Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Stupid comments

When I was 16, I met a guy at a party that I really liked.

He was older than I, and had long hair, and he was in a band, so of course I was smitten. He had paid quite a bit of attention to me at the party, so I was eager to find out the next day, from one of his friends, how he felt about me.

The friend assured me that "Jack" liked me a lot, and was going to ask me out. Of course I wanted to know more. What did he say? Details, I want details!

The friend, "Rob", wasn't too good with details, but he did remember a few. Jack thought I was cute and nice. He planned to call me soon. Any negatives? Well, he did say "She'd look really great if she lost about five pounds."

I don't know why I thought of this anecdote today, but here it is, in the front of my mind, really ticking me off. It's just one of a collection of bad body memories in which the stupid, careless comments of another set me up for hating myself.

FIVE POUNDS??? Are you kidding me? Could someone even detect if I'd gained or lost five pounds?

Would I have turned into some kind of amazingly beautiful goddess if I were only five pounds lighter?

That same summer I remember riding my bike and hearing teenaged boys shout out the car window that I had a fat butt. (That same butt would be considered quite lovely by today's "J-Lo" standards.) Comments like these affected me deeply. Even though I was certainly at a normal, healthy, attractive weight, I allowed these comments to affect me that I began starving myself, dropping 29 pounds during my senior year of high school. I did this by eating one-half of an alfafa sandwich for lunch each day. It was brutal, but when I could see my ribs, and my prom dress was falling off me, I was beautiful, right?

I dated Jack for awhile, and it didn't seem to matter how thin I was. I don't remember exactly what happened. I saw him recently. He has a paunch, wears glasses and is no longer in a band. I've changed too.

I've changed to the point where I realize that five pounds, or fifty pounds, is not the issue.

I'm much, much more than a number on a scale, and the stupid comments of others don't change that. Insert fingers in ears and repeat after me: I'M NOT LISTENING!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Book Meme

I am a Meme slacker and rule-breaker. My apologies. But this one from Ebeth (thanks for thinking of me!) was intriguing to a bibliophile like myself. It's just too bad I'm not reading something really profound like St. Augustine's Confessions like I and surely most moms of young kids, of course, usually do.

Anyhow, I've decided to post this book Meme over here first even though it was directed at my other blog because my chosen book pertains to exercise and body image. I'm juggling several books right now, but I decided to feature a book that's on my nightstand that I actually first read in college and have revisited several times since. It's Making Peace with Food by Susan Kano and out of the slew of books on eating disorders and body image I've read I found it to be one of the most helpful.

Now without further ado, I'm supposed to turn to page 56 and write down the fifth sentence as well as a few sentences following it, so here goes:

"You can decide when to exercise in advance, put that time aside in your schedule, and avoid constantly asking yourself, 'Shall I exercise today or not?'

If you stop exercising for a long period of time, there is no need to feel guilty. It happens to everyone, and feeling bad about it is unproductive. Remember that you are still the same person you were while exercising - lack of exercise has made you less fit, not less worthy. Just as eating poorly does not make you a 'bad' person. Ideally, you should handle it in the same way most people who love to be active handle it: mildly regret that you haven't been enjoying the fun and mental relaxation you had been enjoying and go back to it as soon as you can."

Now I'm going to cheat and include a passage I highlighted way down on this page just because it's something competitive, little me needs to be reminded of (yes, I admit I have been that crazy preggo lady on the elliptical trainer at the gym who's racing the dude in the spandex shorts next to me to see who can pump their arms and move their legs the fastest):

"Do not fall into the trap of pushing yourself so hard that you push yourself away from the fun of exercise."

Just in case you're wondering: Maniacal elliptical training doesn't really fall into the fun category.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Outgrowing My Mother

Okay, I admit: I haven't had to grapple (much) with the effects of aging yet. I haven't hit the 30-mark and honestly, I'm more worried about building my nest egg, having healthy kids, getting my hubby through a few more years of medical residency than things like gray hair popping up on my head. Still, I know from my mom, who isn't someone you'd describe as vain despite her inner and outer beauty, has said approaching 60 has been more challenging than she'd imagined. She has said the biggest challenge is that she'll look in the mirror and be shocked at what she sees - not because she thinks she looks bad but because she feels so much younger than she thinks she looks.

Yet, she's also quick to silence any negative thoughts about her aging and to be grateful for those lines of life (what we call wrinkles and what so many women are trying to erase with Botox, facelifts, or in the very least, expensive creams) because it means she has outgrown her mother whose own life ended at the young age of 46.

This Thanksgiving, I remember the grandmother I never knew. She passed away on Thanksgiving Day 39 years ago. I also welcome any harbingers of old age that will eventually come my way as signs as that I have lived a long, happy life. And I say a prayer of thanks for the wonderful relationship I share with my mom, my daughters' Gaba.

Now here's a guest post called "Outgrowing My Mother" written by Eileen Pankow, my own lovely mom:

For what it’s worth, I figured I’d be dead by now. As an adult orphan, I can’t really visualize myself growing old gracefully. Really, I can’t picture myself growing old at all.

When my mother succumbed to breast cancer at the age of 46, she had beautiful skin, hair in all the right places, few wrinkles and very little cellulite. So that’s the way I always figured I wanted to go – not the dying of breast cancer part, but looking good when I went. So it was a rude awakening when I looked in the mirror a few years ago and saw long, graying nasal hairs, crow’s feet and dimpled thighs staring back at me. Instead of just being happy that I was still alive at 51, I found myself scrutinizing every wrinkle and age spot.

People say women turn into in their mothers, but my mother didn’t live long enough for me to turn into her. Or maybe I’ve lived so long that I’ve somehow outgrown her. I was 16 when she died, and sometimes my mental image of her is fuzzy, much like the old, faded pictures I peruse through, searching for a likeness.

I don’t have a model to compare myself to as I age, but there have been a lot of other things I’ve missed as I’ve gone through life without a mother. I often wonder if my mother enjoyed reading Janet Evanovich-type novels? Did she fantasize herself in the embrace of one of those fictional hunks? Did she ever wish she had been a bounty hunter or a forensic scientist? I can’t remember what types of books she liked to read or what heroines she admired.

Then there’s my health history – something people with parents take for granted. I cringe when I have to fill out one of those long medical questionnaires.

“Does breast cancer run in your family?” Yes. That’s easy.

“Did you ever have chicken pox?” Hmmm… I vaguely remember pulling a bandage off of my knee when I was about 6 and seeing one little bump. My siblings were both getting over chicken pox, so I was very pleased and excited to see this tiny, red bulge. I didn’t want to be left out. I’m not really sure if the bump was chicken pox, and I have no mother to confirm or deny my symptom as being anything more than a mosquito bite.

“German Measles?” I had one of the measles, but I don’t know if it was of the German, or Polish or Greek variety.

“Does anyone in your family have high cholesterol?” How do I know? My mother (and father) died before they even started testing for cholesterol, the good or bad kind.

Then there were the landmark moments in my life when I really felt my mother was missing. Planning a wedding can be a stressful affair for any bride, but being 18 and without maternal assistance, it can be devastating. Undaunted, I planned one, canceled it and planned it again, all in a three-month period. I didn’t doubt the love of my future husband (now of 37 years), but a part of me didn’t want - couldn’t picture - a wedding without my mother there to share it with me. It’s a visual thing. My child’s eye, even as an adult, can’t envision some things without Mom at my side. And maybe if my mother had been alive, she’d have talked me out of those bright yellow and white floral bridesmaid dresses.

My first pregnancy brought its own set of problems. Was it normal to throw up every morning for nine months? How much weight did my mother gain? And when the bundle of joy arrived, I wondered which end to powder. I was clueless, but I was on my own, except for Dr. Spock – a poor substitution for a mother’s wisdom.

Despite many unanswered questions, there are some things I do remember about my mother. For instance, I know for a fact that my mother was a fastidious housekeeper. I have pictures to prove it. And I – for better or worse – share her fervor for cleaning and organizing. The smell of ammonia, washing down cabinets, alphabetizing DVDs, ironing sheets and trying out a new vacuum cleaner make me tingle all over.

I also vaguely remember my mom having trouble with clich├ęs. I wonder if it’s a genetic disorder since my daughter, older sister and I all share this unique challenge. Are we all a chip off the old shoulder?

I’ve lived almost four decades without my mother, and there are many things I’ve forgotten or wonder about. But what I do know is that I still miss her, that my mother was my best friend, that she laughed at and with me, she made me feel like I could conquer the world, and she loved me unconditionally, even when I squirted ginger ale all over the freshly painted ceiling. And when I think about it, I’m happy to say I'm probably everything my mother would have been after she turned more than a half-a-century old – wrinkles, cellulite and all. After all, the apple doesn’t fall far from the cart.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Now THAT'S a pregnant woman!

Ever since I read Kate's post about pregnancy,weight gain and body image, I've been thinking about writing this post. Kate, I love you, but I know I am not alone. When I looked at that pregnant pic of you, I chuckled. I had in mind myself in pregnant form. As you can see from the posted photo, there are many differences to comtemplate!

It took some hunting to find this particular photo. It is one of the Infamous Seven Photos of Cathy on the Day of Delivery. We decided it would be fun to take a "last photo" of the pregnant mommy just before she headed out the door to the hospital. This one is of me in July of 1999, on my way to the hospital to deliver my fifth child, John.

