Thoughts on body image, exercise and social media

While I don’t have a huge social media presence, (Facebook is about it) I read a lot of blogs and have friends who are very active on social media sites, so I follow them pretty regularly and often find myself creeping around these sites looking at what people post.  Although its nothing new, I am increasingly alarmed by the number of strategically posed photos to make your boobs, butt, legs- insert your desired body part here- look awesome, photos of plates of “huge dinners” consisting of three stalks of celery and a hard boiled egg, and blog write ups of activities or habits that are just plain unhealthy.  I am certainly not alone in my concern about the role of social media in the proliferation of pro-ana information (see: here and here  ) but I think even more dangerous than the outright pro-ana websites are those run by people who are still clearly in the throws of serious eating disorders, exercise addiction (and combination platters) who claim to be “recovered” and “experts” at whatever new fancy thing they are obsessed with this week.  Hashtags on instagram like #eatclean #fitnotskinny and the like bring up a plethora of photos of scantily clad, conventionally beautiful, very thin women posing in front of their mirrors showing off their muscles or posing next to a plate of food they are about to eat.

 

I love fitness, food and eating healthy (or as healthy as I can manage and still stay sane) and I fully admit to lurking on websites like NiaShanks.com, fuckyeaheavylifting.blogspot.com, and GoKaleo.com looking for inspiration in the form of a new recipe or a cool new exercise or sometimes just a cheesy saying; there is something very different about the pictures that show up on these instagram searches that makes me very uncomfortable. The sites I mentioned above are run by women who are very open about their history of disordered eating (Nia Shanks) or obesity (Go Kaleo) and have spent a great deal of time learning to overcome these obstacles, actually recover and obtain extensive training and certification in their areas, so when they tell me they deadlifted 300lbs and ate a dinner of steak, broccoli, and brown rice, I believe them.  When an 18 year old girl on instagram takes pictures of her emaciated body framed in the mirror and captions it with how she just did a “huge weight workout” and can “feel the muscles growing” and then claims she is going to “refuel with a nice protein smoothie” ingredients to include “water, 1/2 a banana, protein powder” I want to scream.  Heavy weight lifting and body building requires not just time, attention and skill to avoid serious injury, but also actual attention to nutrition.  Your body is literally breaking down muscle fibers each time you do a rep- you need to eat more than 1/2 a fucking banana to recover from that.

 

While it may sound like I’m just ranting about attention-seekers, there is more to my point.  Social media is without filter (ha ha puns) and without peer review.  There is no safety net catching the bullshit or the plain fraudulent information being sent out there.  Yes, you can say that it is each person’s responsibility to filter information they see and come to their own conclusions about the veracity of claims, but is this really reasonable to ask of a young woman (or man, or old woman or man, or just plain anyone) who is already struggling with body image?  I know that I have struggled with, and continue to struggle with, serious body image problems, exercise addiction and bulimia.  I am actively addressing these problems and fully recognize symptoms when they pop up now and then, but I still stumble when looking at some of these websites.  I find myself falling down that rabbit hole of thinking if this girl can weigh 108lbs and deadlift 300lbs, then why can’t I do that too?  Why do I need to eat so much to feel satisfied when she just finished a CrossFit workout followed by a run and is going to work fueled by only an apple and a tablespoon of peanut butter?

 

We desperately need men and women to stand up and say something when they see this crap.  Don’t let your friends, sisters, brothers, fellow human beings fall victim to false advertising on social media.  As if magazine covers and photoshopping weren’t bad enough, now we have to fight against self-proclaimed experts who serve no purpose but to perpetuate the idea that you can never be good enough, under-eating and over-training are things we should strive for, and attention from people on the internet is a great way to build your self esteem.  I argue against all of these things.  It is never ok to hurt yourself for physical perfection, you should eat food because it tastes good and it gives you energy, you should praise people for their accomplishments, their compassion and love for others, their service to the community, anything but their looks.  Being attractive is not a skill or an accomplishment and social media makes it very easy for us to forget this.

 

In line with my above rant, I’m not going to publish any information about my workout or food from today.  I worked out, I ate food.  End of story.  I don’t need praise or affirmation for that.  Things I am proud of from today that I do feel deserve praise: I finished editing my paper, I ran four reactions in lab, I provided a safe, healthy and loving home for my adorable cat.  These are things I worked at and feel are accomplishments….the food I ate, the calories I burned, these are things which are for me and me alone, not for praise, and judgment of the wider community.  Follow suit.  What did you do today that makes you awesome?

