Dissatisfied Health

Guess what, folks. I’m about to blow your mind with what you already may know or at the very least suspect somewhere down deep, but what I think is important to talk about. Especiallllyyy in the blog world, especiallllyyy in college, especiallllyyy in today’s culture.

We, as people, are masters of self deception. MASTERS, I say. At least up to a point. (At which point you say, get to the point Michaela. Patience, dear grasshopper.)

I want to talk to you about dieting. About exercise. About “lifestyle changes,” because we all know that dieting and exercise are out of vogue. Diets don’t work, the experts say, and rather than force ourselves to exercise we are encouraged to find fun physical activity and delicious healthy food so we don’t have to diet. And around this new trend, dozens and hundreds of blogs (and a whole web and non-web based health culture) have popped up, including my own. It’s called Pilgrimage of Health, for goodness sake. Health. With Healthy recipes and Healthy lifestyle tips and Healthy thought processes and Healthy healthy healthy. 

And I’m not out to bash any of that. We do need lifestyle changes. We do need to forego dieting, and find activities that we enjoy doing that make us feel good, because we’re facing a crisis situation. In my country of the United States and increasingly around the world, we’re facing an epidemic of unhealth in mind, body, and soul. We’re spending more and more time and money and energy on health, and yet collectively we’re still pretty sick. In response, we’re inundated with lifestyles and ideas and tips intended to transform us into healthy, happy, carefree health goddesses (and gods).

But I think, underneath a lot of the healthy language and healthy blog culture, we sometimes use health as a cover-up. As an excuse, to try and change ourselves into what we think we should be rather than accepting ourselves for who we are. Now, rather than esteeming thinness for thinness sake and dieting and weight loss, we’re instead consumed by this image of health that can lead us into unhealthy behaviors.

You following me here?

An obsession with health can be unhealthy. Part of the problem lies within the motivation behind strict workout plans and eating regimes, but part of the problem can come after. After we’re following the cleanest diet, practicing yoga six times a week, training for a marathon. We become dependent on these as something to define us. We become human doers instead of human beings, fixated on the high of pushing ourselves further and defined by what we don’t do, that is, consume ‘bad’ foods (which in our society can mean a million different foods). And if we’re embracing a “healthier lifestyle” out of a deep dissatisfaction with who we are, I think that’s problematic.

Because our bodies know, right? Our self knows. It knows when we act out of insecurity instead of satisfaction. We know, deep down, what actions come from abundance and deprivation. And that doesn’t come without consequences. Lying to ourselves and saying that we’re “just following this eating plan because I feel tired (or want to be healthier or save the planet or I think I’m allergic to . . .)” when we really are trying to follow a diet without calling it so because we are deeply dissatisfied with ourselves and desperately want change, our bodies and souls know. Don’t try to trick them.

I know this to be true, because I do it. Have done it. Mastered it, for the past five years. I’ve been vegetarian, vegan, dairy-free, nut-free. I’ve followed strict running plans and done juice cleansing. I’ve committed to abstaining from this or that because of that and this. And every time I eat a certain way or exercise out of a dissatisfaction, it backfires. Badly.

This is not to say that running or vegetarianism or veganism (or yoga or paleo or grain free or . . . you get the idea) are inherently bad within themselves. Nope, because those things can come from a place of true health. They can come from a place of wholeness, a clarity in communication with our deeper selves that says that running makes our bodies feel good or a certain type of food makes our bodies feel bad.

Check yourself before you wreck yourself. If you’re eagerly about to jump into another trend in the name of health, step back.  Why are you about to embark upon this plan? Is it from abundance, or deprivation? Joy, or insecurity?

 

Dear Body

Dear Body,

You’re perfect, and I love you.

This apology is long over due. I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to say; I’m even more sorry that it’s taken me so long to realize.

We’ve been through it all together, haven’t we? For the past few years, our relationship has been tenuous. Strained. Most of that is my fault, I know that. You stuck with me through thick and thin, quite literally. And I’ve felt stuck with you.

I’ve been an awful friend. The truth of it is, I wasn’t very kind for awhile. Not just unkind, mean. Spiteful. Hateful. I hated you for a long time, because you weren’t what I thought you should be. I placed expectations on you that couldn’t be met. I’m so sorry. I’m sorry that I abused you. I’m sorry that I listened to lies about you, even more sorry that most of the lies came from someone that should have defended you: me.