Unlike Kate, you can see that I was not sporting a "basketball belly." This picture is a good indicator of what I looked like during most of the around 70 months of my life I've been pregnant. I get BIG. During this particular pregnancy, I was at my fittest. I was seeing a nutritionist and was walking several miles on a treadmill every day up until he was born.

What strikes me about this photo is how strange my face looks. I gained weight everywhere, including my face. My nose always seemed to take on a new shape. I recall that my toes looked like sausages, and I couldn't wear most of my shoes.

I'm writing about this and sharing this photo because I find it so interesting that even though Kate and I looked quite different while pregnant, we both found it challenging. When I looked at her photo, all I saw was a beautiful, thin, young mom. I was jealous, I admit it. When I look at myself pregnant, I don't find anything very attractive! (It's OK if you agree with me -- it's true!)

I may not have been physically attractive as a pregnant mom, but since I did have seven pregnancies, there must have been some reason to do it that superseded my desire to be attractive. Of course there was. I was able to understand that my role as a woman was not only to be "beautiful." I was certainly fulfilling my calling as a wife; becoming a mother was meant for me. I was not always attractive or comfortable being pregnant, but I have absolutely no regrets.

There is s measure of humility, in fact a considerable one, required of us when we are pregnant. We give up our bodies for our children. We let go of our control, our figures, our vanity. It is not easy, particularly in a world where women like Angelina Jolie are held up as the ideal.

So I share this photo of myself, in humility, yet proudly. It was not easy for me to do, I must admit! But I wanted to encourage those of you who may look more like me than Angelina. We are beautiful, we mothers, willing to sacrifice what is necessary for the great blessing and privilege of motherhood.

(Because I am not yet purged of my vanity, I will direct the curious to my other blog, from the field of blue children, to see cute photos of me as I look now!)

Friday, November 21, 2008


I'm experimenting with new templates for this blog, so bear with me! Like everything else in my life, we're going through a bit of transition here.

It is fun to do make-overs, but sometimes, especially when dealing with technology, they can take time. Thanks for your patience while I work this out. In God's Image is still here, even if we look different every time you visit!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Acting Up

I belong to a community theater group, and as such I spend time with talented women who can act, sing, dance, direct, design costumes, tweak sound systems and identify lighting elements.

They are a great group of ladies, ranging in age from teen to senior citizen, and normally I enjoy their company immensely.

I'm currently a cast member in a show that features tap dancing, which is definitely a stretch for me. I have never worn a pair of tap shoes and was fairly confident, up until about a month ago, that I would never don a pair. But now I've been cast as Maxine, who not only dances but dances well, and I'm striving to do my best, to use my imperfect body in a new and challenging way. (Note: tap dancing is MUCH harder than it looks!)

Anyway, I've been toughing if out at rehearsals, and rather enjoying it. I find that it's good for my body image to push myself this way, to acknowledge that I can try new things, and that even if I'm not perfect in form I can do lots of really amazing things.

So I'm at rehearsal the other day, having a good body day, feeling strong and fit and rather snappy learning these steps. Soon I'm having the wind taken out of my sails, because these talented women I'm spending time with are women, after all, and the conversation had to turn to our bodies.

Scene: A rehearsal space. Dorothy, Vera, Maxine and Bonnie are all attractive women in their mid forties.

Dorothy: (to Vera and Maxine) I saw the pictures online from that show a few seasons ago. Wow! You two have lost so much weight since then!
Vera: I was 40 pounds heavier then. I was disgusting.
Maxine: Well, that was about 20 pounds ago for me.
Dorothy: Well, you guys look great now. (How did we look then? Horrific?)
Vera: No, I'm gaining again. I can't even squeeze into any of my sixes.
Maxine: (Rolling her eyes.) You look great.
Vera: My feet have been hurting lately. I think it's because I'm so fat. I'm a solid eight now.
Bonnie: (Chiming in) I think women are too thin at size six. (Bonnie is a very fit and attractive size eight.) Women look best at size eight. Some women can even look acceptable at a size 9/10, or even an 11.
Maxine:(who is a curvy size 10 or 12) I think larger women are attractive, too.
Vera: (she has a very trim waist and large breasts) I'm out of control.
Andy: I've lost thirty pounds.
Vera: You look so great.
Andy: The divorce has been awful. I've always had meat on my bones, but now look how thin I am! I didn't really do it the right way, though.
Vera: But you look awesome now!
Maxine: Let's learn these steps.
Vera: (grabbing Maxine's midsection) I want one of those!
Maxine: (embarrassed) What?
Vera:(who just said her size eight body is disgusting) Look at that cute little chub.

Fade out as the middle-aged women meekly line up to begin the dance. Maxine, for one, is demoralized. In the background are the younger members of the cast, two girls in their early 20's. They are much larger than the middle-aged ladies. They are not a part of the conversation. They are, no doubt, talking about something much more interesting...

Has it ever occurred to you that perhaps it is inappropriate to comment on one another's bodies? I have found myself complimenting other women's weight loss because I want to appear friendly, because I'm nice and I'm trying to make a friend. Recently I told someone she looked like she'd been losing weight when she looked the same as ever (curvy and "overweight.") I like her and knew that she'd feel good about herself if I commented this way on her body, so I lied about it.

Wouldn't it be better to comment on her kindness, charity, wisdom, wit, or sincerity?

Because I truly admire all those things about her, and I'd like her at any weight.

One of my friends has recently lost about 25 pounds. She did this during a period of depression by eating one can of tuna each day and chain-smoking. So now I'm supposed to rave about how fabulous she looks, and tell her I'm so proud of her? Am I supposed to like her more now than I did when she was "chubby?"

Earlier this year I was about 10 pounds lighter than I am now. To achieve this I had to write down every morsel I consumed and log all fiber, fat, calories and carbs. I walked for hours each day, went to the gym to lift weights, and forced down gallons of water. I was consumed with my weight loss; it was all I had passion for.

So now I'm heavier. So what? I have time to write and clean my house and tap dance in a show. Are my friends disgusted with me? Maybe they are, sadly. Maybe the only way then can tell if I deserve a compliment is if I'm wearing a size eight.

I'm really going to try to change my habit of commenting on other women's bodies. I'm not going to bring up their weight loss. Instead I'm going to focus on the things I love about them that have nothing to do with their size.

I hope they will return the favor, and love me as I am. Even if I can't tap dance, thin or fat, or somewhere in between.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Growing Pains

I'm almost 20-weeks pregnant with my third child (that's me pregnant with my second bambino), so I'm supposed to be gaining weight. This is the sign of a healthy baby. I know all this, but it doesn't mean it's easy-peasy for me to watch my waistline disappear and to see that number on the scale steadily rise every couple of weeks.

I wish I were one of those preggos who felt like a hot mama during pregnancy. When I became pregnant with my first, I eagerly stocked up on black Lycra tops that would hug my bump. (Think Angelina Joile.) I envisioned myself embracing the whole fertile goddess image. But eight months into my pregnancy I felt like I looked more like a Killer Whale than Angelina in my slinky, black tops (even though others said I looked small; like most women, I'm my own worst critic). While I'm always certainly thankful to be pregnant (or at least to be having another baby), I often find myself mourning my old body at some point during the nine-month journey.

I doubt I'm alone in my feelings of body angst during pregnancy. Even though many women don't share my eating disorder history, it's not most women's idea of fun to pack on the pounds.

For me, seeing my body give way to a softer, fuller form really is a constant struggle. I do have days where I find respite from my body hatred. I'm more focused on growing this beautiful baby (as I always should be), but I've admittedly found that this pregnancy has been tougher than my others and that I've had more bad days than good.

Maybe it's because God was the only one who planned this pregnancy (whereas my first two I'd been eager to conceive and was using natural family planning to do just that). I suppose I wasn't ready to relinquish control, and that's what it's really about for me: Control. When I'm not pregnant, I know - as unhealthy as this sounds - that I can skip a meal or push myself hard during a workout and make that scale budge in the direction I want it to (not that I act on these impulses since being "recovered," but it's in the knowing that I can that somehow makes me feel less anxious).

But when I'm pregnant, I have a baby depending on me. I have a growing little one who needs nourishment and needs me to fuel my body with healthy food, even when I'm feeling nauseous or gross. I have to surrender to the scale and allow that number to climb.

This is why, I've realized, that pregnancy is so good for me. It's always a challenge, but it forces me to stop focusing on my weight, the way I look in my jeans (there's no such thing as skinny jeans when you're a preggo), and to stop being such an idiotic control freak.

I have also found that there are certain measures I can take to help me to better appreciate my new bod. (And, whether you're pregnant or not, I think some of these tips can be helpful for anyone hoping to overcome body image problems.)

So, my friends, here are some simple ways to help you love your preggo bod and to get over those growing pains:

  • Get moving. I've made an effort to exercise throughout all of my pregnancies (except, of course, when I was on bedrest for three weeks with my second). I've found that exercising – moving a little bit every day despite the fatigue or nausea – makes me feel not only healthier but also more comfortable with my new shape. Aside from those exercise endorphins, maybe my elevated self-esteem has to do with the fact that I'm doing something healthy for my baby and for me. Plus, regular prenatal exercise has been shown to boost energy levels, help prepare moms-to-be for childbirth (the biggest "workout" of your life!), relieve stress, and may even help women bounce back to their pre-pregnancy figure. I do a lot of walking and also try to do some prenatal yoga and Pilates. Just be sure to get the green light from your OB/GYN or midwife before you start (or even continue) a prenatal fitness routine.

