas if you want shade. At the time we arrived it was pretty quiet. But as the band started setting up around 8 pm, people started trickling in. LOTS of people. We were planted in a good spot with a seat where we had a great view of everything. I had a fleeting thought that I should have worn something different had I known I was out for a night of dancing (especially because I was noticing that the newcomers were kind of dressed to the nines). I had thrown on a striped tee-shirt kind of dress I picked up at Marshall’s for about 12.99 which was super cool and comfortable, perfect for a muggy hot summer night. My shoes really didn’t match, as they were black Aerosole wedge sling-backs which feel like slippers. Anyway, I felt like I had my jammies on and I like that feeling. But somehow I initially felt a bit under-dressed as I saw (the women especially) strutting in with super high heels, low cut revealing slinky dresses, fancy short shorts and other glittery, attention-grabbing outfits. The men however did not seem to bother much as I can’t remember even one of their outfits grabbing my attention…..with the exception of one young man who had a really nice blazer and crisp shirt with nice slacks on and I wondered for a second if he might be a Trump…they always look nice like that. Or maybe he just came from work. He looked really hot (in a temperature sort of way) as it was about 90 degrees out, but anyway, he did stick out.

I ended up striking up a conversation with a very young woman who sat on a stool near us and seemed to be alone at first. She had a tatoo on her shoulder which appeared to be a poem or something, hard to read so of course I had to ask. She looked very different from most of the other young women there, as she was dressed in a hippie type fringed crop top with jeans, flip flops, straight black hair and looking kind of Moricia-ish (think Adam’s family). Anyway, she informed me that it was an excerpt from Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road”. Come to find out she was the lead singer’s girlfriend and she worked at a large law firm in Stamford. She was deceivingly intelligent (I admit to pre-judging her because of her appearance and her vapor pipe as probably a bit spacey. I was wrong). After a very cerebral discussion of politics and music, she left and I continued to look around and wonder what all the other stories were in this place. Clearly, you can’t judge a book by it’s cover but some people send out strong messages by the way they present themselves which makes it kind of hard to avoid making assumptions.

That night got me to thinking about how what we choose to wear sends out a message. Our outfits say something about us that we may not realize. I also wonder how many people torture themselves because of clothes. When I worked as a dietitian in a practice of therapists who specialized in treating eating disorders, we always got ready for the predictable surge in relapse of our patients right before prom season and before the start of summer. Starving and restricting to fit into a certain dress or dieting to get ready to display your half naked body on the beach was the norm for many of our patients. I am guessing the average person engages in similar body struggles and extremes of behavior but for those lucky ones, the urge passes and goes away and they are able to deal with the body God gave them. For others, just because of the clothing of the season, they are sent into yet another downward spiral that is never easy to bounce out of.

I have already written about the aging thing and women and our struggles with clothing, but the message we are sending because of what we wear is also interesting, no matter what our age. My point is not to change anyone, because if what you wear makes you happy, who cares about the message you send to those who might happen to be people-watching? The people who love you, your friends and family, those who really count know who you are. But what troubles me is when people (myself included) dress according to what they think is expected, and NOT according to who they are or what is comfortable to them. I am not referring to dress codes at work, such as at the school where I work. We are allowed to wear shorts in the summer, but they need to pass the “fingertip rule”. In other words, when your arms are by your side, your shorts should not be shorter than were your fingertips end. Apparently, we got some girls with really really short arms. And this, I don’t get really. Why does someone need to wear short shorts to work? My only guess is either they are single and want to attract attention from one of their co-workers (who are wonderful young men who work with special needs kids, so definitely lots of great catches in that school!). Or maybe, to give them the benefit of the doubt, they honestly don’t own any other shorts, and it truly has been hot this summer. But my guess is the former, or something else altogether.

Anyway, I am not referring to dress codes, but to the habit of people dressing in a certain way because they want to portray an image that really is not them. For example, that night we were out dancing there were several young women I noticed wearing revealing shirts and dresses but fidgeting to fix things. Pulling up the bust, yanking down the bottom of the skin tight dress to cover things, fixing straps, lots of work going on. Balancing the spiky heels walking across the brick patio was also fun to watch. I wondered why, what message they were trying to send. Maybe it is just a human thing, like the way birds and peacocks and other wildlife do things with their feathers and such to attract the opposite sex. But if this is the case, wouldn’t you want to attract someone who likes you when you are wearing what is truly you?

I am not innocent of wearing things that are definitely not me (and NOT wearing things that ARE me). I have a few pairs of tighter straight leg jeans that I wear when I go out and want to look like I am in style. I prefer my baggier loose jeans with the holes in them. I have a brown cowboy straw hat my husband bought for me at a fair the first year we dated, and I love it. But I never wear it in public places because I don’t want anyone looking at me thinking I am weird. I do wear in at the beach to cover my face from the sun when I am sitting on a blanket (but I am too embarrassed to walk around with it). It’s too bad because it is me.

I have also purchased flowing loose shirts that make me feel like I am back in the 70’s yet when I put them on and look in the mirror I look a little ridiculous. Those I wear anyway. I love the new styles of loose flowing shirts, even though I look lost in them, I wear those anyway too. And the ones with the cut-out shoulders. My older sister hates them, but to me they are genius. Hot flash heaven, air-conditioning.

Dress codes and human courting behavior aside, have you ever reflected on the reasons you wear what you wear? Do you find yourself feeling uncomfortable a lot of the time because you are dressing to impress others at the expense of being yourself? Do you torture your body with starvation or dieting just to wear a certain article of clothing? Do you feel happy and comfortable when you walk out of the door? My advice is to be yourself. Be comfortable, wear what makes YOU feel good.

And, a quote from Jack Kerouac:

“the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes “Awww!”
― Jack KerouacOn the Road

 

Body Size and Eating Habits: STOP Judging!Please?

little-girl-1430293I saw an article this week on Twitter that really disturbed me. It was about “thin privilege”, and it showed a post with two pictures that went viral….one of a thin young woman getting ready to eat a gigantic burger and fries, and the other of a young (larger size) young lady on the beach. The comments were offensive, I don’t even want to repeat it. The bottom line was that the thin woman was found appealing because she was eating but the larger woman was insulted. It made me think about my own experiences with patients who have spent half their precious lives dealing with these issues.  Feeling embarrassed for eating in front of people, wondering what others thought of them as they ate.

If you have never had any issues with weight then you may not relate, but for those of you who have dieted, or had issues with weight, well, you will get it. We like to pretend all are created equal, but it unfortunately just is not true. In the past year the racists seem to have crept out of the woodwork, and we all understand racism. I am hoping most of us know that the color of our skin or our country of origin does not predict who we are. Even I know (although I like to joke about it) that all Italian women do not love to cook and feed people…just the ones I grew up with. It’s a stereotype. Well, the same thing happens with people depending on their size. We make judgments (out of our ignorance, just as racism is out of ignorance). Most people do not have a clue about how our bodies work and the physiology around body size and weight. We make assumptions about people depending on how they look.