Its my project, and I’ll cry if I want to

Yesterday I got scooped.  If you aren’t a scientist or a journalist, you may not be familiar with that term, but in short it means someone did the same work as you but got there faster.  I was at a conference yesterday afternoon where a grad student from a German group who shall not be named (GGWSNBN) gave a presentation on their current work.  In the last few slides he gave a short prospectus on their future work, which included a soon to be published paper on…drumroll please…..the exact work I’ve been doing for the last year.  

Once I removed my heart from my shoes and kept myself from throwing up, I went into damage control.  My advisor and I have a meeting this morning to see if we can throw something together to publish really quickly or if we just want to wait and see what GGWSNBN ends up publishing.  If they really did scoop us entirely, I’ve just lost a year of work and almost 3 chapters of my thesis.  I may get really lucky and find out they are only publishing a small amount of the work, in which case I scramble together a paper and get it out as soon as they publish to establish myself in the field.  That is the best case scenario.  Like, waking up in the morning to find you’ve suddenly turned into Giselle Bundchen kind of best case scenario.

Until then, I’m tying to go easy on myself.  I was exhausted when I woke up this morning so I moved my off day from tomorrow to today so I could get to work early and get some stuff done.  Sometimes when I’m really stressed, working out helps immensely and other times it just makes my stress higher.  I know my body and this is a situation where exercise wouldn’t energize me; it would deplete any leftover store of energy I have and totally kill me. My goals for today are the following: get as much work done as possible, only drink 1 pot of coffee (this goal may be futile), eat healthy and don’t let stress send me into emotional eating patterns.  So far I’m doing ok on the healthy eating and working; the coffee part may be a pipe dream- I’m 30% caffeine, 70% water as it is.

To keep things healthy, I had savory oats for breakfast this morning. Its a great way to get some veggies into your breakfast and it keeps oatmeal from being boring.  Give it a shot….totally yummy and great on a cold morning.

Savory Oats (for one)

1/2 cup dry rolled oats

1 cup water

1/2 cup sliced zucchini

2 cups raw spinach

1 oz cheddar cheese

salt, pepper, olive oil

Saute zucchini in oil, salt and pepper until tender.  Add oats and mix to coat in remaining oil.  Toast for 1 minute over low heat.  Add water and bring to boil, lower heat and cook until oats are to your liking.  Turn off heat, add spinach and cheese and mix until spinach is wilted and everything is cheesy.  Sprinkle with more black pepper if you like and serve piping hot.

LIft it up, Eat it up

It’s a cold, wintery Thursday here in the Northeast and all I want to do is curl up in bed, snuggle my cat and boy and drink mug after mug of hot coffee.  Unfortunately, that is not in the cards and I am sitting in a cramped lab office trying to write a presentation.

Today was a lifting day and my arms and back are feeling gratifyingly sore.  Here’s my lifts and eats from today

Lift it Up:

Warm Up: 5 min jump rope

Superset 1:

  1. Dumbbell Bench Press (4 x 12, 30 lb dumbbell each arm)
  2. Jump Rope (4 x 1 min, as many continuous reps as possible)

Superset 2:

  1. Incline benchpress with bar (2 x 8, 70lbs; 2x 10, 65 lbs)
  2. Box Jumps (4 x 10)

Superset 3:

  1. Bicep Dumbbell Curls (3 x 12, 15 lbs each arm))
  2. Burpees (3 x 5)  <—–Those are so hard, I’m working up to 3 sets of 10

Superset 4

  1. Tricep Rope Pulldowns (3 x 15, 35 lbs)
  2. Lat Pulldown (3 x 10, 50lb)

Abs: Crunches on ball (3 x 15), Pike rollouts on ball (3 x 10), Bicycle crunches (2 x 15)

Eat it Up

Preworkout: 1/2 banana and a graham cracker (gross overly ripe banana)

Breakfast: 1/2 cup rolled oats, 1 cup nonfat greek yogurt, 1 scoop Raw Meal Protein powder all mixed up into overnight oats

Lunch: Spinach salad with 1/2 roasted acorn squash, tomato, broccoli, 1 oz. cheddar cheese, 1 slab (huge and delicious) Lentil Loaf crumbled ontop

Snacks: Apple, string cheese, sunflower seeds, lots of coffee at an afternoon conference

Dinner: Spinach salad with tomato, broccoli, Turkey burger with lots of mustard and fresh tomato slices

Dessert: Greek yogurt with maple syrup

Breaking the Camel’s Back

I’ve been training very hard the last week (I’m following the Muscle Sculpting Program from Nia Shanks) and I’m loving it.  I already feel stronger and I’m slowly becoming comfortable with Nia’s requirement that I not count calories while training.  