  • Shun the scale. My current midwife is amazing. I was very upfront with her when I was pregnant with my second. I explained that I struggle with gaining weight during pregnancy and that it's not even really about what the scale says. I divulged my eating disorder history, and I asked her if we could just not make my weight an issue unless it was posing a risk for my baby because I was gaining too much or too little. She has been so sensitive with my previous and current pregnancy. At some appointments, she tells me I don't even have to step on the scale. Not knowing an exact number has been very liberating for me. Instead of fretting over my weight, I can just enjoy being pregnant and focus on taking care of my growing baby.

    Whether you're pregnant or not, try freeing yourself from the scale. Weighing yourself once a week is reasonable, but don't make it an everyday thing and, never forget that your self-worth is so much more than a number on a scale or a clothing size.

  • Accentuate the positive. Sure, varicose veins, puffy ankles and a behemoth bottom (I always get a bigger bum than tummy) are no fun, but what about the positive changes pregnancy brings like a curvier bod? Why not embrace your femininity? Don’t go for the frumpy look, and avoid anything that looks remotely like a tent. Go for modest but chic looks. I’m very thankful that maternity clothing is so cute and fashionable these days, and I try to not “hide” the fact that I’ve been blessed with another baby.

  • Celebrate your pregnancy. Okay, I’m really not the artsy-fartsy type, but I did something really cool during my first pregnancy after I wrote an article about an artist who transforms women’s fertile forms into pieces of art. This was completely out of character and frankly, it made me nervous, but I agreed to have a cast done of my torso when I was eight months pregnant. Elizabeth Barnes of Artful Expectations was the artist who cast my belly and then painted it to look like Ivy, my parents’ yellow Lab. (Sounds a little strange, I know, but this pup-belly ended up being the perfect artwork for my daughter’s room since she's crazy about Ivy.)

    When I saw what my body actually looked like housing a baby (rather than scrutinizing it using the carnival mirror in my head that has a tendency to distort how I see my body), I realized that my pregnant form was absolutely beautiful and that my baby, as cheesy as this may sound, was a piece of art my husband and I had co-created with God. If that doesn’t break the funny mirror in my mind, I don’t know what will.

    If a belly cast isn’t an option, why not ask your husband to take photos of your pregnant bod? I've always been envious of women who showcase their belly shots throughout pregnancy; I've never been brave enough to do that, but maybe someday I'll get to that place. As it stands, I too often avoid the camera when I’m pregnant; yet, I know that down the road I’m going to want to see pictures of me carrying my children. In fact, I didn’t like the photo above when it was taken when I was about seven months pregnant, but now it’s one of my favorite snapshots. I love how my older daughter's hand is on my belly and how I’m not recoiling from her touch. We both look so content, and it's clear we were celebrating a new life together. The bottom line is having a baby – accommodating not one but two souls in the temple of your body – is always worth celebrating.

  • Forget about those pre-baby jeans. After giving birth, you’ll be slightly thinner, but don’t expect to look like Heidi Klum. Most normal women – as in all of us who don’t have the luxury of personal trainers, nutritionists and chefs at our service – should expect to look about five months pregnant after delivery. Cut yourself some slack and focus on motherhood.

    Besides, even if you never fit into those skinny jeans again, who really cares? As moms, we should have a whole new appreciation for our bodies after we deliver and often nurse a baby. I know I did. I never feel as amazing or empowered as I do after I give birth and when my milk first comes in. I’m lucky because I haven’t yet experienced baby blues in my early postpartum days. It’s more like baby mania. I feel so gloriously happy to have a new child and also in awe of my body that not only grew a baby but was also able to get the child out on its own and then feed it. I am Mommy. Hear me roar!

  • Pray. I have some really tough days when I’m pregnant, days when I hate my body, days when I’m tempted to take drastic, unhealthy measures to be in control of the scale. There are days when I take my baby and my body for granted. When I’m feeling particularly vulnerable, I meditate on Jesus’ words: “This is my body and it has been given up for you.” And isn’t that really what we do as moms whether we're ever blessed enough to physically carry and/or nurse a child or not? Every time we embrace another pregnancy, nurse a child, hold a toddler until our arms ache, drag ourselves out of bed to comfort a frightened child, or even play a game of catch with our kids, we’re employing our bodies to be mothers. Really, how can we not love our bodies, knowing that we're using them in exactly the way God intended?

Monday, November 17, 2008

A Reasonable Life

I'm going to cheat today.

No new ideas from me -- just some wisdom from the awesome site Body Positive.

My favorite? Healthy weight is what you weigh when you are living a reasonable life.

Am I living a reasonable life if I obsess about numbers on a scale? Is it reasonable to only consume foods that have been weighed and measured, that I'm told my some "authority" I can eat? Is it reasonable to punish myself with exercise, or deny myself food when I am hungry?

Lots to think about. Spend some time at Body Positive and explore thinking about these things in a new way.

And please, BE REASONABLE!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

My Unnamed Eating Disorder

The Great Scale Experiment is, I'm sad to say, not going well.

The blasted thing has made itself comfy on my bathroom floor once again. I keep trying to ignore it, at least, but it practically shouts at me to step on it every day.

Like I predicted, my vacation from weighing (and dieting) has left me several pounds heavier. I am not a happy girl.

I watched Ruby Sunday night. She is 474 pounds, morbidly obese and enchantingly lovely. She is rightfully concerned about her health, and with the help of a personal trainer, an internist, an obesity specialist, a nutritionist, her friends and family, and millions of Style Network viewers, she's setting out to get in shape.

No audience is watching my struggles, and next to Ruby's, they seem tiny, almost nonexistent. I am overweight, but nowhere near as much as she is. I would be thrilled to be just 10 or 15 pounds lighter. I don't need to lose over 300 pounds, like she does, but I feel I am have an equally difficult battle in my life.

Ruby says she is addicted to food, and is simply unable to stop eating. I don't feel that way about food -- I feel that way about dieting, about weight obsession.

Even though I look "normal", I feel fat and unattractive. I judge myself my what I've eaten and what the scale says. I feel my happiness is dependent on which jeans I can fit into, not on the many, many blessings in my life.

Something is wrong with me.

Ruby also has a psychiatrist on her team. I'm wondering if I, too, might benefit from therapy focusing on my weight/dieting/body image issues.

I know resources are available for those suffering from anorexia and obesity. They wear their disorders for all to see. They are so thin or so fat that the world takes notice and acknowledges their pain. There are many of us who suffer from an equally debilitating challenge -- we hate our own bodies and live daily with obsessions, confusion, and distress. Is there hope for us, too?

I don't think a TV show will be made anytime soon about women like us, the kind who try to exercise and eat right, but will never measure up to the standards we have set for ourselves. I suppose it would be a very boring show. The same episode would air day after day, month after month, year after year. If would feature an attractive woman, slightly overweight, hopping on and off the scale, trying every diet that comes along.

I want to change the channel, don't you?

Saturday, November 8, 2008


You may have seen ads, in the mall or on TV, for the new Style Network show "Ruby," a reality show about the experiences of a morbidly obese woman from Savannah.

I listened in to a portion of an interview by Lisa Hendey (of catholicmom.com fame) with the star of the show, which premiers Sunday, November 9.

What first struck me when I checked out Ruby's website is how authentically lovely she is -- despite her size, some would say.

Lisa's interview revealed that Ruby is in fact a Christian who considers her walk with God to be the most important journey she's on. She says that she insisted to the show's producers that her faith be incorporated into the program, and she explains that her attempts to now lose weight and regain her health are motivated in part by a recognition that she was "made in God's image."

Something we can certainly agree about!

I think I'll check out the program. If you do, come back and tell us what you think.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Taking Candy from the Baby

Halloween and its association with sweets in excess is tough for a mom like me. As someone who has struggled with an eating disorder and makes an effort every single day to teach my kids to be at peace with their bodies and to practice what’s known as mindful eating – eat when they’re hungry, don’t eat when they’re not, I find the readily available heap of goodies puts me in a bit of a quandary. I want my kids to enjoy their treats without feeling guilty, but I don’t want them to fill up on so much junk that they stop eating healthier foods until they have eaten their way through their sweet stash.

Now Madeline is only 3 (almost 4!), and she wasn’t out trick-or-treating all that long. Still, she made quite a haul of sweet stuff for such a tiny stomach, and the girl loves candy. What kid doesn’t? (Don’t tell me the apple of your eye prefers carrot sticks over Pixy Sticks). I’ve tried hard to not be a no-junk-food-ever-fascist and to let her know that all those delish treats are fine in moderation, but when she has access to such a huge pile of candy, it seems to whittle its way into her conscious so that all she can think about is when Mommy is going to let her have another taste of chocolaty goodness.

When I really start to think about her eating habits though, I realize that I don’t give her enough credit. Sure, she’s excited about her loot. However, one thing I’ve noticed about both my kids is that they do seem to practice mindful eating for right now and it’s my job not to mess that up. Just this weekend we were enjoying homemade peanut butter cupcakes we made for my mom and while the adults stuffed the big things down their throats, Madeline stopped when she was full. “I can’t eat anymore, Mommy,” she told me, pushing a large chunk of her cupcake away from her. “Can you save it?”