If someone is very large and big we assume they overeat or stuff themselves, they have no willpower. People wonder why they would do something like that, and put their health in jeopardy. How awful.

And then there is that skinny person. They must have willpower to be that thin. They care about their health, they must eat lots of vegetables for sure, and exercise. We really look up to these thin, strong willed healthy people. We wish we could be like them and do that too. Or, we make assumptions about them. They must have an eating disorder, why else would they be that thin? They should just eat a cheeseburger, for heaven’s sake.

Well, guess what. It is all a bunch of baloney. That skinny person you are assuming is healthy might just be living on Coke and chips. Their blood pressure might be horrifying, and maybe they have high cholesterol. They might smoke a pack a day and be out of luck if they need to catch a bus because they can’t run more than 2 feet. Or, maybe their entire life they have tried to gain weight, but they take after dad’s side of the family, all tall and thin and no matter what they eat, they can’t gain weight. They get called names all their lives, made fun of for being too skinny, as if there is anything they can do to change it. They hide under clothes, layers of them so hopefully nobody will notice their skinny arms.

And that obese young woman you have sneered at and wondered why she doesn’t take care of herself? Well, she may have the blood pressure of a teenager, and the flexibility of a yoga teacher. She may eat more veggies in a week than you eat in a lifetime. She may eat less fast food than you. And, I am guessing, she has more willpower in her left pinky than you have in your entire body. Because, if she has experienced what most larger people have, she has dieted in her life. She (or he) probably have given in to the pressure to change. Have you ever tried to follow a diet? If you haven’t because you have been BLESSED with the metabolism and brain chemistry and genetics to be thin then I promise you, just like any human being you would not be able to do it….as long as most larger people have done it. Yes, they diet and lose some weight but BECAUSE IT IS NOT THEIR FAULT their bodies and brains fight against this. For a good article explaining why diets don’t work and what happens to some people’s metabolism after dieting check out:

TIME Magazine article “The Weight Loss Trap”    

So, unfortunately, when weight is lost quickly and then regained often our metabolism lowers and makes it even harder. So that person who originally wanted to lose a bit of weight finds her or himself after the diet with more weight than they started with. What often happens is that person tries to diet again, and the cycle begins. And the judgment from others is even worse. This makes me sad because the weightism from others leads people to diet, regain weight and then some, and then they are subject to even more of it.

I know there are a lot of people who will continue to judge. My hope is to help people be more empathetic by understanding that we are all different. For example, our brains and digestive system are connected by a complex system of neurochemicals that act as messengers or hormones to tell us what and how much to eat. For example, there is a messenger referred to a PYY that tells your brain you are full. Some people release it very quickly and want to stop eating even before they even finished a meal. You know those people, the ones who leave a quarter of a sandwich or who can’t finish their fries (what??!) This has NOTHING to do with willpower, they were born this way. Then there are those with less effective PYY and their brains just don’t get the message. They aren’t full. You wonder, “wow, how did they finish that?” It is not gluttony my friends, it is probably their chemistry. They were born with it. So stop judging. How would you like to walk around feeling starving all the time? It can’t be fun in this world we live in. And sometimes, some people have amazing willpower and have succeeded in ignoring their chemistry and have lost weight but the message eventually wins, and they give in. Think of a time when you really really really had to pee. Like when you are on a road trip in the middle of nowhere. If someone said to you, “you need to have some willpower and wait until tomorrow!” how would you feel? Well, that physiological signal that is telling your brain that you need to urinate is just as strong as the one that tells someone they need to eat something. It is not about willpower. It is about physiology. So we need to stop blaming.

If, like me, you don’t know much about “Thin Privilege” check out this website which I stumbled upon and liked (it is a feminist website, so if you are not of like-mind you may not like it but I hope you are):Thin Privilege

And next time you find yourself wondering how someone could eat that, or why on earth they can’t finish their meal…..just stop and focus on yourself. Just as I hope you look beyond skin color or race or nationality or sexual preference or religion or any other meaningless definition of someone’s goodness, I hope you look beyond someone’s body size and definitely beyond what someone is eating. Thank you.

Women and Their Aging Bodies: Not That Fun, But Then again…

Image may contain: 5 people, people smiling, people standing and people dancing
Mom and me dancing the night away at my nephew’s wedding

I did something really stupid about 2 years ago. Those of you over 50 but still stuck in your brain like you are still in your late 20’s will totally get it.  Well, I have never been athletic and have never liked team sports and definitely never participated in them. I hated that mile run in school because, well quite frankly, I could not run a mile when I was in high school. BUT, I could do a mean cartwheel. As a kid I would spend my time on the swing set and monkey bars, in my own little world. I admired my friend Terry who was an amazing gymnast (this was in grammar school) and she got me doing cartwheels, splits and hand stands. I would spend hours trying to perfect my back walkover, and eventually I could do it. I was so flexible, it was easy back then. In college I resorted to yoga since doing cartwheels around campus might be weird. I was good at it, able to touch my feet to my head, do handstands and back bends with ease. But as time went on, and I got older, I transitioned into biking and jogging and belly dancing classes with my friends. Well, it never occurred to me that I would lose my flexibility and strength. Until I decided to show off one day. I can’t remember who I was showing off for, maybe it was one of my 20 something year old kids but anyway, I went to do a cartwheel in the yard and it was not pretty. My arms gave way, I almost landed on my head were it not for my elbows hitting first. I was appalled, and frankly, kind of scared. What the heck??! Doing a cartwheel was nothing! and yet, there I was, almost with a cracked head.  I tried again, but very carefully, and determined, but yes, it was true. I can’t do it. And then, it dawned on me that something had happened. I might be thinking and feeling great, like I did way back then, but my body had changed. My arms could not hold me up. This was not good.

I went through a phase of trying to do something about it. I started practicing standing on my head…the easy way, you know, leaning against a wall. One problem….my neck hurt. Oh great, now even my neck is weak. Then I decided I was going to practice my back bends, and do a back bend by Christmas. This plan did not work (despite my husband promising to give me a monetary reward). I just was not motivated because doing a back bend did not benefit my life in any way. Yet, this lack of flexibility has bothered me so much that I made a plan to stretch over the winter. I am a firm believer in habits, and that you can create a healthy habit just as easily as you create a not so healthy habit. So every morning over the winter I incorporated toe touching and stretching exercises with my morning coffee and the news (which I watched anyways, so it was easy….10-20 minutes in front of the TV, not bad, kind of relaxing, 2 birds with one stone). It did work and by the end of the winter I was touching my toes with ease. Then came spring and flower season and those precious minutes in the morning had to be spent watering my garden and talking to the bunnies….so needless to say, my flexibility has lost its priority in my life.