I’ve been an obsessive calorie counter for as long as I can remember and it is very difficult, triggering, anxiety-producing, etc to suddenly stop this process and follow this concept of “intuitive eating”.  The basic principles are that you eat when you are hungry, and stop when you are full.  This sounds so simple.  So simple, in fact, that it is nearly impossible for something with a history of disordered eating to effortlessly pick up.  Years of destroying my hunger signals through binge-purge cycles and starving myself means that I have a hard time telling when I’m hungry, full or just bored.  Food has been my enemy for so long; it should be fuel and occasionally a thing of pleasure.

For the first few days I felt very strong, eating when I was hungry and stopping when I felt full.  Then I started to get stressed (work doesn’t cooperate for that long) and I saw myself slipping into old patterns.  I grabbed a cookie from the break room because I was stressed, ate it, felt guilty, and punished myself by skipping dinner.  Or, my lunch would be larger than I was used to (because I was hungry) and suddenly my dinner portion would shrink drastically to compensate for the extra calories.  I did two doubles at the gym (lifting in the morning, swimming in the afternoon) and soon I was burned out.  

I spent Friday afternoon and then again Sunday morning battling sudden and severe blood sugar drops and extreme dizziness and fatigue.  I should know better.  I do know better.  I have the tools to stop this type of behavior, I just haven’t mastered the skills yet.

This morning I woke up after a bad night of sleep (hello signs of overtraining, I chose to ignore you) and pushed on to the gym despite M’s protests that I should sleep.  Taking a day off when its not my designated day off makes me very antsy.  Anyway, I went to the gym and jumped on the treadmill hoping to run about 5 miles.  After 2 miles I was exhausted, feeling dizzy and light-headed and frustrated with my body’s failure to respond the way I wanted.  I gave up.  No, I made a smart decision to stop.  I got off the treadmill, stretched and showered, got a yogurt from the snack bar and waited for M to finish his workout.

Then the straw came.  As I was standing at the snack bar paying for my yogurt, an older man who works out in the morning came up to me.  He has a tendency to make “jokes” that are neither funny nor welcome, but generally not offensive.  This morning, he turned to the woman behind the counter and said to her “Did you tell this young lady about the differences between the two sizes of towels you give out?  The small ones are for tiny, petite women. The large ones are for the big girls, like her.”  

My mouth dropped, along with my heart, right into my stomach.  I couldn’t breathe.  I felt like something had punched me in the gut and then stood on my windpipe.  He smiled, laughed and walked off.  I caught my breath just in time to say “I just love being called a “big girl.  Thanks so much.”  Both my retort and its accompanying sarcasm were lost on him, as he is a bit hard of hearing.  I sat down and ate my yogurt, trying not to burst into tears in public.

M finished his workout and in the car I told him what happened and promptly broke down.  It took me back to those days in middle school and high school when I would compare myself to the little skinny girls and wish and wish that I could look like them.  These feelings were where my disordered eating came from in the first place.  I am not an overweight girl.  I am strong.  I am in shape.  I can run 7 miles, I can lift weights and bench-press and squat with the best of the them, but one stupid remark about my size and I break down.  

M reminded me that this man was most likely not even referring to weight, but height (I’m 5’11”).  He is likely correct.  It doesn’t absolve this man from the responsibility of the effect his statement had, but it did help me calm down and bit and put the statement in perspective.  After a few hugs and wiping away my tears, M headed off to work and I stayed home.  I took a personal day to recover from my physical and emotional exhaustion and try to get myself back in order before I go back to work.  

Tomorrow is a new day.  I will get up, assess my body and see how it feels.  If I’m tired, I’m taking the day off.  If I feel ok, I will go to the gym and do my best.  I will not beat myself up if I need to take a break.  My body needs rest, it needs to recover, and my mind needs this as well. This is my simple goal for tomorrow: listen to my body and to what it asks.  One step at a time.

New Beginnings

I’m back.  Its been a year, but I’m back.  In fact, I’ve been thinking about writing this post for weeks now, but it has taken me a long time to gather the courage to do so.  I’m not a fan of big, overly emotional confessions, but I do have to admit that I have not been entirely honest with myself on this blog.

I presented myself as a far healthier and more put together than I actually am.  Not to say that I didn’t allude to my past problems with exercise addition and disordered eating, but I certainly didn’t admit my current struggles.  The honest truth is, I am in no way recovered.  In fact, I may be worse than ever.  This is what brings me back.  