“Of course,” I replied.

So we put her leftovers in a plastic baggie and she’s forgotten about them for now. I hope she’ll always be like this. I really have to work on not making food an issue between us. I’ll sometimes hear myself telling her that she can’t have a snack when she says she’s hungry because it’s almost dinnertime (I can bet most moms have been guilty of this same thing at some point). Then when it’s dinner, I tell her she needs to eat. What I’m doing is teaching her to not listen to her body. I’m telling her to eat by the clock instead of eating when she’s truly hungry. If she wants a snack 15 minutes before dinner, I should offer her something healthy (which on a good day, I do). If she asks for a cookie, I don’t always have to say no. If she’s not hungry at dinner, that’s okay. She won’t starve.

As for my toddler, she starts chucking her food off the highchair when she’s finished, and I know not to ply her with more carrot slivers or cheese cubes. She’s finished and she knows it. Sometimes she eats a bigger serving than I do; other times she chews five raisins, spits one out, and calls it a meal. Again, that’s okay. Just like her big sister, she’s not going to starve and she won’t stuff herself until she feels sick. That’s what adults do because we’ve stopped listening to our bodies. We don’t know how to eat anymore. Food too often either triggers either guilt or a sense of longing. We’re either depriving ourselves or eating like it’s the last meal we’re ever going to have.

So how do we teach our kids to have a healthy relationship with food and their bodies?

In my own experience as a parental unit to two girls, teaching kids nutritious eating habits is a lot like so many other aspects of parenting. We can’t force our children to sleep, for example (I know this all too well having one insomniac under our roof), but we do have the responsibility to create the conditions for sleep, including a safe and comfortable sleeping environment and a soothing bedtime routine. As far as food goes, I don’t want to be a controlling mommy who’s always saying “no, no, no” and dividing food into good or bad categories. But I don’t want to be the mom who lets her kids eat Twinkies every day for an afternoon snack and makes excuses for my children when their BMIs are no longer within a healthy range (“Oh, she’s just really big boned.”). I have to walk a thin line (pun intended, I suppose) to teaching my kids to respect their bodies and to love them for their own unique shape and for encouraging them to make the most of what God gave them. We’re not all fashioned to be wispy thin, but we shouldn’t be so afraid of ruining our kids’ healthy body image that we constantly allow them to nosh on junk food, afraid that if we tell them to put the Oreos away they’ll have a complex for life. Really, we shouldn’t even be buying the Oreos – at least not on a regular basis. I aim to keep our pantry stocked with healthy eats, so they can pretty much choose anything they want and it will be an acceptable snack.

So, yes, I may end up taking some Halloween candy from my babies (and giving it to my husband who has a mutant metabolism and never gains a pound no matter what he eats), but not before I let them take pleasure in a few prized selections of their loot (Madeline is like her mommy and seems to favor Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups).

Here are some other creative ways to make sure your kids don’t gorge on their Halloween candy:
• My aunt freezes some of the candy that would make good embellishments for the gingerbread houses she makes every Christmas with her kids.
• I give my preschooler the option of using her candy to “buy” a toy. In other words, she can trade in some of her loot for a small trinket (maybe a book or a puzzle). Last year she wasn’t as in to candy and quickly decided on “buying” a toy. This year, she’s considering her options.
• Along this train of thought, I’ve heard of some families who have a good witch come and take some of the candy and leave a toy in its place.
• Last year we took most of the chocolate candy and mashed it up. We then added the pieces to a basic chip cookie recipe. We shared the cookies with friends – they were delicious. Every cookie was a surprise since some would have a Butterfinger crunch and others would be chewy with caramel or peanut butter.
• Since Halloween, I’ve been allowing Madeline to choose one piece of candy to eat every day. She can eat it whenever she wants, but once she’s had her daily allotment, that’s it.

What about you? How do you keep your kids from turning into real “sugar babies” after Halloween or any holiday where junk food is in easy access?

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Protecting our Girls

Recently a friend told me she was concerned about her middle daughter, because she has been "putting on weight."

She is one of three lovely teenaged girls. They are all beautiful, bright and talented. They do well in school and are dancers who take part in their school's dance team.

The youngest, at 14, is 5'3" and weighs 98 pounds. The eldest, at 17, is so thin that size zero dresses hang on her. The middle child, the one who Mom is concerned about? She's 5'4" and is tipping the scales at 118.

Her mom was worried because the jeans she bought in August are getting snug. She's gained SO MUCH weight that her pants are too tight! Horrors!

I didn't quite know what to say to my friend, whom I love dearly. All I could come up with when she told me she finally had her daughter get on the scale to verify how much she'd gained lately was a lame, "Well, she's certainly in the normal range. Why don't you just matter-of-factly tell her you'll get her some new jeans?"

I'm concerned, not just about my friend and her daughters, but about all of our girls. Why is it that we "worry" that we are simply too fat when we are just normal?

Pressure is so great to conform to a certain standard. I know that my friend, who is extraordinarily attractive, a size six, and an avid hater of her thighs, still struggles with body image at age 45. She loves her daughters and worries that they stay healthy and love themselves. But is her "concern" really healthy?

Don't our girls deserve better than this?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Mile Seven

Earlier this month, I walked in a half marathon.

It was my first attempt at such an endeavor. I drove to Des Moines, Iowa with my husband and a good friend, and we took part in the event as part of Prevention Magazine's Team Prevention.

Now, I have been a "fitness walker" for years, off and on. For the last six months or so, I've been quite committed to the sport. I average three or four miles every day, at a pretty good clip, and had even completed at least one ten mile walk as part of my training for the marathon. I felt ready to do this. I was feeling strong and fit, even though my recent experiment with getting rid of my scale had left me a few pounds heavier.

So the three of us laced up our sneakers (can we still call them sneakers?) and took off at the gun with about 5000 runners and maybe 1000 folks like ourselves -- regular people, not necessarily athletes, who were there pretty much just because we could put one foot in front of the other.

All in all, it was awesome. We took off at at decent speed, staying together initially and then each advancing at our own pace. It was a beautiful day, fall leaves tossed by a chilly wind, sky bright blue, cold and clear.

I took off on the open road, feeling great. Things progressed well, and the miles passed quickly -- more quickly than I imagined they would! Then the second toe on my left foot began to rub, just a bit, on my shoe. My hips began to burn. My knees started making a clicking sound with each step. Despite the cool temperature, I began to perspire, no -- sweat -- it was definitely a real sweat!

Around mile seven it all got a little old. I started wondering what in the world I was doing. Why had I driven half-way across the country to walk around some Midwest town in crappy "sneakers"? Why had I paid 90 bucks for a t-shirt and bragging rights that no one back home could care less about? I was tired and cranky, and I wanted to go home.

The only way to get home was to cross the finish line.

When I saw the mile eight marker I snapped out of it. I was here, walking through a beautiful park in our beautiful country, with a healthy heart and lungs and legs strong enough to carry me home. Quitting was not an option.

Every day of our lives can be a bit like mile seven. We wonder what we're doing here. We wonder if this ride is worth the ticket price. We feel tired and defeated, and we just want to go home.

Those of us who are battling our bodies, trying to find balance, seeking good health, or trying to achieve a healthy weight may feel like we hit mile seven about seven times a day. That's OK. We're not alone here. There's a whole mess of us out there running, walking, maybe crawling that marathon.

"Keep your eyes on the prize" is a cliche, but a good one. Focus, friends. Push through to mile eight, and you'll be amazed at what awaits you.

For the record, my goal was to complete the marathon in four hours 22 minutes, a rate of three miles per hour. I crossed the finish line, euphoric, at 3:31.

I could hardly walk for a week, and I'm now suffering with an infected toe. But was it worth it? Absolutely.

Walk on, my friends, walk on.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Wisdom from Yoda

Okay, so you're probably thinking: "What could George Lucas's great Jedi Master possibly have to do with faith, body image, or fitness?"

More than you might think.

No, I'm not a Star Wars junkie (I did not dress up like Princess Leia to go see any of the movies nor do I own a lightsaber), but I've always liked Yoda and the wisdom he imparts. Plus, who doesn't like to see a little guy use some serious Force to kick the tails of some pretty big and fierce enemies?

Recently, I stumbled across a Yodaism that immediately made me think of how we place far too much emphasis on appearance. Yoda wisely says, "Judge me by my size do you? And well you should not!"

Looking at this little green, old guy with pointy ears and wiry white hair springing from his wrinkled head, you wouldn't immediately think, "Now there's a great warrior!" But that's exactly what Yoda is.

Society has taught us to assume so much based on appearance. It's easy to "size people up" just by looking at them. We assume beautiful people are happy. We assume tall, lean people are athletes. We give meaning to fat and thin people. Slender, attractive men and women are always successful and popular. Whereas too often people conclude that overweight people lack confidence or perhaps self-control.

What we're doing even more than jumping to unfair conclusions is seeing people not as human beings but as objects. The Catholic Church is very clear about the dignity of the human person and that we must recognize each person's worth - from the unborn child to the disabled adult.

It would be unwise for any enemy to see Yoda as old and weak and to judge him by his small stature. Likewise, we must not turn people into objects; we must "see" beyond appearance and not draw conclusions based on how a person looks or dresses.