Besides my inability to do a cartwheel or a handstand or a back bend…..there have been other changes I am not too fond of. I am guessing I am not alone. I am talking about eyesight. I have always been blessed with 20/20 vision and for that I am grateful. Yes, I went through the typical phase where you have to hold the menu 2 feet from your face to read it (I think this happens in your 40’s?) Anyway, I bought the cheap reader glasses and that solved the problem. But then I turned 50 and something else happened. Darkness. When it was dark, I could not see. So driving at night becomes an issue when you can’t see the exit until you are on top of it. Or read the signs. I finally had to admit, I needed an eye doctor to see what was going on. Long story short, I needed glasses. Expensive ones which I lost twice, so changed to disposable contacts because I lose things and that solved that problem (until I left them in overnight, because I forgot to take them out, loss of memory another issue but another topic). When you leave disposable contacts in overnight and try to get them out in the morning, you can cause a corneal abrasion which hurts and is not fun. But at least this sudden loss of night vision is treatable.

What isn’t treatable (unless you are a millionaire and kind of vain) is what happens to your skin. I can only speak for myself but it was kind of nice in just one way when I couldn’t see because when I looked in the mirror, I thought it was pretty cool that I wasn’t really getting many wrinkles. Wrong. When I got my contacts I was a bit flabbergasted. Not only could I see that my bathroom floor really DID get dirty (I always wondered how it stayed so clean…it was because I could not see the dirt)….anyway, I could now see my wrinkles. The only ones I really was not a fan of was the ones around my neck. I toyed with the idea of a bread clip in the back of my neck. It kind of works to pull everything back (but this technique is not comfortable, and I am all about comfort). Scarves work, but who wants to always where a scarf? If you hold your head high that helps. But it gets tiring. So making peace with these new neck wrinkles is the only answer.

Besides the neck, I have noticed my arms are starting to look like the principal from my elementary school. Mrs. Torrent was her name and she was terrifying. Back in my day, they were allowed to spank us if we misbehaved at school. Mrs. Torrent had a giant thick silver leather strap that she would whip the bad kids with. When she would point with her arm to walk a certain direction you shook in your shoes and went that way. Her arms shook too. She had these skinny arms with hanging skin that shook when she pointed in her dramatic scary way. And when I saw the picture of me dancing with my mom (above) all I thought was, dang, I am Mrs. Torrent.

Hair is another issue. I am not someone who has energy to put into hair. As a result, my head usually looks like a bit of a contrived mess. My issue is the skunk look. I am not ready to go gray. I am not sure why, maybe just that I don’t like the color gray. I do like white and if I was guaranteed that my hair would be the pure beautiful white that my grandmother had, or my mom now has (who says her hair was gray first, so maybe, just maybe if I am patient, there is hope). I love white. I am working on this shallow concern of mine. I just have not figured it out yet.

There are other issues that bother some other women I know who are getting older and not thrilled about the changes.  The tendency for the fat on our bodies to migrate to our tummies from our butts. Women for some reason (guessing culturally) have a big issue with belly fat. Yes, excessive belly fat is associated with some health issues, but if it is just natural aging belly fat, and your cholesterol and insulin and all your labs are normal then you have nothing to worry about. I absolutely love the new looser fashions and even the new bathing suit styles that are looser and more comfortable so that those of us who are no longer into wearing bikinis have really pretty things to wear. Although, I am all for anyone wearing anything they feel comfortable in. I totally loved the energy of the elderly women on the beach we visited on a cruise that stopped in Tortola and Virgin Gorda in the Caribbean. As I sat there on my towel feeling somewhat self-conscious in my two-piece, a women just strolled out of the water with NOTHING but a bathing suit bottom. Nobody blinked. She sat on her towel with her hubby and basked in the sun. I was jealous. I wish I had that confidence, but then again, we clearly grew up in different cultures that focused on different things. She was way older than me.

Despite all the things I am not thrilled with, there is much more that I am SO happy and grateful for. If you are, like me, noticing changes that might be throwing you a bit and making you think that you need to do something, take a moment to think of all the good things about getting older as a woman. To me, this is what I am grateful for:

  1. Knowing, through my years of experience, what is important. That someone’s energy and heart and soul is what matters, not the wrinkles on their neck or the gray roots coming in. The people I crave to be around have much more that straight brown hair or strong arms or a flat stomach. I need character and a loving and generous heart. Those who fight for a cause or care about the helpless, elderly, homeless, hungry and poor, those are the beautiful people.
  2. I am so grateful for health. Health is something worth working towards. Everyone is different so you need to do what works for you. To me, health does not really mean being able to do a cartwheel or a handstand, but it does mean being able to get up if I fall down, lifting a bag of topsoil, pushing my lawn mower, lifting my laundry basket up the stairs, and being able to bike along my favorite bike path for an hour or two. It means having the energy to make it up the multiple flights of stairs in a village in Cinque Terre Italy to be able to get to that restaurant on the top of that mountain to have a glass of red wine and watch the sun set. It means having the energy and stamina to hike down the Grand Canyon Angel Trail and make it to the bottom to camp at Phantom Ranch, and then hike back out (on my bucket list). Your idea of health may be different, but what you want for your life is what matters.
  3. The gift of time. As I get older, I am realizing that time, well, it is a slippin’ away. It feels more priceless now. So much so that I am getting a little bit better at saying no. I am guessing lots of women my age are feeling it too. We want to spend our time wisely, doing the things that mean the most to us. For me, that means being with family and friends, although my work time fills me up with more than most people have at work, and for that I am grateful. I also spend less time on having the perfectly clean house or the perfectly weeded garden. It is good enough. Good enough is now one of my favorite phrases (right along with “Here’s to….!”). Yes, time is more precious now.
  4. Comfort. Being comfortable is a priority for me now. For some reason, I can no longer stand tight clothing or belts. My shoes need to be Naturalizer or Aerosoles. I can’t wear anything itchy. I am guilty of wearing pajama bottoms underneath a long dress to work.  I have several blankets in my house for anyone who stays over to cuddle on a couch or wherever (the garden swing, fire pit, patio). I promote coziness.

I could go on and on, but my husband is waiting for me and our nightly “date on the couch” where we watch some silly show that we tape so that we get to eventually unwind at the end of the night. Yes, life is short, wrinkles and gray hair come but, in the end, if you have energy to dance the night away (like my 85 year old mom), then well, maybe getting older is not that bad. Although, if I am honest, I really do want to do a cartwheel again. And if I do get there, you will be the first to know it!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Beauty Trap:Can You Escape It?

