A blog about body image, dance, fitness, and positivity. Reflections on learning to love who you are right now and tips for working on changing things that no longer serve you on your journey.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Changing My Perspective on "Diet"

So, before I dive in, I just want to say that this blog focuses on my journey and is not intended to be a prescription for anyone else's. In other words, I'm in no way suggesting that anything I did or do is what everyone should do or be. I'm mainly writing this for myself. If anyone out there finds anything I say helpful, that's great! I am very aware, however, that those of us outside the norms of what society finds acceptable in terms of size are so often bombarded with advice directives in the form of advice -- everyone is always telling us what we should be doing differently, or what we should never eat, or how we should be changing any and every little thing. I'm trying to be sensitive to that, and only speak about what helped ME.

That said, there are two things that have really helped me get to where I am over the last year: feeling good (i.e. healthy) and looking good (i.e. finding clothes and other things that help me love what I see in the mirror). I'm hoping to alternate posts between these two things and general inspiration/thoughts about body positivity in our culture.

I'll start with feeling good and how I changed my diet to positively impact how I feel. On April 1 of last year, I decided to start just tracking what I was eating. I had gained a lot of weight, and I just didn't feel well. But, I have plenty of experience with so very many diets, and wasn't enthusiastic about re-committing to any of them. I just can't face another low-carb diet, even though they work for me. Calorie restriction also works, but I'm very concerned about the unnatural the additives in "diet" food, and the emerging research that shows that a lot of these additives mess with your body chemistry. I promised myself no judgement and no guilt -- I was just going to log everything I ate and get some insight about what I might, eventually, want to change.

I knew there were apps that would help me with this, and the first one I went with was HealthWatch 360, for one major reason -- the micro-nutrient tracking is the best I've seen anywhere, and since I was more interested in my overall  health than simply in losing weight, I really liked having this information available.

HealthWatch 360 food log and calorie tracker
HealthWatch 360 has a website and an app (iPhone and Android), and I used both (they sync, even though the website and the app have slightly different names). Basically, you enter everything you eat, doing the best you can to be accurate as to portion sizes, and their software calculates not only calories, carbs, protein, fat but even things like iron, vitamin D, Zinc, Potassium, Niacin and 22 other micro-nutrients, including cholesterol. It also breaks down the fat and carb analysis into various categories. As you track, the app calculates a nutrition score (out of 100 points) that tells you whether you're in the "green," "yellow" or "red" for that day. Below the score, little green smilies, yellow neutral faces or red frownies tell you which particular micro-nutrient is contributing to your score, for better or worse, and which foods contributed to the problem, if there is one. A click will take you to a more detailed analysis.

Like many other similar apps, you can set weight loss goals with HealthWatch 360, which will give you a calorie goal for each day, but the other unique feature is that you can track how you feel, how you're sleeping, your blood pressure and other health indicators and then set the app to look for trends that might be linked (or not) to diet. Like you can track sugar intake and energy levels, or protein intake and how well you sleep. There's an exercise log as well, where you can track your exercise, and also gain back calories (if you're tracking those).

Starting out, this was exactly the kind of information I was looking for, and it was a big eye-opener, especially when it came to exactly how many calories, and how much fat and sugar, I was consuming, and how little of other vital nutrients. It wasn't so much the amount of fat and sugar that was shocking -- it was the percentage of my diet that was taken up by those two components. Just having that knowledge motivated me to pay a little more attention to what I was choosing to eat, and how much. After a couple weeks of tracking, I felt ready to begin a more concerted effort to try to lose weight, and improve my health, by staying under a specific calorie target, and watching fat and sugar intake was a major component of that effort. I also used the micro-nutrient information to make sure I was choosing things that were lower in sodium and higher in iron, B vitamins and other places where I know my typical diet is deficient.