Judge others by their appearance? Well we should not. Instead, we must look at people through Christ's eyes, a lens of love. Then and only then will we begin to recognize that everyone has worth and everyone is beautiful.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

More prayer....less fat?

Recent studies show that one reason we hang onto belly fat is because we are simply too stressed. Stress raises levels of cortisol in our bodies, and the result is resistant visceral fat -- the dangerous kind that surrounds our internal organs and leads to heart disease and type two diabetes.

Vain or not, we all want to get rid of that kind of fat.

Studies also show that an excellent way to destress is to practice meditative prayer.

If you haven't tried praying the Rosary, well, now you have no excuse.

Most Catholics recognize the Rosary as a series of prayers, primarily Hail Marys, said in succession while contemplating the mysteries of the lives of Jesus and His Mother. What they may also admit is that praying the Rosary is an excellent means of bringing onself to a calm, peaceful place. Calm and peaceful = less stress. Spiritual growth and a flatter, healthier tummy? Sounds like a combo we should try.

I've been attached to the Rosary since I was a little girl. (Today I wrote about it here.) It has been my companion through good times and in bad, and in fact many times has brought me great peace. And the physiological result of praying the Rosary simply cannot be denied. Many times I've even dozed off with my precious beads slipping through my fingers.

Curious about the Rosary? I invite my friends of all faiths to give it a try. Contemplation, peace, a better understanding of the Mysteries of Jesus' life, and better mental and physical health...something worth considering.

Visit this lovely site to learn more.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Just another four-letter word

D-I-E-T. Four letters that rule our lives.

I have been "on a diet" for most of my adult life. As I've shared before, I've counted carbs, calories, fat grams, measured portion sizes, and tortured myself on the scale. I've kept meticulous records and scolded myself for "failing" when the numbers showed I wasn't "doing it right."

Study after study proves that diets don't work, yet we cling to them as our very salvation. If we could just find the right plan, the right system, we could follow it and be freed from fatness. Our redemption must lie in the proper combination of food and activity, right? It's just so simple. Calories in must not exceed calories out. How simple. Any idiot can do the math. We are just lazy, gluttonous slobs. We can't manage our passions. Food is our god. If only we could follow the Magic Diet well, we would demonstrate prudence, temperance, self-control, and every other fruit of the Spirit.

Is that really the truth?

I am at the point, again, where I'm not sure if I should ask for encouragement as I go back on a diet or ask for encouragement to abandon them completely. My latest experiment with getting rid of the scale has been enlightening. It migrated back to the bathroom last week, and I immediately noticed a change (for the worse) in my mood. I went right back to it, seeking its approval and feeling dismal when it revealed my weight was up a couple pounds. I have since asked my husband to remove it again, and already feel lighter.

So now I'm contemplating dieting again, seeking that elusive eating style that will perfect me. But a part of me is starting to develop a voice, a part that shouts NO!
I am tired of the deprivation, the setting myself apart. I am tired of the endless counting and measuring. I am tired of the obsession.

But I still want to be thin.

This division of my heart is painful, and I'm praying for grace. I need grace to see that God has a plan for me that does not include obsession, vanity and a quest for impossible physical perfection. This grace is available to me, I'm certain. I'm just trying to unlock the secret, the secret of balance and peace.

I'm feeling it does not include any four letter words.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Finding Peace in the Eucharist

When my oldest was 2, each time I would prepare myself to receive the Eucharist, I'd hear a little voice, whispering, "Peace." As soon as she would see the Eucharistic ministers take their positions throughout the church, she'd vibrate with excitement, her little body twisting and twitching like a dragonfly's wings, and would whisper over and over, "Peace!" Going up with Mommy to receive a blessing and watching me eat this mysterious piece of food was one of her favorite parts of Mass (it still is, although she no longer calls it peace; I miss that.).

I'm not exactly sure why she started referring to Communion as peace, but every time I'd hear her whisper that word, I'd think my child was on to something when she likened receiving the Body of Christ with a word that evokes inner tranquility.

By nature, I'm not someone who easily attains inner peace. Okay, so that's an understatement. I have to really work at it. I'm too often consumed by anxiety and worry. Some of my worries are trivial like when will I find the time to take a shower, or will both my girls ever sleep through the night on the same night? Or, does this [insert article of clothing] make me look fat?

Sometimes I worry about the big picture. How are we going to get through these years of residency (my husband is a radiology resident) on such a tight budget? Is my growing baby okay (our third child is in utero)? Is my mom okay (she deals with myriad health problems, although you wouldn't know it by her trusting and sunny disposition)? I seek solitude to work on cultivating trust, but when things get quiet, my mind starts racing. Too often these worries (most of them unfounded) take their grip on me even though I know that this kind of fear is an absence of faith. Which leads me to another worry: Why can't I be more faithful? What's wrong with me?

God, I know, would probably say nothing other than the fact that I am human. However, I know that one of my problems in my endless quest for inner peace is that I want something dramatic to happen in my faith life. A dove to descend upon me while I am praying. A vision of Mary to appear before my eyes. A moment when I literally feel Jesus' embrace. A clear voice to speak to me and to tell what I need to do to follow Him. A real, tangible sign as clear as a billboard on the highway so that I can't miss what God's trying to say to me.

But that's not how it works for most of us. There are no lightening bolts. There are no opportunities to place our hands in Jesus' wounds as Thomas did. There are no saintly apparitions to guide us in our decisions. Yet, that doesn't mean God isn't speaking to us. We may just have to look a little harder, pray a little more often and seek out the Eucharist as much as possible.

Too often I am waiting for this profound moment when Christ comes to me and rids me of my fears and anxieties. In my waiting, I grow more anxious, all the while forgetting that there's a simple yet deep-seated way to feel Christ's presence in my life. Each time I receive the Eucharist, I am inviting Christ into my heart and taking him with me. I am getting a taste of peace.

Recently, I was at daily Mass. I didn't hear Madeline whisper, "Peace," but I felt it nonetheless. I was glancing up at the Crucifix hanging above the priest's head as he doled out our daily bread, and I felt a warm rush inside of me. I've experienced it before, and it is just what Madeline used to call it - peace washing over me. I want to bottle up the indescribable feeling that seems to come from nothing (there are no flashing lights or booming voices speaking to me), but it's fleeting. I can't quite wrap myself around it, but I know that in that brief yet profound moment, I am drawn closer to Christ and experience true peace. And what's amazing is that God does speak to me - sometimes through my children and on this day through the symbol of the Crucifix. If only I listened and paid more attention to what he has to say to me every day.

What's keeping you from inner peace? Whether it's body angst, worries about money, or some other concern, why not offer it up to Jesus? Nourish your soul with the Eucharist and allow His peace to settle in your bones.

Monday, September 29, 2008

A Closer Walk with Thee

There is so much information "out there" regarding fitness that it is easy to become overwhelmed.

With the internet, books, magazines, television, and your friends and family telling you what to do, how do you decide what's right?

It's not easy. But I've found inspiration can be found just about anywhere, and even broken clocks are right at least twice a day. Today's surprise good advice came from a simple source -- one I enjoy referring to when my mom is too busy to talk: a women's magazine purchased at the grocery check-out.

While I don't recommend getting the bulk of your health and fitness advice this way, I must admit I have learned a lot from the pages of these publications. Often they contain well-researched articles that can be uplifting and educational. Just as often they also list the latest fad diet for me to obsess over, but I'm learning to take these with the requisite grain of salt. So for your perusal today are some thoughts from a neat article in the latest issue of First that covers our favorite subject -- faith and fitness.

In the tabloid's "happy, healthy, sexy you" section (you know you belong there, right?) is an article entitled "WALK OFF a mushy middle!" As an avid walker and owner of a mushy middle, I was hooked.

The article recommends walking -- something every fitness plan seems to promote these days. But this plan promises three times the fat burning power and instant motivation. Wow! Sign me up! The secret? It's twofold: try "interval walking," and get a friend to do it with you.

Interval walking involves varying the pace of your walk. According to this article, women who walked this way, rather than at a constant fast pace, burned three times more subcutaneous fat (the kind that jiggles) and 11% more of the visceral kind (the nasty stuff that's packed in around your internal organs.) This came from a study done by the American Medical Association, so I figure it's worth a try!

The fascinating part of this article came from its emphasis on the "walking with a partner" strategy. The very first suggestion? Partner with GOD!

That's right: choose The Lord as your walking buddy. Research suggests that prayer walking calms the stress center of the brain, lowering the release of tension (and fat) causing hormones.

I've enjoyed walking as a time to de-stress and pray for some time now. I know it is good for my heart, lungs, and muscles. It is a time to celebrate the fact that I am well and strong. I plan to experiment with interval walking and focused prayer when I next hit the pavement. Maybe I'll slim down a bit in the process, but my goal -- finding peace with my body as it is, rejoicing with my God -- will remain my focus.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Achieving Real Beauty

I recently wrote about my reluctance with having my daughters grow up to be beautiful women.

Then, later in the week, I was perusing an old prayer journal where I’d scribbled down “Canticle of Mary” and beside it the words “achieving real beauty.” This intrigued me. I read the Canticle of Mary or Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55), and the first and perhaps most famous lines jumped out at me: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”

I’ve always thought of Mary as beautiful. But it’s not because she wears flashy clothes, has lustrous hair and flawless skin, or a perfect body. It’s because her soul – her entire being – proclaims the greatness of the Lord. She is what every woman should strive to be: pious, humble, gentle but strong, feminine and blessed.