I’m sorry that every time you tried to speak to me, I drowned you out. Yelled at you. Hated you more, for trying to defend yourself and heal our relationship. I didn’t want to like you, because if I liked you, then I couldn’t mistreat you. If I listened to you, I’d have to treat you well.

I’m sorry that I didn’t respect you. I’m sorry that I didn’t love you, appreciate you, listen to you. I am so deeply sorry. 

And in spite of it all, you stayed with me. Certainly, you fought for yourself. You quietly, then loudly, protested. You tried so hard to do what I wanted, you never failed me. Even when I hadn’t fed you, loved you, cared for you, you still were there. You let me walk outside, garden, cook. Instead of leaving me, you waited. Waited for me to be healed, so I could love you as I ought.

You knew all along, didn’t you? You knew that I was broken and hurting, and that I took that brokenness out on you. You were patient with me when I was not patient with you. You gave me grace, loving me, waiting for when I’d love you in return.

And then, when I began to heal, I’m sorry that I didn’t extend the same grace to you. I expected you to get all better, right away, after two years of damage. And when you didn’t, I was frustrated. I didn’t realize that our relationship would take time to heal. I’m sorry.

I want you to know that I love you. I really do. I accept you, as you are. Not in spite of your lumps, your bumps, your blemishes. I love you. All of you, because you are a part of me. You deserve love.

And now, I promise to listen. I promise to respect you, to honor you, to hold you and love you. I promise that no matter how you change, I will be the first person to accept you. I will continue to make it a habit to extend grace.

I’m excited for the future. For what we’ll do together, what we’ll experience with unity and joy instead of anger and division.

Love,

Michaela

What does your letter look like?

We’re All Broken and Screwed Up

Aren’t we?

I tend to think I’m the only one with inner battles, the only person who struggles and wages war. I’m the only one that puts up walls and façades, the only one that hides my weakness and hurts and problems. I must be the solitary screw up that looks like she has it all together, and that makes me very special. That makes my problems valid, and excusable, and exceptional. If I’m the only one with problems, one that can be clinically diagnosed at that, I can claim an angst limited to a select number of a special, troubled elite. In a sense, it’s all quite romantic, really.

Of course, that deceptive mentality isn’t constant. Most of the time I’m bemoaning the fact that I don’t have the usual problems that I perceive others having, anxious over the fact that I’m not healed, not whole, not normal with normal problems.

There’s only one wrench to throw into this mentality. What in this far, wide world constitutes a ‘normal’ problem? Would it be more normal, perhaps, if I had to worry about where I was sleeping tonight? Or if I worked my hardest in all my classes, only to have anxiety about passing? Or if no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t connect to others in a way that felt real and meaningful. Maybe it’d be better if I had a pattern of co-dependency, or felt so inadequate in my own skin I felt forced to joke about who I was. Why do I think that I am unique in floundering because I struggle with the remnants of an eating disorder? Because the problem isn’t an eating disorder. The problem isn’t eating too little, or eating too much, or feeling a lack of control, or feeling pleasure from too much control.

It all goes much deeper than that, and to think that fixing the surface problem will make me better, happy, or whole is a lie. And to think that I am unique in having problems is also a falsehood, a fabrication from a dark place. Recognizing the pain that my problems causes me should prompt me outward in compassion to others, not push me further within myself. Being involved in intentional community at the Vista House, and reading literature about growing together purposefully and deliberately has helped me realize the great similarities within our differences.

Take hope, then, that you are not alone. And give hope, because you are not alone.

Garden of Growth

Last week, Chad and I spent a few hours composting hundreds upon hundreds of seedlings. Now, I understand from a business perspective that, as a farmer, you have to overplant in case something happens. I also understand that it takes a scarce commodity, time, to find appropriate homes for them. Composting it is . . . unless you have an intern that feels almost more tenderly for abandoned plants than for abandoned puppies.

Here are just a few of the plants I filled my car with to bring home, and I barely rescued any:

There’s a nearby church that has garden plots for the community, and after planting some around the Vista House, I called up the pastor and procured a space!

I had to lay down newspaper and cardboard to kill the weeds . . .

. . . before I ran out. Then I poached some from a dumpster behind a shopping center 😉

Filled completely, sprinkled with fertilizer (and one happy gardener):

I then had to let it rest a week. According to the people in charge of the garden at the church, the soil they got needed added nitrogen. After talking to Roddy and Chad, however, I was skeptical about this addition and am hopeful that my plants don’t get burned by too much.