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Beauty is a loving dad

I don’t remember his name but I will call him Jake. I was a sophomore in college and had just transferred to a new school, and Jake was the guy all the girls were smitten with. He had a perfect head of long blond hair (hey, it was the 70’s!) and a nice tan with perfect straight white teeth. His smile melted us. So you can imagine how excited (and nervous) I was when he actually asked ME on a date! I can’t remember the details, just that he picked me up in some clunky car and away we drove to go get a bite at the local ice cream parlor. He smiled politely, but pretty much said nothing. I remember struggling to engage him in a conversation. What I thought was going to be a dreamy evening turned out to be one of the longest nights I ever had. I could not wait to get home. I was bored out of my mind. Nothing against poor Jake, but his beauty did not help at all. I knew I could never torture myself like this again, and when he dropped me off I was so relieved, but also disappointed. He was so cute, I guess I just assumed he would be fun too. Nope. I was only 19 years old but this was a good lesson.

This has happened again in my life where I may have had expectations or made assumptions just because of appearance. I remember another time when I met Scott, a man who my husband had hired to do some work at the house. He rang the doorbell, and there he stood, gigantic arms with tattoos everywhere he had skin. He looked like a scary biker, the kind of guy you might be afraid of. But this guy was one of the sweetest men I have ever met in my life. I felt bad for having that initial feeling of fear. How stupid.

I don’t think I am the only one who has made the mistake of making assumptions by the way someone looks. In our culture, in my opinion, we are somewhat brainwashed about “beauty”. People make money off of selling “beauty”and companies play off of this. For example, being thin is in, and diet products and clothing that makes you look thinner sells. Being young is also a good thing for sure so any product that makes you look younger is really appealing. Women in particular (if you ask me) get sucked in. Women want to feel pretty. Not sure why I don’t like that word, pretty. I think it is old-fashioned and feels shallow. I do like the word “beauty” though. So let’s talk about beauty.

When I was young, say back in high school, I thought straight hair was beautiful. That is probably because the style back then was straight long hair, and I had curly long hair. It was a nightmare when it rained. The iron worked but was a pain and eventually I invented a technique that was even better than ironing. I would wash my hair, pull it back into a low ponytail, split that ponytail in half and wrap each half around my head and secure with bobby pins. In the morning my hair would be dry, I would remove the bobby pins and ponytail and except for a few telltale bumps from the bobby pins my hair was somewhat straight. Unless it rained. I wasted a lot of time and emotional energy caring about something as insignificant as hair. I have had friends who have lost their hair because of chemotherapy. I should have appreciated God’s gift of a head full of curly brown hair. But I didn’t.

These days I look at “beauty” with a whole different lens. Think for a minute about someone you know who when you met them was not thrown by their “beauty”. Maybe they did not have Jake’s perfect white teeth, or that perfectly blonde head of hair. But then you got to know them and they were the most beautiful person you knew. They are that person who makes you smile when you are down. Maybe you have witnessed them helping someone in need. Or maybe they are that person who never complains and takes on all the work nobody wants to do. In my world I encounter so many people like this. They make me smile and laugh. They go above an beyond. They take the time to stop and engage a special needs child. They wear funny hats just to make people happy. They put on costumes not caring that they might look like a fool to most normal adults, but they do it anyway because they know people will smile and be so much happier because of it. Those people who might fry dough for 120 people they work for because they want to make an event special. They aren’t getting paid extra for this mind you, it is just because. Or, that nurse who allows the same boy with Down’s Syndrome to come into the office with a fake illness just to get a hug. …..to witness that is witnessing beauty.  Yes, I really don’t notice the texture of someone’s hair or the number of tattoos anymore. And I definitely don’t care about the wrinkles on anyone’s face. Beauty radiates in a different way, and unfortunately, we don’t always see it.

I do sometimes question myself, and wonder why it is that I feel so much better when I buy something new to wear. Am I being shallow? I am falling into that trap, the one we buy into that says we have to look a certain way? I just bought a new dress for a wedding, in a gorgeous dark salmon, so simple and elegant and comfortable and appropriate for my age and I love it. It makes me feel, well, good. I can’t lie, I love new clothes (that are on sale especially), and that are comfortable and look good on me (in my mind, and that is hard when you get older, just saying). So maybe I am not free from that beauty trap if wearing certain clothes makes me happy. But at least I am proud of myself when it comes to pocketbooks and shoes….I don’t like pocketbooks with the letter C on them…I know that means something and many women I know and love just adore pocketbooks. They have an appreciation I just can’t relate to. And I am happy about that because it saves me lots of money. You might notice if you know me that I always have my black pocketbook I got at TJ Maxx. Apparently, it is a designer one, but I did not know it, it just serves my needs perfectly, was not too expensive and is very durable. And black goes with everything. A new pocketbook does not make me happy, although new clothes often do For a little while. It doesn’t last.

The bottom line is focusing on the outside, I have found at least, is not what makes me happy or feel good about myself. Making someone laugh or smile does make me feel good. When I look at someone now, when I don’t know them yet, I don’t know if they are beautiful. I now know that it takes time to see who they are. Then beauty comes through (or not). It makes me sad sometimes how many people (women especially, at least in my experience) don’t see their beauty. They look in the mirror and they look at the wrong things. They make up the stuff in their own minds as to what they are looking for in themselves that may meet the standards of beauty. They buy into the stuff our culture or the media pushes us to think is the only thing that matters if you want to feel beautiful. Back then it was straight hair. Now, it is a number of things that seem to change depending on what is trending. It may be being skinny, being muscular, having a bigger butt, tattoos, rainbow hair, who knows…..if you try to keep up, you lose yourself. Eventually.

I think it would be much cooler to make up our own definition of beauty. Face it. In real life, who are the people you are drawn to? Who are the people you want to emulate? Who do you want your children to be like? It has nothing to do with anything like clothing or hair or body shape. Beauty to me means kindness and acceptance and a sense of caring, and humor or course, modesty and humility, being grateful and forgiving. You may have your own definition. I challenge you to come up with one, your own definition of beauty. One that has nothing to do with outside appearance and everything to do with what is truly important to you.

And the next time you look in the mirror and curse your frizzy hair or anything else staring back at you, I hope you stop and see what others see.