Once my preschooler was gazing up at a statue of Our Lady when she said, “Mommy, isn’t she pretty?”

“Yes,” I said. She’s the most beautiful woman in the world.

So I stand corrected. I do want my girls to be beautiful. As beautiful and lovely and worthy of roses as Mary.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

And They Lived Miserably Ever After...

Cathy's insightful post on the Cinderella Syndrome really hit home with me. When I started high school, I had braces and a round face. I had no curves and when I smiled, my eyes disappeared into my chubby cheeks. I was not fat, but I certainly didn't have a face or a body that would draw attention. I was also one of the "smart" girls. I took all the AP and honors courses and participated in activities like mock trial (that's actually where I met the boy who would become my husband!), Beta Club, and the Thespian Society. But you know what? I was happy.

Then over one summer I blossomed. I went from a chubby, awkward, brace-faced girl to a curvy, young woman whose smile now revealed pearly whites. I went to school that year and some of my peers did not recognize me. The same boys who had never looked twice at me started asking me out on dates.

My parents allowed me to date when I was 16 and I couldn't wait. I thought it would be magical. It wasn't.

I remember my first "boyfriend." He was a nice enough guy and the first guy I went on a few consecutive dates with and the boy who walked me to class even though I felt really cheesy when he did it. I remember how he reeked of cologne and always wanted to hold my hand and put his arm around me and how uncomfortable I felt, but I acted like I liked it. All my friends thought he was cute, after all. Plus, I was a people-pleaser. A lot of girls are. We do what we think others want.

Speaking of friends, a lot of them were asking how I did it. By did it, they meant how did I transform myself? How I did "it" was simply physically mature and let nature take its course. It just happened overnight for me. It was like my fairy godmother paid me a visit and worked her magic on me. What really happened was I got my braces off, grew a few inches, started my period (finally!), grew some breasts, and thinned down (without dieting, just naturally).

I remember that school year well. Everyone was always complimenting me. I got invited to more social events and was asked to sit at a "cool" table in the cafeteria (even though I was still a geek). But here's the kicker: With this newfound popularity and attention came a lot of pressure - pressure to be perfect, pressure to be beautiful, pressure to be smart but not too smart. Even though I was the same girl on the inside - a goofy, drama queen who loved horses, singing, and reading - how I looked on the outside had somehow made me more important (at least in the ridiculous hierarchy of teenagers).

But was I happier? No. On the contrary, I was the swan who was constantly worried that I was going to change back into my old, ugly duckling self. I never meant for it to happen, but I was suddenly thrust into a competition to be one of the pretty girls, the fairest of the fair.

Truth is, one of the reasons I started dieting and resorting to eating disordered behavior was because of my fear. I had it in my mind that the thinner I got, the better person I'd be. However, if I gained weight, I'd lose myself in all the fat and lose my friends at the same time.

For me the message was clear: I was easier to like being pretty.

Thinking back on those tough teenage years, I've said to my husband that I hope our girls are plain or even cute but not beautiful. I've seen too many unhappy, beautiful girls to think it's something we should want (just think of so many of the Hollywood starlets who seem to have it all and end up in drug rehab programs or in an endless game of marriage roulette or with eating disorders). It's too exhausting to maintain beauty. Once you have it (or society says you do), you cling to it, thinking it's all you've got. Once you hit a size 0, you think that's what you have to stay to be anything (ironic isn't it that a size 0 used to be my favorite size because it made me feel like I was important when that number means an absence of anything).

I'm not saying pretty girls have a right to feel miserable. I'm not condoning vanity either. I've had beautiful friends complain about their looks, and it's frustrated me. "Can't you see how pretty you are? Can't you see how lucky you are?"

Funny, I think my mom and dad, my brothers, and husband have all asked similar questions of me more times than I'd like to count.

Recently, my daughter whipped this up in her toy kitchen:

She called it Cinderella stew. I thought it was hilarious. There was also something comforting in thinking about boiling Cinderella and all she stands for - beautiful perfection - along with some carrots and potatoes.

I'm not sure they have to go as far as poaching Cinderella, but I don't want my daughters idolizing beauty. I want them to pursue health, not flawless looks or a perfect body. If God blesses them with loveliness, I want them to be grateful but to remember that it's what's beyond that skin that's really important - their passions, their brains, their sensitivity, and most importantly, their souls. I want them to not be like the person their mom can sometimes be.

What's really sad to me about all of us who are relentlessly striving to be the fairest of the fair is that physical beauty, especially as it is defined by society, isn't something you can hold onto for forever. It eventually fades. Botox won't save you. Neither will face lifts. Smooth skin becomes wrinkled with time and splattered with age spots. Even the firmest of bums eventually head south. Hair of all shades will all end up gray or silver. In time, our faces and bodies won't seem like our own, but what's on the inside will remain constant.

My mom is someone who has grown old gracefully. Now, I will say she is blessed with looking younger than her age and being petite, but she's never let her looks be her focus.

Just recently, she did admit that aging has been tougher than she thought it would be. I had no idea she felt this way. But the reason aging has been challenging, she said, isn't because she wants to look a certain way. It's just that she'll see a picture of herself and think, "I don't feel that old." How she feels doesn't always match with how her body looks, she says. She still feels like a 30-year-old sometimes, but her body's saying she's in her mid-fifties. I think that's the same way it is for pretty girls. They look beautiful on the outside, and we think that that's how they should feel. Yet, so many of them have some ugly demons - from crippling perfectionism to an obsession with looking a certain way - to contend with on the inside.

My mom also told me she's decided to concentrate more on how she feels than how she looks. Who cares if her body is telling her something differently? If she feels like a young grandma, then that's what she is. We don't have to listen to that mirror, mirror on the wall (or that scale on the bathroom floor). It's up to us on whether we want to exude beauty or not at any age or at any weight.

For today do something that makes you feel beautiful. For me this often means getting dressed up for my husband. He thinks I'm attractive when my hair is streaked with diaper ointment, so you can imagine how we both feel if I slip into a black dress and some heels.

After you're feeling beautiful, why not cook up some Cinderella stew and then just make the decision to live happily ever after...

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Cinderella Syndrome

I know women of all shapes and sizes, and I've noticed something striking about them.

The least confident among them are also the most beautiful.

What I mean is that I know some very tiny women and some very large ones. I know some gorgeous girls and some who are not so pretty. Most of the ladies I know, of course, are simply average. They are of average build and average looks (because that's what average means, right? It's the most common.)

What I've realized of late is that my friends who suffer the most with issues of poor self-esteem are really much more attractive than the average. They are the pretty girls that don't think they're pretty. They're the ones who shy away from cameras and complain they look fat in their size 8 jeans.

The "average" ladies I know, the ones who blend in with the crowd, seem much more content with themselves. Even those who are very overweight seem not so discontent as their prettier sisters.

Cinderella syndrome, perhaps? Are the lovely ones convinced they are like the poor girl in rags who is waiting for a fairy godmother and a handsome prince to come rescue them? Admit it; we more often relate to the "ugly" stepsisters who felt deserving of the prize. The beautiful Cinderella who sits in the corner, covering her beauty with rags while patiently waiting on everyone else, really gets on our nerves.

Sometimes I think I'm one of those girls. It would be a lie to say that I'm grossly overweight or unusually unattractive. But sometimes I sit there with my broom, cinders on my face, waiting for compliments to come take me away.

I have several friends who are really beautiful. They have been blessed with lovely skin, lustrous hair, sparkling eyes, tiny waists, long fingers, and everything else the world says is beautiful. These same friends avoid posing for photos and complain that they look fat.

I have little patience with them.

Maybe they (dare I say we?) are such perfectionists that we are not happy unless we are "perfect." Maybe we feel that we're just so close to being "the total package" that we're regretting the tiny imperfections that keep us from that goal. Does the world expect too much from the beautiful?

Are we really just vain?

Or in pain?

I'm not sure I have the answer to that. But Cinderellas or not, we all better get ourselves off the hearth and to the ball. It's practically midnight, you know.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Weighing In: An Update

"I wondered why I wasn’t stronger. I didn’t have the “better” eating disorder. I wasn’t anorexic. In my twisted mind, I was weak because I was unable to completely deprive myself of food."

I read these words from my friend Kate and felt such a sad kinship with what they express. I must confess I have felt this way myself. I don't have the nerve to have a "real" disorder, like bulimia or anorexia. I just have an inordinate attachment to my bathroom scale, an obsession with what I eat and how my body looks as a result.

I have been "scale-free" for over a week now. It has been an interesting week. At times I feel liberated and carefree: there is no concrete sign of my inability to deprive myself, no measure of my failure proclaimed clearly on an LED screen.

Sometimes, though, I've felt dangerously alone.

If I lack a scale to measure my worth, how will I know if I am OK?

Should I eat this or that? Should I be punishing myself for eating that slice of pizza? Did I eat too much, exercise too little?

Am I a good girl or a bad girl?

I've said this before, but I can't overestimate the power the scale has had over me. Without its clear unbiased voice shouting approval or dismay each morning, while I stand naked, both literally and figuratively, upon it, I feel lost. Am I a success of a failure?