My little rescues went back in the car after a week of rest and water at the VH (ignore the dirty socks. Comes from working on a farm . . . at least, that’s what I tell myself)

And over to the church to be planted!

Isn’t it beautiful? I planted peppers (sweet and hot), tomatoes, okra, oregano, and watermelon. I’m so excited for my plants to start producing fruit, and to not be dependent on the dining hall this fall for all of my goodies. Speaking of school food, check this out over at Food Renegade (and watch the TED talk at the end!)

Do you have a garden? 

What is in season in your region? 

First Day at the Farm!

Well, I started my day bright and early this morning! I was expected at the farm at 7:30, so I had to leave the house by 7:00 and be up at 6:30.

Because I was going to be working all day, I had to have a big breakfast to fuel me up. I made myself a delicious breakfast burrito with a quinoa, corn, black bean mixture I made yesterday, leftover sweet potatoes from a house dinner last night, cilantro, and daiya cheese. Check out this beauty: 

When I got to Greenbrier I was thrown right into the thick of things! They have their first farmer’s market tomorrow, so today was going to be a busy day. Megan, another intern working and living on the farm, took me out to water the plants in the greenhouse and harvest spinach.

Beautiful, huh? That’s the garden!


This dill is going to make some delicious pickles one day . . . 

Picking the spinach. I’m pretty sure the people I was working with were really amused that I kept pulling out my camera!

Then we went to visit the hogs. Pigs were my favorite animal as a child, so I was pretty excited!

Look at these little guys! So curious. I’ve read that pigs have the intelligence level of three year old children–pretty crazy! They rank fourth on the list: humans, primates, dolphins, then our porcine friends.

Stay tuned! Tomorrow I’ll share the rest of my first day at the farm.

Sweet Friendship: Receiving Notes of Gratitude

So, my last post I talked about how I was planning on writing thank you notes to people who have been significant to my life and may not realize it. Mostly, teachers came to mind, and I’ve written several of my letters (but haven’t postmarked them yet.)

The day after I decided to focus on gratitude in the form of handwritten letters, I received this from a very dear friend:

We’ve only gotten close this semester, but there is a kindred spirit within her. She is beautiful, wise, affirming. She is the first friend I seek out when I am fighting past demons, and her words always bring me inner calm and help me wage the storms. I will be writing about her wisdom in a later post. Receiving a letter helped affirm the project I am doing this week: her words were touching, and I will treasure them. Knowing the joy I felt reading her card, I’m excited to send my letters to other people.

She wrote, “I chose this stationary for you because birds represent to me freedom, grace, and beauty, and  believe you have an can achieve these things. You have beauty, grace, and strength, and through Christ and love you can achieve freedom.” 

Since I just moved from my dorm to the Vista House, I was packing up several cards and letters I’ve received this year. Here are some of my favorites that will hopefully encourage you to write those you love and those who have impacted you, and brighten their days!

This one is from Archana, the beautiful young woman I sponsor through Compassion International. She’s actually about a week and a half older than I am!

This comes from my mother and is a thank you note for her birthday gift. The inside says: God is able to make all grace abound in you, from II Corinthians 9:8.

  My sister Megan has a gift. I’ve probably received more letters and cards from her than from anyone else–she is so thoughtful and affirming. Included with this card was some wonderful Toms toothpaste with propolis. I used to guest blog for her business, and did a focus on bees.

Here is another one of her postcards. So beautiful!

 This is from the girl I nannied for my last two years of high school. She is so sweet and mature, and this letter MADE MY WEEK! 

What is your favorite letter you’ve received this year? 

Do you have plans to write anyone this week?

Forgiving the Forgetful

. . . in myself. Really, it isn’t just the forgetful: it’s learning to forgive the imperfections within myself. That, my friends, is something that I thought I had grasped only because I was able to give myself grace in one area of life. When something else happens to remind me of my inherent human-ness, I feel like I’m starting all over again.

This is exam week, hence my lack of regularity in posting. I’ve been stressed the past few days about the exam I had this morning–not because I was unprepared, or because it was going to be particularly challenging. It is my easiest class, and therein lies my problem: I’ve been unwilling to accept anything less than an A in that class because it is easy and unchallenging. There were several homework assignments I forgot to do, which makes my current standing in the class less than my ideal. Had I done them, I would have gotten 100%–but I just completely forgot. It had been a hard few weeks with a death in the family, traveling to the funeral, missing class, working through my emotions, and I simply blanked.