After a few months I did get really frustrated with their food database, which was very limited compared to My Fitness Pal, especially because I cook a lot and it was hard to find specific products for the recipe ingredients. So once I had a good baseline in terms of the kind of food I should and should not be choosing, I switched over to My Fitness Pal, which has a fantastic database and also has a more generous (in my opinion) calorie allowance for weight loss goals. Over the summer, however, HealthWatch 360 made some upgrades, which included expanding their database, so I switched back. It definitely is better than it was, but the searches are often a little weird and it's not always easy to find some products or ingredients.

As I continue to monitor my health, I'm no longer that interested in weight loss per se, or calorie counts. But I've stuck with tracking my food intake via HealthWatch 360 because I have chronic deficiencies in a couple areas (iron, Vitamin D and calcium, to name three). The iron deficiency is caused by biologic and genetic factors so it's not entirely addressable via diet, but it is good to know when I'm in danger of having a day with little to no iron intake.

I can't stress enough how important it was to head into tracking food with the attitude that I was just seeking information, rather than using it as another way to beat myself up. Just knowing how what I'm eating contributes to how my body functions and approaching nutrition from a health perspective, instead of from a perspective that emphasizes restriction and "good/bad" foods, was a really eye-opening change for me that helped me see eating as something I could do to take care of myself, rather than something that was either a punishment or a reward.

If anyone knows the original source of this image, let me know.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

This is what 222 pounds looks like...

What do you think of when you think of a 200-pound person? I can't answer that question for you, but I know what I think of. For most of my life, I didn't associate that number with beauty or health. The 200-pound mark has always been a psychological rubicon for me -- once crossed, and I crossed this particular milestone many, many years ago -- it represented a number that must be conquered, subdued. Beaten down, or beaten back. Annihilated.

Staying above that mark represented shame, and failure, and somehow being less of a full participant in life. Until, one day, it didn't anymore.

Sure, some might argue that acceptance means giving in. Knuckling under. Being lazy. Quitting. But somehow, in my journey to accept myself, I've truly come to see that the number doesn't mean anything.

I weighed myself yesterday. I'm going to break one of the last social taboos and tell the world what the scale said:

222 pounds

And this is what I looked like walking out the door yesterday:

Excuse the mess.
Dress: London Times Elbow Sleeve Side Drape Side Sheath Dress
Shoes: Payless Comfort Plus Janine Pointy-Toed Pump
I'm sure some of you still think that that picture represents someone who is unattractively large. Someone who should be embarrassed or ashamed. Someone who should be trying harder, being better, who shouldn't be happy about what she sees. And that's ok. But I can look at that picture and feel nothing but happy about the person smiling out of that picture.

The number is just a number. It doesn't mean anything real. My health is excellent. My blood pressure is lower than normal. My cholesterol is in the normal range. I exercise most days. I do pilates and teach dance and go to Zumba when I can fit a class into my schedule. I passed a stress test last year with flying colors. I feel healthy.

My ideal weight, according to all the charts, is 170 pounds, and that's at the high end of the range. To get to my "ideal weight," the person in that picture would have to lose more than 50 pounds. I wouldn't recognize her. (Also, none of my costumes would fit her.) I'm sure she would be a lovely person, but I think she's lovely now, inside and out. 

I know that sounds conceited. But I'm just being honest, and those of you who struggle with body image and self-acceptance, no matter your size or weight, know how hard it is to genuinely feel happy about the image in the mirror. Here's hoping we can all get there, and here's hoping I can stay there.

I'm really scared to post this publicly. But I have to keep reminding myself, people knowing my weight doesn't change anything. They see me every day. Putting a number on what they see might change how they see me, but it shouldn't. This is what 222 pounds looks like -- on me. It looks different on everyone. But the number itself is meaningless.  #itsjustanumber 

Sunday, March 22, 2015

I'm Baaaaaaaaaack. Again. No, really, for real this time...

Well, this is awkward.

The big I’M BACK announcement, and then nothing. For – holy crap, has it been that long?!?! – almost two years. Wow, Fat Dancer, that’s pretty lame.

Well, I was struggling with some stuff related to body image and body positivity that I’ll write about later. I got super burnt out with a lot of things, including dance. And I had a sabbatical where I sat on my ass and gained a ton of weight. Enough weight that I could feel it having an impact on my health.
So I’m here to tell you, in case you weren't already convinced: sitting in one place for most of your waking hours is really bad for you. It’s bad for your heart, it’s bad for your back, and it’s bad for your emotional health.