 

 

Trying to Lose Weight? 5 Reasons You Should Never Have a “Goal Weight”

Mannequins head“I want to look like a supermodel” she said. Her answer to my simple question of “how can I help you” threw me. “Have you ever seen a supermodel?” I asked. “No” she said. “Then how do you know you want to look like one?” was my response. She was a young woman who needed some nutrition guidance, referred to me by someone who was worried about her eating habits. Although I loved her brutal honesty, I had to regroup to figure out what direction to go with this. Before I did anything I needed to find out much more. Oh, and she had a very specific weight in mind that she felt would accomplish this goal.

As is usually the case, when someone is bent on focusing on such a specific physical goal, there usually are other matters going on. I was relieved to hear that she had a therapist so I proceeded to find out more regarding her eating and exercise habits before I rushed into education and explaining why wanting to look like a supermodel was not a reasonable goal. To be clear, although this is a true story, it could be anyone I have seen over the past 30 years (and although I am changing a bit of the specifics as I usually do, her eating and lifestyle are not unusual and could be anyone’s). It was her statement about the supermodel that was a bit more direct than any I have heard, as usually people don’t come out and admit this. Somehow, deep down, I am guessing most of us understand this is not a smart goal and would never say it out loud.

The funny thing is when I asked her if she had ever actually seen a supermodel, she said “no” but then asked “have you?” I answered yes, because I had worked with a male model years ago who gave me lots of details about the unhealthy behaviors the models did before a shoot. Basically, they would starve and dehydrate themselves to look “cut” and then when the work was done, the binge eating began. Clearly, the image you saw in the finished photo was not the image of a body that was natural or that could be maintained more than a week or two (without serious consequences, such as hospitalization due to dehydration which happens often). Or worse. Yes, there are many people who are naturally super-tall and super-thin, and there may indeed be models who eat normally. In his situation however, this was not the case.

Anyway, it was her honest statement that motivated me to write about the insanity of having weight goals. I realized that so many people go blindly on their way getting themselves into ridiculous, stressful, self-esteem damaging lifestyles that sometimes go on for years, all because of a stupid “weight goal”. I hate numbers in general, and when it comes to a fluid, changing, living body, something that will never be static, never be the same day to day, I dislike the use of numbers even more. What baffles me sometimes is how a person decides on the magical number. In many cases, people pick a number from their past. “When I was in high school, I fit into size ‘x’ and I weighed 140 pounds, so that is what I should weigh”, or “I read that ‘famous model/actress so and so’ is my height and weighs ‘x’ so that is what I should weigh”. And on and on. For most of the people I have seen, there is no way to reach that magical weight and live a life in any healthy, sane or even safe way.

You might be wondering “what is the big deal? Why not have a definite goal in mind?”  Here are the 5 reasons to forget about weight goals:

  1. Your body has a “Set-point” weight range it will fight to keep. I think of my father who was living proof of the meaning of “set-point” weight range. He was someone who I believe truly listened to his hunger cues and ate what he wanted. Being a traditional Italian and growing up with salami, sausage, fried peppers, Parmesan and fresh Italian bread he knew nothing about calories or nutrition. This is not why he ate. He ate the foods he loved and the meals my mom cooked. Every Sunday was pasta, meatballs, sausage, bread and sauce. He would sit there for what seemed like an hour and devour and savor his meal. He wasn’t big on sweets most of his life unless he craved something, then would have a good serving. His weight never really changed. How could this be, when he never spent a minute trying to figure it out? Set-point.
  2. You can ruin your set-point if you diet. I will never forget a patient I had years ago who had an eating disorder and would restrict then binge eat. She was in the health field and she understood what was going on when she did this however she had it stuck in her mind that she should weigh 125 pounds. She weighed 135 pounds. She had reached her goal at times through extreme behaviors however these could not be maintained due to the triggers for binge eating that resulted from her restrictions. She dropped out of treatment and I had not seen her in years. About 5 years had passed and lo and behold, she returned. The reason she returned she said was “I don’t want my set-point to go any higher”. She weighed 145 pounds (still within a normal weight range for her, but 10 pounds above what had been her norm). She knew it was her disordered eating behaviors that affected her natural set-point weight. All because she would not accept her natural body weight. When you have to experience extreme hunger every day in order to stay at a certain weight, then this is not your set-point weight range. And if you are binge eating then alternating with strict dieting as a result of wanting to be a certain weight, then you are at risk for ruining your natural set-point.
  3.  When you focus on a number you get disconnected from your body’s natural signals. Most people who have a weight goal in mind weigh themselves on a regular basis. When they jump on that scale and it does not move, they tend to jump up the restriction (“I am going to be good today”). What happens is they become more “cognitive” and less “intuitive” with their eating. They “figure out” what they should have for lunch and eat only the amount they believe will result in weight loss. What happens instead is they most likely do not eat enough calories, fat or carbohydrates. This imbalance triggers the brain to step up the appetite, and especially cravings for those particular foods that are being restricted. The cravings kick up a notch. Finally, whatever the trigger the dieter breaks down and has “just one” but then, that “just one” leads to another and another…..and another. The body is smart and won’t shut up until it is in balance again. The problem is the mind takes over and leads us to binge because we “are going to start tomorrow”. And the cycle of disconnection begins. Does this lead us to our natural and healthiest body weight range? No.
  4. That magical number has nothing to do with health. The issues of health and “obesity” has been argued before, with those saying weight is related to health. The reality is that having a healthy body is much more complicated than a number on the scale and has much more to do with lifestyle (and genetics of course). If you have a goal weight in mind, as you can see, the behaviors people tend to engage in do nothing to enhance their health. In fact, the opposite is likely true. Dieting to lose weight rarely contributes to health. If being healthier is something you care about then if you focus on restricting and losing weight you are missing the boat.
  5. It is only when you let go of that magical goal weight number that you will be able to actually move in the sane direction of achieving a healthy (and happy) you. I don’t try to talk people out of wanting to feel good about the way they look.We all want that. But, from what I have seen, most people who diet to lose weight and are successful (for a while) do feel good about themselves at first. But if they don’t get off the yo-yo diet cycle and regain that weight, they do not tend to feel good about themselves at all. If, however, they stop focusing on that number and instead begin the road of truly reflecting on their health habits (which yes, do include healthier,not perfect, eating) then the journey can begin. This is a long journey and is not predictable like a diet. There are no promises. It is about exploring your lifestyle and identifying the things that are doing you in.  Do you notice yourself mindlessly eating in front of the TV at night? Do you hate to cook so Chinese and pizza are a daily thing? Do you work late and struggle to fit in any kind of physical activity? Are you up until 3 am playing video games? Do you eat out of stress because you hate your job? Or, are you in a dangerous spiral of self-abusive disordered eating habits that you are yet to get help for? These are the types of things that need to be addressed that NO one diet can fix.

