Living kindly in my body
has not come easily to me.
It is not that thing that happens or a place you get to.
It is a daily practice.
I grew up in a house full of women -- mom and two sisters. I learned very young that "getting fat" was dangerous and scary.
I saw that actively avoiding that was an essential part of daily life for girls and women.
And, I was lucky.
As my body grew and changed, it stayed within the limits of what was considered "normal-sized." As a result I was spared the trauma experienced by people in larger bodies. And still, the fear of fatness was deeply ingrained. It was associated with too much of certain foods that were "bad for you," or "junk food" which mostly meant sweets.
There was no "junk food" allowed in my house but you can bet I knew exactly where it was in my friends' houses. And when I babysat as a teenager I kept a mental map of the kitchens in the homes where I worked.
We become obsessed with what is forbidden. We're just wired that way.
When I was in first grade, the class was called into the nurse's office for "heights and weights." Each child stepped on the scale and the teacher called out the number to the nurse. There were a couple of larger kids in the group. For them, the teacher went over to the nurse and wispered the number in her ear.
That day, in school, we learned:
FAT = SHAME
This is the first real diet I went on. The "Scarsdale Diet." I was 13.
My mom, my sisters, and I all did it together.
I don't think I really felt I needed it, but I definitely knew, deeply, that it would NOT be ok to get "fat."
So we ate dry toast and a half a grapefruit for breakfast for a couple of months. It was a way of belonging as much as anything else.
By the time I went to college, I had adopted the "binge and restrict" strategy that is so familiar to so many of us. During the week I'd be "good," eating salads and skipping desert. My two roommates and I bonded around dieting. We would eat dinner as early as possible and then not eat until bed time. I remember trying to be as hungry as possible by bed time -- the hungrier I was, the more I felt I was being good. Then we drank and ate whatever we wanted on weekends. I have clear memories of being in the shower on a Sunday morning, looking down at my bulging belly, and thinking, this will be gone by Tuesday.
Monday mornings we were back to "being good."
It was crazy! I was young, healthy and privileged as hell. And that's what occupied my thoughts.
And so it went. It is what we considered normal - the proverbial water we swam in.
Then, in my 20s, part-way through my PhD program at Penn, all hell broke loose in my body.
I developed chronic back pain and had disc surgery. The neurosurgeon assured me that within 8 weeks I would have "forgotten this ever happened."
I didn't know enough to be skeptical. He was the DOCTOR.
After a difficult and painful recovery, the same pain I had had before came back. The surgeon prescribed valium and then stopped returning my calls. I was "discharged."
I saw a number of other doctors & physical therapists and was ultimately diagnosed with chronic degenerative disk disease and fibromyalgia. I was 26.
From that point on, I was fighting my body on a second front. The war on pain converged with the fear of weight gain in a really toxic way. I was no longer able to exercise to control my weight. One of the meds I took for pain management caused some weight gain. So the only option I had left to maintain what I believed was an acceptable body size was food restriction.
But my body had a plan of it's own. Two pregnancies in my 30's bumped me up an additional size. In my 40s, digestive complaints caused bloating, which made me painfully self-conscious about my round belly. And then a series of back surgeries -- 3 surgeries in 3 years -- immobilized me, leading to more weight gain.
Despite the surgeries and countless other interventions, the chronic pain persisted and spread. I was exhausted and depressed. My search for solutions led me to integrative and functional medicine and then into a career as a health coach. A whole new chapter in my relationship with food, health, and my body began.
I took a deep dive into "food as medicine," anti-inflammatory diets, paleo, keto, "No Grain, No Pain."
Being a scholar I went all in. I devoured natural medicine content -- all the books, podcasts, & health summits I could find. I followed all the "influencers" in the wellness movement
I eliminated gluten, dairy, sugar, then all grains. I spent a fortune on MCT oil, coconut flour, and green powders. I did "detox" cleanses, took supplements, hacked my microbiome. I lived on smoothies, protein, and non-starchy veggies for several years (except when I "cheated," which I inevitably did -- only to double down afterward to make up for it).
I believed it was helping - so much so that I began coaching others to follow the "lifestyle." But in hindsight, there was no real evidence. I was immersed in a belief system and terrified to let it go, even though the pain and digestive symptoms continued to cycle randomly, irrationally. I spent countless hours obsessively searching for cause and effect between food and pain until I was totally exhausted. It just wasn't working. But I was too terrified to quit.
Perhaps the most brutal part of this “lifestyle” was the constant tug-of-war in my mind between wanting to accept my body as it was, and desperately wanting it to be different. To look smaller and NOT to hurt. Monday mornings found me renewing my resolve to be “strict,” whether in response to a pain flare, a bloated belly, or my jeans feeling too tight. "It must be gluten. Well maybe it's dairy. It could be the pesticides in the produce. EEEK what if it's lectins, oxalates? - What the hell can I actually eat?? And OMG you are so fat!"
Then the evening or weekend would come and I’d think, "it’s ok, have the ice cream. Your body is fine at this size. It shouldn't define who you are. And we’re not even sure this “no sugar” or "gluten-free" thing is helping with the pain anyway." Wash, rinse, repeat. For years.
Until the day I'd had enough of the "life thief" that was my diet
It has been my experience, many times, that when I'am ready, the resources that I need FIND ME.
A client told me about a new book called Eat to Love, which wove together Buddhist teachings, which had been an important part of my life for over a decade by then, with "intuitive eating," which I'd never heard of.
These messages spoke to me at a deeply visceral level. They meshed perfectly with my long-standing meditation practice and my study of Buddhist psychology and neurobiology. They spoke to my background as a scholar and professor of women's studies and history. They rang true with my experience and with the experiences of the other women who I started to talk to about it.
And so, my body kindness journey began, personally and professionally
It's been quite an adventure! Messy, challenging, exhilarating, painful, liberating, enlightening
IT. HAS. CHANGED. EVERYTHING.
But let's save the rest of that story for when we meet
Because this is ultimately ABOUT YOU