I must find other ways to determine this. There are better ways to find my worth. There are more accurate ways of understanding my value, of appreciating what I have to offer to the world. There are greater measures of the good I can do, the ways I can heal and support, the gifts I can bestow.

There have to be.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Porcelain God

I once worshipped a porcelain god. Throughout the day I bowed down to my god in addictive reverence.

During high school, I secretly grappled with bulimia. On the outside, I was a straight-A student who was always smiling and laughing.

On the inside a demon was taking over, eroding my teeth and gums, leaving my throat raw and transforming me from a happy young woman to someone sad, shameful and scared.

Even as I forced fingers down my throat and watched my sustenance and my health and my faith swirl down, down, down, down, I wondered why I wasn’t stronger. I didn’t have the “better” eating disorder. I wasn’t anorexic. In my twisted mind, I was weak because I was unable to completely deprive myself of food.

I did give anorexia a shot and ate only shards of lettuce for several months. I lost weight – a lot of it. People noticed. (I loved the attention. It gave me a sense of accomplishment when people asked me how much weight I’d dropped.)

Then my parents become aware of my problem. “You’re too thin, Katie. Please eat,” my mom begged.

Never one to disappoint my parents, I answered my mother’s plea. I started eating again. Food tasted so good, but when I saw that little red line on the scale climbing, I panicked. I felt out of control. When I was losing weight, the scale was my cheerleader, applauding me for being “strong.” Now suddenly it reared its ugly head, revealing its superego. It was screaming at me, berating me for letting myself go. The barometer of my self-worth was betraying me.

Then I read about a girl who suffered from bulimia and how easy it was to purge herself of the demons that haunted her. Extra calories. Fat. She would gorge on cream-filled donuts, greasy pizza and cookies, only to regurgitate the meal and watch it disappear down the toilet. This unknown woman became my mentor.

I was never gluttonous. No eating frenzies for me. I only used bulimia as a way to hide my eating disorder. My parents wanted me to eat, and so I did. But I couldn’t stand the feeling of food swimming in my stomach. I had to get it out. I had to purge myself and stay thin.

Interestingly enough, today I’d probably be diagnosed with purging disorder, a new eating disorder doctors are beginning to recognize that’s characterized by women of normal or thin weight who purge themselves after eating even small amounts of food by vomiting, taking laxatives or some other purging method.

But back then I was given another label – bulimia nervosa. I was told I had a “full-blown eating disorder” when I finally sought counseling in college. Because I met the puking quota – I had self-induced vomiting more than two times a week for longer than three months – I was seen as someone who needed help.

Amazingly, (I credit my parents’ support and my Catholic faith) I recovered fairly quickly. Although an eating disorder is an obstinate companion that never completely goes away. I still have days when I’m too consumed by my weight. I constantly have to fight impulses to engage in unhealthy behavior – whether it’s fasting or throwing up after eating two cookies – but I have come a long way from those dark days when I worshipped a god that did nothing but hurt me.

In some ways, I was fortunate; I was classified as an “eating disordered patient.” People were trained and available to help me.

Other women aren’t so lucky.

A friend once tearfully recounted an experience she had while trying to seek treatment.

“I wasn’t dangerously thin,” she told me after she learned I had struggled with an eating disorder, “but thoughts of food and diet were controlling my life. I wanted help, but I was terrified the therapists would laugh at me and tell me I wasn’t thin enough to have an eating disorder.”

She said she role-played her counseling session over and over in her mind:

“Do you starve yourself?”


“Do you binge and purge?”


“Have you lost more than 15 percent of your body weight?”

“Well, no but…”

“I’m sorry, but we can’t help you. You’re not skinny enough.”

Her premonition wasn’t too far off: She took a slew of psychological tests, briefly talked to a therapist and was then told she was not sick enough to get help. I wasn’t surprised. Insurance often won’t cover therapy for patients who don’t meet certain requirements the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (psychiatry’s bible) outlines for eating disorders.

One in five women is purported to have a clinically diagnosed eating disorder. They’re the ones everyone wants to help. But what about the millions of women who feel like failures because they eat bread (and other “bad” carbs) and aren’t Auschwitz-thin? Or all the prepubescent girls who are on a diet right now? What about the college student who lives off beer, cigarettes and laxatives interspersed with an occasional meal? Are they not sick as well?

We’re all in denial if we think any woman who is preoccupied with diet, fitness or whether or not her thighs touch needs doesn’t help.

Frankly, I’m tired of the term “eating disorder." Many women will never vomit every day (or ever) or starve themselves to the point of emaciation. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have a problem. The obsession with all the media figures who have personal trainers, cooks and their share of eating problems is taking its toll most women. It’s rare to find a woman who loves her body (all the time, not just when she’s on a diet), unless perhaps she’s sucked out the fat, tucked the tummy and taken a knife to her breasts to boost her cup size. (Research suggests that media idealize a female body that only one percent of woman can hope to biologically attain.)

It’s time all women – mothers, sisters, grandmothers, wives, girlfriends – take it upon themselves to stop the self-loathing and the “lookism” permeating in our culture. It’s time we remember we are made in the image of God and that our bodies truly are temples that deserve our respect. It’s time we help our children develop positive body images and not support media that perpetuate unhealthy and unnatural bodies. What’s important is being healthy and knowing our worth is much deeper than our dress size.

As a woman who once was at war with her body, trust me on this one. A fixation with weight only robs you of your inner peace and health. And even when the scale is cheering you on to lose more weight - it is only a hollow, ephemeral espousal that knows nothing of true happiness

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

I grabbed this image from the site bodypositive.com

Isn't it fascinating that about 100 years ago, women were chastised for being too thin?

My first thought is that I was born in the wrong century.

My second is more powerful: who decides what is beautiful?

Weighing In, Not

This past weekend, I did something I never thought I'd have the courage to do.

I gave my bathroom scale to my husband, and asked him to remove it from the house.

As I've recently shared, I have a love/hate relationship with my scale that has existed my entire adult life. Weight down? I'm a good girl. Weight up? I'm bad, very, very bad.

A few days ago I woke up and made a decision. I am tired of using the scale as a measure of my worth. I'm just exhausted with it.

I must admit I'm a little bit scared. I fear that if I don't know my weight each day, my eating will be out-of-control and my weight will zoom off the charts.

I'm stepping out in faith here, bigtime. I'm trusting that I will eat appropriate foods, in appropriate amounts. I'm trusting that I will continue to exercise, enjoying the benefits I can feel, not just see on a scale. I'm trusting that God will guide my choices if I place my trust in Him, not in a diet plan. I will attempt to seek validation as a daughter of the King. Might I grow in true virtue if I base my success on my relationships -- with God and my neighbor -- instead of on how much I weigh?

I'm giving it a shot. What have I got to lose?

So I got rid of the scale, and gained some freedom, and a new burden. Now I must find new ways to judge myself. Am I a good girl or a bad one? Am I a success or a failure? I'm still interested in progress, in perfection -- no -- excellence. I will have to develop new standards for gauging my progress. It is rather exciting.

Last night, I dreamed that I could fly.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Confessions from the Closet

I love clothes.

I absolutely adore clothes. I love the fabrics, the colors, the textures. I love to look at them, follow new styles, shop for them, and wear them. I'm pretty fond of shoes, handbags and jewelry, too.

My closet, not surprisingly, reflects my passion. It is tiny and burgeoning with the stuff I love, and I know that it, like so many things in my life, is greatly in need of some organization.

I'm in the middle of a major redecorating project, one that will include a fabulous new wardrobe for me. (Wardrobe as in closet, not a new wardrobe of clothes. Now wouldn't that be exciting?!) But I'm pretty excited about the new storage space, and I've spent the last few days doing two things I love: going through my clothes and shopping for more.

How's your closet? If you're like most women, it's probably got at least four types of clothing in it. There are those things you wear all the time, the old stand-bys that you reach for day after day. They fit (maybe because they feature elastic or spandex) and they don't require much thought.

Then there are the things that DO NOT FIT. This includes the items that are "just a little" (or maybe a lot) too tight. Maybe we used to wear them (before the last baby?) or we bought them on sale, figuring we were only a diet away from squeezing in. Also here are our "fat" clothes, the ones we reach for when we're feeling chubby, or have in fact put on a few pounds. These clothes are not usually the prettiest items in the closet, are they? They are often shapeless, faded, or out-of-style. Wearing them just solidifies the negative thoughts we have about ourselves when we are not at our thinnest: we don't deserve to look nice. We're unattractive.

Next are the clothes we have acquired that do not flatter us. They may fit, but not well. They are not designed for our body type, but we keep them, and perhaps wear them, anyway. Maybe we got them on sale, or they were gifts, or we gave in to the latest fad or fashion. When we do wear them, we don't feel all that great about ourselves. But we feel a little guilty getting rid of perfectly good clothing, so we keep the stuff.

Then there are the special occasion threads, the ones we only wear when someone tells us we should. I know most of us wouldn't feel comfortable wearing an evening dress to go grocery shopping, but I think many of these items are like Grandma's china: we're saving them for a special occasion, and that occasion never comes. Maybe we could find or make special occasions more often. For example, I tend to be one of the more dressed up gals at Sunday mass. (No evening gowns, but I do usually wear a skirt.) I also really enjoy getting a little dressed up when I go out with my husband, even if it's just for a quick dinner at a casual restaurant. We deserve to look nice and enjoy our femininity!