It took me days to stop kicking myself over them, with renewed pressure this week to excel on the final so I don’t get–oh the horror–an A minus. I keep trying to remind myself that this isn’t all that important in the grand scheme of life. That it is a learning experience, a reminder that when I mess up, life will continue.

It is this same, take it or leave it, perfection driven mindset that got me into a state of un-health in the first place.  I refused to yield on myself, convinced that I could make myself do anything if I simply set my mind to it. If I applied myself, I would get what I wanted. I’d never experienced anything contrary to this logic in the past–if I wanted a good grade, I could get it. If I needed to get into a certain program, I’d apply and get in. If I wanted to change a system, I’d simply find the right person to talk to and convince them to my way of thinking. If I thought modeling was something I wanted to do, I’d be damned if I didn’t whittle myself into their restricted standards of measure to succeed by someone else’s definition. Problem is, I didn’t always evaluate if my end goal was actually something good, as it clearly wasn’t in the latter.

Sure, I’ve learned occasionally that there is room for failure in my life–when I didn’t get accepted to the Washington DC Senatorial Page Program, or when I didn’t receive a scholarship I wanted at a certain school. But all of these I could justify as ‘not part of God’s plan,’ or some other factor. When it is my own personal involvement that trips myself up . . . that is what I struggle to accept.

I’m trying to learn to love and accept what my counselor calls the shadows of ourselves. What would happen, she asked, if you were a forgetful person? But I’m not. That isn’t a part of who I am. But, you forgot. Does that make you forgetful? She was purposefully letting me be flustered so that I could see the hypocrisy of accepting forgetfulness and imperfections in other people, but never myself.

Grace. Forgiveness. Self love.

How do you forgive yourself? 

Do you ever struggle with perfectionism? 

A Resolution to Vegan Doubts

Fellow travelers,

I’m sorry for the lack of posting; I was traveling due to the passing of my grandfather.

Which brings up a slightly beaten, re-occuring topic: my struggles following a vegan eating regime.  While up north, I had plenty of time to contemplate my food choices. My dear, sweet grandmother has always loved on our family with food. The moment you finish eating one meal, she brings out another. The first morning I went to the old farmhouse, she was slicing every roll on the premises, buttering them, and placing them back in their bags. Her hands needed something to occupy her mind. The day before I’d turned in a paper entitled “Ethical Eating: Should Christians Consume Meat?”* based upon Romans 14 that made the claim Christians should abstain from [factory farmed] meat out of love. But, watching my precious Grandma, I realized that it can also be loving to eat something I wouldn’t otherwise choose, regardless of my reasons.

The extended family did not know I was a vegan until my sweet papa, trying to provide for my needs, told an uncle who was purchasing dinner to make sure there was something “Michaela could eat, because she’s vegan.” At the hotel, and at the house with my family, there wasn’t a lot I could eat, but it was ok. I’ve realized, though, that for me, being strictly vegan might not be healthy.

Physically, a vegan diet works for me. I always feel nourished, bright, clear, and energetic. But as I’ve mentioned before, health isn’t a simple equation of diet and exercise–it is comprised of many aspects, be they social, spiritual, mental, and emotional as well as the physical. The social exclusion I experienced as a vegan was not healthy for me, and has led to feelings of isolation, deprivation, and discomfort when someone else was providing my food for me. I never wanted to be a burden to people, nor did I want others to feel regretful or uncomfortable because there was no vegan food present.

Here’s my plan, folks. For the most part, the food I consume. Lots of wonderful, healthy food: veggies, fruits, grains, nuts . . .everything I eat now, with very few animal products. Even though I’m going to allow flexibility in regards to some dairy or eggs, I probably still won’t eat meat.** When I can provide the food for myself, I’m going to follow what is known as a ‘vegan’ diet without worrying about labels or restricting myself to that.

*If you’d like a copy of the paper, let me know in the comments.

**Until I intern at a farm this summer, when I’m open to the possibility.

Eating Well and Exercising . . .On Vacation

Fellow pilgrims, I journeyed this past extended weekend to a friend’s home in North Carolina for Easter Break.