I mean, nothing terrible happened. I didn't develop a debilitating diet-related disease or have a heart attack or anything. But I've always been 95-100% healthy, so when I started feeling a lot of pressure in my head, especially after eating salty foods, I knew blood pressure might be an issue. My blood pressure has always been around 110/70 so when I went to the local pharmacy to try out their blood pressure measuring machine and it read 135/90, I freaked out.  Went right to the doctor. Where I got properly tested and it turns out things weren't quite so dire but I was on the very edge of pre-hypertension. No medication, but my body was definitely telling me a change was needed.

Also seeing performance pictures from that spring made an impression: 

Looking at this now, I don't HATE it, but this is, as I have said before, not how I see myself in my head.
So on April 1, 2014, I made a commitment to just start tracking what I ate, promising myself no judgment and no negativity. I just wanted to get a nutritional baseline. I also started exercising (teaching two beginner dance classes a week wasn't cutting it). I’ll write more in future posts about the strategies I used (and continue to use), and the online/app tools that helped me on the way, but I’m happy to say that by Halloween I had lost almost 30 pounds. 

There's a little bit of an optical illusion going on here with my left arm, but I'll take it...

Also, my blood pressure is back to normal and my doctor has no concerns about my health once again.

But here’s my struggle, especially with this blog: how to reconcile body positivity, about which I feel passionately, with my personal unhappiness with the way I looked. Sure, I didn't feel great either, and that was at least 65% of the motivation to make some changes, but I can’t say it was only about health. I could not look at pictures of myself at that weight and be happy about it. Despite the fact that I have watched dancers of similar sizes raq it out beautifully. Sincerely. Not “beautifully for a woman her size”, but beautifully. Full. Stop.

But not me. So not only was I unhappy about what I was seeing in the mirror, I was hugely guilty about failing to be body positive by loving the way I looked.

So I spent the last year thinking a lot about that conflict, because I really want to keep writing about dance, body image, loving yourself at any size and all that jazz. I've come to some conclusions, which, you guessed it, will provide the fuel for future posts.

But for right now, I just want to say, once again: I’m baaaack! And this time, I hope I’m here to stay.

Friday, June 7, 2013

I'm baaAAaack....

Well, hey there! Yes, I disappeared from blogland for awhile (a semester, in fact), and while I could claim that it was being busy and especially having an 8 am class last semester that caused my absence, there were some other things going on as well. That's not to say that I wasn't busy, but really, these days everyone is busy so that's not really an excuse.

I'm still fat. Thought I'd get that out there. That's probably the biggest reason I have not been drawn back to blogging -- I made a public commitment to doing something, and then I didn't do it. I did give it a good run, though. I made it two months. I lost exactly 9 pounds. I know that shouldn't be discouraging, that slow weight loss is the most sustainable, that if I had just hung in there I would have gotten past the plateau... I know all those things intellectually, but at the time I felt like I was making a huge and painful sacrifice for very little result. So I just went back to my normal eating.

Of course I'm back to where I started now, weight-wise, and most of my clothes are getting tight. But there was an upside to the whole experiment, because I wasn't just struggling with the "diet" part -- I was also struggling with my whole motivation for trying to lose weight in the first place. I felt, and still feel, conflicted about wanting to be more body positive AND at the same time wanting to be thinner. All these issues had bubbled to the surface, just by writing this blog, and I hadn't really taken the time to process them. So the time off has been beneficial in some ways, because I feel more at peace about a lot of things.

For one thing, I feel better about my body as it is right now. I can look in the mirror and see things I like. I still have an hourglass figure (even if the bottom part has spread out a bit) that I appreciate and know I wouldn't have if I never got off the couch. Continuing to teach, take classes and perform plays a big role in that, I know, so I am also grateful to my own self for getting off the couch and going to class and hanging in there and not breaking.