 

If any of this rings a bell, I hope you think long and hard about picking some random magical goal weight. Instead of wasting the energy doing unhealthy and impermanent things to get there (a place that probably has nothing to do with the real you), consider going in a different direction for once. Learn what healthy eating and healthy cooking is. Take the time to reflect on your lifestyle, and start with even one thing you want to change. Educate yourself about what it means to have a healthy lifestyle. Talk to friends you know well and trust, who you think manage to live this way and you might find out some strategies that might work for you, too, in this busy world. Work on intuitive eating and pay attention to all of the messages your body gives you every single day. Make your mistakes, feel yucky, but then learn from them. Over the months and years, guess what I have seen happen when people do this? They often just naturally land within a weight range that is truly natural for them. They do this while enjoying eating and good food, and living life to the fullest.

For more information on the negative impact of dieting, check out: Has Dieting Ruined Your Metabolism?

 

 

 

When Your Thighs Change Size Overnight (or do they?)

Waves, Sand and FeetI have never heard a man complain about the size of his butt. Women, on the other hand, seem to scrutinize almost every inch of their bodies. Their hips are too big, their tummy too fat, their arms jiggle too much. Their neck is getting saggy and so are their breasts. We just can’t win in the body image world (or sometimes it seems). With eating disorders awareness week coming up, and without a week going by when I don’t hear at least one complaint from someone about their physical body, I thought it might be good to write about it. In particular, I was remembering a handout I used to use with my eating disordered patients  called “The Theory of Expando Thighs” by  Karin Kratina, PhD, RD. She is one of the most respected among the eating disorder and body image experts, so check out her website and the resources she provides (and she has a new book coming out soon).

I do want to be clear that although in my work and life I tend to hear more body image complaints from females, males are not immune. Body image concerns are not discriminatory. I bet we all know a man who complains about his abs. But for the purpose of this post, I am going to focus on women.

Anyway, I loved this handout because it was a great visual explanation of what is really going on when we look down at our thighs and it seems they have grown overnight. Sometimes our eyes don’t see the reality.  Can a body part truly change overnight? No. So why is it that sometimes we feel that way? We look in the mirror and feel good. Then, we go to get ready for work, take another look and see something totally different. How does this hijacking of our mind, this total takeover happen?

The reality for most of us is we have so much going on in our lives. Stress at work, children to deal with, families, careers, school, and so many other things to think about. Yet, somehow, the size of our thighs (butt, arms, tummy) take center stage. The need to diet, count calories, lose weight, get these thighs back to normal becomes a priority. You should be trying to figure out what to do when your senior year ends. You should be filling out applications for that new job. You should really call that marriage counselor because for once, you told yourself you were determined to make your marriage better….or to end it.

None of these challenges sound like fun. Who enjoys worrying about getting a job? Who wants to think about the future? And who in the world really wants to see a therapist and delve into something that has the potential to turn your world upside down?

That’s where those thighs come in. And the calorie counting. And the gradual obsession with numbers and food. When you see your thighs as a sudden problem, you get to stress about it. Suddenly, you conveniently have something else to worry about. This is awful, these suddenly huge thighs! Time to diet, count calories, plan menus, etc, etc, etc. Who has time to think about the “real” (difficult, painful) issue. It works. As torturous as it may sound to have your thighs grow overnight, it is much easier to deal with than the real issues.

So, instead of seeing what is actually there, our eyes just might be seeing what is going to enable us to avoid “something”.

I don’t consider myself a body image expert by any means, however I have had the privilege to be educated over the years by my former patients who often had extreme body image distortion. There was no way for me to ever understand how someone who appeared emaciated to me could look in a mirror and see themselves as someone who needed to lose weight. One day, over 20 years ago, one of my patients, a very intelligent professional woman who had suffered for several years with an eating disorder was in for a weekly visit. Her weight was dangerously low and she had been in and out of the hospital. She told me she had had an amazing thing happen. She was in the process of applying for a new job and had to go shopping for a business suit. She first went into a department store at the mall, and no matter how small of a size she tried on, the suits just were too big. She figured it was just the brand, so she went to a different store. The same thing happened. Still, she told herself, it was the store, their clothes just ran big. After several stores, she was finally in the last one, a very expensive store that she was confident would have accurate sizing. She put on a suit jacket and looked in the mirror, and for a second, she said, she saw this emaciated woman swimming in a giant coat…..which was a size double zero. She left the store. This was the first time, she said, that she had ever seen herself as others see her. She said to me, “but, the eating disorder will not allow me to see myself as I truly am because then I would have to eat”. I will never forget that woman and the story she told me. For once, it kind of made sense.

Of course, someone with a clinically diagnosed eating disorder may suffer from the extreme as far as body image. Anyone, however, can get sucked into focusing too much on their bodies and end up wasting a lot of precious time. Whether you are having body image concerns or not, if there is something in your life you are not happy with (job, relationship, etc.) I always recommend getting some help. Life is too short to not be happy. Some things we just can’t control, but if we can, why not try? Even if you are in the worst of positions, and feel stuck and immobile, making that phone call is a step. It counts. You did something. You are moving in a better direction.

So next time you glance in the mirror, and something appears vastly different than the day before, don’t beat yourself up. And please, don’t take any drastic action. Instead, ask if there might be something in your life you could be avoiding….make a vow to work on your health (a very positive and rewarding goal). If you happen to be going through a difficult time, ask yourself if you can do it alone. With Eating Disorder Awareness Week starting tomorrow, make a pledge to start with yourself by loving and appreciating the body you have.

For more resources on body image check out:

Books by Dr. Margo Maine

Pursuing Perfection: Eating Disorders. Body Myths, and Women at Midlife and Beyond (with Joe Kelly) (Routledge, 2016)

Body Wars: Making Peace with Women’s Bodies (Gurze, 2000)

The Body Myth: Adult Women and the Pressure to Be Perfect, with Joe Kelly (John Wiley, 2005)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Missing My Bellbottom Days:Middle-Age Clothing Crisis

My New Dress…..

I lied. It is not my middle-age clothing crisis because my husband has informed me that after the age of 50 a person is officially OLD AGED. He’s a big help. I have trouble with remembering that I truly am no longer 28 because  in my head I still think the same. I feel the same. But when I put on certain clothes that have been hanging in my closet for decades that I just can’t seem to get rid of, I clearly see that I am no longer 28.

 

Don’t get me wrong, I actually would not go back to that age if you paid me. As most older, or should I say “mature” women have learned, the things we know now, the wisdom we have gained gives most of us such a greater appreciation and enjoyment of life. Yes, we have gone through it all. And we survived, and we will keep surviving, and enjoy every minute. We have transitioned through jobs until we have found our passions. We have gone through relationships, or worked through things in relationships until we have found true peace and love. We have supported friends and family through hard times, and celebrated the good times. We are thankful and authentic. We have it all. But when it is time to get dressed to go somewhere…..well, I can only speak for myself…I am lost.