And unfortunately for me, this post . . . isn’t about how I ate well and exercised on vacation. Because I didn’t. I grazed mindlessly throughout the day, ate when I wasn’t hungry, and didn’t do anything physically active. Not once! And it’s ok to have weekends like that. It’s ok to take a break, and eat foods you don’t usually eat, and lay around like a slob relax on breaks. It is especially ok to take a break from exercising, as I’ve mentioned before. But what isn’t ok is to feel bad about it, or feel unsettled because you’re not controlling your meal times or meal components.

What I didn’t do but could have done better: thought about the weekend ahead with a plan in mind. In my excitement to spend the time on break with friends, I didn’t think there’d be any challenges. If you’re breaking routine or going somewhere new, I encourage you to pause beforehand and come up with a game plan. Write it down, if need be! Will exercise make you feel better and give you a break from the family? Bring clothes, and make that a priority (preferably in the morning). Are you wanting to take a break from physical activity, but wanting to spend time catching up on a book? Do you want time away from the internet, or from television? Think of pitfalls that could come up and waylay these goals, and devise a few creative solutions to fall back on if you encounter an obstacle en route.

On a check in for this week’s Pit Stop Monday:

Every time I get on my computer, I want to get on Facebook. It’s habit–my fingers automatically go to open another tab while something is loading to check it. Same thing for my WordPress stats–it’s a default action to get on my account, and if there are no comments or replies to click over to see how many of you viewed my blog today. That fixation is definitely not constructive, so I’m glad this is my special focus this week.

How do you stay happy, healthy, and relaxed when away from your routine?

Do you ever take a break from the Internet, or specific sites? 

Doubting What I’ve Dubbed ‘Veganism’

This is another hard one. Being honest on here is crucial, but boy is it HARD sometimes. I’m taking encouragement from one of my favorite bloggers, Glennon, on this one. She is honest and open, and it’s wonderful and vulnerable and scary all at once.  I think I’ve avoided delving in enough. Shall we?

Lately, following a vegan diet has been very, very difficult for me. Not necessarily the food, but social occasions revolving around food. Especially when I don’t have control over my food, such as when I’m traveling or at other’s homes. I don’t want to be a burden to anyone, nor do I want to be defined by what I eat.

It’s interesting. Not eating animal products makes sense to me, both for the feel-good body benefits, the environmental benefits, and because I have a skin condition that seems to be exacerbated when I consume dairy. I was vegetarian for a long time before I went vegan, and choosing to eat vegan stemmed from not having as much control over the origin of my food while at college. It’s just a part of what I do, not who I am. Yet, people identify me as a vegan, as if my whole self was tied into the eating choices I make. I’ve been introduced as, “This is Michaela. She’s a vegan.” But, I am so much more than that–aren’t I?

I chose to identify myself as vegan because I figured that was easier for people to understand. Rather than be more of a conscientious omnivore/vegetarian that said “I eat some animal products when I know where they are from, but mostly I’m vegan, but even though I’m flexible I’m choosing not to eat what you’re preparing for me. . . ” seems so pretentious, unsociable, ungrateful. While I obviously would never say that to anyone, I was afraid that my choices would say that to some people. I do eat eggs when I’m at home, because we get them from a neighbor. I’ve also had a bite of fish that my uncle caught. That is the type of flexibility I desire.

Social situations are very difficult. Early on, I didn’t struggle as much with that, because I was typically eating meals in our dining hall where I had plenty of options and could share the moment with everyone. But in certain situations that food is provided, not being able to share those moments has made me feel sad, emotional, tearful, and un-included. And not because of those hosting the events–it is a self imposed exclusion, based upon what I feel is right for my body and the environment.

I suppose it is ok for that definition to change. I will be working on a farm this May with practices I can laud, and I am open to trying some of their meat. No definitive statements at this time . . . the thought of eating meat is still very weird, even though I choose to eat vegetarian for environmental reasons and this meat wouldn’t have those complications. At this point, I think I will choose vegan foods when I have control over what I am eating and when I am organizing social organizations, but be open to being flexible meals including dairy and eggs when someone else is feeding me.

Maybe this makes me a sellout to the vegan community, or means that I’m not being a good “vegan role model”  to the meat eating community. And I think both of those things will somehow have to be ok. I think I’ll wait, though. I realize some people will be confused about the shift back, and I’m uneasy thinking that it could invalidate my eating choices now. Though basing my choices on the reactions of those around me seems superficial, it might be easier for me to stick out this school year. I don’t know.

Have you ever struggled with your food choices? 

How do you deal with social situations when you are eating differently than other people?