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?

 

Advertisements

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?

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? 

Dare to (Not) Compare: Check in Day Three

Well, this was interesting. I had anticipated not having a lot to say as I checked in, something along the lines of “well, I consciously didn’t compare yesterday and that was interesting . . . ”

Imagine my surprise yesterday when I was shown about a dozen images of very thin, idealized, media-saturated bodies in class and told to compare my own body to them, then rate my satisfaction with my own body. Interesting how I choose a week to consciously make an effort to appreciate myself without reference to other women, and I’m instructed to do that in a classroom setting.

Now, before we all go up in arms (as I surely would if I didn’t have the background), let me contextualize this. A faculty member in our psychology department came to my wellness class to talk about eating disorders–their classifications, risk factors, treatment, and preventative measures. To illustrate a research study done, she asked us to rate our bodies on a scale from one to ten and write it down. Then, we were shown a series of thin, idealized celebrity and model bodies and instructed to re-rate our satisfaction with our own bodies.

Because I simply looked at the images and tried my hardest to not comply with the instructions, my own “satisfaction” rating stayed constant (I did not write it down, but kept it mentally. The request to write it down made me uncomfortable).

It was a hard one for me to sit through as many of the harmful practices I have indulged in were described. Some of the images shown in the presentation could have been very triggering for someone who is just starring out in their pilgrimage to healing. While I think that there does need to be much more talk, dialogue, and education about these issues I’m not sure in what way. They need to be taken from shameful, stigmatized, dark places and brought to light: but in what setting, and how? I was very uncomfortable with the study re-enactment, but I wonder if I would have been as aware if the plan to not compare wasn’t my focus this week.

After three days of consciously avoiding comparison, I have noticed . . . a quietness. There is a stillness in my mind where there was an almost incessant, disparaging voice.

Have you noticed a change in the inner monologue? 
Have you experienced any educational measures about eating disorders? What did you think?  

Beloved Aunties, Beautiful Pizza: Self-Love

Last week, as you all know, was my spring break. Woop! On the way back to Greenville from Florida we stopped to spend the night at one of my friend’s parents home in Georgia. After a delicious meal of make your own pizzas (yum!) we all stayed up late talking to the momma putting us up for the night.

Throwing the pizza, Italian style...with a lot of flour!

This thing was a beauty, and I ate it ALL! In stages...it didn't all fit at one go! Part pesto, part tapenade, part sauce for the base...filled with every veggie in the house! YUMM!

In the heart of the home, we covered the gamut of topics–the non-dating atmosphere of our school, problems with education in our country, body image. Which prompted a discussion of what we liked best about our own bodies. It was interesting–as my friends talked of what they liked best, and what they didn’t, I thought about my own body. I’ve spent so much time degrading it and treating it as an enemy, rather than a friend. Body, I’m sorry. I promise to love you better and treat you kinder.

Our favorite attributes ranged–I like my cheekbones, jaw, and lower back best. One friend likes her feet best, another her nose, one likes “the composite” of all her parts. And while my friends listed numerous parts, the house momma encouraged us to continue: “Who here likes her ankles? What about calves?” And I continued contemplating the parts of my body. My feet are odd–large, with tiny round toes. But they are unique, and I can’t imagine another set completing my legs. I was so happy to find that I kept mentally stumbling over little bits of me that I find beautiful, or quirky, or that I can simply affirm that “I like that.”

While there’s a thin delineation between self-confident appreciation and narcissism, I find that many women don’t even toe the line. We focus on what we hate about ourselves rather than what we love, and speak so spitefully and hurtfully to the image we see in the mirror, I’m surprised our bodies don’t up and leave us or rebel. I wouldn’t stay with someone who was viciously hurtful to me. Come to think of it, I think many of our bodies are rebelling from a lack of love, appreciation, and good care. We think and say things about ourselves we wouldn’t dare speak to a friend–how can we treat ourselves so lowly?

Without self-love, “love your neighbor as yourself” isn’t really all that appealing to those around us. After all, who wants to be told they are ugly, useless, lazy, or fat and then abused or deprived as a result? If that’s the way you’re going to love me, Neighbor, you can take your love elsewhere.

What are your favorite attributes? 

*The Aunties: Anne Lamott, in Traveling Mercies, (I recommend it!) says she decided to treat her thighs as elderly aunties, because then she could less easily be unkind or ungracious to them.