Yes, I am lost somewhere between what is appropriate, what is comfortable and what is stylish. I wish I did not care at all about clothes, but I do. One of my greatest joys is shopping with my old college roommate and best friend Marion. We have lunch (accompanied by a bit of wine) and then we walk around a beautiful outdoor mall in Connecticut and stop in our favorite stores. We try on all kinds of things, we talk each other into buying things and sometimes out of buying things. Marion tends to grab cozy sweaters, the same earth colors…(“don’t you have that?” I might say, just to save her money…). And I tend to grab the same things, too. Black shirts. Because I thought I looked good in black back then in my 20’s. Why can’t I let go of that?  And I am always searching for the perfect jeans. I have one pair I love, they are so stretchy, you can slip them on without unzipping them. And no, they are not jeggings. Theoretically, jeggings sounds like a genius invention. But I tried them on, and no, they are not. They are weird (at least on me). Although I do like style, I am also rebellious against style and fashion making fools out of us women (no offense against my friends who love those expensive pocketbooks with the letter C on them, but spending more than 100 dollars on a pocket book makes me wonder….why???). Maybe I am a hypocrite because I might spend more than 100 dollars on boots that I love and that are so comfortable I might wear them for 3 years straight (and I have).

I have thought about the phases I have gone through with clothing. It goes way back to my first memory of what I was wearing at a significant event. I was probably 2 or 3, or whatever the age is when you get your first tricycle but are not yet completely potty trained. I was sitting on that little bike with black stretch pants and a red sweater that was itchy. It was sunny out, and I was sitting there thinking “I need to pee”. But I really did not feel like walking inside the house and up the stairs to where the bathroom was. So I decided to just sit there, on my little bike and pee. Not a good idea as those black stretch pants became very hot and uncomfortable when they were wet. And that was the end of my memory, but I do remember the outfit.

My next memory was elementary school and the smocked dresses we wore. I loved them. But I was obsessed with the elastic hair clips my best friend Terry Gnazzo wore in her long straight brown hair. I thought she was very cool because she could do a split and a back walkover, a cartwheel and handspring….. and her elastics were interesting.

Junior High was boring because I attended Our Lady of Mercy and wore the uniform: a plaid skirt, white blouse, and saddle shoes. The shoes were cool. High School was in the 70’s and most girls wore bell bottoms and mini skirts. I mostly wore dresses because my butt was bigger then, and did not fit well into those hip huggers… I also was chestier and very very modest and shy, so pretty much wore whatever covered my body. When I got to college, I wore the same thing almost every day. These Tee shirts with pockets were the cool thing to wear, with jeans. I had wranglers. Then Levis. I loved my levis. I tried to find them over the years but there were so many styles, different number connotations that I just did not have the patience to figure it out. 501’s?? 401’s??? ugh, too confusing.

But the best outfit of all was the overalls. In 1976 that was what we lived in. We still had the blue tee shirt, but we also had overalls. We wore them together and we never cared about wearing the same thing every day. I remember feeling comfortable.

Then, there was the disco era. I got me a pair of designer jeans (a cheap version, but I loved them). Crop tops became the style and spandex dresses were the big thing. When I look at pictures of myself back then, I think Jersey Shore. Oh, yes, I did have leopard print shirts. Now, I hate leopard print anything.

When I had my children, thank goodness leggings and oversize sweaters were in style because I lived in them….until I went back to work and transitioned to what I call the Anne Taylor’ed look. I bought from the sale rack at that store and created the perfect professional wardrobe much of which I still own (those Anne Taylor clothes really hold up!). I have actually removed some of the shoulder pads in the blazers and may still wear them….with jeans.

So then I blinked my eyes and I was 40. I blinked again and I was 50. Then I blinked and now I am 60. And I don’t know what to wear.

I have decided on a few things:

  1. Whatever I wear, I need to be comfortable.
  2. Whatever I wear, I need to be me.
  3. Whatever I wear, I do not want attention (unless it is a holiday and I need to entertain kids).
  4. Whatever I wear, it will not cost more than my mortgage.

I do love seeing the way some women dress and put things together that just look so pretty. Or maybe they look chill. Or classy. Or uniquely them. That is what I want. To look like me, which sometimes feels very confusing. I sometimes like to feel like I am wearing something pretty, like I felt when I tried on that muted purple flowing dress in the picture above. But that dress also felt like pajamas. And it was cheap. And when you spin your arms around the sleeves flow in the air an it is really cool. Simple pleasures. But sometimes, I just want my “happy clothes”. My friend Marion knows what that means. We both bought baggie comfy jean shorts that we wear almost daily in the warm months. We have a knit sweater with a hood that we also both bought and it was not on sale but we knew it was a happy sweater and so it is and probably will always be our favorite. But then sometimes, when my husband and I go out on a “date”, I want to look like a woman who is trying to impress her date. But still be comfortable and still be herself. So that is why I like to buy those cute shirts and jackets and jeans that are not jeggings but still look good. But then I need to remember my age. No, I am not 20 or 30 or 40 0r even 50. I am 60 and I don’t want to look like someone who is trying to be young again. But then again……should I really think about any of that? So what if I love to wear black shirts and my favorite boots, or Levi jeans or even leopard shirts?

So I ask you, how do you figure out what to wear? Is it a struggle like it is for me sometimes? Do you care about what others think, or do you pick what feels good to you? I think it is ok to want to look whatever way you want to look. If you want to look fancy, then dress fancy. If you want to look down to earth, because you are down to earth, then follow your heart. If you honestly have no time or interest at all in fashion or style or any of it, and just grab what is clean and comfortable, then all the power to you. I, personally, am stuck in the middle. I love learning about people through their self expression of what they wear. I had a good friend years ago named Eileen. She was a brilliant woman with three children the same age as my kids. When I first met her at the town pool club, I judged her by her appearance (I am embarrassed to admit). She had a leopard bathing suit on with matching earrings. She always wore lots of bangles and southwestern jewelry, turquoise stones hanging from silver chains. When I finally got to know her, she became my best friend because she had a heart of gold, and we were both the same kind of mothers. Our kids were everything to us. She told me she thought she was a native American Indian in her past life because they decorated themselves, and she loved to do that too. Since then, I always looked at jewelry in that way, as a way some people decorate themselves, and it does not mean they are vain, or shallow but only that jewelry connects them with something we may just not be able to relate to.