My life has changed significantly in the last 18 months.  I left a dangerous and abusive relationship, spent about 6 months dating around and being a bit “crazy” and eventually settled down into a healthy, supportive and amazing relationship with M.  We adopted our crazy cat Ellie and moved in together.  M and I share a love of exercise, specifically weight lifting, and both work in the same industry.  

All this sounds great, and it is, but underneath the surface I’ve been storming.  The same old demons of disordered eating, binge-purge cycles, and excessive exercise are desperately trying to poke through the surface and I work each and every day to fight back.  Some days are better than others, and some days I fail, but I have a plan and I’m working towards a goal.

I hope that by re-opening this blog, I can express my fear, anxiety, failures and hopefully successes as I try to recover and become the healthiest, happiest person I can be. I hope that anyone reading this will remember a few things: First, I am imperfect.  I make mistakes, I fall off the wagon and back into dangerous cycles, but I always try my best to get back up.  Second, I am not advocating my lifestyle, my recovery or my training.  This is what is working (currently) for me and if it fails to remain a successful plan, I will change it.  Finally, I’m not going to censure myself.  I’m fully aware that many things I say may be triggering, and I apologize in advance, but I need to be honest about my feelings.  Its the only way this blogging will be beneficial to me.  

Here it goes….I’m back and I’m starting over.  Day 1.

New Shoes

The last few days have been very good, injury wise.  My hip seems to have calmed down and I even ran twice!  I discovered a few weeks ago that my hip issues started right around the time I bought new running shoes.  I went to my local running store and got fitted for new shoes, but it surprised me that the guy who sold me my shoes told me I’d been running in the completely wrong shoe type.  I had always thought I was an overpronator, but he claimed I was a neutral runner and therefore should buy neutral running shoes.  So, I bought the shoes he recommended and starting running.  Turns out…he was wrong.  These shoes are definitely the cause of my hip pain.  Two weeks ago I switched back to my old shoes and ta-da! Hip pain gone.  Okay, not totally gone, but to a level I can handle and rapidly falling.  I don’t know if this means the guy at the store was totally wrong, or my stride when I run is different from what he thought.  Either way, I now have a brand new pair of running shoes that I can’t use.  Disappointing, yes, but I’d rather waste money on shoes than have a serious injury.

That brings me to my workouts so far this week.

Monday: 5 mile run following the 3’s and 5’s workout

Tuesday: 2000m row followed by 55 minutes of full body weights

Wednesday: 4 mile run: 1 mile warm up, 4X800 @ 9:30 pace with 400m jog between each.

I’ve been stretching, icing (in the morning) and using the heating pad (at night) religiously, so hopefully this regiment will keep my hip in running shape.  I’m backing off the running until the weekend, hoping that a long recovery between my speed work and Saturday long run will be beneficial.

Heavy Lifting

Back in the gym for a good heavy lift today.  Running the last two days hurts, so I’m taking it slow.  I’ve read, many time, that its easier to prevent injury than come back from one, so I’m taking that advice.  I really want to be healthy and strong in time for my 10K in May, so no getting hurt!

I started today off with a 10 min warm up on the rowing machine, which turned out to be about 2000m.  Then, I started right in on the hard stuff.  I decided today to large muscle groups moves to try to target as much as possible with as few moves as possible.  Workout looked something like this:

Bench Press: 3 sets of 12 @ 85lbs

Goblet Squats: 3 sets of 20 with 25lb dumbell

Straight leg Deadlifts: 3 sets of 12 with 65lb barbell

Pushups on Bosu Ball: 3 sets of 12

Walking Lunges with 25lb plate above head: 3 sets of 15

Biceps Curls: 3 sets 12 with 15lb dumbells

Abs- 5 min

Finished off with another 10 min/2000m on the rowing machine.  That was one heck of a workout- I’m going to be sore tomorrow!

Why Blog?

I only started this blog a few months ago, and at that point I really didn’t care if I ever got viewers.  I started this as a way to document my journey into running; I thought it would be cool to have a written account of how much my body changed, how far I ran, what it felt like, etc, etc.  At this point, I still feel very much this way.  I get a very small number of views per day, and I’d actually like to keep it that way. In fact, I’ve been thinking of turning this blog private and making it an electronic journal.  After all, isn’t that the point of blogging?  We live in a technologically advanced world and the daily journal has been replaced by the daily blog.