As I was going through my clothes this week, I realized I have lots of items that don't flatter me, and I am letting them go. Jeans are my worst offender. I have a curvy figure with a umm, mature tummy. I went shopping this week and found a great style that fits and does not give me a "muffin top," so I bought several pairs. (FYI, they're wide leg jeans with a slightly higher rise. Gorgeous!) Then I added the old ones (some with tags on them) to the give-away pile. (I've actually discovered a local consignment shop where I hope to sell them. Might there be one in your neighborhood?)

I had a new attitude while trying on clothes this weeks: I will not buy something that doesn't fit AND make me feel good. I will not accept clothes that are "ok." I deserve to look nice and feel good about myself!

An important point here: the clothes must fit -- and the SIZE ON THE TAG DOES NOT MATTER. We girls are a little crazy here. How many times have I reached for a smaller size, to see if I could squeeze into it, so I could brag to my girlfriend in the dressing room next to me? That's madness. No one knows what size your pants are, and no one cares. Nor should you. Wear what fits you.

Give your closet a look-see. How does it make you feel to wear the clothes you have? Depending on your budget, get yourself something amazing. You don't need to spend a lot -- many of my favorite items were purchased at resale shops or even garage sales. You might just need to "shop your own closet" and discover the items there that really flatter you. Whatever size you are, you deserve to be wearing attractive clothes that fit you and emphasize your beauty.

Because you are beautiful, right now, today. Don't wait to be a certain size or for someone to tell you it's a special occasion. Today is a special occasion.

Dress for it, girlfriend!

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Be Transformed!

I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God,
to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice,
holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship.
Do not conform yourselves to this age
but be transformed by the renewal of your mind,
that you may discern what is the will of God,
what is good and pleasing and perfect
Romans 12:1-2

How I am FED by the Word of God!

As Kate mentioned in the previous post, we Catholics truly feast on the Body and Blood of Our Lord each time we receive the Eucharist. The altar of God is the ultimate banquet table, and He will never be outdone as the Gracious Host, serving us all we can ever need or desire.

We share with our Christian brothers and sisters of all faiths the beautiful words of scripture as well. Isn't it interesting how often we use words that reflect hunger, thirst, and being fed when we talk about our spiritual needs? I was touched today at Mass when I heard the above scripture, especially because it mentions not our souls, but our BODIES and our MINDS.

Does God care only for our spiritual needs? The Albigensian Heresy of the twelth century promoted this belief. Followers contended that the body was evil: the soul was the only good created by God, all else of creation was of the Evil One. Adherents of the sect even practiced self-starvation, as suicide was commendable.

We Christians know today that God created the world, and it was GOOD. That includes our bodies and our minds.

For those of us who struggle with body image and obsessions with food and weight loss or gain, these scriptures are particularly powerful. God asks us to "offer our BODIES as a living sacrifice." That means that God does, indeed, care about our physical bodies, and He desires us to give him dominion over them. He has given us our bodies as a gift; they deserve our respect and esteem. Because He has also given us free will, He, in His infinite humility, asks us if we will use our bodies to give Him glory.

How can we accomplish this? By indulging in gluttony? By disregarding our health? By starvation? By acquiescing to cultural standards rather than seeking balance? By obsessing over our weight?

Our Lord also asks us to "be transformed by the renewal" of our MINDS. This is one of my favorite verses, because it reminds me that all change begins in my secret thoughts. My behavior will not be positive and healthy if my thoughts are toxic. Am I constantly thinking about my body and how I wish it were different? Or are my thoughts focused on God and the wonderful gifts He has blessed me with?

This morning when I went to Mass I had a bad attitude. I was focused on myself, and my thoughts were negative. Once again the Holy Spirit spoke to me through the Word of God: I have been blessed by Him; and He wishes to continue to bless me.

I need only cooperate with His grace and mercy.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Soul Food

“My Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.” (John 6:32-33, 35)

If we really are what we eat, then I guess that makes me a chocolate-spinach truffle. My diet is rich in whole grains, fruits and veggies. But I’m no saint. I have a sweet tooth that would give Willy Wonka a run for his money.

My husband, on the other hand, doesn’t think chocolate is the sixth food group. Nor does he devour a heaping helping of leafy greens every day. It’s everything in moderation for him.

As Catholics, whether we’re health nuts, self-proclaimed junk addicts or something in between, there’s one food none of us can live without: The Eucharist. God sent us his only Son to make us stronger. This is the divine food that nourishes our souls. It’s the one meal we should never skip. And when it comes to Jesus, there’s no such thing as moderation. He’s there for the taking.

Lord Jesus, help me to never be hungry again. Fill me with your love through the power of the Eucharist.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Of Grilled Cheese and Filet Mignon

Is there anyone who doesn't love grilled cheese sandwiches?

There is just so much to love about them. The hot, gooey cheese, the thick slices of butter-covered toasted bread. Add to that the fact that your mom probably made them for you when you were a kid, served alongside a steaming cup of tomato soup with crispy, salty oyster crackers floating on top.


I love grilled cheese sandwiches, and I ate one the other day, something I haven't allowed myself to do it years.

But sadly, this sandwich was not that great. It was cold, and the cheese had hardened. There was no soup to accompany it. My mom was not there to eat with me. I ate it alone, standing at the kitchen table, quickly, stuffing it in like an afterthought, not enjoying it at all.

Since I've become more mindful of my eating lately, I've noticed that I've developed an unhealthy pattern. It goes something like this: I crave a delicious food, either because I'm serving it to my family or someone is offering it to me. I deny myself the food, deciding that it is too something (rich, high in carbs,high calorie, expensive.) I walk away feeling very virtuous. Then later (maybe just a few minutes, or maybe hours or days) I eat it anyway -- but now it's cold, or half-eaten by someone else. It's leftovers, and apparently that's all I deserve.

Now of course I know that the yucky grilled cheese sandwich I ate was just as "bad" for me as it would have been hot off the grill, when it would have tasted great. What in the world is wrong with me?

I seem to be an expert at self-deprivation. If I'm not strong enough to deny myself the foods I want, I will punish myself with less than perfect leftovers later.

This can't possibly be just about food. I think many of us have a tendency to attempt the lives of martyrs, and when we fall short we punish ourselves. It is really a form of scruples. (From the Latin Scrupulus, "a small sharp, or pointed, stone", hence, in a transferred sense, "uneasiness of mind.")

One Catholic encyclopedia describes scruples this way: "An unfounded apprehension and consequently unwarranted fear that something is a sin which, as a matter of fact, is not. It is not considered here so much as an isolated act, but rather as an habitual state of mind known to directors of souls as a "scrupulous conscience." St. Alphonsus describes it as a condition in which one influenced by trifling reasons, and without any solid foundation, is often afraid that sin lies where it really does not. "

Is it a sin to eat a grilled cheese sandwich? Of course not. Although gluttony is indeed a sin, enjoying a sandwich (with or without that bowl of soup) doesn't qualify as gluttony. What I've done is develop a set of rules for eating that have nothing to do with sin or virtue. Simply put, I think if I avoid certain foods I will become thin, and thin is good, and if I am thin I am a good girl. (There are many reasons I've developed this misconception -- that's why I started this blog!)

The aforementioned Catholic resource recommends scrupulous folk secure a good confessor to help them recover. In the case of my "food scruples," I think an "inner caretaker" of sorts is more appropriate.

I must continue to be mindful of what enters my body. Am I eating a variety of nutritious foods? Am I eating when I am hungry, not to avoid other uncomfortable feelings?

Am I making myself a martyr? Am I separating myself from my family with my food choices? Am I enjoying the bounty that God has put before me, in moderation and with respect for the gift of my health?

I made a bit of progress in this area over the weekend. My husband and I were enjoying an anniversary dinner in a beautiful restaurant with an elegant menu. I ordered the filet mignon. Why? Because I really wanted to. It was the most expensive item on the menu, and it was rich and high in calories.

It was delicious, served to me hot and perfectly prepared. I enjoyed every bite, as I should have.

But truth be told, I would have enjoyed a grilled cheese just as much. And the next time I want one, I will.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Weighing In

I'm on a bit of a vacation this weekend, exploring Northern Michigan with my husband in honor of our 22nd wedding anniversary.

We are enjoying the views of Little Traverse Bay, shopping in fun boutiques, drinking local wines, and eating delicious meals. Lots of delicious meals. Too many delicious meals.

I'm not used to such indulgence, and I'm starting to get nervous. It's been three days since I weighed myself, and I'm convinced I've probably gained five pounds. Considering the fact that it took me three months to lose six pounds, this is quite a serious matter.

Or is it? Will the world stop spinning if I do indeed gain five pounds? Of course not, but it disturbs me that I'm even spending time thinking about it.

I'm on a lovely getaway celebrating a special occasion with a wonderful man. I'm enjoying all sorts of things about it, including the tasty foods that I normally deny myself. It is a perfectly balanced notion that I should indulge a bit on such a special occasion, right?

And forget about the blasted scale, and what it might indicate when I return to reality! Being away from it for a few days always reminds me that I rely on it to tell me whether or not I'm having a good day, whether or not I am a good girl or a bad one.

That's ridiculous. I don't need a scale to tell me that these days are a wonderufl blessing, a gift. Decadent food and all.

Thank you God, for your bountiful gifts, gifts that no scale can measure!