I Look Good and I Do What I Want

a journey of loving my body and myself

what taking care of my body means May 14, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — Mae @ 6:15 pm

I am supposed to be taking care of my body. That means, I know, feeding myself when I am hungry, sleeping when I am tired, providing adequate stimulation to keep my body working well (i.e. exercise for muscles, thought-provoking activities like reading and problem-solving for my brain, etc.). Those sound relatively simple, but I don’t think they actually are, because what I really need to do is change my thoughts before I can do anything truly different with my body.

My brain still wants to diet. I start thinking about all the things I have to change. Clearly, now that I am done with my wedding and the work-related exam I took yesterday, I now have time to fill my life up with more exercise, more fruits and vegetables and whole foods, fruit instead of lowfat ice cream for dessert, give up white sugar and breads completely, eat smaller meals more frequently, etc. Because all those things are so healthy! I am taking care of my body by giving it healthy foods and working out more and and and… but gee, that all kind of sounds like a diet. A made-up, cobbled-together diet invented by me, but a diet, nonetheless.

The idea of no controls at all is frightening and foreign to me. I desperately want to do some kind of calculus in my head, like: “Well, since I only had coffee for breakfast, and my lunch was relatively balanced (chicken, mashed potatoes, peas, watermelon), I should be allowed a snack– hmm, that 70-calorie sugar-free pudding is “good” (as in virtuous) food– around 4 p.m. to keep me in good shape until I meet up with the group to run at 6 p.m. And I am going to run 4 days a week, log at least 12 miles, that’s like 1,800 calories. That’s sure to make me lose a half-pound…”

My mind, it runs away. That is thinking that is at least bordering on the unhealthy diet thinking. Its also kind of exhausting, to be constantly preoccupied like that. I don’t trust myself yet to make good choices without the external controls I used to impose: the daily menus, with calories or points listed, totalled, mapped out a week ahead; the running training logs with estimated calorie counts. There is a gray area between referencing the day’s rigid menu and following it precisely, and completely intuitive eating, in which all foods are consumed exactly as desired, without feelings of guilt or judgment of any kind. I am somewhere in between right now, and its proving harder than I thought to find the path to true Intuitive Eating. I think the difference lies in how I make the choice. Am I truly saying, “yumm, watermelon would be really good right now,” or is my head sneakily saying, “hey, watermelon has very few calories, it makes a good ‘diet’ dessert…”

Sometimes, I can’t even tell if I am hungry or not. I can’t tell if I am eating because it is sitting there, or if I’m eating because I feel bad and I’m not full (there is, I’m told, a difference between not-full and hungry). I can’t tell if I’m eating because that piece of cake is right there, and maybe tomorrow I will decide No More Cake is the new diet, so I better eat that cake on a day when the warden is sleeping on the job. How am I supposed to tell?

I have never been a person for whom the desire to exercise has dragged me bright-eyed and bushy-tailed out of the bed every morning. I get up, though, because I know that I feel better in general, all-around, the other 23 hours of a day when I am running regularly. That is a good, body-loving reason to exercise, I think. I also think that lying in bed on a morning when I didn’t get enough sleep the night before, or because I pulled a calf muscle, or because I’m just “not in the mood” can also be a good body-loving reason to skip a scheduled run. But the trick is to not feel guilty for those mornings.

Why? Because then I get up feeling guilty. I feel like, “well, now you’ve ruined today,” by which I mean, today is not a “diet” day, a “good” day, a day in which I will have succeeded at controlling my body and forcing the age-old all-you-gotta-do-is-burn-more-than-you-take-in equation. I feel badly, and am therefore more likely to reach for the comfort food, a habit formed over the last 29 years of cycles of punishment and soothing with food. After all, today is already ruined. And once I’ve had that piece of fatty, sugary muffin from the break room mid-morning? Well, that’s two sins, so why not pizza for lunch. With beer that isn’t light. And wine after work because I am still feeling bad. And too much of whatever dinner is. And brownies and ice cream after dinner and then go bed feeling like a fat animal with no self-control.

What I am aiming for is no more guilt, or bad feelings, or counting up of “sins.” I want to get rid of those feelings, so when an oversleeping or a piece of birthday cake gets all up in my face, I can evaluate that choice rationally, without the Debby Downer Opera Chorus in my head singing, “Go ahead Faaaaaaaaatty you are already groooooooody, what’s one more piiiiiiiiiiiiece…?”

I might always need to be deliberate about the exercise, though. I think that is okay so long as every run or workout is treated as a gold star but that I don’t count up demerits for skipping out on one. I’m hoping to try out a few activities my husband is willing to do, like biking and hiking. He refuses to run, can’t say I blame him. We walk the dog daily (when my husband is home) but I think setting up a post-dinner extra doggie walk would be a good habit to get into, too, for both of us.

Randomly, I’ve been eating a shocking amount of watermelon over the last week and a half. I’ve been eating it every day, piles and piles of it. I hope I don’t accidentally eat a seed and have a watermelon baby.


2 Responses to “what taking care of my body means”

  1. Sometimes, I can’t even tell if I am hungry or not. I can’t tell if I am eating because it is sitting there, or if I’m eating because I feel bad and I’m not full (there is, I’m told, a difference between not-full and hungry). I can’t tell if I’m eating because that piece of cake is right there, and maybe tomorrow I will decide No More Cake is the new diet, so I better eat that cake on a day when the warden is sleeping on the job. How am I supposed to tell?

    Wow, you really articulated this well–that feeling of being in between hungry and full, and should I eat? Because I want to eat, but maybe it will make me feel worse in the end. Intuitive Eating is a minefield for me, too. But it sounds like you have a good approach.

    For me, exercise helps a lot with my depression. So I have decided that if I have to push myself a little to do it, that’s OK. I’m not always going to want to, either because it’s easier to just not do it, or because I’m feeling depressed and don’t feel up to it. But I think the benefits I derive from it make it usually the better choice to just go ahead and do it and trust that I will feel better and that it will be the best choice for my body in the end.

    I will say that I didn’t run yesterday because I was exhausted and my joints were hurting. So I think in that case, I made the right decision. Also, after I run this race I’m going to go back to an informal decision I made a month or two ago, where I skip one of my weekly runs/workouts in favor of doing some yard work or really anything outdoors. It doesn’t have to be strenuous; in fact, that’s sort of the point, that getting some fresh air, using some different muscles, and making my home environment nicer are enough reward. I don’t need to be burning x-hundred calories for it to “count” as healthy movement. I like your biking and hiking ideas too; those would be good ways to take advantage of the nice weather and do something fun.

  2. Mae Says:

    I think part of the appeal of diets is the rigid framework. You can look to a piece of paper and see exactly what you are supposed to do. Now, it may not always be easy to do it, but at least there is no (or little) ambiguity.

    With IE, its much harder. You aren’t just simply following the rules laid down by someone else. You have to listen to your body, something most of us are extremely poor at doing, having spent the majority of our conscious years learning to ignore immediate body signals in order to complete a certain task at hand. You don’t have anything to reference but yourself to decide whether you made “the right decision” at any given time.

    For me at least, I really desire the validation of knowing I did “the right thing.” When dieting, I’m constantly involved in a game of “good girl/bad girl.” With IE, I’m not supposed to engage in that kind of constant self-judgment. I’m not sure I like that!

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