I've come to terms with costuming and, to a certain extent, clothing my body as it is now. There are some things that just will not be flattering on me, and there's no reason to keep them around. There are other things that make me look FABulous, and I'm hanging on to those. I still have a hard time seeing something on the rack or in a picture and really being able to imagine it on me, so I have to be ruthless about trying things on (and returning them when necessary). Looking in the mirror is getting easier, so trying things on isn't as bad as it used to be.

Candid pictures are still hard for me to look at, but I know that it's possible to get a good picture of myself, so I just try not to think about the "bad" pictures too much. I know they are one element of the reality of how I look, but they're not the only element.

Pictures taken April 20, 2013...
...right after winning second place in a competition

Still, as I said, my clothes are getting tight. I don't want to buy new clothes, and I'd like to have more choices for clothes (and costumes) than I will have if I keep getting bigger. So while I still feel really strongly about finding ways to appreciate the way I look now, and fight against my tendency to be hypercritical, I also need to put the brakes on gaining any more weight.

So, I'm taking some steps to do just that, not necessarily to lose weight, but to kind of "reset" nutritionally and pull back a bit. One of my best friends from high school has had a lot of success -- not just with weight loss but with general health and well being -- with Advocare products, so I'm giving that a shot, starting tomorrow.

I'll probably be posting pictures of my "progress" at some point, but I really don't want (and have never really wanted) this to turn into a weight loss blog. That's not what The Fat Dancer is about, even though sometimes I felt like that was the direction I was pushing it, which made me anxious and uncomfortable. This is a blog about body positivity at any size and belly dance at any size and finding something you love and pursuing it wholeheartedly at any size, even if it means getting up in front of people and putting yourself on display.

I'd love to hear from you guys about your challenges and triumphs with weight and body image (and dance). I'm not a therapist, so I won't be offering advice, but sometimes it's nice to know you're more than just a voice crying out in the wilderness :)

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

One Month Progress Report: I'll Take It

So yesterday, Dec. 31, was the one-month mark of my 13-month odyssey to the land of no carbs. While this experiment isn't about weight loss so much as getting a handle on my tendency to overload on dietary sugars, I'm not too proud to admit I hope to lose some weight as well. So I'm pleased to report that I've lost 8 pounds so far. That works out to about .25 pounds per day. At first, .25 pounds per day doesn't sound like that much, but if I lost .25 pounds per day for the next 365 days, I'd lose 90 more pounds. I don't have 90 pounds to lose, and I'm also not naive enough to believe that I won't eventually run into a plateau or even a brick wall; but even if I lost half that amount in the coming year, I'd be smaller than I've been since high school. That would be interesting, to say the least.

In other news, I've been trying to practice body appreciation instead of body hatred over the last month, and I've been surprised at how quickly some of my perceptions have been changing. It's not that I see myself differently, per se, but my internal dialogue is a little different. If I catch sight of myself in a mirror, or see a picture of myself, I still experience that shock that comes from seeing what I really look like, versus what I think I look like. But instead of feeling despair, I more often have felt acceptance. I'm more likely to think, "Well, that's what I look like, and that's ok. If I want to change how I look, then I should, but for now, it is what it is." That's progress, for me.

As for my commitment to eating no carbs, I'd say I've been about 85% this month. I've already written about the trouble with family meals, which continued on Christmas day when I was confronted with a meal in which absolutely nothing, except the roast, was LGL. So I ate, but I took small portions of everything and didn't go back for seconds. I did, however, have dessert. And my body freaked right out. So lesson learned there. If I don't eat sugars that immediately impact my blood sugar, I don't experience racing heart rate and palpitations. Seems pretty easy to figure that out.

I'm also getting much more sensitive to sweetness. I was at a meeting before the holidays where lunch was served (it was supposed to be ham, but turned out to be lasagna; I ate about half). I figured since I had already violated my "diet", I might as well have a cookie. I took one bite and almost passed out -- WAY too sweet. I also had a bite of coconut shrimp the other day at Ruby Tuesday -- it tasted like a doughnut. The only sweets I have been eating (other than these deviations) have been Cutie oranges, very dark chocolate, and the occasional CarbMaster yogurt. It's amazing, to me, how quickly things can change.