So where do I go from here? Well, I discovered some bell bottom leggings…..to me, the best of both worlds, comfort and style. I can wear them to work, yet they feel like pajamas. I also bought me some long Hippie shirts….they are totally me, but I think they are meant for younger women. But if I throw on that Happy Sweater, I don’t think that outfit will draw attention, and that is my only fear…..but should it be? Being an “older” woman, wearing a spandex leopard dress with saddle shoes and cool hair clips…and overalls, now that may draw attention. But comfy black leggings with a colorful long hippie shirt….now I say, that could be considered appropriate at any age.

I think it may take me awhile to figure it out. But for now, it will be a fusion of all of it. Maybe some black shirts, maybe some Levis if I ever find the right ones. Definitely legging bell bottoms and hippie shirts. For sure there will be happy sweaters and happy shorts. I can already picture me when I am 80 with my baggie jean shorts, cotton knit sweater with a hood and pockets and my white hair tied up in a cool elastic. Tomorrow I plan to get rid of some stuff. Gone will be the tight shirts, the crop tops, the short shorts, the professional blazers and suit pants I really never want to wear again. I need to make room for more happy clothes.

And if I figure out how to fuse happy clothes with style, I will definitely let you know.

 

 

News Flash: You Have No Right To Comment On My Body

HidingIt happened again. Not once, not twice but at least three times this past week. I am so sick of it, it makes me so crazy and yet, sometimes I feel like I am the only one going nuts. How could it be that we seem to allow anyone at all to be as rude as they want to be, and yet it just goes under the radar? No, I am not talking about Donald Trump (although I very well could include him in this rant, since he is a perfect example of what I am talking about). Yes, somehow we have become immune (it seems to me) to knowing what is right and wrong when it comes to what we should or should not say…..about people’s bodies.

Yes, I heard a few stories this week, and have one of my own. And I know these are not unusual circumstances, I know the things I have heard are regular occurrences in many peoples lives. I also know that people don’t always think they are being hurtful when they make teasing or sarcastic comments about someone’s weight or body. Sometimes they think they are funny? Anyway, I have said a lot on the topic of commenting on weight loss, and the possible detrimental affects of giving praise to someone who has lost weight (especially a teenager) since sometimes the weight loss is the consequence of unhealthy starvation or eating disorders. When a teenager is complimented on weight loss it is hard for them to think they should stop. Praise feels good.

No, that is not what I want to talk about again. It is more about how people feel they have the right to say something about someone else’s body. Here are some examples of what I am talking about:

“Geeeez, Suzy, why don’t you just eat a cheeseburger or something?”

“Great to see ya! Put on a few pounds, huh?”

“You look so much better now that you put on a few pounds!”

“What’s that bump on your foot? Why does your toe point out?”

“Gettin’ up there in age, huh? Beer belly and everything!”

“Did you lose weight? Your face looks so sunken”

Get the picture? Does it all sound harmless to you? Most of us know what having “good manners” means. You would never think to go up to someone and say “You have bad breath” or “your face is ugly” or “what a big nose you have”. But yet, it is alright to make comments about how someone’s size ? Or body part? As if it means anything??? Are we all really that brain washed into thinking the size of anyone really matters? Do we all need to have perfect body parts? And why does it matter if someone changes their size? Why do you care if they gained or lost weight? Why the focus on that?

I think I know why. I feel like it is a “global brainwashing”. We are all supposed to think we would be happier if we were a certain size. Our bodies are supposed to look a certain way, and we all should be striving to be that (whatever it is, I think the focus most of the time is on stomachs if you ask me….that is what most of my disordered eating patients always thought about. And that is what most “normal” people I know seem to focus on). Yes, even if you don’t have any extreme eating issues of your own, or maybe you have body image issues that are considered “normative discontent”. Check out this blog on the topic Normative Discontent as well as this video Dove Video. Both are really insightful as to how and why we think the way we do about our bodies, the influences out there that we aren’t even aware of, and why, I am guessing, most of us kind of go along like robots working toward what we are brainwashed to think is important. And why some people think it is A-OK to address people’s bodies in a way that is not only rude, but also NONE of their business.

Granted, some people just don’t give a hoot. You can tell them they look like crap, they look better now that they gained weight (they may agree), or maybe they know they put on a few pounds since high school but they are ok with it, heck, we all gain some weight as we age, it is pretty normal, who cares. But, I am guessing there are some people who are very sensitive to comments about their bodies. I have known people in my life who are genetically very thin. They get made fun of all the time. The comment “why don’t you just eat a cheeseburger” is very hurtful to someone who can’t change their body. Or maybe they are going through something, and they may not turn to food to make them feel better like some people. Some people eat more and it helps them get through stressful times, but some people can’t eat. Telling them to eat a cheeseburger makes me want to smack someone.

So, what would I wish everyone would do instead? To me, everyone is a book. When I was working 40 hours a week as an outpatient dietitian, I did not care if someone was referred to me for “obesity” or an “eating disorder” or “pre-diabetes”. To me, every patient was like a book to be opened. Every person has their own story. And YOU don’t know it. You don’t know why they may have lost or gained weight since the last time you saw them. You don’t know how healthy they are or not by the way they look or their body size. They may have gained 30 pounds but now are doing triathlons (and can kick your butt). They may have lost a loved one and fallen into depression, and lost some weight…….and so do you really think you telling them to eat a cheeseburger is going to help? Stop being stupid.

Instead,if you notice something different that concerns you, why not look at the person inside instead? Re-connect. Find out how they REALLY are. Make time to get together. Then, be supportive. If it is a casual acquaintance that you may not see again for a long time, then why bother commenting on something as meaningless as how much weight they lost or gained? Take the precious few minutes to find out about their kids, their lives, what they are doing, and all of the stuff that matters.

I feel better, now that I have vented. I really wish people would catch themselves before they make a body comment. YOU may think it is meaningless, but you truly do NOT know what the other person is going through. Instead, focus on what really is important in life. And if you think it is your body size, I feel sad for you.

Oh, so my story this week?…a comment about my feet. What was going on with my toe? For some reason, it kind of sometimes turns in to my other toe, and I do sometimes worry that it is some weird neurological thing…but, Really? That is what some people notice I guess… I still wear my flip flops…it literally took me years to get over my not so gorgeous feet….but I really don’t appreciate anyone noticing them, let alone commenting on them. Ugh. So there you have it…some really nice people sometimes just need to say something I guess.

But I hope you don’t.

PS. In the school (for special needs kids) where I work, two of the classes cook on Fridays, then enjoy the lunch they prepare. I overheard a half of a conversation  of a few of the teenagers eating at a table I walked by. I am not sure what happened, but all I heard (out of the mouth of a very sweet guy who happens to have gained a bit of weight) was one comment. He said, very matter-of-fact….”people don’t like to be called fat”. Not sure if someone called him that, but I am going to try to find out.