I suppose I brought this up because I’ve been lurking on GOMI lately and I think the posters there bring up some really great points.  Most bloggers, at least in the fitness and healthy living world, are incredibly self centered.  They blog about anything and everything (from fitness to funerals-seriously) and seem to have no off switch.  Nothing is sacred anymore.  Bloggers document every step of their pregnancy, filling in readers on some pretty gruesome details of labor and delivery; they tell readers about their truly personal emotions, problems with food; they take pictures at funerals and post them online.  All of these things got me thinking- what is the point of my blog?  Am I doing this to get attention?  Well, I can answer that pretty fast: hell no.  I don’t post pictures of myself, my house, my life and everything I ever do.  I don’t have sponsors who give me money to pimp out their latest product.  Above all, I don’t want those things- now or ever.

I want to be able to look back over this blog in a year, two years, and see what my life was like.  I want to be able to read about my journey into running, I want to see how my life evolved during grad school, how my friendships and relationships changed, how my worldview evolved.  These are the important things to me- not page views.  So, with that, I suppose I may turn private soon- although I doubt anyone will notice 🙂

Trucking along

Well, its more than a week since my downer post about my sad pathetic love life, and I’m happy to report that things are looking up! My emotions are still all over the map most days, but I think I’m moving in the right direction.  I’m slowly settling into a new rhythm, making lots and lots of plans with friends so that I have plenty to do during the weekends (the time when I’m most afraid I’ll get super lonely) and generally enjoying this time to focus on me and what I need in my life.  So far, I’ve discovered that I need a few things to make me happy

1. Exercise.  I don’t know how I would have held to together the last few weeks if I didn’t exercise on a regular basis.  I covered 10 miles on the track this weekend, another 10 on the bike this morning and logged nearly 20 miles of running last week along.  Clearly, I blow off steam by exercising

2.  Good food.  The more I think about myself and learn what I need to feel good, the more I realize it revolves around health.  Health, for me, comes from good food.  I’m making sure that I don’t drown my sorrows in a pint of Ben and Jerry’s (although, man does that sound good).  Instead, I stocked my kitchen with healthy produce, whole grains, organic cage free eggs and poultry and cooked up a delicious batch of sweet potato cookies for when the sweet tooth strikes.  Good things in, good things out 🙂

3. Sleep.  The first few days, I couldn’t sleep at all.  I was just tossing and turning, thinking about how upset I was.  Then, I started to calm down, my sleep schedule returned and I feel like a new woman!

4. Friends.  Ya, can’t say it enough- girl talk is the ultimate broken-heart-healer.  As is time out with good guy friends who will tell you dirty jokes, make you laugh until it hurts, and then buy you a great drink just because they want to.  I’ve had plenty of both of these things, and I’m looking forward to more

5. My mom.  Nothing better than a mother who will listen to you cry on the phone and then send you an email about the healing benefits of dark chocolate along with a promise that some is arriving in your mailbox soon.  She’s the best

Exercise Guilt

I talk a lot about how much I love to work out, and its the honest truth.  However, sometimes I worry myself that I love it just a little too much.  I’m an obsessive person with a very addictive personality and have struggled with eating disorders in the past.  I like to say that I work out for the pleasure and the physical rewards, and thats about 90% true.  The other 10%, the scary part, is the percentage of the time where I am exhausted and in pain and don’t want to work out- but I do it anyway because I’m overcome with guilt if I don’t.  I’ve had people in the past tell me that this borders on dysfunctional, that I’m one step away from being diagnosed with exercise bulimia.  That is a serious disease, and is very close to one I’ve battled myself.  I recognize the signs of this disease, and I certainly don’t see them in me at the moment.  I’m proud of how far I’m come and how healthy I am and how well I treat my body these days.  Unfortunately, that doesn’t stop guilt from rearing its ugly head.

I’ve been sick for almost a week now, and until today, it hadn’t affected my exercise at all. This morning I woke up coughing and wheezing and knew there was no change in me running.  I went to the gym and did a light 45 minute lift followed by some deep stretching and relaxing moves.  I felt okay; not great, but okay.  Several hours into work, my boss told me that I needed to go home and rest and go to the doctor.  I listened, and here I am sitting on my couch surrounded by tea, tissues, and oranges trying to nurse myself back to health.  So what pops into my head?  The thought, “I should go down to the gym and ride on the bike since I didn’t really work out this morning.”  What the f*** is wrong with me?!?  I’m sick….I did go to the gym, just went much easier on myself….and the best way to get better is to rest.  The rational 90% of me knows these things and tries to honor them.  The insane 10% of me that doesn’t think I worked out hard enough is trying to convince my sneezing, disgusting self to go to the gym and work out.  I know better than this, and I’m ignoring that part of me.  But it still makes me think that maybe I’m not as “recovered” as I’d like to think.  Then again, being able to recognize the insanity in those thoughts and ignoring the urge is a recovery in and of itself.