This is about as sweet as I can take right now.

So one month down, 12 more to go. So far, so good. And I promise, I'll have more posts about dance coming soon!

Happy New Year, and all best wishes for you for 2013!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Eating for Others

No, I'm not pregnant -- no, no, no, nevermore. What I'm reflecting on today is how difficult it is to disentangle the emotional ramifications of food from its purely nutritive aspects. I'm not really talking, here, about eating to self-comfort, but about how other people respond when you decline something they have made (or bought) for you that you do not want to eat. Or that you really, really do want to eat but shouldn't. Or that you've promised not to eat for a whole year (who would do something that crazy, I ask you?).

Oh beautiful pineapple -- why do you hate me so?
It's one thing if you're allergic. I'm allergic to avocados and pineapple (wah!) so I feel no guilt whatsoever in not eating food containing those ingredients. But I'm not allergic to cornbread, or cookies, or potatoes. And that's what I was faced with this weekend -- delicious, delicious homemade iron-skillet cornbread, sugar cookies made specially for us, and potatoes that couldn't, by any stretch, be politely picked out of a vegetable soup.

Nom. Nom nom nom.
So, as you've probably guessed, I ate what was set in front of me. We went to visit some elderly relatives of my husband's and she had prepared a delicious meal just for us. To be honest, health-wise it was not over the top. No scalloped potatoes or deep-fried chicken. The desserts were fairly light. But none of it was "on my diet."

Yes, I could have said "no thanks, I'm on a diet." Maybe I should have said that. But there is something so off-putting, to me, about sitting at a table where everyone is eating except one person, who is not eating by choice. It seems rude, to me. I know that our hostess would not have been offended (probably), but she probably would have felt guilty  in that good Southern hostess way, that she didn't cook something I could eat. And while I'm on the subject, I also think it's rude to require someone to change their whole menu just for you. [Again, I'm not saying that these are immutable etiquette rules -- I'm talking about how *I* feel about issues surrounding refusing food.]

So yeah, I could have lied. I could have said that I don't like any of that stuff. But that also comes across, to me, as rude, having been raised to at least try something of everything on your plate and not to refuse to eat food offered by one's hosts. I REALLY don't like seafood, of any kind, but honestly, if I go to someone's house and they serve seafood, I'm going to pretend that I like it. I was raised to believe that's just good manners.

I could have lied and said I'm allergic to corn, or wheat, or meat. But that kind of lie, besides being a little over the top, can also come back to bite you in any number of ways. First of all, all my in-laws were there, so they'd know I was lying. But even if they didn't, it would mean, given the fairly basic nature of the food we were eating, that future meals with this couple would be pret-ty limited (and also more likely to contain seafood -- urgh).

I could have said I was full. But again, that seems rude to me. If you know you are going to someone's house for a meal, why would you fill up beforehand. I get pissed off at my husband if he snacks before dinner, if I'm cooking, because I see that as disrespect for the effort I'm putting into making him food.  I could have brought my own food, but that also seems off-putting to me -- it seems supercilious and snobby TO ME. It's like saying, "Yes, I'll spend time with you, but I can't eat what all you normal people eat -- I need *better* food."

The mantra of many diet programs is probably familiar to many of you: If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. But I did plan (a little). I ate some cheese on the way down, hoping it would curb my appetite a bit. But I wasn't prepared for the emotional landmine that surrounds family meals. Or formal family meals at any rate. I know some of you will say "But it's family -- they have to take you however you are." That's true, to an extent, but this is family we don't see very often, and I am very new to this family. I mean, she got out her good china for cornbread and beef stew.

I know that a lot of what I've said here reveals a lot more about my own issues with food than it has to do with the etiquette of dining.  But I also have to think that I can't be alone in this -- what is it about food, and eating in groups, and *preparing* food, that causes such intense emotional reactions?

No thanks, Grandma -- I'm just going to have a salad
In the end, I ate. I had cornbread, and soup (two bowls!) and cookies. I skipped the pecan pie, but that's mostly because I don't like it, and I felt I had earned one refusal since I had eaten everything else. I didn't go overboard. And I know I paid the price for it, both in breaking my pledge for the first time and in setting back whatever progress I've managed to eke out over the last two weeks. But I made a sweet lady happy (or kept her from being unhappy) and it seemed worth it at the time. I've been otherwise very disciplined over the last two weeks, but mostly by avoiding situations where I'd be tempted. But I'm going to have to come up with some strategies for dealing with more difficult eating situations if I'm going to manage to stick it out until 2014.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Bellyfat and Bellydance -- Part I

In America, we don't see a lot of bellies in a positive context. Oh sure, we see lots of stomachs -- toned and taut six packs being used to market diet drinks, gym memberships and sex in the form of Victoria's Secret lingerie. But most of the time, when we're confronted with bellies, we are supposed to either laugh at them (e.g. peopleofwalmart.com) or be appalled/ashamed about them -- like that animated ad that appeared in the sidebar of practically every website I visited for at least a year that showed a fat belly shrinking down to a skinny stomach, over and over and over.

There have been some attempts to change this, most notably the Dove Real Body Campaign, but even then, in their most famous image, those stomachs are pretty flat. I don't see any bellies hanging over the top of those briefs:

Dove Campaign for Real Beauty

Maybe they're all sucking in really hard.

But the bellydance world is full of bellies. That's not to say that there aren't some very toned stomachs (quite a few, indeed), but there are an equal number of gushy, jiggly, wobbly bellies. And -- here's the key -- in bellydance, those bellies are presented on the same stages, in the same contexts, at (usually) the same level of celebration and admiration as the more culturally celebrated flat stomachs. 

That's awesome. Many women find it transformative. I know that I often see my own students, after a few classes, pulling their shirts up to expose their bellies -- partly because they want to see what's happening down there, but also, at least in part, because they see me doing it and see that the world didn't end when a woman showed her jiggly belly without apologizing for it. In class and in performance, we bellydancers just get accustomed to see bellies and stomachs of all sizes and within a pretty short period of time, it's often not an issue anymore.

It's unfortunate, then, that the public image of bellydance doesn't seem to incorporate the body positivity that actually exists in most of the bellydance world. I say "most" -- you don't see a lot of pudgy restaurant dancers and I know that there are troupe/company directors who require their dancers to conform to the culturally accepted standards of beauty. This is directly related to the public image of bellydance -- if you are trying to sell a product, you want to give the customer what they (think they) want. I totally get this, and I'm not judging (much). 

But there is great power in simply putting bellies back in the public consciousness in positive contexts. I was at a show recently where I was blown away by a dancer from out of state whom I had never seen before. She was a petite little thing with long dark hair and dark eyes -- the very image of what the general public believes a bellydancer is -- but she also had a very juicy belly. And she took advantage of it. When she shimmied, I couldn't take my eyes off her belly -- it had a life of its own. Much of her movement accentuated the additional motion of her belly reverberations. I wish I had written her name down, and I don't have the program anymore, but watching her dance was, in many ways, a revelation. Getting more bellydancers with bellies out there in front of the general public (instead of just out there in front of ourselves -- because we all know that the majority of the audience at most bellydance shows are other dancers) might be similarly transformative.

I'm going to a workshop with Mardi Love today as a birthday gift to myself. I've been covering my stomach in class and rehearsal lately because I've gained so much weight this fall, but today I'm going to put it out there. It is what it is, and what it is might just be ok.

But at the same time, I do wonder whether some styles of bellydance are better suited to stomachs than bellies... Stay tuned for Part II.

PS: Today marks the first week of my year-long experiment. Eating-wise I have been very disciplined (which isn't unusual at the beginning of a change). Weight-wise... well, I didn't gain (in fact, I lost a little) and that's what I have to keep reminding myself of -- the whole point of this experiment is, at one level, to just stop gaining and to get my carb addiction under control. So: Week 1 = Mission Accomplished.